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Boris Johnson may be back as prime minister. Here's what U.K. voters are saying


The race to replace the recently resigned prime minister, Liz Truss, in Great Britain is in full swing. The leading potential candidates, Britain's former Treasury secretary, Rishi Sunak, and a pretty familiar name in the list as well, Boris Johnson, the very same prime minister who was forced to announce his resignation in July may be in a position to mount an unlikely comeback. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt joins us. Frank, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good to talk.

SIMON: And what's it look like now?

LANGFITT: Right now, we've just heard that Boris Johnson has passed the hundred-lawmaker threshold. The way this race is working is you have to get at least a hundred lawmakers in the conservative Party in the Parliament to support you. Both Sunak and Johnson now seem to have that. Johnson just flew in this morning from a vacation in the Dominican Republic and seems like he looks like he's going to try to mount a campaign. Penny Mordaunt, she's a former defence secretary. She's a distant third. And at this rate, what we could see is a runoff next week between Sunak and Johnson with the Conservative Party membership.

SIMON: It's hard to forget - why would you? - that Boris Johnson was essentially drummed out of office just a few months ago. What seems to be the compelling argument he's put together for sending him back to No. 10?

LANGFITT: Yeah, you're right. I mean, memories are short in politics, but they're not that short here in the United Kingdom. I was up in the suburbs of northwest of London yesterday, Scott, and I talked to a Johnson supporter, this guy named Chris Barrett (ph). He's a builder. He's 56 years old. And his argument is, you know, Johnson is the people's choice. He should have never left, because from, you know, Barrett's perspective, Johnson won this very big election back in 2019.

CHRIS BARRETT: They shouldn't have got rid of Boris. Absolutely not. He was voted in, but they shouldn't have got rid of him. It should be the people voting him out. Bring back Boris.

LANGFITT: What did you like about Boris?

BARRETT: He's kind of normal, isn't he? He makes mistakes like everybody else. They all lie. Yeah. That's what you expect. All politicians lied. And if it wasn't on the news every 5 minutes, people wouldn't pay any attention.

LANGFITT: And, Scott, what Barrett's referring to is Johnson lying about government staffers holding parties. And this was in violation of his own government's pandemic lockdown rules. And this is what really brought him down. And Johnson even attended a couple of these events. And there is a history of lying surrounding Johnson. But this, for a lot of Britons and his own lawmakers, this was the final straw.

SIMON: Did Mr. Barrett have any policy reasons for supporting Boris Johnson?

BARRETT: No, he didn't come up. I mean, what he sees - it was more pragmatic. He says he sees Johnson as a winner. He points to Johnson, of course, a Conservative winning two mayor's races in a liberal London, which was extraordinary, winning the Brexit referendum, and as he just said, a landslide national election just three years ago.

SIMON: Did you hear arguments against Boris Johnson?

LANGFITT: Oh, a lot, Scott. And I'm sure we're going to hear even more going forward. I talked to a James Carson-Kerrigan (ph). He's a news editor actually in Johnson's district, electoral district. He voted for Johnson in 2014. He says, from his perspective, Johnson is now completely unfit for office.

JAMES CARSON-KERRIGAN: I would be very embarrassed to see Boris representing us internationally again as prime minister. He's ridiculed British politics with the lies about party gate. It's time for him to hang up his coat and move on to something else.

SIMON: Frank, all of that notwithstanding, is it possible Boris Johnson could become prime minister again so soon after resigning in what was considered to be disgrace?

LANGFITT: At this point it is, Scott. I mean, if both Sunak and Johnson end up going to the membership, the membership is - they like Johnson, they always have. They're older, whiter, more conservative. And they may tip towards him. Now, of course, there are a lot of people in the Conservative Party who are going to fight this. And one, William Hague, former head of the party, says that if Johnson gets in again, the party will go into a death spiral.

SIMON: Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.