Boris Johnson’s day has lastly come. Perhaps.

The 54-year-old Conservative member of Parliament, former overseas minister, and former mayor of London is the presumed frontrunner within the crowded contest to switch outgoing Prime Minister Theresa Might, who was pressured to step apart after failing to ship a Brexit deal.

An ardent backer of Brexit, Johnson has a repute for brashness, bombast, bending the reality, and actually unhealthy hair, which has earned him quite a lot of comparisons to President Donald Trump (who additionally occurs to be a fan of his).

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Johnson could be a cringeworthy character (see: that point he obtained caught dangling from a zipline), however that’s additionally one way or the other a part of his appeal, and why he’s among the many hottest Conservative politicians in a celebration that isn’t too standard proper now. He’s additionally been a vocal opponent of Might’s Brexit deal.

However Johnson’s critics see him as a calculating self-aggrandizer, somebody who’d do or say absolutely anything to get forward. Or, as one outstanding Conservative politician as soon as put it: Johnson “waits to see the best way the gang is operating after which dashes in entrance.”

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Johnson is now certainly one of 11 candidates vying for the prime ministership, and although he’s the presumed favourite proper now, there’s at all times an opportunity that his candidacy implodes. However his is a reputation you’ll be listening to a whole lot of now that Might has formally stepped down as Conservative chief as of final week and the competition to switch her has begun.

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So right here’s what it’s essential to find out about Johnson and the management contest which will or might not make him the British prime minister — and the subsequent in line to unravel Brexit, a disaster that’s additionally partly of Johnson’s personal making.

“A capability to generate laughter and a temper of upbeat bonhomie”


Boris Johnson, editor of the Spectator magazine at the time, sits in his London office reading the anniversary issue of the magazine to mark 175 years of publication, on September 25, 2003.

Boris Johnson, editor of the Spectator journal on the time, sits in his London workplace studying the anniversary difficulty of the journal to mark 175 years of publication, on September 25, 2003.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Pictures

Johnson’s populist persona is considerably at odds along with his background. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York Metropolis (he apparently gave up his US citizenship in 2016), and was educated on the prestigious English prep faculty Eton, and later at Oxford College.

Johnson started his profession as a journalist. He labored on the Occasions of London till he was fired in 1988 for fabricating quotes. He additionally served because the Brussels correspondent masking the European Union for the Telegraph (the place he nonetheless has a column) from 1989 to 1994.

One critic stated he tried to “debunk the EU at each alternative” throughout his time as a reporter in Brussels, serving to gas euroskeptic sentiment in Britain that may arrive in power through the 2016 referendum. He later held editor jobs on the Telegraph and the Spectator. He’s additionally written a number of books, from fiction to a biography of Winston Churchill.

Johnson grew to become a Conservative member of Parliament in 2001. In 2008, he mounted a bid to turn out to be the mayor of London — and gained in a surprising upset, defeating the Labour candidate and incumbent Ken Livingstone.

Johnson’s victory was seen as a serious breakthrough for the Conservative Occasion, which had been out of energy in Parliament for greater than a decade at that time. And in a pro-Labour Occasion city like London, it helped flip Johnson right into a candidate with cross-party enchantment.

Johnson’s document as mayor was blended, however he was a booster for London and liked publicity stunts and branding workouts — for higher or worse. For instance, he presided over a motorcycle share program that grew to become often called “Boris bikes,” although his predecessor additionally obtained credit score. Johnson additionally had a penchant for grand infrastructure tasks, a few of which grew to become high-profile boondoggles.

Notably, Johnson presided over the London Olympics, the place, because the Guardian put it, he demonstrated “his best power as mayor — a capability to generate laughter and a temper of upbeat bonhomie,” principally due to that zipline incident.

Then-Prime Minister David Cameron aptly summed up Johnson’s odd enchantment: “If another politician anyplace on the earth was caught on a zip-wire it will be a catastrophe. For Boris, it’s an absolute triumph.”


Then-London Mayor Boris Johnson hanging in midair after he got stuck on a zipwire at an Olympic event at Victoria Park in London on January 8, 2012.

