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Boris Johnson entered 10 Downing St. as Britain’s new prime minister on July 24. What’s important to know about him? He is a crowd-pleaser. He is also known to offend. He has been a cheerleader for Brexit and argues that Britain can make it happen with a can-do attitude. He is not an isolationist — he wants to manage “Global Britain” on the United Kingdom’s terms.
Johnson first made his name as a newspaper reporter and editor. He was fired from the Times of London for making up a quote, but went on to work as Brussels correspondent for the Telegraph and become Margaret Thatcher’s favorite columnist. With exaggerated and inaccurate dispatches, such as “Brussels recruits sniffers to ensure that Euro-manure smells the same,” Johnson stoked the euroskepticism that would set the stage for Brexit and his own premiership.
London is traditionally a bastion of the left-leaning Labour Party. But Johnson, a Conservative, managed to win two terms as the capital’s mayor. And he remained fairly popular, despite some costly failures and a tendency to say outrageous things. He especially relished his role as host of the 2012 Olympics, which was not organized by city hall but made him into a sort of global celebrity mayor.
Much of the success of the 2016 Brexit campaign is attributed to the backing of the charismatic Johnson. He had been torn on the question. He even drafted two newspaper columns — one on why Britain should get out and another on why it should stay in. But ultimately he announced he would advocate “leave.”
Johnson was the favorite to be prime minister once before, when Cameron resigned in the wake of the Brexit vote.
It was Theresa May who prevailed in that leadership contest. She surprised politics watchers when she appointed Johnson — her rival — as her foreign secretary. Johnson was not known for his diplomacy. He once suggested President Barack Obama was biased against Brexit because he was “part-Kenyan” and anti-colonial.
May was forced out by her own party for failing to deliver Brexit. Only a tiny, unrepresentative crumb of the British electorate got a say in picking her replacement. The 313 Tory members of Parliament chose two finalists, and then the 139,000 dues-paying members of the Conservative Party determined the winner.
On the day of the changeover at Downing Street, May hosted her last “prime minister’s questions” session and then submitted her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. Johnson then met with the queen and officially became prime minister. “After three years of unfounded self-doubt, it is time to change the record,” he said.
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