Boris Johnson became British prime minister in July, as the result of a Conservative Party leadership contest. He campaigned on getting Britain out of the European Union, but that was hard to do without a parliamentary majority to support him. So he asked voters to endorse him and his party in a December general election. 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. But 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 in 2016, 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 decision was put to the 139,000 dues-paying members of the Conservative Party.
Conservatives chose Johnson as their leader. Upon becoming prime minister in July, he declared that Britain needed a can-do attitude to make Brexit happen. “After three years of unfounded self-doubt, it is time to change the record,” he said.
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