Then-London Mayor Boris Johnson hanging in midair after he obtained caught on a zipline at an Olympic occasion at Victoria Park in London on January 8, 2012.
Ben Kendall/PA Pictures through Getty Pictures

Johnson finally served two phrases as London mayor, declining to run once more in 2016, simply because the 2016 Brexit referendum was getting underway. By then, he had additionally returned to Parliament, successful a seat as an MP in 2015. It’s the seat he nonetheless holds right this moment.

And through the years, Johnson has managed to generate a substantial quantity of controversy for making feedback that critics have dubbed racist, sexist, Islamophobic, or some mixture of the three. In 2002, whereas criticizing the UK’s Africa coverage, he referred to Africans as “piccaninnies.” In 2007, he likened Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse in a psychological hospital.”

In 2016, Johnson recommended that President Obama opposed Brexit due to his “ancestral dislike” of Britain, owing to his “part-Kenyan heritage” (Kenya was previously a British colony). In a 2018 column, Johnson described Muslim ladies who put on burqas as wanting like “letter bins” and “financial institution robbers.”

Johnson’s gaffes come throughout as poisonous to some however as unfiltered honesty and authenticity to his supporters.

“I believe a whole lot of it’s much like what Trump’s been in a position to do,” Amy P. Smith, who teaches British politics and public coverage on the College of Sheffield, instructed me. Each leaders have managed to persuade individuals they’re actually searching for the pursuits of the frequent man.

“[Johnson] had fairly a privileged upbringing, however it doesn’t matter,” Smith stated. “It’s nearly prefer it doesn’t matter to individuals as a result of he’s certainly one of us — he’s humorous, he makes errors, and he says what he thinks.”

A few of Johnson’s extra controversial feedback doubtless enchantment to a subset of his supporters, too — particularly on the subject of Brexit.

Boris and the Brexit bus offered UK voters on leaving the EU


Boris Johnson boards the Vote Leave Brexit Battle Bus on May 17, 2016, in Stafford, England. Johnson and the Vote Leave campaign toured the UK in their Brexit Battle Bus hoping to persuade voters to back leaving the European Union in the referendum that J

Boris Johnson boards the Vote Depart Brexit Battle Bus on Might 17, 2016, in Stafford, England. Johnson and the Vote Depart marketing campaign toured the UK within the bus hoping to influence voters to again leaving the European Union within the referendum that June.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Pictures

In 2013, then-PM Cameron promised that if his Conservative Occasion gained the subsequent normal election, he would maintain a referendum on whether or not the UK ought to stay within the EU or go away. Cameron gained, and saved his promise. The UK held the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016. There have been two selections: Depart (the EU) or Stay.

Johnson embraced the Depart marketing campaign in February 2016, after a dramatic will-he-or-won’t-he that performed out in public view. “I can be advocating Vote Depart … as a result of I would like a greater deal for the individuals of this nation, to save lots of them cash and to take management,” Johnson stated on the time.

As a particularly standard Conservative politician, Johnson added legitimacy to the Depart marketing campaign. He additionally publicly broke with Cameron, who advocated for Stay. (A ballot from the time even regarded on the “Boris impact” on Depart/Stay if Johnson backed or bucked Cameron.)

It was embarrassing for the prime minister, and lots of critics noticed Johnson’s break with Cameron as an apparent political ploy — if a dangerous one on the time. Hitching himself to the Depart marketing campaign meant that if it prevailed, Johnson may place himself to be the subsequent chief of the Conservative Occasion. That might be tougher to do if he obtained in line behind Cameron, regardless of the referendum end result.

“Earlier than [Brexit], he by no means made his colours clear,” Simon Griffiths, a politics professor at Goldsmiths, College of London, instructed me. “It was extensively thought that he doesn’t have sturdy views on it however noticed it as an opportunity to get his identify recognized and an opportunity to steer a bunch of individuals.”

Johnson successfully grew to become the unofficial chief of the “Vote Depart” marketing campaign — and although he wasn’t the one outstanding politician backing the UK’s exit from the EU, he was in all probability essentially the most memorable. (One other outstanding pro-Brexit determine, Nigel Farage, led a parallel however unofficial marketing campaign, Depart.EU).

