Boris Johnson, in full Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, (born June 19, 1964, New York City, New York, U.S.), is a leading Conservative politician and British Prime Minister, who was elected leader of the Conservative Party in the summer of 2019, in a bid to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal. He served as Mayor of London for two terms 2008-16, overseeing the 2012 London Olympics. He also played a leading role in the 2016 “Vote Leave” campaign on the EU referendum, afterwards becoming Foreign Secretary and later Prime Minister. He is one of Britain’s most high profile politicians, renowned for his eccentric approach to life but increasingly known for his hardline Brexit stance which has polarised opinion.
As a child, Johnson lived in New York City, London, and Brussels before attending boarding school in England. He won a scholarship to Eton College and later studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford Union. After briefly working as a management consultant, Johnson embarked on a career in journalism. He started as a reporter for The Times in 1987, and then joined The Daily Telegraph, where he served as a correspondent covering the European Community (1989–94) and later as an assistant editor (1994–99). In 1994, Johnson became a political columnist for The Spectator, and in 1999, he was named the magazine’s editor, continuing in that role until 2005.
In 1997, Johnson was selected as the Conservative candidate for Clwyd South in the House of Commons, but he lost decisively to the Labour Party incumbent Martyn Jones. Soon after, Johnson began appearing on a variety of television shows, beginning in 1998 with the BBC talk program Have I Got News for You. Johnson again stood for Parliament in 2001, this time winning the contest in the Henley-on-Thames constituency. Though he continued to appear frequently on British television programs and became one of the country’s most-recognized politicians, Johnson’s political rise was threatened on a number of occasions. Johnson was re-elected to his parliamentary seat in 2005.
Johnson entered into the London mayoral election in July 2007, challenging Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone. During the tightly contested election, he focused on issues of crime and transportation. On May 1, 2008, Johnson won a narrow victory, seen by many as a repudiation of the national Labour government led by Gordon Brown. Early the following month, Johnson fulfilled a campaign promise by stepping down as MP. In 2012, Johnson was reelected mayor, besting Livingstone again. His win was one of the few bright spots for the Conservative Party in the midterm local elections in which it lost more than 800 seats in England, Scotland, and Wales.
While pursuing his political career, Johnson continued to write. His output as an author included Lend Me Your Ears (2003), a collection of essays; Seventy-two Virgins (2004), a novel; and The Dream of Rome (2006), a historical survey of the Roman Empire. In 2014, he added The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, which was described by one reviewer as a “breathless romp through the life and times” of Winston Churchill.
Johnson returned to Parliament in 2015, winning the west London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, in an election that saw the Conservative Party capture its first clear majority since the 1990s. He retained his post as mayor of London, and the victory fueled speculation that he would eventually challenge Prime Minister David Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
In February 2016, Boris Johnson announced he would back the Vote Leave campaign. His decision to support Vote Leave rather than the PM’s ‘Remain’ campaign was seen as a highly influential decision – as his high profile could swing many undecided voters. Johnson, who had previously spoken of the benefits of the Single Market, stated it was a difficult decision. Indeed Boris Johnson wrote two articles – one supporting Leave, one supporting Remain. He stated he wrote two different articles to help make up his mind. Critics argued it showed his insincerity and some feel his decision to support Vote Leave was partly motivated by the belief it would help best his political career.
On the eve of the Referendum, Johnson appeared on a live TV debate and declared 23 June could be “Britain’s independence day”. Against many expectations, Britain voted to leave the EU by a majority of 52% – 48%. After the result, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, leading to a leadership campaign for the Conservative Party. It was expected Boris Johnson would be the front-runner as he was the most popular with party activists. However, to many people’s surprise, his fellow Vote Leave campaigner Michael Gove announced his decision to stand, causing Johnson to re-evaluate and unexpectedly announce he would not stand after all. In the end, Theresa May, who nominally supported Vote Remain was chosen as party leader.
Despite differences with Theresa May, she appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Boris Johnson later resigned critical of the direction of Theresa May and her withdrawal bill.
In the summer of 2019, Johnson won the leadership contest for the Conservative Party becoming Prime Minister. His main commitment was to take take the UK out of the EU by 31 October 2019 – saying he would rather ‘die in a ditch than ask for a Brexit extension’. However, Johnson lost his first six votes in Parliament. As Parliament passed a bill preventing the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. Johnson also lost a vote to gain an early election.
In his address to the British people late on January 31, 2020, as the U.K. formally withdrew from the EU, Johnson said: “This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama.”
Boris is well known for his love of cycling and frequently commutes to work through the busy streets of London. As mayor of London, he implemented an existing idea to provide hire bikes in London. For a time, they became known as the “Boris Bike”.
In the November 2019 election, Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister with a large majority, gaining 43% of the vote – with the Conservatives gaining seats in pro-Brexit Labour heartlands in the north and Midlands. His slogan of “Get Brexit Done” appealed to those who had voted Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Johnson benefitted from the unpopularity of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who was seen as far left. Despite the large majority, his popularity ratings were – 22 – a reflection of his divisive politics and legacy of appearing to tell lies or misleading statements.
In 2020, Boris Johnson headed up the UK’s government response to Covid-19, ordering a lockdown in March. He tests positive himself for the virus in early April 2020. He was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital and intensive care after his symptoms worsened. He received around the clock care from two nurses. After spending time in hospital he was released when his symptoms improved. Boris Johnson praised “the brilliant care he has received.” and stated that it could have gone either way.
Boris Johnson has authored several books on Ancient Rome, Winston Churchill and a bestselling account of the history of London.