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Prime Minister Johnson will resign as the Conservatives' leader, British media report

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The U.K.'s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will resign as leader of the Conservative Party today. That's according to reports in the British media. But Johnson might try to stay on as caretaker prime minister for a few months until a new Conservative leader is selected. Over the past 48 hours, Johnson has faced mounting pressure to step down in the face of yet another political scandal. More than 50 members of his own government resigned, saying they could no longer serve under him as prime minister. We're expecting a public statement from Johnson outside his residence, 10 Downing Street, relatively soon. In the meantime, Willem Marx - reporter Willem Marx joins us now from London to bring us the latest. Hi, Willem. Are you with us?

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Yes, I am. He's not made any public comments, of course, since he appeared yesterday, Leila. That was in the afternoon in front of a parliamentary committee that grilled him pretty aggressively about his position. During that time, he repeatedly said he'd not seek to remain as prime minister. But when he was asked point-blank whether he would still be prime minister come Thursday morning, this morning, he responded, of course. I don't want to sound pedantic, but it's now past noon here in London. On that technical point, he's proven correct. But it's clear that after dozens of resignations yesterday from members of his government...

FADEL: Yeah.

MARX: ...Even more this morning, Johnson finally appears to have accepted his position is no longer tenable. And what's so interesting is that both his predecessors, Theresa May and David Cameron, they did stay in office for some time as caretakers while a successor was chosen. Johnson seems to want to do the same thing. But there are many members of his own party today insisting that should not be allowed to happen in case he causes what they consider might be even more damage to their party and, indeed, the country.

FADEL: OK. So a lot of people want him out right now. And for months we've seen Johnson plagued with scandal. But what happened in the last week that's led to this point?

MARX: Well, the final straw seems to be focused on his behavior in response to allegations that a Conservative legislator had committed sexual misconduct last week. Johnson was seen by many in his own party as acting too slowly to censure that man, whom he himself had promoted to a senior government role. Then for days, Johnson's team denied that he'd been aware of previous similar allegations against that man but still chose to promote him. And eventually, he did acknowledge that he had promoted the man despite knowing about those allegations. But of course, by then, questions about his honesty, his integrity, his judgment had grown just too loud for most Conservatives to ignore.

FADEL: So what happens next, both for Johnson's Conservative Party and for the country?

MARX: Well, we should hear some more details from Johnson shortly. If he's allowed by Conservative legislators to stay in Downing Street as a caretaker, the party will spend the next couple of months selecting a new leader to replace him. That person will then automatically take his place as prime minister. But there's a chance that enough Conservatives will insist Johnson should leave Downing Street altogether as soon as possible, perhaps as soon as next week. They'll then appoint a temporary but experienced figure to step in over the summer to steady the ship of state while a new, long-term Conservative Party leader is elected.

FADEL: Is there any other way this could go?

MARX: Yeah. Well, there are people who've worked closely with Johnson this morning saying his word's not to be trusted. And, indeed, he's already been appointing new ministers in just the past hour as though he expects to stay in post for a while.

FADEL: Interesting.

MARX: And so if he were to make assurances today, then renege on them or seek to extend his time in Downing Street too long, the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has just said the opposition parties in Parliament might ask Conservative lawmakers to join them in voting through a no-confidence vote in the government. And that would act as a kind of constitutional emergency ripcord that could trigger a new general election here, Leila.

FADEL: That's reporter Willem Marx in London. Thank you so much.

MARX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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