The rise and fall of UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Johnson started out as a reporter before becoming mayor of London, foreign secretary and eventually prime minister.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a press conference in London
Johnson served as British prime minister from July 24, 2019 to July 7, 2022 [File: Hollie Adams/Pool/AP Photo]

London, United Kingdom – Boris Johnson has stepped down as the United Kingdom’s prime minister on July 7 after his latest political crisis, following the resignation of key ministers and other officials.

He said he would stay on as a caretaker prime minister until his replacement is chosen by his party.

The wave of resignations started on Tuesday despite Johnson’s apology for not realising that Chris Pincher, a former minister in charge of pastoral care, was unsuitable for a job in government after complaints of sexual misconduct were made against him.

Pincher quit as deputy chief whip last week following claims that he groped two men at a private members’ club, but Johnson was told about allegations against him as far back as 2019.

Those who resigned over the scandal said they lost confidence in Johnson’s ability to govern in the national interest.

The final crisis came just weeks after Johnson survived a no-confidence vote in early June from his own Conservative Party members of parliament by 211 votes to 148.

Johnson’s leadership has come under intense scrutiny after an investigator’s report in May criticised a culture of rule-breaking inside the prime minister’s office in a scandal known as “Partygate”.

The report described alcohol-fuelled bashes held by Downing Street staff members in 2020 and 2021, when coronavirus pandemic restrictions prevented UK residents from socialising or even visiting dying relatives.

Johnson, 58, has spent months battling to maintain his grip on power after the controversy saw him become the first serving UK prime minister found to have broken the law.

Johnson succeded Theresa May as British prime minister in July 2019 [File: Kirsty O’Connor/Pool/AFP]

Divisive figure

After studying at Eton and Oxford, Johnson worked as a reporter and writer for right-wing magazines and newspapers before starting his political life as a member of parliament. He later became mayor of London, foreign secretary and eventually prime minister.

He identified as a “one-nation” Conservative.

A divisive figure until his last weeks in office, some will remember him as an outspoken and controversial leader, while others view him as a jolly and affable prime minister with a can-do attitude.

Known for offensive gaffes, as a politician, he based much of his career on waging war against the European Union and what he saw as its constraining rules.

“Although he was in two minds on whether to support the Remain or Leave campaign, he spoke with a fair degree of commitment against the UK remaining in the EU,” David Phinnemore, a professor of European Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, told Al Jazeera.

One of the masterminds of Brexit, as prime minister, he led the country out of the bloc.

He was ultimately the prime minister who secured a withdrawal agreement that had the support of the British parliament.

What was important was securing the deal, not the substance of it, Phinnemore added.

‘Get Brexit done’

Johnson swept into Number 10 on a promise to “get Brexit done” after the previous Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, resigned over a parliamentary logjam on the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU.

To break the impasse, Johnson called for a general election on December 12 – a gamble which paid off. He won a landslide victory against former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

On January 31, after three and a half years of political wrangling and delays, the UK officially left the EU.

Little changed on the ground as a transition period began, a stage that Johnson maintained he would refuse to extend beyond the end of 2020 despite the coronavirus crisis pushing back negotiations with the bloc.

While Johnson’s critics have dismissed him as a clownish figure, his proponents praise his optimism and resolve to get things, as well as Brexit, done.

“As mayor of London, it’s charisma that enabled him to appeal across political divides,” John Curtice, a pollster and politics professor at Strathclyde University, told Al Jazeera.

“He was able to get re-elected in a city that was increasingly becoming more Labour, and he was able to do so even though his party wasn’t incredibly popular. He was able to reach across quite a wide social terrain.

“By the time he was becoming leader of the Conservative Party, that [appeal] was very much limited to the pro-Leave section of the electorate, [but] his popularity is one of the clues as to why the Leave vote ended up being united behind the Conservative Party last December.”

The former prime minister vehemently campaigned in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, when he was mayor of London.

He said a British exit from the EU would be a “win-win for all” and argued that membership of the bloc “costs a huge amount of money and subverts our democracy”.

Later, he was famously dragged to court over his claim that the UK paid 350 million pounds ($430m) a week into the coffers of the EU and that the money could be used to fund the National Health System (NHS) instead – a claim dismissed by lenient commentators as a misuse of official statistics.

As a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels between 1989 and 1984, Johnson was equally unsparing on the workings of the now 27-member bloc.

His sensational and humourous stories went on to become part of the British psyche, as well as – unwittingly – the foundation for the country’s euroscepticism.

During his two-year tenure as foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government – a position he resigned from in 2018 – he was considered by many of his detractors “undiplomatic” in his way of doing politics.

But that did not prevent him from becoming the frontrunner in the race to replace May just a year later.

Johnson is a father of six. He has two children with his wife Carrie Symonds and four children from previous relationships.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street
Some will remember Johnson as an outspoken and controversial leader, while others will view him as a jolly and affable prime minister possessed of a can-do attitude [File: Dylan Martinez/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera