LONDON — What is next for Boris Johnson, the most omnipresent, omnivorous British politician of his age, once loved, now not, who delivered Brexit to Britain but now exits the global stage as a toxic dissembler?
1. Make money.
2. Remake brand.
3. Make comeback.
First up, Johnson needs money, to live the plush life he lives now, surrounded by the finest of the finest. The best antiques, paintings, wine and sausages. He will want a lot of it. So there might be newspaper columns, more books, speaking engagements.
Before he became prime minister, Johnson was the highest-paid newspaper columnist in Britain. So he has that to fall back on, if he can get it.
But because Johnson is leaving in pseudo-disgrace, branded unworthy of leadership by his own party because of the scandals and all the lies he told, his way forward is tricky.
His biographers, including his enemies and frenemies and friends, say Johnson is not very good with money and is always complaining that he is broke.
This weekend, Johnson, his wife and children are out at Chequers, a 16th-century manor house set on 1,500 acres, a “grace and favour” country home for top government officials with 10 bedrooms, a chef and a large staff.
Johnson adores Chequers. It is his happy place. He wanted to have his official wedding party with Carrie there in July, until he withdrew the idea after a storm of criticism.
After he leaves office? It is unclear where the Johnsons — he 58, she 34 — will live. Her flat in London? Where the neighbors busted the couple to the police for having a wine-fueled row, with Carrie shouting “get off me” and “you just don’t care for anything, because you’re spoilt”? Not likely.
Johnson has two former wives and seven children. With his new wife, Carrie, he has a baby and a toddler. The prime minister, the son of a diplomat, went to Eton College and Oxford University. That is an expensive education.
“So he thrives on being the center of attention, and he will be yesterday’s man once he leaves office,” said Catherine Barnard, a legal scholar at the University of Cambridge. “He can play house husband, he can write columns for the Daily Telegraph and get paid large sums of money for that, larger sums for corporate things, but I suspect he will get very bored.”
Many assume Johnson will eventually return to his former profession of journalism. Writing a weekly note for the Daily Telegraph was lucrative, $330,000 a year, which fellow hacks calculated to garner him over $2,750 an hour. In one of his last columns there, in 2018, Johnson wrote that women in burqas resemble “bank robbers.”
He also owes a publisher a biography on William Shakespeare, which he has not completed. He did finish a biography of his idol, Winston Churchill, which some critics panned as a worthless retread, lacking in insight, scholarship or new material, but which the reviewer in the Financial Times called “crisp, punchy, full of the kind of wham-bam short sentences that keep the reader moving down the page.”
Most think he will also join the after-dinner speaker circuit, where it is thought he could easily command $100,000 or more for a speech. “He’ll go on performing,” said Andrew Gimson, author of the biography titled “Boris.”
“He’ll write books, do journalism, give speeches. Unlike some famous speakers, he can be relied on to give an amusing speech. And he can now give a speech as someone who has entertained at the G-7 in Cornwall and knows Biden and knows Zelensky.”
Gimson said Johnson also will plot to return to what the prime minister called in his resignation speech “the best job in the world.” In that speech Thursday, resigning as leader of the Conservative Party, Johnson made no apologies.
Instead, he blamed his own party for his downfall, comparing his fellow lawmakers to stampeding animals. “As we have seen at Westminster” when “the herd moves, it moves. And my friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable,” Johnson said.
Gimson said Johnson will try to become prime minister again. “I see no sign he has abandoned politics. In his resignation speech he said, ‘I’ll give the leader all support I can.’ Well, that might not be very much support at all.” Gimson said Johnson “is a very competitive person, will keep himself in the public eye. He’ll make amazing amounts of money. He will still be a big figure, firing on all cylinders.”
Tom Bower, author of “Boris Johnson, The Gambler,” predicted that Johnson could get more than $3 million for his memoirs, if they are juicy. “The question is, how candid will it be. David Cameron got a million for a book that was dull,” Bower said, adding that former prime minister Tony Blair wrote a memoir that “was more revealing, and he got bigger sells. That is the question though. Is he prepared to tell the truth about his marriages? His attitude to other people? Is he prepared to settle grudges? He’s a good writer, but whether he’s prepared to deliver the headlines is what matters.”
Bower said Johnson would hope to return to the highest office in the land. “He believes, in the long term, that there is a realistic chance of a political comeback, that in the end, there will be a Churchillian appeal to him as the only man who can save the party,” he said. “Much depends on how he conducts himself from now on. I thought his resignation speech was not only defiant, but admitting no mistakes, and saying he’d been knifed in the back and he’d come back again. I think that is the way to interpret it,” Bower said.
Some day soon, Johnson officially will tender his resignation as British prime minister. He will deliver a final speech outside 10 Downing Street. He will meet Queen Elizabeth II and tell her he is leaving. Removal vans will pull up to the prime minister’s residence and take away his belongings, although maybe not the wallpaper, which reportedly cost $1,100 a roll.
If Johnson wants to rise to the top again, he will need to be a member of Parliament, so he may opt to keep his seat in the House of Commons and serve on the backbenches, representing Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a suburb in West London.
Other British prime ministers have made a comeback, including Churchill, who served from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. More recently, Harold Wilson, a Labour Party politician, served as prime minister from 1964 to 1970 and then returned for a second stint from 1974 to 1976.
While some of Johnson’s predecessors kept that job in Parliament, others retired fully from politics. Former prime minister Theresa May has continued to sit in the House of Commons and serve her constituents, with whom she remains a popular figure. She has largely left the administration to do its thing but has delivered a blistering broadside or two.
Her predecessor, David Cameron, left politics almost immediately. He took up several positions, including the presidency of Alzheimer’s Research in the United Kingdom. Cameron wrote a book called “For the Record,” for $960,000. He also took up advisory posts for a number of companies, including Greensill Capital, where his lobbying was decried as “sleazy” by the opposition. A parliamentary report concluded that his actions were not criminal but displayed “a significant lack of judgment.”
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has worked for the United Nations in the field of global education and campaigns to end child poverty. Blair also set up his own nonprofit organization, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and became Middle East envoy for the Quartet, a grouping of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia. But he also pursued lucrative work in the private sector, creating what critics argued was a conflict of interest. Still, Johnson might want to keep on supporting Ukraine in some fashion.
Former prime minister John Major stayed on as a member of Parliament for four years before taking on a variety of roles in business and in the sport of cricket. In other words, there seems to be no conventional route for a former prime minister. But Johnson is not a conventional politician.
Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.