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From made-up quotes to Brexit votes - Boris Johnson has come a long way, and he's far from done yet

Johnson’s resignation as UK foreign secretary has given Theresa May the mother of all political headaches.

Cabinet meeting Boris Johnson Source: Victoria Jones/PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON YESTERDAY resigned as Britain’s foreign secretary, bringing the curtain down on a never-less-than-colourful two year reign as the UK’s chief diplomat.

In doing so, ostensibly because under Theresa May’s stewardship the Brexit ‘dream is dying’ (as Johnson opined in his resignation letter), he has created a EU butter mountain-sized headache for the prime minister.

However, Johnson’s unvarnished motives can only be known to himself. One thing you can be fairly certain of – we haven’t heard the last of the irrascible Oxbridge-educated Leaver-in-chief.

And Theresa May, as if she isn’t under enough pressure already, is likely to be feeling deeply uncomfortable that the unpredictable Johnson is no longer safely ensconced at the Foreign Office where she could keep a wary eye on him.

With his gaffes, sharp wit and populist rhetoric, the former London mayor was a leading campaigner to leave the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and a figurehead for those pressing for a clean break with the bloc.

He quit yesterday despite backing May’s plan for closer economic ties with the EU after Brexit during a cabinet meeting last Friday.

He was subsequently reported to have described the plan as a “turd”, but anonymous aides later said he wanted to stay on in government to fight for Brexit.

Yet when Brexit secretary David Davis quit late on Sunday night, the pressure was on for Johnson to prove his credentials among the hardline Tory eurosceptics.

The distinctively-coiffed Johnson has long had leadership ambitions and many believed May gave him the plum foreign office job to keep him from building up a domestic political power base.

However, Johnson has repeatedly challenged her EU strategy, and last month was secretly recorded telling Tory activists that Donald Trump would negotiate Brexit better.


With his blond mop-top hair, bumbling manner and tendency to drift into Latin during speeches, he remains one of Britain’s most recognisable politicians and has that rare quality – natural charisma.

Brexit With Theresa May Source: Leon Neal/PA Images

But many MPs and activists dislike him for his disloyalty to May, his liberal use of dubious ‘facts’ when arguing his point – including the so-called Brexit financial dividend – and, until now, his failure to follow through on his promises.

He was widely mocked last month for arranging a trip to Afghanistan to avoid having to vote for a third runway at London Heathrow Airport, which he had once said he would lie in front of bulldozers to prevent.

Critics also cite his suggestion that a British-Iranian woman held in Tehran on sedition charges may have been training journalists – something her family strongly denies, and fear has jeopardised her case.

Johnson’s appointment was a surprise given his history of mocking world leaders and other cultures in his long-running column in The Daily Telegraph.

He described White House candidate Hillary Clinton as a “sadistic nurse”, and once described Africans as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

His resignation came in the middle of a Western Balkans summit that he was supposed to be hosting in London.

London Olympic Games - Day 5 Johnson, as London mayor, is briefly suspended from a zip line after getting stuck during London's 2012 Olympic preparations Source: PA Archive/PA Images

‘King of the world’

One of those rare politicians known simply by his first name, ‘Boris’ was born in New York in 1964 as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson into a competitive, high-achieving family.

His father Stanley was a Tory member of the European Parliament; one brother, Jo, is a government minister and his sister Rachel is a journalist and writer.

All three gave their support to the Remain camp during the Brexit campaign, but Johnson himself came out strongly for Brexit, despite apparently having considered backing the other side for a time.

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Rachel Johnson told her brother’s biographer that, as a child, he wanted to be “king of the world” when he grew up.

Heathrow expansion Source: Victoria Jones/PA Images

Johnson won a scholarship at the elite Eton school and studied classics at Oxford University, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, an all-male dining society known for rowdy behaviour.

Johnson became a journalist, working at The Times – from which he was sacked for fabricating quotes – and The Telegraph, including as Brussels correspondent.

He became MP for the then opposition Conservatives in 2001 and was later appointed as the party’s arts spokesman before being sacked over accusations of lying about an alleged extra-marital affair.

Despite London normally tending towards the Labour party, Johnson was elected mayor in 2008 and stayed until 2016, including overseeing the 2012 Olympic Games.

After May’s predecessor David Cameron quit following the EU referendum, he was ready to stand for the Tory leadership when his leading ally, Michael Gove, pulled his support to run himself – leaving both men to lose out.

One thing would seem certain – Johnson seldom does anything without having a clear idea what the payoff will be.

Theresa May well feel a lot more nervous with ‘BoJo’ outside her top circle than she did when he was a senior member of cabinet.

Speaking to reporters today, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that Johnson’s resignation letter to Theresa May “in itself” revealed the type of Brexit that he wanted “was never going to happen”.

He said it to a degree here in Dublin in the sense that he didn’t want a European association type agreement, the Norway type agreement, because he felt that Britain would be [under the EU's rule].

“This is the fundamental difficulty that when you enter a free trade agreement with another country it involves the sharing of sovereignty, it involves joint approaches to establish rules regulations and standards.”

- With reporting by Cianan Brennan and Daragh Brophy.

© – AFP, 2018

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