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Britain's Johnson faces growing calls to quit after throwing parties during lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing St. in London on Wednesday. Speculation over a vote of no confidence in his leadership mounts.
Dan Kitwood
Getty Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing St. in London on Wednesday. Speculation over a vote of no confidence in his leadership mounts.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is weathering ever-louder calls to step down — coming even from within his own party — amid a scandal over events he hosted while the rest of the U.K. was on COVID-19 lockdown.

Johnson at first said that no rules were broken by the parties held at the prime minister's London residence in 2020 and 2021, some of which were advertised as "bring your own booze" and called "work events."

On Tuesday, Johnson, speaking to Sky News, further inflamed the situation by suggesting he wasn't aware the parties were against the social distancing protocols that his own government had drafted.

"Nobody told me and nobody, nobody said that this was something that was against the rules," he said.

A former top adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings, has said he warned Johnson in May 2020 against having a party in the back garden of No. 10 Downing St.

But Johnson, who has steadfastly rebuffed calls for his resignation, denies the conversation with Cummings took place. Nearly a year later, two other parties — one on the eve of last April's funeral of Prince Philip — were held at the prime minister's residence. On Sky, the prime minister said he "deeply and bitterly" regrets what happened and reiterated his apology "to Her Majesty and to the country."

Last week, the opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called for Johnson's resignation, and this week, the chorus has been joined by a few members of the prime minister's own party — though not enough as yet to trigger a leadership struggle.

On Wednesday, Conservative Party member of Parliament Christian Wakeford defected to the Labour Party. In a letter to Johnson explaining his move, Wakeford told the prime minister, "You and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves."

Wakeford's departure came as Conservative member of Parliament David Davis said he had spent weeks defending Johnson to "angry constituents" but was done with the exercise. "I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that," Davis said Wednesday in reference to Johnson's Sky News interview.

Davis then raised a quote that had been directed against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was forced to resign in 1940 after the failure of his government's policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany.

"You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go," Davis said.

NPR's Frank Langfitt contributed to this report.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.