The absurd life of Boris Johnson, the man who backed Brexit and could be the UK’s next prime minister

Boris Johnson could be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

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Boris Johnson could be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.
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Getty

  • Boris Johnson is a lead contender for replacing British Prime Minister Theresa May.
  • On Wednesday, May announced she’d resign if Parliament agreed to her Brexit deal.
  • Johnson has reportedly signaled that he will support May’s deal after being one of her harshest critics.
  • Johnson, the former mayor of London, served as May’s foreign secretary for two years until he resigned in July 2018 in protest of her approach to the UK’s departure from the EU.

Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, led the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. Now, he’s being pegged as a leading contender for the UK’s next prime minister amid a dramatic parliamentary debate over a Brexit deal.

Originally hailed as David Cameron’s likely replacement as prime minister back in 2016, Johnson said he would not seek the position after his ally Michael Gove announced his own candidacy.

Theresa May ultimately won the position, and she picked Johnson to be the UK’s foreign secretary. He resigned in 2018 over May’s handling of Brexit negotiations.

Johnson is a clownish character, but he has been a prominent figure in British politics for some time and is known by his first name across the UK.

Here are some pictures of his life and rise to power, as well as some insights into what his future might look like.

A previous version of this article was written by Mike Bird.


While at Oxford University, Boris was president of the Oxford Union, a position held by former Conservative leader William Hague and ex-Prime Minister Edward Heath.

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REUTERS/Brian Smith PN

Johnson went to Eton College and university with David Cameron, but Boris was much more obviously political at the time.

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REUTERS/Luke McGregor

Johnson was sacked after a brief career at the London-based newspaper The Times, and he then worked for The Daily Telegraph as the paper’s Brussels correspondent, gaining a name for himself in the center-right press.

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BBC, Youtube

Politics and journalism run in the family. Boris’ brother, Jo Johnson, is also a Conservative politician, following a career as an investment banker and as a bureau chief at the Financial Times.

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REUTERS/Gareth Fuller

Boris was appointed editor of The Spectator magazine in 1999 before being selected for the Conservative seat of Henley-on-Thames and elected in 2001.

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BBC, Youtube

Boris was embroiled in scandal in his early years as a politician. In 2003, as a member of Parliament and still Spectator editor, he said the city of Liverpool reveled in a “victim status.”

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REUTERS/Simon Bellis MD

Despite the repeated gaffes, people warmed to Boris. Though the incidents often come off as clownish, they make him seem more authentic than normal politicians.

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Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

In 2004, Johnson lied about having an extramarital affair, and Conservative leader Michael Howard sacked him as shadow minister for the arts.

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Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Image

By 2005, when David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative Party, Johnson was back as higher-education minister.

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REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

In 2008, Boris stood down as a member of Parliament and defeated incumbent Ken Livingstone of the Labour Party in London’s third mayoral election.

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REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The city’s bike-hire scheme now unofficially bears Johnson’s name. Pretty much everyone refers to them as “Boris bikes.” Here he is riding one with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

He also made a big deal of bringing back London’s Routemaster buses, replacing the “bendy buses” that were used under Livingstone.

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REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

In 2012, as part of a promotional event for the Olympics, Boris was stuck on a zip wire.

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ITV, Youtube

In 2012, Boris won reelection as mayor in another contest against Ken Livingstone, winning by a smaller margin. London generally tends to vote more for the Labour Party.

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REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Boris has kept a constant media profile. With no major gaffes in quite some time, the idea of his leading the Tory Party has become increasingly realistic.

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REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

But his critics called him an inactive mayor, using the position to boost his personal publicity. Here he is with BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman on a tandem bike.

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BBC

His popularity figures are perpetually high, regularly beating all other British politicians. A poll in June 2014 showed him 13 points clear of David Cameron.

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Rob Stothard Getty Images

Boris announced in August 2014 that he would run in the coming general election.

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REUTERS/Toby Melville

In May 2015, Boris won the Parliament seat in Uxbridge, while the Conservative victory gave Cameron a second term as prime minister.


After rumors circulated in October 2015 that Cameron would step down early, Boris’ name floated around as a possible replacement. Cameron had mentioned him as a possible successor when he said that he would serve only two terms.

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REUTERS/Luke McGregor

As debate over the Brexit heated up in early 2016, Boris said that his country had a “great, great future” outside the EU but that he’d rather see the UK remain in a reformed EU.

