|The Right Honourable|
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs|
13 July 2016 – 9 July 2018
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
Sir Alan Duncan
|Preceded by||Philip Hammond|
|Succeeded by||Jeremy Hunt|
|2nd Mayor of London|
4 May 2008 – 9 May 2016
|Preceded by||Ken Livingstone|
|Succeeded by||Sadiq Khan|
|Shadow Minister for Higher Education|
6 December 2005 – 16 July 2007
|Preceded by||Stephen O'Brien|
|Succeeded by||Rob Wilson|
|Shadow Minister for the Arts|
14 April 2004 – 17 November 2004
|Preceded by||Gerald Howarth|
|Succeeded by||Tony Baldry|
|Member of Parliament|
for Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Assumed office |
7 May 2015
|Preceded by||John Randall|
|Member of Parliament|
9 June 2001 – 4 June 2008
|Preceded by||Michael Heseltine|
|Succeeded by||John Howell|
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson|
19 June 1964
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Mother||Charlotte Johnson Wahl|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (born 19 June 1964), better known as Boris Johnson, is a British politician, popular historian, and journalist. He has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015. He had previously been the MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008. He was Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, and from 2016 to 2018 he served as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. A member of the Conservative Party, Johnson identifies as a one-nation conservative and has been associated with both economically and socially liberal policies.
Born in New York City to wealthy upper-middle class English parents, Johnson was educated at the European School of Brussels, Ashdown House School, and Eton College. He studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1986. He began his career in journalism at The Times but was sacked for falsifying a quotation. He later became The Daily Telegraph's Brussels correspondent, with his articles exerting a strong influence on growing Eurosceptic sentiment among the British right-wing. He was assistant editor from 1994 to 1999 before taking the editorship of The Spectator from 1999 to 2005. Joining the Conservatives, he was elected MP for Henley in 2001, and under party leaders Michael Howard and David Cameron he was in the Shadow Cabinet. He largely adhered to the Conservatives' party line but adopted a more socially liberal stance on issues like LGBT rights in parliamentary votes. Making regular television appearances, writing books, and remaining active in journalism, Johnson became one of the most conspicuous politicians in the United Kingdom.
Selected as Conservative candidate for the London mayoral election of 2008, Johnson defeated Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone and resigned his seat in the House of Commons. During his first term as Mayor of London, he banned alcohol consumption on public transport, championed London's financial sector, and introduced the New Routemaster buses, cycle hire scheme, and Thames cable-car. In 2012, he was reelected to the office, again defeating Livingstone; during his second term he oversaw the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2015 he was elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, stepping down as Mayor of London the following year. In 2016, Johnson became a prominent figure in the successful Vote Leave campaign to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. He became Foreign Secretary under Theresa May's premiership, but resigned in criticism of May's approach to Brexit and the Chequers Agreement.
Johnson is a controversial figure in British politics and journalism. Supporters have praised him as an entertaining, humorous, and popular figure with appeal beyond traditional Conservative voters. Conversely, he has been criticised by figures on both the left and right, who accused him of elitism, cronyism, dishonesty, laziness, and using racist language. Johnson is the subject of several biographies and a number of fictionalised portrayals.
Johnson was born on 19 June 1964 at a hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, to British parents. His birth was registered with both the US authorities and the city's British Consulate thereby granting him both American and British citizenship. His father, Stanley Johnson, was then studying economics at Columbia University. Stanley's paternal grandfather was Circassian-Turkish journalist Ali Kemal, while his other ancestry is English, German and French. A 2008 episode of BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? found that his German great-great-great-grandmother, Karoline von Rothenburg, was the illegitimate daughter of Prince Paul of Württemberg by an actress. Prince Paul was himself a descendant of King George II of Great Britain and King Frederick William I of Prussia.
Stanley had married Johnson's mother, Charlotte Fawcett, in 1963, before they moved to the United States; she was an artist from a family of liberal intellectuals. She was the granddaughter of Americans Elias Avery Lowe, a palaeographer of Russian Jewish descent, and Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter, a translator. In reference to his varied ancestry, Johnson has described himself as a "one-man melting pot" – with a combination of Muslims, Jews, and Christians as great-grandparents. Johnson was given his middle name of "Boris" after a Russian émigré the couple had once met in Mexico.
Johnson's parents were then living in an apartment opposite the Chelsea Hotel, although they soon embarked on a tour of Canada and New England with their newborn. In September 1964, they returned to Britain, enabling Charlotte to study for a degree at the University of Oxford. She lived with her son in Summertown, Oxford and gave birth to a daughter, Rachel, in 1965. In July 1965, the family moved to Crouch End in North London; in February 1966, they relocated to Washington D.C., where Stanley had gained employment with the World Bank. A third child, Leo, was born in September 1967, while Charlotte took up the painting for which she would become publicly known. Stanley then gained employment with a policy panel on population control, in June moving the family to Norwalk, Connecticut.
In 1969, the family returned to the United Kingdom, settling into Stanley's family farm at Nethercote, near Winsford in Exmoor. At Nethercote, Johnson gained his first experiences with fox hunting. Stanley was regularly absent from Nethercote, leaving Johnson to be raised largely by his mother and au pairs. As a child, Johnson was quiet and studious, although he suffered from severe deafness, resulting in several operations to insert grommets into his ears. He and his siblings were encouraged to engage in high-brow activities from a young age, with high achievement being greatly valued; Johnson's earliest recorded ambition was to be "world king". Having few or no friends other than their siblings, the children became very close. In late 1969 the family relocated to Maida Vale, North London, where Stanley began post-doctoral research at the London School of Economics. In 1970, Charlotte and the children briefly returned to Nethercote, where Johnson was schooled at the Winsford Village School, before returning to London to settle in Primrose Hill, there being educated at Primrose Hill Primary School. In late 1971 another son, Jo Johnson, was born to the family.
After Stanley secured employment at the European Commission, he moved his family to Brussels in April 1973, where they settled in Uccle and Johnson became fluent in French. Charlotte had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised with clinical depression, with Johnson and his siblings being sent to Ashdown House preparatory boarding school in East Sussex in 1975. There he developed a love of rugby and excelled at Ancient Greek and Latin; he was appalled at the teachers' use of corporal punishment. Meanwhile, Stanley and Charlotte's relationship broke down in December 1978 and they divorced in 1980. Charlotte moved into a flat in Notting Hill, where her children spent much of their time with her.
Johnson was awarded a King's Scholarship to study at Eton College, the elite independent boarding school in Eton, Berkshire. Arriving there in the autumn term of 1977, Johnson began using the given name "Boris" rather than "Alex" and developed "the eccentric English persona" for which he later became known. He also abandoned his mother's Catholicism and became an Anglican, joining the Church of England. Although school reports complained about his idleness, complacency, and lateness, he established himself as a popular and well-known figure within the school. His friends were largely from the wealthy upper middle-classes, his best friends being Darius Guppy and Charles Spencer, both of whom would accompany him to Oxford University and remain friends into adulthood. Johnson excelled in English and Classics, winning prizes in both, became secretary of the school debating society, and then editor of the school newspaper, The Eton College Chronicle. In late 1981 he was admitted to the Eton Society. Upon finishing his time at Eton, Johnson went on a gap year to Australia, where he taught English and Latin at Timbertop, an Outward Bound campus of Geelong Grammar, an elite independent boarding school.
Johnson won a scholarship to read Literae Humaniores, a four-year course based in the study of Classics, at Balliol College, Oxford. Arriving at the university in late 1983, he was part of a generation of Oxford undergraduates who later dominated British politics and media in the early 21st century, among them senior Conservative Party members David Cameron, William Hague, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, and Nick Boles. At the university, he played rugby for Balliol, and associated primarily with Old Etonians, joining the Old Etonian-dominated Bullingdon Club, an upper-class drinking society known for vandalism. Johnson entered into a relationship with the aristocrat Allegra Mostyn-Owen and they became engaged while at university.