Johnson, together with different leaders within the Brexit marketing campaign, made a whole lot of questionable assertions concerning the EU-UK relationship, together with a disputed declare that £350 million every week was going to the EU, which Brexiteers claimed may as an alternative be used to fund Britain’s standard Nationwide Well being Service.

Johnson wasn’t the primary individual to make this declare, however he peddled it and went on a Brexit Battle Bus tour with the declare plastered on its aspect. (£350 million is the gross determine, which doesn’t account for a £74 million rebate and that a whole lot of that cash is reinvested in farm subsidies, together with in Britain. The Guardian places the web determine at about £160 million.)

One other huge speaking level for Brexiteers centered on immigration. Boris and a few of his pro-Brexit campaigners argued that the EU’s freedom of motion guidelines made the UK much less secure and stated Brexit would permit the UK to take again management of its borders.

Johnson and others particularly pointed to Turkey’s potential membership within the EU, suggesting that after it joined, its residents (the vast majority of whom are Muslim) would then have the ability to migrate to the UK. Turkey’s EU membership was really years away then (and is now fully stalled), and critics interpreted this line of argument as nothing greater than a canine whistle for Islamophobia.

Johnson has since denied saying something about Turkish membership through the referendum, although the document is fairly clear. And in some ways, it sums up Johnson’s malleable politics and penchant for political expediency that his critics deride.

Johnson “is seen as any person who is way extra targeted on Boris Johnson than the nation,” Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics and worldwide relations on the College of Kent, instructed me.

Boris’s post-Brexit play for prime minister fails


Boris Johnson listens to then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove speak following the results of the EU referendum at Westminster Tower on June 24, 2016, in London, England.

Boris Johnson listens to then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove communicate following the outcomes of the EU referendum at Westminster Tower on June 24, 2016, in London.
Mary Turner/WPA Pool/Getty Pictures

After the Brexit outcome broke in favor of Depart — 52 to 48 % — Cameron resigned, leaving the celebration to selected a brand new chief and the subsequent prime minister. Johnson, contemporary off his Brexit victory, was seen as his most evident successor.

That didn’t occur. As an alternative, Johnson’s candidacy imploded after certainly one of his political allies betrayed him.

The political treachery started with Michael Gove, the justice minister who was a Johnson ally and fellow pro-Brexit supporter. Gove, although was typically thought-about to be a Brexit “true believer,” in contrast to the extra malleable Johnson. Nonetheless, Gove had been chairing Johnson’s management marketing campaign when he instantly introduced he was coming into the race himself.

“I wished to assist construct a workforce behind Boris Johnson so {that a} politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead on us to a greater future,” Gove stated in a press release on the time. “However I’ve come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris can’t present the management or construct the workforce for the duty forward.”

As soon as Gove declared, different Conservative members of Parliament, who would finally select the finalists for chief, defected. Johnson had misplaced his help and actually had no selection however to drop out.

However Gove’s gambit failed, and he was eradicated from the competition. As an alternative, Theresa Might, who was then the house secretary (the place covers immigration and citizenship, sort of just like the US Division of Homeland Safety), grew to become the UK’s second feminine prime minister.

Might had supported Stay (although not very enthusiastically), and he or she promised to ship on Brexit as prime minister. In some ways, she was seen because the compromise candidate between the extra reasonable wing of the Conservative Occasion and the hardcore pro-Brexit supporters — a type of prime minister of necessity, tasked with cleansing up the Brexit mess.

Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers helped scuttled Might’s deal — and her premiership

Johnson finally needed to accept the job of overseas secretary in Might’s cupboard.

As overseas secretary, Boris was, properly, Boris. There have been the gaffes — akin to his struggle with an Italian minister over prosecco gross sales post-Brexit — which didn’t precisely assist the UK in its difficult negotiations with the EU over Brexit, or with the remainder of the world to foster future buying and selling relationships.

Johnson finally give up in July 2018 in protest of Might’s dealing with of Brexit. A number of different outstanding cupboard ministers additionally resigned with him. Johnson and the others noticed Might as pursuing a “mushy Brexit” that may hold the UK intently tied to EU establishments, reasonably than the extra decisive break they most well-liked.


Prime Minister Theresa May (L) sits with then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during the first Cabinet meeting of May’s new team at 10 Downing Street in London on June 12, 2017.

