Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (born 19 June 1964), best known as Boris Johnson, is a British politician, popular historian and journalist serving as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs since 2016 and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015. A member of the Conservative Party, Johnson identifies as a one-nation conservative and has been associated with both economically and socially liberal policies.
Johnson was born on 19 June 1964 at a hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, to British parents. His birth was registered with both the US authorities and the city's British Consulate and he was granted both American and British citizenship. His father, Stanley Johnson, had married Johnson's mother, Charlotte Fawcett, in 1963, before they moved to the United States; she was an artist from a family of liberal intellectuals. She was the granddaughter of Americans Elias Avery Lowe, a palaeographer of Russian Jewish descent. In reference to his varied ancestry, Johnson has described himself as a "one-man melting pot" – with a combination of Muslims, Jews, and Christians as great-grandparents.
Johnson's articles established him as the favourite journalist of the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, although Thatcher's successor, John Major, was annoyed by Johnson and spent much time attempting to refute his claims. Johnson's articles exacerbated tensions between the Eurosceptic and Europhile factions of the Conservative Party, and it was these tensions which were widely viewed as a contributing factor to the party's failure in the 1997 general election. As a result, Johnson earned the mistrust of many party members. His writings were also a key influence on the emergence of the right-wing Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the early 1990s.
In February 1990, Allegra left Johnson and returned to London. After several attempts to reconcile, they divorced in April 1993. He had entered a relationship with a childhood friend, Marina Wheeler, who had moved to Brussels in 1990. In May 1993, they married at Horsham, Sussex, and Wheeler gave birth to a daughter soon after. Johnson and his new wife settled in Islington, North London, an area known for its left-liberal intelligentsia. Under the influence of this milieu and his wife, Johnson moved in a more liberal direction on issues like climate change, LGBT rights, and race relations.
In July 1999, Conrad Black – the then proprietor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator – offered Johnson the editorship of the latter on the condition that he abandoned his parliamentary aspirations; Johnson agreed. He brought in contributions from figures whom he had known from his past and, while retaining The Spectator's traditional right-wing bent, he also welcomed contributions from leftist writers and cartoonists. Under Johnson's editorship, the circulation of The Spectator grew by 10% to 62,000 and it began to turn a profit.
In becoming a Member of Parliament, Johnson broke his promise to Black that he would not do so while editing The Spectator. Although labelling Johnson as "ineffably duplicitous", Black did not sack him, viewing him as "a capable editor" who "helped promote the magazine and raise its circulation".
In his first four years as MP for Henley he attended just over half of the votes in the House of Commons, although by his second term this had declined to 45%. In most cases, he supported the Conservative party line, only rebelling against it five times during this period, when he adopted a more socially liberal attitude than the mainstream party; he for instance voted to repeal Section 28 and supported the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
Although initially claiming that he would not do so, he voted in support of the government's plans to join the US in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in April 2003 visited occupied Baghdad. By August 2004 he seemingly regretted his decision by supporting calls to impeach Prime Minister Tony Blair for his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in December 2006 he described the invasion as "a colossal mistake and misadventure".
In November 2004, the British tabloids revealed that, since 2000, Johnson had been having an affair with Spectator columnist Petronella Wyatt, resulting in two terminated pregnancies. Johnson initially dismissed the claims as "piffle". After the allegations were proven, Howard asked Johnson to resign from his position as vice-chairman and shadow arts minister, not because of the affair but because he had publicly lied about it. Johnson refused, at which point Howard sacked him from those positions. The scandal was satirised by The Spectator's theatre critics Toby Young and Lloyd Evans in a play, Who's the Daddy?, performed at Islington's King's Head Theatre in July 2005; the play upset Johnson.
Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone took Johnson seriously, referring to him as "the most formidable opponent I will face in my political career." Livingstone's campaign portrayed Johnson as both an out-of-touch toff and a bigot, as evidenced by racist and homophobic language that he had used in his column; Johnson responded that these quotes had been taken out of context and were meant as satire. Johnson insisted that he was not a bigot, declaring that "I'm absolutely 100% anti-racist; I despise and loath racism". Publicly emphasising his Turkish ancestry, he went contrary to Conservative policy by declaring his support for an earned amnesty for illegal immigrants.
However, the allegations were exacerbated when the far-right British National Party (BNP) urged its supporters to give their second preference votes to Johnson; he responded by "utterly and unreservedly" condemning the BNP. Controversy was also generated during the campaign when Johnson admitted that as a student he had used cannabis and cocaine.
