It’s summer 2019, and the excruciating heatwave in the U.K. this week can only be preparing us for one thing: going to hell in a handcart with a bungling, right-wing prime minister at the wheel. Thanks to the quirks of British politics (which we’ll explain later), 99.87 percent of us didn’t even vote for him, yet here he is, ready to bring his “British Trump” clownery to the world. As we wait for some manner of Brexit apocalypse, let’s track the unfathomable rise of a man who has boobed, blooped and bloody-mindedly blustered his way through the ranks of power to the U.K.’s top job.
1960s to the Early 1980s — Is Born Alexander, But Invents Boris
Still called Al by his family today, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is born in New York in 1964 to British parents, where he remains until he is five years old. Until the age of eight he is profoundly deaf with glue ear. Subdued until then, he begins to adopt a more eccentric English persona as a coping mechanism first at prep school, then later at £40,700 ($50,686) a year private boarding school, Eton. This is where he starts to refer to himself as “Boris.”
1987 — Sacked From Cushy First Job For Lying On Front Page of National Newspaper, Prospers Anyway
Boris begins an enviable job as a graduate trainee at The Times, but is subsequently sacked for making up a quote from one of his own family in a front-page story. “I mildly sandpapered something somebody said, and yes, it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it,” was his response in 2013. He is then hired by The Times’ competition, The Daily Telegraph (being friendly with the editor, Max Hastings, through his Oxford University presidency) as the paper’s Brussels correspondent. He quickly starts to pooh-pooh everything to do with the EU, gaining a reputation as both a firm Eurosceptic and “one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism.” The latter accusation comes as he peddles several untruths, including false claims that the EU were hellbent on banning prawn cocktail-flavored crisps (a British favorite).
Boris revels in this new power, admitting, “Some of my most joyous hours have been spent in a state of semi-incoherence, composing foam-flecked hymns of hate to the latest Euro-infamy.” He confirms later, in Andrew Gimson’s biography Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson (2012), that, “everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this I suppose rather weird sense of power.”
1993-1994 — Extends Journalistic Reach And Begins Political Journey
Johnson — now believed to be the favorite journalist of a certain Margaret Thatcher — is promoted to assistant editor and chief political columnist of The Daily Telegraph. He expresses a desire for a political career, aiming to stand as a Conservative candidate for Holborn and St Pancras in London, but is instead selected to represent Clwyd South in North Wales (195 miles north) in the 1997 general election, losing to the Labour candidate.
1998 — Repeatedly Insults Gay Community
In a 1998 Telegraph column, Johnson writes that Peter Mandelson’s resignation from the Labour government would cause outcry among “tank-topped bumboys” in “the Ministry of Sound” nightclub, and “the soft-lit Soho drinking clubs frequented by Mandy and his pals.” In another diatribe, he opines that the BBC’s move to increase equality for gay people “must be a spoof. In my hand was a magazine from something called the BBC Resources Equal Opportunities Unit. There were letters from gays asking about their ‘partner’s’ right to a BBC pension.”
1998 — Becomes a Public Figure
Johnson’s unique charms begin to reach a much wider audience, not only by acquiring a column in The Spectator (The Daily Telegraph’s sister publication) and a car column in GQ, but also via a memorable appearance on long-running weekly topical panel show Have I Got News For You. His bungling upper-class persona and foppish whimsy is rewarded with return forays, including one as a guest presenter. His popularity and notoriety increase with appearances on popular shows such as Top Gear, Parkinson and Question Time.
2001 — Elected As An MP For The First Time
Despite Conrad Black — proprietor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator — insisting Johnson abandon his parliamentary desires when offering him editorship of the latter publication (terms which Johnson accepted), when Tory stalwart Michael Heseltine retires, Johnson eagerly throws his hat in the political ring, standing as a candidate for Henley, a Conservative (Tory) safe seat in Oxfordshire. His burgeoning TV fame stands him in good stead, and he’s duly elected with a majority of 8,500 votes. Contrary to his word, he carries on with his myriad columnist duties.