Prime Minister Theresa Might sits with then-Overseas Secretary Boris Johnson through the first cupboard assembly of Might’s new workforce at 10 Downing Road in London on June 12, 2017.
Leon Neal/Pool/AFP/Getty Pictures)

Johnson was out entrance in his opposition to Might’s deal even earlier than it was formally agreed to. In his resignation letter, he stated Might’s Brexit plans would give the UK the “standing of a colony.”

Johnson continued to protest Might’s Brexit method, and referred to her deal, which the EU-UK finalized in November, as “vassal state stuff” and a “humiliation.” Johnson, as an MP, had voted down the Brexit deal twice.

When it got here up for a vote the third time on the finish of March, although, the deal instantly didn’t appear as humiliating to Johnson — primarily as a result of Might promised to resign if Parliament handed it that point round. “I really feel very, very sorry and although it fills me with ache, I’m going to need to help this factor,” Johnson instructed the Telegraph.

“You possibly can hold on and be pure, however ultimately, the factor I fought for might by no means occur,” he added. “I genuinely assume that until this factor will get by means of, the Home of Commons goes to steal Brexit.”

The deal didn’t find yourself passing that point both, undermining his sacrifice. However finally, the result was the identical: Might couldn’t break the Brexit impasse, and he or she was pressured to resign final month.

And Johnson was there, able to strive once more.

Is Boris Johnson the person to save lots of Brexit?

Johnson emerged nearly immediately because the frontrunner within the management race to switch Might. And in contrast to final time, he may really turn out to be prime minister.

UK politics watchers and consultants I talked to cautioned that these management contests may be unpredictable affairs, and simply as Johnson’s bid obtained derailed final time, it may occur once more.

However rather a lot has modified since 2016. For one, Johnson is in a unique place than he was three years in the past.

“He’s an excellent mover behind the scenes,” Griffiths instructed me. “He’s very personable. He’s an excellent connector to different MPs, so he’s turn out to be higher linked. He’s established himself because the frontrunner on the correct of the celebration, in a manner that he hadn’t accomplished three or 4 years in the past.”

But it surely is perhaps what hasn’t modified since 2016 that may have essentially the most affect on this race: the UK’s incapacity to resolve learn how to break up with the European Union.

Brexit was initially scheduled for March 29, 2019 — that deadline handed, then one other. Now it’s set for October 31, 2019. Parliament rejected Might’s deal, however it additionally rejected leaving the EU with no deal in place, thus forcing the UK to hunt extra time.

The longer October extension additionally pressured the UK to take part within the European parliamentary elections held in Might, which changed into a referendum on Brexit. And the Conservatives obtained completely clobbered, ending up in a really embarrassing fifth place.

To make issues worse, a newly fashioned Brexit Occasion led by Brexit provocateur Nigel Farage gained essentially the most seats within the European Parliament. And whereas Farage’s Brexit Occasion doesn’t fairly match neatly right into a left-right spectrum (it additionally attracted pro-Brexit Labour supporters), the outcomes have been nonetheless startling for Conservatives, who have been imagined to be the celebration that delivered on Brexit.

And the message that the Conservatives have taken from the one-issue Brexit Occasion is that the UK needs out of the EU by October, deal or no deal.

The outcomes have mainly put Conservatives in panic mode. The Brexit Occasion doesn’t have any seats in Parliament, however the worry is that it may sap help from Conservatives in the event that they proceed to dither and postpone on the EU-UK divorce.

And it’s fairly clear that if the celebration in energy can solely handle fifth place, voters usually are turned off. So possibly the answer is a hardcore Brexiteer who’s standard with the bottom and in addition occurs to be charismatic and attention-grabbing.

Proper now, Conservatives appear to assume Johnson is the most effective man for the job — not simply to ship Brexit but in addition to rehabilitate the celebration and win again supporters.

The celebration “seems to be round at the remainder of the sector and doesn’t actually see somebody who has as a lot identify recognition or as a lot document of successful over Labour voters or as a lot charisma as Boris Johnson does,” Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary College of London, instructed me. “Now, that doesn’t imply he’s obtained sufficient of any of these portions, however it does give him an enormous benefit over many of the different candidates within the subject.”