Johnson became a popular and well-known public figure at Oxford. With Guppy, he co-edited the university's satirical magazine Tributary. In 1984, Johnson was elected secretary of the Oxford Union, before campaigning for the position of Union president, losing the election to Neil Sherlock. In 1986, Johnson ran for president again, aided by undergraduate Frank Luntz; his campaign focused on reaching out from his established upper-class support base by emphasising his persona and downplaying his connections to the Conservatives. Hoping to court their vote, Johnson associated with university groups affiliated with the centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Liberal Party. Luntz later alleged that Johnson portrayed himself as an SDP supporter during the campaign, although Johnson claims no recollection of this. Johnson won the election and was appointed president, although his presidency was not seen as particularly distinguished or memorable, and questions were raised regarding his competency and seriousness. Having specialised in the study of ancient literature and classical philosophy, Johnson graduated from Balliol College with an upper second-class degree, but was deeply unhappy that he did not receive a first.
Johnson and Mostyn-Owen married in West Felton, Shropshire, in September 1987; a violin piece was specially commissioned for the wedding from Hans Werner Henze. The couple honeymooned in Egypt before settling into a flat in West Kensington, West London. There, Johnson secured work for a management consultancy company, L.E.K. Consulting; finding it incredibly boring, he resigned after a week. Through family connections, in late 1987 he began work as a graduate trainee at The Times, shadowing one of its journalists. Scandal erupted when Johnson wrote an article on the archaeological discovery of Edward II's palace for the newspaper. Johnson invented a quote for the article that he falsely claimed came from the historian Colin Lucas, his own godfather. After The Times' editor Charles Wilson learned of the deception, Johnson was sacked.
Johnson secured employment on the leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph, having known its editor, Max Hastings, through his Oxford University presidency. His articles were designed to appeal to the newspaper's conservative, middle-class, middle-aged "Middle England" readership and were known for their unique literary style, replete with old-fashioned words and phrases, and for regularly referring to the readership as "my friends". In early 1989, Johnson was appointed to the newspaper's Brussels bureau to report on the European Commission, remaining in the post until 1994. A strong critic of Commission President Jacques Delors, he established himself as one of the few Eurosceptic journalists in the city. Many of his fellow journalists based in the city were critical of his articles, opining that they often contained untruths designed to discredit the Commission; "As a journalist in Brussels, he was one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism", Chris Patten told Martin Fletcher in late 2017.
Johnson biographer Andrew Gimson believed that these articles made Johnson "one of [Euroscepticism's] most famous exponents". According to later biographer Sonia Purnell, who was Johnson's Brussels deputy, he helped to make Euroscepticism "an attractive and emotionally resonant cause for the Right", whereas previously it had been associated with the British Left. Johnson's articles established him as the favourite journalist of the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, although Thatcher's successor, John Major, was annoyed by Johnson and spent much time attempting to refute his claims. Johnson's articles exacerbated tensions between the Eurosceptic and Europhile factions of the Conservative Party, and it was these tensions which were widely viewed as a contributing factor to the party's failure in the 1997 general election. As a result, Johnson earned the mistrust of many party members. His writings were also a key influence on the emergence of the right-wing Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the early 1990s.
In February 1990, Allegra left Johnson and returned to London. After several attempts to reconcile, they divorced in April 1993. He had entered a relationship with a childhood friend, Marina Wheeler, who had moved to Brussels in 1990. In May 1993, they married at Horsham, Sussex, and Wheeler gave birth to a daughter soon after. Johnson and his new wife settled in Islington, North London, an area known for its left-liberal intelligentsia. Under the influence of this milieu and his wife, Johnson moved in a more liberal direction on issues like climate change, LGBT rights, and race relations. The couple had three further children in Islington, each given the joint surname of Johnson-Wheeler, who were sent to the local Canonbury Primary School and then private secondary schools. Devoting much time to his children, Johnson authored a book of verse, Perils of the Pushy Parents – A Cautionary Tale, which was published to largely poor reviews.
Back in London, Hastings turned down Johnson's request to become a war reporter, instead promoting him to the position of assistant editor and chief political columnist. Johnson's column received praise for being ideologically eclectic and uniquely written, and earned him a Commentator of the Year Award at the What the Papers Say awards. He was also accused of bigotry; in one column he used the words "piccannies" and "watermelon smiles" when referring to Africans, and championed European colonialism in Uganda, while in another he referred to gay men as "tank-topped bumboys".
Contemplating a political career, in 1993 Johnson outlined his desire to stand as a Conservative candidate to be a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 1994 European Parliament elections. Although Major considered vetoing Johnson's candidacy, Andrew Mitchell convinced him not to. Nevertheless, Johnson found it impossible to find a constituency and did not stand in that election. He subsequently turned his attention to obtaining a seat in the UK House of Commons. After being rejected as Conservative candidate for Holborn and St. Pancras, he was selected as the party's candidate for Clwyd South in North Wales, a Labour Party safe seat. Spending six weeks campaigning, he attained 9,091 votes (23%) in the 1997 general election, losing to the Labour candidate.
Scandal erupted in June 1995 when a recording of a 1990 telephone conversation between Johnson and his friend Darius Guppy was made public. In the conversation, Guppy revealed that his criminal activities were being investigated by News of the World journalist Stuart Collier, and he asked Johnson to provide him with Collier's private address, seeking to have the latter beaten up. Johnson agreed to supply the information although he expressed concern that he would be associated with the attack. When the phone conversation was published in 1995, Johnson insisted that he did not ultimately give the information to Guppy; Hastings reprimanded Johnson's behaviour but did not sack him.
Johnson was given a regular column in The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph's sister publication; it attracted mixed reviews and was often thought rushed. In 1999, he was also given a column on new cars in the magazine GQ. His behaviour regularly annoyed his editors; those at GQ were frustrated by the large number of parking fines that Johnson acquired while testing cars for them, while he was consistently late in providing his columns for The Telegraph and The Spectator, forcing many staff to stay late to accommodate him; they related that if they went ahead and published without his work included, he would get angry and shout at them with expletives.
Johnson's appearance on an April 1998 episode of Have I Got News for You brought him to a far wider audience; emphasising a bumbling upper-class persona, he was viewed as entertaining and invited back on to later episodes, including as a guest presenter. After these, he came to be recognised on the street by the public, and was invited to appear on other television shows, such as Top Gear, Parkinson, Breakfast with Frost, and Question Time.
—Max Hastings, London Evening Standard, 
In July 1999, Conrad Black – the then proprietor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator – offered Johnson the editorship of the latter on the condition that he abandoned his parliamentary aspirations; Johnson agreed. He brought in contributions from figures whom he had known from his past and, while retaining The Spectator's traditional right-wing bent, he also welcomed contributions from leftist writers and cartoonists. Under Johnson's editorship, the circulation of The Spectator grew by 10% to 62,000 and it began to turn a profit. His editorship also drew criticism; some opined that under his leadership The Spectator avoided covering serious issues and focused on trivial topics, while colleagues became annoyed that he was regularly absent from the office and often missed meetings and events. He gained a reputation as a poor political pundit as a result of the incorrect political predictions that he made in the magazine, and was also strongly criticised – including by his father-in-law Charles Wheeler – for allowing Spectator columnist Taki Theodoracopulos to publish racist and anti-Semitic language in the magazine, including the false claim that black people have lower IQs.
Following the retirement of Michael Heseltine, Johnson decided to stand as the Conservative candidate for Henley, a Conservative safe seat in Oxfordshire. The local Conservative branch were split over Johnson's candidacy; some found him amusing and charming, while others were critical of his flippant attitude to serious matters and his lack of knowledge about the local area, although he was nevertheless selected. Boosted by his television fame, Johnson stood as the Conservative candidate for the constituency in the 2001 general election, winning with a majority of 8,500 votes. Alongside his main Islington home, Johnson bought a farmhouse outside Thame in his new constituency. He regularly attended Henley social events and wrote an occasional column for the Henley Standard. His constituency surgeries proved popular, and he involved himself in local campaigns to save Townlands Hospital and the local air ambulance from closure, as well as to keep Brakspear as an independent brewer.
In becoming a Member of Parliament, Johnson broke his promise to Black that he would not do so while editing The Spectator. Although labelling Johnson as "ineffably duplicitous", Black did not sack him, viewing him as "a capable editor" who "helped promote the magazine and raise its circulation". In Parliament, Johnson was appointed to serve on a standing committee assessing the Proceeds of Crime Bill, although he missed many of its meetings. Despite his credentials as a public speaker, his speeches in the House of Commons were widely deemed lacklustre and lacking in passion, with Johnson later admitting that they were "crap". In his first four years as MP for Henley he attended just over half of the votes in the House of Commons; by his second term this had declined to 45%. In most cases, he supported the Conservative party line, only rebelling against it five times during this period, when he adopted a more socially liberal attitude than the mainstream party; he for instance voted to repeal Section 28 and supported the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Although initially claiming that he would not do so, he voted in support of the government's plans to join the US in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in April 2003 visited occupied Baghdad. By August 2004 he seemingly regretted his decision by supporting calls to impeach Prime Minister Tony Blair for his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in December 2006 he described the invasion as "a colossal mistake and misadventure".
Alongside his full-time job as an MP, he continued editing The Spectator, writing columns for The Daily Telegraph and GQ, and making television appearances. He also published a book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the Stump, which recounted his experiences during the 2001 election campaign. His next publication was 2003's Lend Me Your Ears, a collection of previously published columns and articles. In 2004 this was followed by his first novel, Seventy-Two Virgins: A Comedy of Errors, which revolved around the life of a Conservative MP and contained various biographical elements. Responding to critics who argued that he was juggling too many positions, he cited prominent Conservative politicians Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli as exemplars who combined their political and writing careers. To manage the stress he took up jogging and cycling, and became so well known for the latter that Gimson suggested that he was "perhaps the most famous cyclist in Britain".
In 2002, in an article Johnson wrote for The Daily Telegraph, he suggested Queen Elizabeth must love touring the Commonwealth because she's greeted by "cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies" and that in the Congo, Tony Blair would be met with "watermelon smiles".
Following William Hague's resignation as Conservative leader, Johnson used The Spectator to support the candidacy of the only pro-EU figure, Kenneth Clarke. Johnson argued that Clarke was the only candidate capable of winning a general election; however, Iain Duncan Smith was selected. Johnson had a strained relationship with Duncan Smith, and The Spectator became very critical of the latter's party leadership. Duncan Smith was removed from his position in November 2003 and replaced by Michael Howard; Howard deemed Johnson to be the most popular Conservative politician with the electorate and appointed him vice-chairman of the party, responsible for overseeing its electoral campaign. In his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle of May 2004, Howard appointed Johnson to the position of shadow arts minister.
In August 2004, Johnson was one of several MPs who supported the commencement of impeachment procedures against Prime Minister Tony Blair for "high crimes and misdemeanours" in relation to his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, the impeachment motion was quickly defeated. In October 2004, Howard ordered Johnson to go to Liverpool and issue a public apology for an article anonymously written by Simon Heffer that Johnson had published in The Spectator; in the article, Heffer claimed that the crowds at the Hillsborough disaster had contributed towards the incident and that Liverpool had a predilection for reliance on the welfare state.
In November 2004, the British tabloids revealed that, since 2000, Johnson had been having an affair with Spectator columnist Petronella Wyatt, resulting in two terminated pregnancies. Johnson initially dismissed the claims as "piffle". After the allegations were proven, Howard asked Johnson to resign from his position as vice-chairman and shadow arts minister, not because of the affair but because he had publicly lied about it. Johnson refused, at which point Howard sacked him from those positions. The scandal was satirised by The Spectator's theatre critics Toby Young and Lloyd Evans in a play, Who's the Daddy?, performed at Islington's King's Head Theatre in July 2005; the play upset Johnson. In April 2006, the News of the World alleged that Johnson was having an affair with the journalist Anna Fazackerley; both Fazackerley and Johnson refused to comment although the former stepped down from her job and was subsequently employed by Johnson. That month, he attracted further public attention for taking part in a charity football match between former professional footballers and celebrities from England and Germany, in which he rugby-tackled Maurizio Gaudino. In September 2006, his comparison between the frequently changing leadership of the Conservatives to cannibalism in Papua New Guinea drew criticism from the latter country's high commission.
In the 2005 general election, Johnson was re-elected MP for Henley, increasing his majority to 12,793. Following Labour's victory in the election, Howard stood down as Conservative leader, with Johnson backing David Cameron as his successor. After being successfully selected, Cameron appointed Johnson as the shadow higher education minister, acknowledging his popularity among students. Johnson's main interest was in streamlining university funding, as part of which he supported Labour's proposed top-up fees. In September 2006, his image was used in 'Boris needs you' and 'I Love Boris' material to promote the Conservative Party's image during Freshers' Week in universities. In 2006, Johnson campaigned to become the Rector of the University of Edinburgh, but his support for top-up fees damaged his campaign and he ultimately came third, losing to Mark Ballard.
In 2005, The Spectator's new chief executive, Andrew Neil, removed Johnson from the editorship of the magazine. Johnson convinced The Daily Telegraph to raise his annual fee from £200,000 to £250,000, averaging at £5,000 per column, each of which took up around an hour and a half of his time. He presented a popular history television show, The Dream of Rome, for Tiger Aspect; the show was broadcast in January 2006 and a book followed in February. Through his own production company, he then produced a sequel, After Rome, which focused on early Islamic history. As a result of his various activities, in 2007 he earned £540,000, making him the UK's third-highest-earning MP that year.
In March 2007, Johnson suggested that he stand for the position of Mayor of London in the 2008 mayoral election. His candidacy was not initially taken seriously within the Conservative Party, who favoured Nick Boles as its candidate. However, after Boles withdrew, Johnson gained the support of Cameron, as well as the London Evening Standard newspaper. In July, he officially announced his candidacy, and was selected as Conservative candidate in September after gaining 79% of the vote in a public London-wide primary. The Conservatives hired election strategist Lynton Crosby to run Johnson's campaign, which was primarily funded by sympathetic individuals in London's financial sector. Johnson's campaign focused on reducing youth crime, making public transport safer, and replacing the articulated buses with an updated version of the AEC Routemaster. It also targeted the Conservative-leaning suburbs of outer London, hoping to capitalise on a perception that they had been overlooked by a Labour Mayoralty that had paid more attention to inner London. His campaign capitalised on his popularity, even among those who opposed his policies, with opponents complaining that a common attitude among voters was that "I'm voting for Boris because he is a laugh".
Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone took Johnson seriously, referring to him as "the most formidable opponent I will face in my political career." Livingstone's campaign portrayed Johnson as both an out-of-touch toff and a bigot, as evidenced by racist and homophobic language that he had used in his column; Johnson responded that these quotes had been taken out of context and were meant as satire. Johnson insisted that he was not a bigot, declaring that "I'm absolutely 100% anti-racist; I despise and loath racism". Publicly emphasising his Turkish ancestry, he went contrary to Conservative policy by declaring his support for an earned amnesty for illegal immigrants. However, the allegations were exacerbated when the far-right British National Party (BNP) urged its supporters to give their second preference votes to Johnson; he responded by "utterly and unreservedly" condemning the BNP. Controversy was also generated during the campaign when Johnson admitted that as a student he had used cannabis and cocaine.
The election took place in May 2008, and witnessed a turnout of approximately 45% of eligible voters, with Johnson receiving 43.2% and Livingstone 37% of first-preference votes; when second-preference votes were added, Johnson proved victorious with 53.2% to Livingstone's 46.8%. Johnson benefited from a large voter turnout in Conservative strongholds, in particular Bexley and Bromley. Johnson thus won the largest personal electoral mandate in the UK. Following his victory, he praised Livingstone as a "very considerable public servant" and added that he hoped to "discover a way in which the mayoralty can continue to benefit from your transparent love of London". He also announced that, as a result of his victory, he would resign as Member of Parliament for Henley, generating some anger from Henley party members and constituents who felt that Johnson was abandoning them for London.
Settling into the Mayoral offices at City Hall, Johnson's first official engagement was an appearance at the Sikh celebrations for Vaisakhi in Trafalgar Square. His first policy initiative, issued that month, was a ban on drinking alcohol on public transport. He received criticism during the early weeks of his administration, largely because he was late to two official functions in his first week on the job, and because after three weeks he embarked on a holiday to Turkey. In July 2008 Johnson visited the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, there offending his Chinese hosts with his attire. Rather than bringing a team of assistants with him to the job as Livingstone had done, Johnson built his team over the following six months. Those in City Hall who were deemed too closely allied to Livingstone's administration had their employment terminated. Johnson appointed Tim Parker to be first Deputy Mayor, but after Parker began taking increasing control at City Hall and insisted that all staff report directly to him, Johnson sacked him. As a result of these problems, many in the Conservative Party initially distanced themselves from Johnson's administration, fearing that it would be counter-productive to achieving a Conservative victory in the 2010 general election.
During the electoral campaign, Johnson had confided to Brian Paddick that he was unsure how he would retain his current lifestyle while relying upon the mayoral salary of £140,000 a year. To resolve this problem, he agreed to continue his Telegraph column alongside his Mayoral job, thus earning a further £250,000 a year. His team believed that this would cause controversy, and made him promise to donate a fifth of his Telegraph fee to a charitable cause providing bursaries for students. Johnson resented this, and ultimately did not pay a full fifth. Controversy erupted when he was questioned about his Telegraph fee on BBC's HARDtalk; here, he referred to the £250,000 as "chicken feed", something that was widely condemned given that this was roughly ten times the average yearly wage for a British worker.
Johnson made no major changes to the mayoral system as developed by Livingstone. He did, however, reverse a number of measures implemented by Livingstone's administration, ending the city's oil deal with Venezuela, abolishing The Londoner newsletter, and scrapping the half yearly inspections of black cabs, although the latter were reinstated three years later. Abolishing the western wing of the congestion charging zone, he cancelled plans to increase the congestion charge for four-wheel drives. He was subsequently accused of failing to publish an independent report on air pollution commissioned by the Greater London authority. The report, available in 2013, showed London had been in breach of levels of diesel nitrogen dioxide levels since 2010 in areas affecting 433 primary schools. Poor areas, such as Newham, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets, were on average more polluted than more affluent areas and nearly 6,000 Londoners die annually from nitrogen dioxide levels above EU standards.
He retained Livingstone projects like Crossrail and the 2012 Olympic Games, but was accused of trying to take credit for them. He introduced a public bicycle scheme which had been mooted by Livingstone's administration; colloquially known as "Boris Bikes", the partly privately financed system cost £140 million and was a significant financial loss although it proved popular. Despite Johnson's support of cycling in London – and his much publicised identity as a cyclist himself – his administration was criticised by some cycling groups who argued that he had failed to make the city's roads safer for cyclists. As per his election pledge, he also commissioned the development of the New Routemaster buses for central London. He also ordered the construction of a cable-car system that crossed the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. At the beginning of his tenure as Mayor, Johnson announced plans to extend Pay As You Go Oyster cards to national rail services in London. One of the pledges in Johnson's election manifesto was to retain Tube ticket offices, in opposition to Livingstone's proposal to close up to 40 London Underground ticket offices. On 2 July 2008 the Mayor's office announced that the closure plan was to be abandoned and that offices would remain open. On 21 November 2013, Transport for London announced that all London Underground ticket offices would close by 2015. In financing these projects, Johnson's administration borrowed £100 million, while public transport fares were increased by 50%.
Johnson assumed control at City Hall on 4 May 2008. He appointed Richard Barnes as his Deputy Mayor on 6 May 2008, as well as appointing the following to newly devolved offices; Ian Clement as Deputy Mayor for Government Relations, Kit Malthouse as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Ray Lewis as Deputy Mayor for Young People. The Mayor also appointed Munira Mirza as his cultural adviser and Nick Boles, the founder of Policy Exchange, as Chief of Staff. Sir Simon Milton became Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning, as well as Chief of Staff. Political opponents questioned Johnson's judgement when Ray Lewis resigned on 4 July 2008, shortly after taking up his post, following allegations of financial misconduct during his prior career as a Church of England priest and inappropriate behaviour in respect of a false claim to have been appointed as a magistrate.
During the first term of his mayoralty, Johnson was perceived as having moved leftward on certain issues, for instance by supporting the London Living Wage and the idea of an amnesty for illegal migrants. He tried placating critics who had deemed him a bigot by appearing at London's gay pride parade and praising ethnic minority newspapers. In 2012, he banned London buses from displaying the adverts of Core Issues Trust, a Christian group, which compared being gay to an illness. In August 2008, Johnson broke from the traditional protocol of those in public office not publicly commenting on other nations' elections by endorsing Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States.
Johnson appointed himself Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), and in October 2008 successfully pushed for the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair after the latter was criticised for allegedly handing contracts to friends and for his handling of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. This earned Johnson great respect among Conservatives, who interpreted it as his first act of strength and assertiveness. Although resigning as MPA Chairman in January 2010, throughout his mayoralty Johnson was highly supportive of the Metropolitan Police, particularly during the controversy surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson. Overall crime in London fell during his administration, although his claim that serious youth crime had decreased was shown to be false, as it had increased. Similarly, his claim that Metropolitan Police numbers had increased was also shown to be incorrect, as the city's police force had decreased in size under his administration, in line with the rest of the country. He was also criticised for his response to the 2011 London riots; holidaying with his family in British Columbia when the rioting broke out, he did not immediately return to London, only returning 48 hours after it had begun and addressing Londoners 60 hours after. Upon visiting shopkeepers and residents affected by the riots in Clapham, he was booed and jeered away by some elements within the crowds.
Johnson championed London's financial sector and denounced what he saw as "banker bashing" following the financial crisis of 2007–08, condemning the anti-capitalist Occupy London movement that appeared in 2011. He spent much time with those involved in the financial services, and criticised the government's 50p tax rate for higher earners. He collected donations from the city's wealthy for a charitable enterprise, the Mayor's Fund, which he had established to aid disadvantaged youths; although initially announcing that it would raise £100 million, by 2010 it had only spent £1.5 million. He also retained extensive personal contacts throughout the British media, which resulted in widespread favourable press coverage of his administration. In turn he remained largely supportive of his friends in the media, among them Rupert Murdoch, during the News International phone hacking scandal.
