Brexit to Exit: The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson



Boris Johnson has been lucky throughout his career, recovering from a string of setbacks and scandals that would have killed other less popular politicians.

But the luck of a man once likened to a “greased pig” for his ability to avoid controversy has finally run dry after a series of high-profile resignations from his controversial government.

Tuesday’s departure of cabinet ministers Rishi Sunak as finance minister and Sajid Javid as health minister weakened the pressured prime minister as he most needed allies.

His expected exit on Thursday – after a tidal wave of resignations from his top team – comes just three years after he succeeded Theresa May in the domestic Conservative leadership contest.

In December of that year, he called a snap general election, winning the largest Tory parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher’s heyday in the 1980s.

This allowed him to unblock years of political paralysis after the Brexit vote in 2016 and take the UK out of the European Union in January 2020.

But he has since faced criticism ranging from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to accusations of corruption, nepotism, double standards and duplicity.

Some have drawn parallels between his governing style and his chaotic personal life of three marriages, at least seven children, and rumors of many affairs.

Sonia Purnell, Johnson’s former Daily Telegraph colleague, suggested that Sunak and Javid may have realized what she and the others have ahead of them.

“The closer you get to him, the less you like him and the less you can trust him,” she told Sky News.

“He really lets everyone down, at every point he really misleads you.”

– “Cavalier” –

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had the usual rise to power for a conservative politician: first at the elite Eton College, then at Oxford University.

At Eton, his teachers bemoaned his “offhand attitude” towards his studies and the feeling he gave that he should be treated as an “exception”.

Johnson’s apparent attitude that the rules are for other people was amply demonstrated in 2006 when he inexplicably grabbed a rugby opponent at a charity football game.

His flexible connection to truth was forged at Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford Union, a debating society based on rhetoric and wit rather than the mastery of cold, hard facts.

His privileged cohort in the treacherous den of student politics has provided many of the leading supporters of Brexit.

Shortly after Oxford, he married his first wife, fellow student Allegra Mostyn-Owen, despite her mother’s misgivings.

“I didn’t like the fact that he was on the right,” Gaia Servadio, who died last year, was quoted by Johnson’s biographer Tom Bauer.

“But most of all I didn’t like his character. For him, there is no truth.”

After university, he was fired from The Times newspaper after making up a quote, then joined the Telegraph as its correspondent in Brussels.

From there, he fueled the growing conservative Euroscepticism of the 1990s with regular “Euromyths” about the EU’s alleged plans for a federal megastate that threatened British sovereignty.

Furious rivals tasked with matching his dubious exclusives called some of his stories “complete rubbish”.

– Opportunism –

Johnson capitalized on his increasingly high profile in Brussels by appearing in satirical television quiz shows, newspaper columns and magazines.

Much of his journalism has since been recited at length, especially his unreconstructed views on issues ranging from single mothers and homosexuality to British colonialism.

He became an MP in 2004 when then Tory leader Michael Howard fired him from his shadow cabinet for lying about an extramarital affair.

He served two terms as mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, promoting himself as a pro-EU Liberal, a position he relinquished as soon as the Brexit referendum took place.

He became a figurehead for the “withdrawal” campaign, capitalizing on his popular image as an unconventional but likable con man as a shortcut to power.

His former editor at the Telegraph, Max Hastings, called it cynical but not unexpected. Johnson, he says, “cares for nothing but his own glory and pleasure.”

On Wednesday, as calls were made for Johnson’s resignation, Hastings wrote in The Times that the prime minister had “broken all the rules of propriety and made no attempt to pursue a coherent political agenda beyond Brexit.”

But he was “as morally bankrupt as when he was elected by the Conservative Party, as erratic in his conduct in office as in the management of his life.”

“Now we need a prime minister who will restore the dignity and self-respect of the country and its government,” he added.