- Zac Francis
Boris Johnson: Profile
From his time as Mayor of London to his stint as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s life and career could be adapted into a Hollywood movie without any need for exaggeration.
This guide will help you better understand Boris Johnson’s background and political career, and why some label him as ‘the worst PM in UK history’.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born on 19th June 1964 in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. He attended the illustrious Eton College and began using his middle name Boris. He would go on to win a scholarship at Oxford University to study Classics, ancient literature and classical philosophy, and was elected as president of the Oxford Union in 1986.
In 1987, Johnson worked for The Times as a graduate trainee. He was later dismissed for inventing a quote and attributing it to his godfather and historian, Colin Lucas.
Through his university connections, he secured himself a position with The Daily Telegraph and would soon find a home writing articles that were popular among The Telegraph's middle-class readership. He would later be appointed to the paper’s Brussels Bureau, becoming one of the UK’s most vocal eurosceptic journalists whose articles were criticised for being littered with lies. Unwilling to let controversy dampen his ambition, Johnson would go on to become Chief Political Columnist and Assistant Editor at The Telegraph.
In the early 2000’s, Johnson switched from journalism to politics, winning a seat as Conservative MP in Henley, Oxfordshire.
In May 2008, Johnson was elected Mayor of London, a position he held until 2016. He would play an influential role in the pro-leave Brexit campaigns and his unique persona made him one of the most recognisable British politicians.
In July 2019, he replaced Theresa May as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister.
Time as Prime Minister
Most presumed Johnson’s greatest challenge as PM would be to successfully navigate Brexit and ensure the UK remains a major power on the global front. However, this was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Johnson’s successes and failures in dealing with it. His political successes usually occurred against the backdrop of several controversies that would eventually lead to his ousting.
'Getting Brexit done'
Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’ played a major role in his electoral victory over Labour, resulting in the biggest majority since Thatcher. His well-documented euroscepticism coupled with his strong rhetoric paved the way for Conservative victories in working-class areas of the North of England.
His effective wielding of the slogan not only appealed to leavers but also remainers who were sick to death of Brexit and wanted to get it over with.
Although Brexit itself remains a divisive topic, Johnson’s political weaponisation of the term displayed his talent for playing politics.
You can count on one hand the things Johnson got right on the pandemic, and the vaccine rollout was by far his biggest win. The UK became the first country to start administering a fully tested Covid-19 vaccine to its citizens, and continued to roll them out at an unprecedented pace, saving lives and easing the burden Covid had placed on the NHS.
If there’s anyone who will miss Boris, it’s Ukraine. The former Prime Minister was the first Western Leader to visit Kyiv during the war, and his support was viewed favorably by the Ukrainians who affectionately called him “Boris Johnsonyuk.”
Britain spent more than $2 billion on military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine—the highest in Europe and second only to the US.
Brexit making both lists seems fitting considering the dichotomy surrounding it that still exists today. There’s a significant portion of the UK that label Brexit as an economic disaster, with critics pointing to plummeting exports to the EU and 18 mile lorry queues at Dover.
Supporters of it—including many conservative politicians—list off buzzwords like ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ when defending the decision to break from the EU.
In truth, Brexit remains an ongoing process, but more concrete terms including spiralling inflation and labour shortages suggest Brexit is far from smooth sailing.
No one could have predicted the catastrophe that would sweep through the world when the first Covid case was reported on 31st December 2019. Therefore, Boris might be forgiven for missing the first covid-related COBRA meeting in early 2021. But the former PM would go on to miss a further five meetings, resulting in a disastrous pandemic response that saw tens of thousands die.
The statistics paint a more damning picture: the UK has one of the highest mortality rates among leading EU nations.
Controversy has seemingly followed Johnson wherever he went, and his time as PM was no different.
Arguably his biggest scandal was ‘partygate’, a term used to refer to the scandal over parties held in government, including Downing Street, which breached Covid-19 lockdown rules.
Johnson himself was fined for attending a birthday party, and the PM also apologised to the Queen after it was revealed Johnson partied in Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. His wrongdoing was punctuated by a picture of the Queen sitting alone at the funeral due to social distancing rules.
Downing Street refurbishment
It’s not uncommon for new PM’s to refurbish their newly inherited residence, and, in 2019, Johnson pressed ahead with a £112,000 renovation that included gold wallpaper.
What caused controversy was the source of funding. The Daily Mail reported that donors paid for the upkeep, whereas as Johnson claimed he paid for everything personally.
The Electoral Commission opened an investigation into whether a £52,000 donation from Huntswood Associates Ltd—a company belonging to Lord Brownlow—had been properly declared by the Conservatives, concluding this was not the case and fining the party £17,800.
The Pincher scandal
Following on from 'partygate', the Pincher scandal was another controversy that rocked Johnson and the Conservative party. In February, Johnson appointed Conservative MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip. But on 30th July Pincher stepped down after allegations that he had groped two male colleagues at a London Club. Other sexual harassment allegations soon followed.
Johnson initially denied any prior knowledge of Pincher’s reputation. However, former civil servant Simon McDonald wrote a letter stating he had investigated Pincher previously and upheld the allegations against him.
It has been over 5 months since Johnson announced he was resigning as Prime Minister, and his legacy is still taking shape. On a personal level, many viewed Johnson as the worst PM in UK history, with his time as leader shaped by controversy rather than policy. However, his successor, Liz Truss, may have wrestled that unwanted title away from him—her 44-day reign was defined by a disastrous economic plan that deepened Britain’s economic crisis.
The Conservative party are trying their hardest to distance themselves from Johnson, yet this is proving difficult with so many of Johnson’s former teammates still occupying high-ranking government positions. In fact, Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the current PM. With the damage already done and their popularity at an all-time low, it’s hard to see where the Tory party will go from here.
Johnson and his legacy will remain as an example of the populist movement that swept through the world during the last few years. His name will feature alongside the likes of Trump and Erdogan as ‘strong men’ leaders who defined themselves as anti-elite. In truth, Johnson was on the lighter side of this scale, yet the ease of which he lied and his devil-may-care attitude positioned him as an outsider raging against a system that many view as corrupt. His fall also coincided with the collapse of this movement, joining the likes of Trump in political exile—for now.
Edited by Alice Holmstedt Pell
For more resources on this topic, head to our dedicated UK Politics section.