The formation of the Forensic Audit Panel was announced on 8 May 2008. The Panel is tasked with monitoring and investigating financial management at the London Development Agency and the Greater London Authority. Johnson's announcement was criticised by Labour for the perceived politicisation of this nominally independent panel, who asked if the appointment of key Johnson allies to the panel – "to dig dirt on Ken Livingstone" – was "an appropriate use of public funds". The head of the panel, Patience Wheatcroft is married to a Conservative councillor and three of the four remaining panel members also have close links to the Conservatives: Stephen Greenhalgh (Conservative Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council), Patrick Frederick (Chairman of Conservative Business Relations for South East England and Southern London) and Edward Lister (Conservative Leader of Wandsworth Council).
During his first administration, Johnson was embroiled in several personal scandals. After moving to a new house in Islington, he built a shed on his balcony without obtaining planning permission; after neighbours complained, he dismantled the shed. The press also accused him of having an affair with Helen Macintyre and of fathering her child, allegations that he did not deny. Controversy was generated when Johnson was accused of warning the MP Damian Green that police were planning to arrest him; Johnson denied the claims and did not face criminal charges under the Criminal Justice Act. He was accused of cronyism, in particular for appointing Veronica Wadley, a former Evening Standard editor who had supported him, as the chair of London's Arts Council when she was widely regarded as not being the best candidate for the position. He was caught up in the parliamentary expenses scandal and accused of excessive personal spending on taxi journeys, with his deputy mayor Ian Clement having been found to have misused a City Hall credit card, resulting in his resignation. Johnson remained a popular figure in London with a strong celebrity status. In 2009, he rescued a woman, Franny Armstrong, from anti-social teenagers who had threatened her while he was cycling past.
Up for re-election in 2012, Johnson again hired Crosby to orchestrate his campaign. Before the election, Johnson published Johnson's Life of London, a work of popular history which the historian A. N. Wilson characterised as a "coded plea" for votes. Polls suggested that while Livingstone's approach to transport was preferred, voters in London placed greater trust in Johnson over issues of crime and the economy. During the 2012 Mayoral election, Johnson sought re-election, while Livingstone was again selected as the Labour candidate. Johnson's campaign emphasised the accusation that Livingstone was guilty of tax evasion, for which Livingstone called Johnson a "bare-faced liar". The political scientist Andrew Crines believed that Livingstone's campaign focused on criticising Johnson rather than presenting an alternate and progressive vision of London's future. In 2012, he was re-elected as Mayor, again defeating Livingstone.
London was successful in its bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics while Ken Livingstone was still Mayor in 2005. Johnson's role in the proceedings was to be the co-chair of an Olympic board which oversaw the Games. Two of his actions subsequent to taking on this role were to improve the transport around London by making more tickets available and laying on more buses around the capital during the busy period, when thousands of spectators were temporary visitors in London, and also to allow shops and supermarkets to have longer opening hours on Sundays. However Johnson was accused of covering up pollution ahead of the games by deploying dust suppressants to remove air particulates near monitoring stations. In November 2013, Johnson announced major changes to the operation of London Underground, including the extension of Tube operating hours to run through the night at weekends. The announcement also revealed that all staffed Underground ticket offices would be closed with the aim of saving over £40 million a year, with automated ticketing systems provided instead.
In February 2013, during a London Assembly meeting following the publication of the 2014 budget for London, Johnson was ejected from the meeting following a vote and on the grounds that his Deputy Victoria Borwick had left the chamber. Upon realising that the vote meant that he would not be questioned on the budget, Johnson referred to his political opponents as "great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies".
Johnson attended the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum in London in July 2013, where he answered questions alongside Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. He joked that Malaysian women attended university in order to find husbands, causing some offence among female attendees.
In 2014, Johnson pushed his biography of Churchill, The Churchill Factor, with media emphasising how Johnson repeatedly compared himself to Churchill throughout.
In April 2016, in an article for The Sun, in response to President Barack Obama comments that he thought Britain should remain in the European Union, Johnson called Obama "part-Kenyan" with an "ancestral dislike" of Britain. The comments were branded "idiotic" and "deeply offensive" by Churchill's grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, who called the article "deplorable" and "completely idiotic". A month later, during campaigning, he said there was an attempt to create the Roman Empire's united Europe. He said, "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods."
Boris Johnson left office still popular with the people of London. A YouGov poll commissioned at the end of his term revealed that 52% of Londoners believed he did a "good job" as Mayor of London while only 29% believed he did a "bad job". Regarding his successor, Sadiq Khan, only 31% of respondents in the same poll believed he would perform better than Johnson.
In 2016, three German-made water cannon, which he had bought for the Metropolitan Police without waiting for clearance for use by Theresa May, were sold by his successor, with the funds going to youth services.
Johnson may be investigated for Misconduct in public office due to excessive money spent on a proposed Thames Garden Bridge that was never built. Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said, "Boris Johnson drove forward this project during his mayoralty, and he needs to provide answers on the role he and his office played in the reckless decision to release public funds for the construction contract." In March 2018, The Guardian reported that pressure on Johnson is increasing and there is scepticism over his attempted explanations.
Johnson initially denied that he would return to the House of Commons while remaining Mayor. However, after much media speculation, in August 2014 he sought selection as the Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the 2015 general election, being selected as the party's candidate in September. The United Kingdom general election, 2015 took place on 7 May and Johnson was elected. There was much speculation that he had returned to Parliament because he wanted to replace Cameron as Conservative leader and Prime Minister.
Johnson became the centre of media interest in early 2016 when he refused to clarify his support for Brexit. In February 2016 he endorsed Vote Leave in the "Out" campaign for the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016. He labelled Cameron's fears on the matter as "greatly over exaggerated". Following this announcement, which was interpreted by financial markets as making Brexit more probable, the pound sterling slumped by nearly 2% to its lowest level since March 2009. When Obama urged the UK to remain in the EU, Johnson alleged that the President was in part motivated by anti-British sentiment caused by his Kenyan ancestry. The comments were condemned as racist and unacceptable by several Labour and Liberal Democratic politicians, and a King's College London student society revoked a speaking invitation to him on the basis of it. Conversely, his comments were defended by both UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and the Conservative Iain Duncan Smith.
On 22 June 2016, the day before the referendum vote, Johnson declared that 23 June could be "Britain's independence day" in a televised debate in front of a 6000-member audience at Wembley Arena. David Cameron, British Prime Minister at the time, specifically addressed Johnson's claim, publicly stating; "the idea that our country isn't independent is nonsense. This whole debate demonstrates our sovereignty."
Following the victory of the "Leave" campaign in the referendum, David Cameron announced his resignation, despite a pledge not to do so during the referendum campaign. Johnson was widely regarded as the front-runner in the election of his replacement, both as Conservative leader and as Prime Minister. In what was anticipated to be the launch of his leadership campaign, Johnson declared he would not campaign for leader, as he did not believe he could provide the necessary unity or leadership for the party. This followed the surprise launch of a leadership campaign by Michael Gove, previously seen as a key ally of the Johnson campaign, who said (earlier that morning) that he had reluctantly come to the conclusion that Johnson "cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead." The Telegraph stated that Gove's actions in undermining Johnson's leadership aspirations constituted "the most spectacular political assassination in a generation." Meanwhile, Michael Heseltine stated that Johnson had "ripped apart" the Conservative Party and that "He's created the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times. He knocked billions off the value of the nation's savings". Johnson then endorsed Andrea Leadsom as a candidate for the Conservative leadership, but she dropped out of the race a week later.
By resigning as Foreign Secretary, Johnson returned to the role of a backbench MP.