January 2002 — Introduces Blasé Public Racism to Repertoire
Despite his new parliamentary status, Johnson uses his Telegraph column to deride then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s state trip to Africa. He forecasts that on Blair’s arrival in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.” He doesn’t stop there, adding that the Queen loved her Commonwealth “partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of pickaninnies.”
June 2002 — Insults Gay Community Again
Boris releases his debut book, a dissection of the U.K.’s political process entitled Friends, Voters, Countrymen, in which he insinuates that being gay is somehow comparable with bestiality. “If gay marriage was okay — and I was uncertain on the issue — then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog.”
October 2004 — Insults the City of Liverpool, All Liverpool FC Fans and the Relatives of 96 Deceased Soccer Lovers
In his role as editor of The Spectator, Johnson publishes a staggeringly insensitive lead article on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster — in which 96 helpless Liverpool fans were crushed to death against the fence after police funnelled too many fans into one area of the Liverpool section — that the city will never let him live down. “That is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon,” read the editorial in the magazine. The article also makes derogatory comments about the people of Liverpool in general: “They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it.”
November 2004 — Sacked As An MP For Lying
Boris gets the boot from then-Tory leader Michael Howard, after lying about a four-year fling with journalist Petronella Wyatt, claiming, “I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash.” It’s later confirmed that Wyatt had an abortion and also suffered a miscarriage during her relationship with Johnson.
May 2008 — Stuns Capital To Become Mayor of London
Seemingly jettisoned from advancement in his beloved cabinet after the meteoric rise of David Cameron, another Etonian two years Johnson’s junior, Boris is sensationally elected to one of the most powerful positions in Britain when he ousts Ken Livingstone to become Mayor of London. Despite many commentators believing his candidacy to be nothing more than a joke, he runs a disciplined campaign, persuading more Londoners to vote than ever before (with the turn-out being 45 percent higher than in the two previous contests) and achieving what many thought impossible: turning London blue (i.e., Conservative). Cameron notes, “Three years ago, the idea that the Conservatives would win London and build up a 20-point lead across the country would have been literally unthinkable.”
Boris’ clout among the voting public cannot be overlooked: He now wields a budget of $16 billion and has more executive power than any Conservative in the country. He makes few notable changes to the mayoral system implemented by his predecessor, but appears to begin to take credit for Livingstone’s biggest projects: Crossrail and the 2012 Olympic Games. He also implements the already long-running idea for a public bicycle system in the capital, which is quickly dubbed the “Boris Bike.”
July 2009 — Reinforces Bond With “Real People” of Britain
While making grand claims of being able to bring people of all backgrounds together, the privately educated Johnson describes his $312,000 annual salary for writing a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph as “chicken feed.”
May 2012 — Wins Second Term as Mayor of London
Boris beats Livingstone once again, this time by a mere 3 percent, to remain in the mayoral seat. Despite being expected to win by bigger margins, Boris’ victory is significant in that it bucks the trend of national Conservative losses in the local elections. However, he continues to split voters with his outlandish buffoonery, which reaches new heights when he gets trapped on a zip wire during a promotional stunt for the 2012 Olympics.
January 2013 — Cameron Sets Brexit In Motion
Cameron announces that if the Conservative party win the next election, they will give the British people the “simple choice” of renegotiating the U.K.’s relationship with the EU. Two years and four months later, the European Union Referendum Bill is unveiled: legislation which would allow a referendum on what will come to be known as Brexit to take place. Boris becomes something of a figurehead for Out/Leave (i.e., those in favor of Britain leaving the EU) campaigners, insisting that more guarantees will be needed over enhanced sovereignty.
Meanwhile, in his position as Mayor of London, he unapologetically tosses taxpayers’ money down the toilet. He backs a controversial plan for a “floating bridge” across the River Thames, which is quashed four years later by his successor, but only after Boris has spent $53.5 million of public money on the project. He also introduces bespoke London buses at $436,000 a pop that later need to be retrofitted with windows that actually open, as they’re quickly dubbed “saunas on wheels.” He goes on to buy second-hand water-cannon devices for $402,000 after the 2011 riots, not realizing they’re unlicensed for use in Britain. The state eventually receives $13,700 for them as scrap four years later.
