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The rise and fall of Boris Johnson

The rise and fall of Boris Johnson

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to exit 10 Downing Street, Holyrood looks back on the rise and fall of one of the most controversial Prime Ministers in recent memory.


Early life

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in Manhattan, New York, before his parents moved back to England to continue their studies at Oxford University. Johnson attended Eton College, which has thus far produced 20 Prime Ministers, before treading the well-worn path from private school, to Oxbridge, to a job in London as a journalist. 


Fleet Street

Through family connections, Johnson secured a job as a graduate trainee at The Times. However, he was sacked after fabricating a quote from historian Colin Lucas, a fellow at Oxford University and Johnson’s godfather.

He was then handed a job at the Daily Telegraph, after meeting then editor Max Hastings during his time at Oxford.

After a spell as a correspondent in Brussels, where he cemented himself as a popular Eurosceptic commentator, Johnson returned to London in 1994 to become assistant editor and chief political columnist of the Telegraph.

It was during this period some of his most infamous remarks were published - in various columns he used the words "piccaninnies" and "watermelon smiles" when referring to Africans, championed European colonialism in Uganda, and referred to gay men as "tank-topped bumboys".

In July 1999, publisher Conrad Black offered Johnson the editorship of The Spectator on the condition he abandon his parliamentary aspirations.


Political career

Two years later, following Michael Heseltine’s retirement, Johnson successfully stood as a candidate for the Conservative safe seat of Henley.

In the 2005 general election, Johnson was re-elected MP for Henley, increasing his majority to 12,793. However, following his re-election Johnson was sacked by The Spectator's new chief executive, Andrew Neil. This led to Johnson taking up another column with the Daily Telegraph, where he was paid around £5,000 per column.

In July 2007, Johnson announced his candidacy to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London in the 2008 mayoral election, which he won, beating Labour’s Ken Livingstone.
After resigning as MP for Henley, Johnson served two terms as mayor, from 2008 to 2012, then from 2012 to 2016.

While initially saying he would not return to the Commons while Mayor of London, in August 2014 he sought selection as the Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the 2015 general election, becoming the party's candidate in September. In the May 2015 general election, Johnson was elected MP.



In February 2016, Johnson endorsed “Vote Leave”, as part of the campaign to leave the European Union for the 2016 Brexit referendum. It was during this campaign Johnson became the figure head for Vote Leave, touring the UK and addressing large crowds of supporters, and cementing his reputation as a future Prime Minister.

Following the victory of the leave campaign, David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister. Although widely considered to gunning for the Conservative Party leadership, Johnson announced he would not be standing after Michael Gove, who was previously a keen Johnson ally, briefed that Johnson "cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead".


Foreign Secretary

After the election of Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, Johnson was appointed Foreign Secretary in July 2016.

During his tenure as Foreign Secretary, Johnson privately expressed concerns about May’s attempts to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU. Then, in July 2018, three days after the cabinet had its meeting at Chequers to agree on a Brexit strategy, Johnson, along with Brexit Secretary David Davis, resigned from the cabinet.


Leader of the Conservative Party

On 16 May 2019, Johnson confirmed he would stand in the forthcoming Conservative Party leadership election following Theresa May's anticipated resignation.

Johnson was elected leader with 92,153 votes to Hunt's 46,656, and on 24 July 2019, the Queen accepted May’s resignation, and appointed Johnson as Prime Minister.

Johnson’s first term as Prime Minister was short – lasting from just July to December 2019. He had inherited a slim majority from May, which was propped up by the DUP, and after several resignations from the government, due to disagreements over Johnson’s Brexit policy, his government lost a working majority in the Commons.

In October 2019, Parliament was dissolved, and an election called for 12 December. The election resulted in the Conservative Party winning 43.6 per cent of the vote and a parliamentary landslide majority of 80 seats—its biggest since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher.



Two scandals ultimately led to Johnson’s downfall. The first, partygate, was severely damaging to Johnson but not lethal.

In early December 2021, allegations emerged that social gatherings of government and Conservative Party staff had taken place in Downing Street, at times when the rest of the country was under strict lockdown measures.

Downing Street first denied the allegations, but as more information was unveiled by journalists, it became  apparent that the parties had taken place, and Johnson himself had attended some of them.

Johnson apologised to MPs in the Commons in January of this year, for "attending an event in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown", stating he believed it was "a work event".

Johnson was then fined by the Metropolitan Police, along with his wife Carrie Symonds and then chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, for breaching coronavirus legislation. Johnson therefore became the first Prime Minister in British history to have been sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

Enough Conservative MPs submitted letters of no confidence to the Tory Party’s 1922 committee, triggering a vote of confidence in Johnson’s leadership. Johnson won the vote, with 211 in favour and 148 against, and under Conservative Party rules he was given immunity from a second vote for twelve months.

The second scandal proved to be the coup de grace, as the government’s Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher resigned amid allegations he groped two men at London’s Carlton Club. Following his resignation, further allegations against Pincher emerged, involving behaviour over a decade.

Ministers initially said that Johnson was unaware of any specific complaints against Pincher when he was appointed as deputy chief whip. The BBC then reported that an official complaint and subsequent investigation into Pincher, while he was at the Foreign Office, had confirmed his misconduct and that Johnson had been made aware of the matter at that time.

This led to mass resignations from the government, and ultimately, the (albeit hesitant) resignation of Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party. Johnson has indicated that he will remain Prime Minister until a new Conservative Party leader is elected by the party membership.

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