On 12 July 2018, Johnson signed a 12 month contract to write articles for the Telegraph Media Group Limited. This included writing a weekly column for a period of 46 weeks. In his first article since resigning as Foreign Secretary Johnson argued that "it is time for all of us – at this critical moment in our constitutional development – to believe in ourselves, to believe in the British people and what they can do, and in our democracy. People around the world believe passionately in Britain. It's time we shared their confidence". The newspaper The Independent subsequently released an editorial arguing that "Boris Johnson will do more damage writing his weekly column than he ever did as foreign secretary."
In August 2018, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) reported that Johnson's employment by Telegraph Media Group Limited was in breach of paragraph 7.25 of the Ministerial Code. This states that Ministers 'must seek advice from ACoBA about any appointments or employment they wish to take up within two years of leaving office. Former Ministers must ensure that no new appointments are announced, or taken up, before the Committee has been able to provide its advice'. In a letter to Johnson, the committee said it was "unacceptable" that he had not sought its advice before signing the contract. Labour accused Johnson of showing "utter contempt" for democracy.
On 18 July 2018, Boris Johnson delivered his resignation speech to the House of Commons. In his speech, Johnson avoided personal attacks on Theresa May, although he asserted that ministers were "saying one thing to the EU about what we are really doing, and pretending another to the electorate". Instead of adhering to the Lancaster House Vision set out in January 2017, Johnson said that "a fog of self doubt [had] descended" and that the government "burned through negotiating capital". He later added that "it is not too late to save Brexit. We have time in these negotiations. We have changed tack once and we can change once again". The speech received notable attention, with many noting its similarities to the Deputy Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe's 1990 resignation speech which contributed to the Resignation of Margaret Thatcher. Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC noted the seriousness of the speech, noting that "it's the first Boris Johnson speech that I can remember watching that didn't have any jokes" while Jacob Rees-Mogg, a pro-Brexit MP and leader of the European Research Group praised the speech, describing it as "the speech of a statesman".
On 5 August 2018 the Daily Telegraph published an article written by Johnson that discussed the introduction of a full face covering ban in Denmark, aimed specifically at Muslim women who wore the burqa/niqab. In the article, Johnson said that wearers of these garments "choose to go around looking like letter boxes" and that, "If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber", a lecturer "should feel fully entitled ... to ask her to remove it", but ultimately argued against categorical bans – like the one in Denmark – "telling a free-born adult woman what she may or may not wear, in a public place, when she is simply minding her own business." In response to the piece, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCM) accused Johnson of "pandering to the far right", while the Labour MP Jess Phillips said she would report Johnson to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Conservative peer Baroness Warsi accused Johnson of indulging in "dog whistle" politics and called for disciplinary action if he did not apologise. Several senior Conservatives called on Johnson to apologise for his remarks, including the Conservative Party chairman, Brandon Lewis, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, and the Prime Minister, Theresa May.
The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, however, said that Johnson "did not go far enough" and it was the Government which should be apologising. Dorries said the burqa should have no place in Britain and it was "shameful that countries like France and Denmark are way ahead of us on this". Boris' sister Rachel and father Stanley also agreed that Boris' comments did not go far enough, whereas his brother Leo – who is married to an Afghan woman – dismissed Boris' comments and his defenders as engaging in "competitive bigotry".
On 8 August 2018, it was reported that the Conservative Party had received dozens of complaints about Johnson's comments. The complaints were due to be investigated by an independent panel which could refer Johnson to the party's board, which has the power to expel him. Following Johnson's comments on the burqa, a poll by Sky News found that 60% thought it was not racist to compare Muslim women wearing burkas to bank robbers and letter boxes, while 33% thought it was; that 59% answered "yes" when asked "should burkas be banned" while 26% answered "no" and that 45% thought Johnson should apologise for his remarks while 48% thought he should not.
According to a Sunday Times article on 19 August 2018, Johnson's comments on the burqa led to a number of Islamophobic messages being left on his Facebook page by his followers, which the MCM urged the police to investigate as part of a "full and transparent" investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. A number of support groups for Johnson on Facebook included "widespread" racism, images ridiculing Muslim women, calls for a ban on Muslim immigration similar to the Trump travel ban to the UK and incitement to violence and murder against Muslims. A spokesperson for Johnson condemned these comments on his behalf when questioned by the Sunday Times.
Johnson continues to speak out against Theresa May and the Chequers Agreement through both speech and publications, including a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph and in the Mail on Sunday and also wrote an article which The Economist regarded as a potential leadership challenge to May.
After Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, Johnson was appointed as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 13 July 2016. Johnson's appointment was subsequently criticised by some journalists and foreign politicians, in part due to his history of controversial statements about several countries and their leaders. Former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt said "I wish it was a joke", and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated: "I am not at all worried about Boris Johnson, but ... during the campaign he lied a lot to the British people and now it is he who has his back against the wall" as the UK tries to negotiate its future relationship with EU.
However, many leaders and journalists praised Johnson's appointment. Former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott welcomed the appointment and called him "a friend of Australia". A senior official in the US government suggested that Johnson's appointment would push the US further towards ties with Germany at the expense of the Special Relationship with the UK.
Several analysts described the appointment as a possible tactic by May to weaken Johnson politically: the new positions of "Brexit Secretary" and International Trade Secretary leave the Foreign Secretary as a figurehead with few powers, and the appointment would ensure that Johnson would often be out of the country and unable to organise a rebel coalition, while also forcing him to take responsibility for any problems caused by withdrawing from the EU.
In August 2016, May called on "feuding ministers" Johnson and Liam Fox to "stop playing games" after Fox wrote to Johnson saying that British trade could not flourish while future policy responsibility remained in Johnson's department. His recorded message supporting Change Britain was perceived by The Guardian as putting pressure on May to speed up the exit process, though the newspaper also recorded the anger of former health minister Anna Soubry at the absence of the central "£350m-a-week bonanza for the NHS" pledge -a pledge she had previously described as a lie. In an article critical of Leave campaign figures, which noted his video and his lack of support for May, The Washington Post called him "bombastic".
In an op-ed published in The Daily Telegraph in September 2017, Johnson reiterated that the UK would regain control of £350m a week after Brexit saying it would be fine thing if much of the money went on the NHS. He was subsequently criticised by Cabinet colleagues for reviving the assertion, and was accused of "clear misuse of official statistics" by the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove. The authority rejected the suggestion that it was quibbling over newspaper headlines and not Johnson's actual words. A few days later, on 19 September, the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke said that Johnson would have been sacked if British politics were in a more straightforward period. Immediately ahead of the party conference, noting a second Johnson speech setting out terms for Brexit even before determination by the Cabinet, Ruth Davidson called for "serious people" to take over his role, criticised his overoptimism and predicted that Britain would "look very much like it looks now" after the transitional period.
On 27 February 2018 in a leaked letter to Theresa May, Johnson suggested that Northern Ireland may have to accept border controls after Brexit and that it would not seriously affect trade, having initially said a hard border would be unthinkable. On 28 February 2018 he said he would publish his 18-page letter in full online as he recommitted to ruling out a hard border after Britain left the EU.
In June 2018, while attending an event for EU diplomats in London, Johnson was reported to have been asked about corporate concerns over a so-called hard Brexit. In response to the question, Johnson was reported to have said "Fuck business".
In September 2018, Johnson wrote: "We have opened ourselves to perpetual political blackmail. We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier." Senior Tories heavily criticised him, with Alan Duncan of the Foreign Office vowing to ensure the comments marked "the political end of Boris Johnson".
During the Conservative party conference, Johnson laid out his own plans for Brexit. In response, the comedian Patrick Kielty who interviewed leading politicians including Arlene Foster and former paramilitary commanders for a BBC2 documentary earlier in the year, wrote a point by point rebuttal. Kielty's own father was an innocent victim of The Troubles.