February 2016 — Cameron Announces A June EU Referendum Vote
Cameron confirms he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, but is dealt a significant blow when old Etonian chum Johnson reveals he will campaign for Britain’s exit (or “Brexit”). Johnson willfully becomes the figurehead of Brexit and furious campaigning ensues.
The Leave faction base their campaign on Britons taking back control of their country using the slogan “Vote Leave, Take Control.” However, many of the campaign’s key promises are found to be not so much flawed as total fabrications, none moreso than the claim that the U.K. gives $436 million a week to the EU, a figure, they say, that could instead be used to fund the National Health Service, Britain’s nationwide taxpayer-funded free healthcare. This claim is thoroughly debunked during the campaign, but Johnson et al largely refuse to comment on it, let alone withdraw it.
Other disinformation that helps propel the Leave campaign to success, but is later disproved, include, as per The Independent, a fall in immigration levels; an extra £100 million a week for the NHS (Nigel Farage later admits this is a false claim and that they shouldn’t have said it); Britain’s ability to stay in the single market (Germany and France quickly make it quite clear they won’t allow this); saving £2 billion on energy bills (increased inflation after the pound’s dramatic fall would actually push household bills up, instead of down); and being “Greater” Britain (after the result, the country’s economy drops from being the world’s fifth largest to the sixth, overnight).
May 2016 — Despite Everything, Londoners Still Like Boris
Boris declines to run for a third term as mayor, but surprisingly still leaves office popular with the people of London: A YouGov poll reveals that 52 percent of Londoners thought he did a “good job” as mayor while only 29 percent believed he did a “bad job.”
June 2016 — After A Bitter Campaign, Britain Votes To Leave The EU
In a result which leaves at least half the nation aghast, Britain votes 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent to exit the EU. Farage echoes a phrase previously used by Johnson, declaring it to be Britain’s “Independence Day.” Despite instigating the whole mess, Cameron resigns the next day and disappears from the public eye. Expected to stand for the empty PM’s chair, Johnson instead throws his weight behind Andrea Leadsom, who drops out of the race a week later.
July 2016 — Shockingly, Boris Becomes the U.K.’s Foreign Minister
Despite a litany of Prince Philip-esque bungles concerning foreign people, religions and regimes, Theresa May — the new leader of the Conservative party — invites Boris to become Foreign Minister in her most contentious cabinet appointment since taking office. He happily accepts.
August 2018 — Offends Muslims Across the Globe
Still writing his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson attacks Muslim face veils, saying that it’s “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.” He continues, “If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled … to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto.”
May 2019 — Gets Mild Comeuppance, Just Plows On
District Judge Margot Coleman rules that Johnson is required, by law, to appear in court to face accusations of misconduct in public office, over claims that he lied during the EU Referendum campaign over that “£350 million a week” figure. Barrister Andrew Keogh explains, via Twitter, that there is still a “VERY long way to go” and that “Step 1 I suspect will be a judicial review of the decision to issue a summons.”
July 2019 — Becomes Prime Minister of the U.K.
After a tumultuous and largely fruitless stint as leader, May hands in her resignation on May 24th, so it falls to Tory party members to vote for the next leader of their party, and thus, the next leader of the country. It’s the first time in history that a party membership directly elects Britain’s Prime Minister. The election isn’t open to the British public, but rather 92,153 Conservative party members across the country, accounting for approximately 0.13 percent of the British population.
Despite a solid history of buffoonery, casual bigotry, lying in newspapers, in interviews and during the pivotal EU referendum campaign, Boris lands the biggest job in British politics, and is tasked with negotiating a deal to exit the European Union before the end of October.
After his unveiling as PM, Boris garners unfettered praise from President Trump. “We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the U.K. now,” says the U.S. president. “He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying, ‘Britain Trump.’ They call him ‘Britain Trump,’ and people are saying that’s a good thing.”
Truly, the madness feels complete, but it’s probably only just beginning.