In light of Boris Johnson's somewhat surprising appointment as Britain's top diplomat on Wednesday, we at WorldViews thought to revisit a post from two weeks ago that discussed previous shocks he has given to the system. At the end of June, after successfully championing Britain's contentious Brexit campaign, Johnson stunned his nation's political class by stepping aside in a race for prime minister, in which he'd been considered a favorite. But his shocks go far beyond political maneuvering, and into the arena of political theater.
“One of the few mad ideas that I’ve not been able to put into practice was to reintroduce the red squirrel,” Boris Johnson once told London's Financial Times. “I got absolutely obsessed with it for a while, but they told me it would basically involve creating a huge aviary patrolled by G4S security people to shoot all the grey squirrels that tried to get in.”
He was London's mayor when he said that. Which is obviously an important position, and there are plenty more absurd quotes from his tenure as mayor below. But Boris Johnson — nicknamed BoJo, "Boris the Buffoon" — assumed even greater power in British politics during the lead-up to the recent Brexit vote. As one of the most prominent leaders of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, he was considered the most likely candidate to take over from David Cameron, the United Kingdom's anti-leave prime minster. (Cameron announced his resignation after his side's loss in the referendum and was succeeded by Theresa May on Wednesday.)
But a week after Johnson's campaign triumphed and on the day of the deadline to formally nominate oneself to be Cameron's successor, Johnson shocked his country by saying he wouldn't run. Perhaps that isn't surprising from the mop-haired man who once said, "My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive."
The best reaction to the announcement that Boris Johnson has ruled himself out of the leadership race pic.twitter.com/Y5i4gGv9hq
— Andrew Bloch (@AndrewBloch) June 30, 2016
That Johnson has delivered a shock to the British political system is not unusual. His political career has often been the source of great controversy, consternation and confounding quotes. Below, I've compiled some of the most patently nutty Boris Johnson moments.
In 2011, London was racked by rioting and Johnson was away on vacation in Canada. Despite being mayor at the time, he didn't return to the city until four days after the riots began. To explain himself, he told constituents in a chat room a year later, "In an ideal world, I would not have been stuck on a family caravan holiday 300 miles from the nearest airport."
His absence during the riots was a serious blip in his career, but many of his strangest moments had more to do with his goofy personality than his questionable political decision-making.
Once, in promoting his Conservative Party, known as Tories, he said, "Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."
It is often unclear whether he is trying to make a joke or simply saying whatever comes to his mind first. On the topic of E.U. membership, he once said, "First they make us pay in our taxes for Greek olive groves, many of which probably don’t exist. Then they say we can’t dip our bread in olive oil in restaurants. We didn’t join the Common Market — betraying the New Zealanders and their butter — in order to be told when, where and how we must eat the olive oil we have been forced to subsidize."
And referring to the United Kingdom Independence Party — with which he found himself aligned during the Brexit campaign — he offered this reflective critique, "I can hardly condemn UKIP as a bunch of boss-eyed, foam-flecked Euro hysterics, when I have been sometimes not far short of boss-eyed, foam-flecked hysteria myself."
He also called Nigel Farage, UKIP's leader, "a rather engaging geezer."
More recently, he stirred great indignation among E.U. lawmakers by comparing their institution to previous, more coercive attempts to unify the continent.
“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” Johnson said. “The E.U. is an attempt to do this by different methods.”
Now that Johnson got his wish and Britain is seemingly bound to leave the E.U., he may take a back seat and let someone else deal with the political implications of triggering that potentially painful exit process. He may be having his cake and eating it, too. (In his words, once upon a time: "My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.")
All that said, I'll leave it to Johnson to absolve himself from much of the above. In defense of his blurting habit, he said, "If we judged everybody by the stupid, unguarded things they blurt out to their nearest and dearest, then we wouldn't ever get anywhere."