Upon meeting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in late September 2016, Johnson reiterated his support for negotiating increased visa access between the United Kingdom and Australia, declaring it "odd" that Australians struggled harder to settle in Britain than European nations such as Slovakia. In January 2017, the former government minister Lord Wallace of Saltaire said that Johnson's work on Brexit had left civil servants "in despair" and that he was "alienating other EU foreign ministers". The Foreign Office defended Johnson.
Johnson's first visit to Turkey as Foreign Secretary was somewhat tense due to his having won Douglas Murray's poetry competition about the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, four months earlier. When questioned by a journalist whether he would apologise for the poem, which was published by The Spectator, Johnson dismissed the matter as "trivia". Johnson pledged to help Turkey join the European Union in "any way possible" and expressed Britain's continued support for the elected Turkish Government.
In response to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria aimed at ousting US-backed Syrian Kurds from the enclave of Afrin, Johnson said: "Watching developments in Afrin closely. Turkey is right to want to keep its borders secure."
In May 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in the United Kingdom for a three-day state visit. Erdoğan declared that the United Kingdom is "an ally and a strategic partner, but also a real friend." Liberal Democrat leader Vincent Cable denounced the visit, saying that "By permitting a state visit and audience with the Queen, May and Boris Johnson are essentially rolling out the red carpet for a man with a disregard for human rights, who is responsible for alarming oppression and violence."
Johnson caused controversy on a number of occasions. Whilst visiting a temple in Myanmar, formerly Burma, the British ambassador prevented him from reciting lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem Mandalay, stopping him a verse before a line which refers to the Buddha as a "Bloomin' idol made o' mud". The ambassador described the colonial era poem as "not appropriate".
While speaking at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference, Johnson caused upset by remarking that the Libyan city Sirte, which had been the site of sustained conflict between Islamic State and the Libyan Government of National Accord, could be the new Dubai, adding, "all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away". Following his remarks several Conservative MPs called for his sacking. According to The Economist, as Foreign Secretary Johnson "is ridiculed abroad and disliked in the Foreign Office."
Johnson condemned the military crackdown by the Myanmar Army and police on Rohingya Muslims. Johnson said that "The plight of the Rohingya and the suffering they have had to endure is one of the most shocking humanitarian disasters of our time." He compared the Rohingya situation with the displacement of Palestinians in 1948.
Johnson supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and refused to block UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying there is no clear evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. In September 2016, he was accused of blocking the UN inquiry into Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
In December 2016, at the Med 2 conference in Rome, Johnson said: "There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That's one of the biggest political problems in the whole region ... That's why you've got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars". These comments were interpreted as a diplomatic gaffe in Britain as Saudi Arabia is an ally of Britain and the biggest buyer of British arms.
British prime minister Theresa May said that the foreign minister's comments did not represent the government's view.
Following the 2017 general election, Johnson denied media reports that he intended to challenge Theresa May for leadership of the Conservative Party. He further denied this media speculation on 16 September 2017 as well, insisting on his Twitter page that he was "all behind Theresa for a glorious Brexit."
In response to the death of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died of organ failure while in government custody, Johnson said that "Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him."
On 1 November 2017, Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen serving a 5 year prison sentence in Iran after being arrested on holiday on suspicion of training BBC Persian employees, had been "simply teaching people journalism". Three days later, the High Council for Human Rights in Iran doubled Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence, using Johnson's words as evidence against her. Her family, her employer (the Thomson Reuters Foundation), and fellow politicians including Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind all called on Johnson to retract his words. Johnson insisted that he had been misquoted, and that nothing he had said had justified Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence.
In May 2018, Johnson backed the Iran nuclear deal framework despite Donald Trump's withdrawal. Johnson opined that the deal could bring economic benefits to the Iranian people.
In December 2017, Johnson told The Sunday Times newspaper, "I was reading Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian war. It was obvious to me that Athens and its democracy, its openness, its culture and civilisation was the analogue of the United States and the West. Russia for me was closed, nasty, militaristic and antidemocratic – like Sparta."
In March 2018, a Russian former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a Novichok nerve agent. Most politicians believed that the Russian government was behind the attack. In the aftermath of the incident, Johnson provoked controversy when he compared Vladimir Putin's hosting of the World Cup in Russia to Adolf Hitler's hosting of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.
On 20 March 2018, Johnson said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that scientists from the Porton Down laboratory were "absolutely categorical" about the Russian origin of the substance used. "I mean, I asked the guy myself," Johnson said. "I said: 'Are you sure?' And he said: 'There's no doubt.' So we have very little alternative but to take the action that we have taken." On 3 April 2018, Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the Government's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down responsible for testing the substance involved in the case, said they had been unable to verify the "precise source" of the Novichok nerve agent. Labour MP Chris Williamson tweeted that Johnson had "just lied to justify our country's foreign policy."
In March 2018, Johnson was reprimanded by Commons Speaker John Bercow for using what he called sexist language. Bercow intervened after Johnson referred to the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry as Lady Nugee; she is married to High Court judge Sir Christopher Nugee but did not take his name on marriage. Bercow said the reference was "inappropriate and sexist", while Johnson subsequently apologised for his "inadvertent sexism".
Writing in the New Statesman, Martin Fletcher suggested that Johnson was harming British interests abroad. Fletcher wrote that a senior European diplomat based in London said that Johnson was "not taken seriously as a foreign policy actor" and was damaging British interests. He suggested that three-fifths of the 27 EU ambassadors in London quite like Johnson but consider him ill-suited to the job, while the remaining two-fifths "positively dislike him". My interlocutors are, of course, experts in their field and fully paid-up members of the metropolitan elite. ... I, too, am dismayed by the harm that Johnson is doing to my country and appalled by the possibility of him becoming prime minister."
In August 2017, Rachel Sylvester wrote in The Times that Johnson was ineffective and incoherent on major issues like North Korea and Qatar whilst on Brexit, he appeared to have no idea of what was required. His rhetoric seemed to suggest that the UK could dictate the terms "as if it was some kind of public school game rather than a negotiation on which the future of the nation depends." Sylvester wrote that both European ministers and White House officials regarded him as a joke. This followed a Today programme interview in June on the Queen's Speech where, asked about the Government's answer to the "burning injustices," highlighted by Theresa May when she became prime minister, he showed a lack of understanding of the issues sufficiently serious to require prompting by Eddie Mair.
Buzzfeed reported that Johnson had been in contact with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief advisor. In interviews, Bannon had praised Johnson and said that he should challenge Theresa May for the party leadership. In September 2018, The Sunday Times reported that hours before his separation from Marina Wheeler became public, aides of Prime Minister Theresa May were circulating a 4,000-word "war book" dossier written by the former deputy head of Theresa May's policy unit, which contained "lurid allegations about Johnson's sexual liaisons, quips from him about cocaine and damning assessments of his character." According to The Sunday Times, "The document was drawn up by one of May's aides during the Conservative leadership election in 2016 when Johnson was seen as her fiercest rival. It was not used because his campaign imploded." Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ officials categorically denied any involvement with distributing the dossier.
Ideologically, Johnson has described himself as a "One-Nation Tory". Academic Tony Travers of the London School of Economics described Johnson as "a fairly classic—that is, small-state—mildly eurosceptic Conservative" who like his contemporaries Cameron and Osborne also embraced "modern social liberalism". The Guardian agreed that while Mayor, Johnson had blended economic and social liberalism, with The Economist claiming that in doing so Johnson "transcends his Tory identity" and adopts a more libertarian perspective. Stuart Reid, Johnson's colleague at The Spectator, described the latter's views as being those of a "liberal libertarian". Johnson's biographer and friend Andrew Gimson noted that while "in economic and social matters, [Johnson] is a genuine liberal", he retains a "Tory element" to his personality through his "love of existing institutions, and a recognition of the inevitability of hierarchy".