During the electoral campaign, Johnson had confided to Brian Paddick that he was unsure how he would retain his current lifestyle while relying upon the mayoral salary of £140,000 a year. To resolve the problem, he agreed to continue his Telegraph column alongside his Mayoral job, thus earning a further £250,000 a year. His team believed that this would cause controversy, and made him promise to donate 1/5 of his Telegraph fee to a charitable cause providing bursaries for students. Johnson resented this, and ultimately did not pay a full fifth. Controversy erupted when he was questioned about his Telegraph fee on BBC's HARDtalk; here, he referred to the £ as "chicken feed", something that was widely condemned given that it was roughly ten times the average yearly wage for a British worker.
During the first term of his mayoralty, Johnson was perceived as having moved leftward on certain issues, for instance by supporting the London Living Wage and the idea of an amnesty for illegal migrants. He tried placating critics who had deemed him a bigot by appearing at London's gay pride parade and praising ethnic minority newspapers. In 2012, he banned London buses from displaying the adverts of Core Issues Trust, a Christian group, which compared being gay to an illness. In August 2008, Johnson broke from the traditional protocol of those in public office not publicly commenting on other nations' elections by endorsing Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States.
Johnson championed London's financial sector and denounced what he saw as "banker bashing" following the financial crisis of 2007–08, condemning the anti-capitalist Occupy London movement that appeared in 2011.
He was caught up in the parliamentary expenses scandal and accused of excessive personal spending on taxi journeys, with his deputy mayor Ian Clement having been found to have misused a City Hall credit card, resulting in his resignation.
In April 2016, in an article for The Sun, in response to President Barack Obama comments that he thought Britain should remain in the European Union, Johnson called Obama "part-Kenyan" with an "ancestral dislike" of Britain. The comments were branded "idiotic" and "deeply offensive" by Churchill's grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, who called the article "deplorable" and "completely idiotic". A month later, during campaigning, he said there was an attempt to create the Roman Empire's united Europe. He said, "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods."
Johnson may be investigated for Misconduct in public office due to excessive money spent on a proposed Thames Garden Bridge that was never built. Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said, "Boris Johnson drove forward this project during his mayoralty, and he needs to provide answers on the role he and his office played in the reckless decision to release public funds for the construction contract." Pressure on Johnson is increasing and there is skepticism over his attempted explanations.
After Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, Johnson was appointed as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 13 July 2016. Johnson's appointment was criticised by some journalists and foreign politicians due to his history of controversial statements about other countries and their leaders.
Johnson supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and refused to block UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying there is no clear evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. In September 2016, he was accused of blocking the UN inquiry into Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
In December 2017, Johnson told The Sunday Times newspaper, "I was reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian war. It was obvious to me that Athens and its democracy, its openness, its culture and civilisation was the analogue of the United States and the West. Russia for me was closed, nasty, militaristic and antidemocratic – like Sparta."
In March 2018, a Russian former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a Novichok nerve agent. Most politicians believed that the Russian government was behind the attack. In the aftermath of the incident, Johnson provoked controversy when he compared Vladimir Putin's hosting of the World Cup in Russia to Adolf Hitler's hosting of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.
In May 2018, Johnson backed the Iran nuclear deal framework despite Donald Trump's withdrawal. Johnson opined that the deal could bring economic benefits to the Iranian people.
In May 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in the United Kingdom for a three-day state visit. Erdoğan declared that the United Kingdom is "an ally and a strategic partner, but also a real friend." Liberal Democrat leader Vincent Cable denounced the visit, saying that "By permitting a state visit and audience with the Queen, May and Boris Johnson are essentially rolling out the red carpet for a man with a disregard for human rights, who is responsible for alarming oppression and violence."
Ideologically, Johnson has described himself as a "One-Nation Tory". Academic Tony Travers of the London School of Economics described Johnson as "a fairly classic—that is, small-state—mildly eurosceptic Conservative" who like his contemporaries Cameron and Osborne also embraced "modern social liberalism". The Guardian agreed that Johnson had blended economic and social liberalism, with The Economist claiming that in doing so Johnson "transcends his Tory identity" and adopts a more libertarian perspective. Stuart Reid, Johnson's colleague at The Spectator, described his views as being those of a "liberal libertarian". Johnson's biographer and friend Andrew Gimson noted that while "in economic and social matters, he is a genuine liberal", he retains a "Tory element" to his personality.
Last updated: Sat Jul 28 2018 18:18:31
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