Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will give up his parliamentary seat amid a long-running ethics investigation that is expected to produce a report into his behavior as prime minister next week.
In a blistering statement announcing his resignation from the legislature, Johnson described as a "kangaroo court" the parliamentary committee tasked with examining whether he lied to fellow lawmakers about social gatherings inside government buildings that had flouted his own COVID-19 social distancing regulations.
The committee had provided him with a preview of its report, apparently prompting his decision. His departure statement, the investigative committee responded, had further "impugned" Parliament. Opposition parties termed the turmoil a "soap opera" and wished Johnson "good riddance."
He and others — including current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — had previously received criminal fines for their behavior during the pandemic. But Johnson has long insisted that incorrect and misleading accounts he gave on several occasions to Britain's legislators denying these "lockdown parties" — as they became known — had not amounted to intentional lies.
A magazine editor who became a member of parliament then mayor of London, Johnson took power at a time of chaotic division inside his own Conservative Party, stemming from Britain's botched Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
After helping oust, then replace Theresa May, he led his party to a seismic victory in a 2019 general election, with Brexit as a rallying cry — allowing him to force through Britain's eventual departure from the European Union.
But soon after, the pandemic upended his premiership, and his own personal behavior became problematic for much of the public, and many in Parliament too.
Controversies centered around those in Downing Street — including Johnson — dominated Britain's politics, frustrating his legislative agenda and further fragmenting the Conservatives.
For months, eyewitness accounts, photographs and other evidence about parties piled up, infuriating a British citizenry wounded by more than 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and angered by the apparent hypocrisy of those in power.
Johnson eventually apologized — and narrowly stayed in the post despite deep discontent among many of his fellow lawmakers.
But a subsequent scandal involving allegations of sexual assault by a close parliamentary colleague — after Johnson's appointment of the man to a prominent role — moved many members of his government to resign en masse, and soon after he too was forced to depart from Downing Street.
A year and two prime ministers later, the ongoing enquiry into Johnson had once more begun to overshadow U.K. politics — and its findings were expected to force a recall vote over Johnson's parliamentary seat.
In his late-night and lengthy resignation statement designed to counteract publication on Monday, Johnson also criticized the policies of his successor Sunak, who served as his finance minister until last July.
His allies describe him as a "political titan" whose treatment was "disgraceful," and Johnson left out hope for supporters that he might one day return to frontline politics. He has bounced back from successive scandals before, and opponents know he is unlikely to disappear from Britain's public life for long.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Boris Johnson, one of the most colorful and controversial figures in British politics, is stepping down as a member of Parliament immediately. He made that announcement after receiving a report from a committee investigating allegations that he had lied to Parliament over illegal lockdown parties while he was prime minister. Willem Marx reports from London on the rise and the fall and rise and fall again of a man who's been a singular figure in British politics for years.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BORIS JOHNSON: I have just been to see Her Majesty the Queen, who has invited me to form a government, and I have accepted.
WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: A magazine editor who became a member of Parliament, then London's mayor, Johnson entered Downing Street after the downfall of Theresa May at a time of intense Brexit turmoil. His Conservative Party had been chaotic for years when he took power. But with Brexit as a rallying cry, he helped secure a seismic win in a 2019 general election and oversaw Britain's eventual departure from Europe.
The pandemic, though, soon upended his time as prime minister, and his own personal behavior became a problem for much of the public and many in Parliament. Controversies piled up about social gatherings inside government buildings that violated COVID-19 regulations Johnson himself had regularly promoted. He repeatedly insisted these lockdown parties, as they became known, had not occurred until the evidence grew overwhelming, and he apologized but remained in post.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHNSON: I apologize for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I'm sickened myself and furious about that.
MARX: Another scandal centered on sexual assault committed by a colleague eventually ended his premiership after government members resigned en masse.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody. It is clearly now the will of the Parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new prime minister.
MARX: But two prime ministers later, an investigation into several of Johnson's statements to Parliament has rumbled on, overshadowing the country's political landscape despite the efforts of Downing Street's current occupant, Rishi Sunak. For years, Johnson was often willing to violate Britain's political norms in both his public roles and private life. And this week, he was no different, describing the cross-party committee that investigated him as a kangaroo court and calling its report riddled with inaccuracies. He had misled Parliament, he previously acknowledged, but insisted it had not been intentional and he had not lied.
In a lengthy statement, he criticized the policies of his successor, Sunak, who long served under Johnson as finance minister until his ouster. The Parliamentary committee responded that his statement itself further impugned Parliament, and it would publish its report on his behavior next week. Opposition parties called it a soap opera and told him good riddance. His allies said he was a political titan treated disgracefully. Johnson, as ever, dividing opinion.
For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.