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Oleg Popov / REUTERS

On February 21, Boris Johnson officially came out in favor of Britain leaving the EU, giving the “Leave” campaign a significant boost.

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Peter Nicholls/Reuters

In March, Boris told a Treasury committee that there were “no good economic arguments” for Britain staying in the EU.

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Oli Scarff/Getty Images

When US President Barack Obama encouraged Britain to stay in the EU, Boris called him a “part-Kenyan” with hypocritical views.

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Christopher Furlong / Getty

Just weeks before the referendum, Cameron said Boris could be the next prime minister. Some speculated that his leadership of the “Leave” campaign earned him Conservative support.

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Patrick Wang

When Britain officially voted to leave the EU and Cameron announced that he was resigning, Boris was a favorite to become the new prime minister.


But in a shocking turn of events, he announced that he would not seek the office of prime minister after his ally Michael Gove announced his own candidacy.

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Suzanne Plunkett / REUTERS

The Telegraph called Gove’s actions “the most spectacular political assassination in a generation.” But Gove soon dropped out of the race.

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Luke MacGregor / REUTERS

Boris then threw his support behind Andrea Leadsom, the former minister of state for energy. But she soon dropped out of the race as well.

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Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Theresa May ultimately emerged victorious in the race for prime minister. She appointed Boris as secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs on July 13.

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Darren Staples / Reuters

The decision was immediately criticized — Boris had made numerous negative remarks about foreign leaders.

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Issei Kato / REUTERS

In his new role, Boris spent lots of time in the EU countries he condemned during his referendum campaign.


Boris said he was “very humbled” to be chosen for the position.

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Peter Nicholls / REUTERS

As foreign secretary, Johnson worked to convince the world Brexit would not mean the UK was walling itself off from the rest of the globe.

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivers a speech at Chatham House in London, Britain December 2, 2016.
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Gareth Fuller/Reuters

Johnson was not a particularly effective diplomat, repeatedly making gaffes and offensive comments. In October 2017, for example, he caused uproar after joking that Libya could be the next Dubai if it clears the “dead bodies away” first.

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Former British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, leaves his home at Carlton House Terrace, in central London, Britain July 11, 2018.
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Simon Dawson/Reuters

Source: BBC News


Johnson resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018 in a rebuke of May’s approach to Brexit.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May.
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Source: INSIDER


Jeremy Hunt was named as Johnson’s successor.

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Jeremy Hunt arrives for a Cabinet meeting chaired by British Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street on June 5, 2018 in London, England.
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Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Since resigning as foreign secretary, Johnson has been among May’s harshest critics in Parliament. In September 2018, he said the deal May was pushing for would be “substantially worse” than the UK staying in the EU. Johnson wants a hard Brexit.

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Source: INSIDER


Parliament has been engaged in a dramatic, deadlocked debate on Brexit for months, prompting the EU to give it small extension on negotiating a deal. On March 27, May announced she’d resign as prime minister once she has delivered Brexit. The move was designed to get Parliament to agree to her deal.

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Source: INSIDER


“I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach — and new leadership — in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations — and I won’t stand in the way of that,” May said in announcing her intention to resign.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions in the Parliament in London
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Reuters

Now that May has pledged to resign, Johnson has reportedly signaled he will back her deal after previously contending agreeing to it would be a “historic mistake.”

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London Mayor Boris Johnson gestures during an “Out” campaign event, in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, at Europa Worldwide freight company in Dartford, Britain March 11, 2016.
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Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Sources: Reuters; Irish Times


As soon as May announced her plans to resign post-Brexit, discussions began on who her replacement would be. Johnson is at the top of the shortlist.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament in London.
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Reuters

Other top contenders for Britain’s next prime minister include former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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Dominic Raab, former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, leaves his home after it was announced that the Conservative Party will hold a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, London
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Reuters

Source: The Guardian


Once highly popular, a recent poll showed nearly 60% of voters in Johnson’s party, the Conservative party, think he lacks the qualities needed to make a good prime minister.

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Source: The Scotsman


In early March, Johnson was heavily criticized after suggesting money had been wasted on child sex abuse investigations. But British journalists are still pointing to Johnson as May’s likely successor.

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Source: CNN; The Guardian


The extended deadline for Brexit is April 12. But if May passes a deal by March 29, then the EU will give the UK until May 22. She would likely step down in May.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to make a statement about Brexit in Downing Street in London
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Reuters