That appears to be Johnson’s pitch to MPs. He’s stated that he’ll ship on Brexit by October 31 by each pushing for a deal and stepping up preparations to take the UK out of the EU with no deal if mandatory. Johnson instructed MPs that until Conservatives delivered on Brexit, the celebration would face “extinction.”

The pitch appears to be working, not simply with Brexiteers however with extra reasonable Conservatives. Johnson is removed from adored by his fellow MPs, a lot of whom see him as crass and self-serving, however their reservations appear rather less pronounced this time round.

Johnson has additionally accomplished a whole lot of outreach, together with to a bunch of reasonable Conservative MPs. Individuals current in these conferences counsel Johnson is successful over earlier skeptics. Thus far, he’s gained endorsements from throughout the celebration, with MPs tweeting, “I’m backing Boris.” (“Again Boris” is his official marketing campaign slogan.)

A number of moderates within the celebration have backed him thus far, calling him the candidate who will “encourage the nation and revitalise our celebration.” Former Protection Minister Gavin Williamson known as him the “one man who can save the celebration.”

Nonetheless, successful over his extra skeptical colleagues is perhaps Johnson’s greatest hurdle. In spite of everything, that’s the place he failed in 2016. But when he manages to safe their help, stated Smith, the politics and public coverage instructor on the College of Sheffield, his reputation with the remainder of the Conservative Occasion will doubtless assist him prevail.

Johnson isn’t the one one operating to be the subsequent Conservative chief, although. There at the moment are 11 candidates, although the sector may very well be whittled down on Monday. They embrace Gove, who sank Johnson final time and is making one other try; and Overseas Minister Jeremy Hunt, a former Remainer who has criticized Johnson’s Brexit plan however stated he’d again a no-deal Brexit, albeit with a “heavy coronary heart.”

However Johnson is such polarizing determine in UK politics that there are some who assume electing him may backfire with the remainder of the general public. And in contrast to a whole lot of the opposite candidates, Johnson’s identify recognition and colourful historical past imply one other subset of voters don’t simply dislike Johnson however detest him. It’s not in contrast to President Trump, who has a powerful and practically immovable base however can also be deeply unpopular with a big part of the inhabitants.

A current YouGov ballot gave respondents within the UK a listing of potential Conservative candidates and requested them to say whether or not every candidate would make an excellent prime minister or a nasty one; 28 % stated Johnson would make an excellent prime minister — the next share than any of the opposite (then-potential) candidates obtained. However he additionally obtained essentially the most votes for who would make a nasty prime minister, at 54 %.


Even so, MPs is perhaps keen to take the danger.

However placing Johnson in cost would do little to vary the present Brexit deadlock, as whoever takes over as prime minister will inherit the identical conundrum that introduced down Theresa Might: The Brexit deal on provide remains to be extraordinarily unpopular, and the European Union has insisted that it’s going to renegotiate the present deal.

Johnson has intimated to MPs that he thinks Might’s reluctance to entertain a no-deal Brexit gave an excessive amount of leverage to the EU, and that being keen (and ready) to really go away with no deal will power the EU again to the negotiating desk.

“The extra decided we’re to pursue No Deal, the much less doubtless we must deploy it,” Johnson reportedly instructed MPs this week. “I don’t want it. However to have an orderly exit from the EU, it’s critical you put together.”

A no-deal Brexit could be way more damaging to the UK than Europe — although each wish to keep away from such a situation. However reopening the Brexit negotiations additionally requires buy-in from EU leaders, and it’s not clear it’s there, even with the specter of no deal. French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, has stated that October 31 is the “ultimate, ultimate deadline” — which doesn’t precisely sound like he’s open to renegotiation.

However Johnson is perhaps a much better salesperson (or spin physician) for the deal than Might. The Brexit wing of the celebration by no means totally trusted Might; if certainly one of their very own is prime minister, they might be extra prone to relent.

Proper now, Johnson is operating a disciplined marketing campaign for Conservative chief on the promise that he can ship Brexit and fend off challenges to the celebration’s maintain on energy. Then once more, Johnson has been recognized to make guarantees he can’t hold — and his take a look at as prime minister, if he will get there, might lastly make him accountable to them.

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