Stuart Wilks-Heeg, executive director of Democratic Audit, noted that "Boris is politically nimble", while biographer Sonia Purnell stated that Johnson regularly changed his opinion on political issues, commenting on what she perceived to be "an ideological emptiness beneath the staunch Tory exterior." She later referred to his "opportunistic—some might say pragmatic—approach to politics". In 2014, former Mayor Ken Livingstone claimed in an interview with the New Statesman that while he had once feared Johnson as "the most hardline right-wing ideologue since Thatcher", over the course of Johnson's mayoralty he had instead concluded that he was "a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there" while doing very little work. He has sometimes been described as a "populist" and a "nationalist".
Purnell has noted that Johnson "is nothing if not an elitist". In an article titled "Long Live Elitism", Johnson stated that "without elites and elitism man would still be in his caves." Purnell believed that it was the influence of Johnson's maternal family, the left-wing Fawcetts, that led to him developing "a genuine abhorrence of racial discrimination".
Widely known simply as "Boris", Johnson has attracted a variety of nicknames, including "BoJo", a portmanteau of his forename and surname. Biographer Sonia Purnell described his public persona as "brand Boris", noting that he developed it while at Oxford University. Max Hastings referred to this public image as a "façade resembling that of P. G. Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle, allied to wit, charm, brilliance and startling flashes of instability", while political scientist Andrew Crines stated that Johnson displayed "the character of a likable and trustworthy individual with strong intellectual capital". Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has defined him as "Beano Boris" due to his perceived comical nature, saying: "He's our Berlusconi ... He's the only feel-good politician we have, everyone else is too busy being responsible." To the journalist Dave Hill, Johnson was "a unique figure in British politics, an unprecedented blend of comedian, conman, faux subversive showman and populist media confection".
Johnson purposely cultivates a "semi-shambolic look", for instance by specifically ruffling his hair in a certain way for when he makes public appearances. Purnell described him as "a manic self-promoter" who filled his life with "fun and jokes". Described by Crines as "a joker", Johnson has stated that "humour is a utensil that you can use to sugar the pill and to get important points across." Purnell noted that colleagues regularly expressed the view that Johnson used people to advance his own interests, with Gimson noting that Johnson was "one of the great flatterers of our times". Purnell noted that he deflected serious questions using "a little humour and a good deal of bravado". According to Gimson, Johnson was "a humane man" who "could also be staggeringly inconsiderate of others" when pursuing his own interests. Gimson also noted that Johnson has "an excessive desire to be liked".
According to Purnell, "[Johnson] is blessed with immense charisma, wit, sex appeal and celebrity gold dust; he is also recognised and loved by millions—although perhaps less so by many who have had to work closely with him (let alone depend on him). Resourceful, cunning and strategic, he can pull off serious political coups when the greater good happens to coincide with his personal advantage but these aspirations are rarely backed up by concrete achievements, or even detailed plans." Furthermore, Purnell noted that Johnson was a "highly evasive figure" when it came to his personal life, who remained detached from others and who had very few if any intimate friends. Among friends and family, Johnson is known as "Al" rather than "Boris". Gimson stated that Johnson "has very bad manners. He tends to be late, does not care about being late, and dresses without much care". Highly ambitious and very competitive, Gimson noted that Johnson was born "to wage a ceaseless struggle for supremacy". He would be particularly angered with those he thought insulted aspects of his personal life; for instance, when an article in The Telegraph upset Johnson he e-mailed commissioning editor Sam Leith with the simple message "Fuck off and die." Thus, Purnell notes, Johnson hides his ruthlessness "using bumbling, self-deprecation or humour", adding that he was a fan of "laddish banter and crude sexual references".
—Biographer Sonia Purnell, 
Johnson is a controversial figure in British politics and journalism. Purnell described Johnson as "the most unconventional, yet compelling politician of the post-Blair era" in British politics. She added that in Britain, he was "beloved by millions and recognised by all". Giles Edwards and Jonathan Isaby commented that Johnson appealed to "a broad cross-section of the public", with his friends characterising him as a "Heineken Tory" who can appeal to voters that other Conservatives cannot. Gimson expressed the view that "people love him because he makes them laugh", noting that he had become "the darling of the Tory rank and file".
Purnell recognised that during the 2008 mayoral election, he was "polarising opinions to the extreme", with critics viewing him as "variously evil, a clown, a racist and a bigot". Writing in The Guardian, journalist Polly Toynbee for instance referred to him as "jester, toff, self-absorbed sociopath and serial liar", while Labour politician Hazel Blears called him "a nasty right-wing elitist, with odious views and criminal friends". More recently, Johnson has evoked comparisons with United States President Donald Trump. In June 2016, Nick Clegg described him as "like Donald Trump with a thesaurus", while fellow Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke described him as a "nicer Donald Trump" and EU official Martin Selmayr described the potential election of Johnson and Trump to the leadership of their respective countries as a "horror scenario". However, Johnson has criticised Trump on a number of occasions.
Johnson is the eldest of the four children of Stanley Johnson, a former Conservative Member of the European Parliament and employee of the European Commission and World Bank, and the painter Charlotte Johnson Wahl (née Fawcett), the daughter of Sir James Fawcett, a barrister and president of the European Commission of Human Rights. His younger siblings are Rachel Johnson, a writer and journalist; Leo Johnson, a partner specialising in sustainability at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science and Conservative MP for Orpington. Johnson's stepmother, Jenny, the second wife of his father Stanley, is the stepdaughter of Teddy Sieff, the former chairman of Marks & Spencer. In April 2017, Rachel Johnson joined the Liberal Democrats in protest against Conservative Brexit policies; she was a member of the Conservatives between 2008–11.
In 1987, he married Allegra Mostyn-Owen, the daughter of the art historian William Mostyn-Owen and the Italian writer Gaia Servadio; the marriage was dissolved in 1993. A couple of weeks later (and five weeks before the birth of their first child together) he married Marina Wheeler, a barrister and daughter of journalist and broadcaster Charles Wheeler and his wife, Dip Singh. The Wheeler and Johnson families have known each other for decades, and Marina Wheeler was at the European School in Brussels at the same time as her future husband. They have four children: two daughters, Lara and Cassia, and two sons, Milo and Theodore. Johnson and his family have a home in Islington, North London.
In 2009, Johnson fathered a daughter with Helen MacIntyre, an arts consultant. Her existence was the subject of legal action in 2013 with the Court of Appeal quashing an injunction seeking to ban reporting of her existence; the judge ruled that the public had a right to know about Johnson's "reckless" behaviour.
In early September 2018 Johnson and Wheeler issued a statement confirming that after 25 years of marriage they had separated "several months ago", and had begun the process of getting divorced.
One of Johnson's favourite phrases is 'Aut homo aut maus' which translates from Latin to English as 'Are you a man or a mouse?'
Johnson had dual citizenship in both the United Kingdom and the United States, since he was born in New York City to English parents. In 2014, Johnson acknowledged he was disputing a demand for capital gains tax from the US tax authorities, which ultimately he paid. In February 2015 he announced his intention to give up US citizenship to prove his loyalty to the UK and in 2016 he renounced his US citizenship.
... It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes ... If a constituent came to my MP's surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled - like Jack Straw - to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. "If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto.
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| Editor of The Spectator
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Henley
| Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip
| Shadow Minister for the Arts
| Shadow Minister for Higher Education
| Mayor of London
| Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
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