Creating new perspectives since 2009

Profile: Boris Johnson

July 7, 2022 at 3:12 pm

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, United Kingdom on May 25, 2022 [Wiktor Szymanowicz – Anadolu Agency]

Boris Johnson, born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, worked as a journalist before moving into politics.

Born in 1964 in New York City, Johnson received his education at Eton College, an elite British private school that produced numerous British prime ministers, including David Cameron, who paved the way for the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Johnson studied classics at Oxford University and was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1986.

The 57-year-old comes from a wealthy, upper-middle-class British family. He is the eldest son of Stanley Johnson, a British politician who was a Conservative member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1984.

Johnson also has Turkish roots: his great-grandfather, Ali Kemal was an Ottoman journalist and politician who served as interior minister in one of the final Ottoman governments.

From journalism to politics

Johnson started his journalistic career in late 1987 as a trainee at The Times of London, but he was sacked for falsifying a quotation.

He quickly found a job at The Daily Telegraph, where, known as a “Eurosceptic”, he worked as the newspaper’s Brussels correspondent from 1989 to 1994.

Back in London in 1994, Johnson became the Telegraph’s assistant editor and political columnist.

Over the years, he has written many controversial newspaper columns. In 2002, he was accused of racism for using the racial slur “piccaninnies” to refer to black people. He apologised six years later, during his run for Mayor of London.

In August 2019, just after quitting the Foreign Secretary post, he was widely criticised for writing an Islamophobic column comparing Muslim women wearing headscarves to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.  Many advocacy groups and politicians, including then-Prime Minister, Theresa May, urged Johnson to apologise for his Islamophobic remarks.

In the early 2000s, Johnson moved from journalism to politics, winning a seat as a Conservative MP in Henley, Oxfordshire from 2001 to 2008.

He was appointed the shadow Arts Minister, but was sacked in 2004 for lying over his affair with a British columnist.

Mayor of London

Boris Johnson gets stuck on a Zipline during the Summer Olympics in 2012 [@LRH_Superfan/Twitter]

Boris Johnson gets stuck on a Zipline during the Summer Olympics in 2012 [@LRH_Superfan/Twitter]

In May 2008, Johnson was elected Mayor of London, a position he held until 2016.

His eight years at the helm of the British capital saw highs such as the 2012 Olympics and lows such as the 2011 riots.

He also introduced to the capital a bike-sharing program known by many as “Boris bikes”.

In May 2012, he won a second term as Mayor.


In the run-up to the landmark 2016 Brexit referendum, Boris Johnson was the highest-profile proponent of the “Leave” campaign.

He toured the country on a red bus with a slogan: “We send the EU £350 million ($439 million) a week. Let’s fund our NHS (National Health Service), instead.” (After the Brexit victory, the claim was later widely debunked.)

He also stressed the importance of “taking back control of the country’s borders,” a slogan which partially materialised in 2022 with the controversial Rwanda plan.

On 23 June, 2016, in a hotly contested vote, the country voted to leave the EU by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

The following month, Johnson was appointed to the key post of Foreign Secretary. He resigned two years later, accusing May of turning the UK into an “EU colony”.

Johnson became the new Conservative leader, as the 1922 Committee – the Conservatives’ parliamentary group in the House of Commons – ousted Theresa May in July 2019, after he finished the leadership race on top.

His biggest legacy in his first term was to complete the Brexit deal with the EU, finishing out the process of leaving the bloc after years of negotiations.

Johnson was praised for the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after facing criticism for the government’s herd immunity plans, with the UK suffering one of the biggest death tolls in Europe.

But the biggest criticism of Johnson came in spring 2022, with revelations of lockdown parties held at No 10, even as the rest of the country was under strict pandemic rules. Johnson and some other senior Tory party members were fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaching the government’s lockdown guidelines.

A report by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, said Johnson was personally responsible for all the parties held as the Head of the Government.

On 6 June, the 1922 Committee crossed the threshold of 15 per cent of Tory MPs – or 54 in number – to hold a no-confidence vote against Johnson.

Later that day, Johnson survived the vote by a comfortable margin, 211-148.

However, Johnson had to resign after a storm of resignations from his government between 5 and 7 July, over his appointment of MP Chris Pincher as Chief Whip.

READ: Boris Johnson’s ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ hyperbole dishonours the victims of the US invasion of Iraq