By Tom Hurley •
Updated: 07 Jul 2022 • 13:50
EXPLAINER: The highs and lows of Boris Johnson´s leadership. Image: Michael Tubi/Shutterstock.com
Johnson became UK Prime Minister on July 24, 2019, one day after being announced as the winner of the Conservative Party’s leadership contest.
The contest came three years after Johnson pulled out of the running to replace David Cameron as Party leader at the final hour in 2016.
Johnson quit the race seven minutes before nominations were to be confirmed, with insiders saying he did not have sufficient support to win after Michael Gove, who worked closely with Johnson at The Daily Telegraph, had entered the race.
As the candidates were confirmed, Johnson endorsed Andrea Leadsom, who eventually lost to Theresa May.
Following May’s decision to step down after losing four commons votes to approve her Brexit deal, Johnson once again became the favourite to take over the Party and country.
In a vote amongst Conservative Party members on July 22, 2019, Johnson defeated Jeremy Hunt in the final ballot by 92,153 votes to 46,656, gaining support from 66 per cent of members to Hunt’s 34 per cent.
The former Eton College schoolboy had been a leader in the Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the 2016 referendum on whether UK should remain in the EU, working closely with political strategist Dominic Cummins.
Upon his appointment as Prime Minister, Johnson immediately named Cummins as his senior advisor.
In his first speech as Prime Minister, Johnson declared the the UK would leave the European Union on October 21, 2019 whether or not the country had secured a withdrawal agreement with the single market.
Johnson also said in the speech he would remove the Irish backstop from any deal, a clause inserted by former Prime Minister Theresa May that was designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
This outraged EU officials who refused to enter talks over a deal with Johnson’s pre-condition that the backstop be removed.
Johnson’s newly formed government then announced a £2.1 billion campaign to prepare the UK for a no-deal Brexit on October 31, a move that shadow chancellor John McDonnell called “an appalling waste of taxpayers’ cash.”
On August 28, 2019, Queen Elizabeth II approve a request by Johnson to prorogue parliament, effectively keeping MPs out of the House of Commons in a bid to prevent debate his no-deal Brexit strategy ahead of October 31 – the date of Johnson’s planned no-deal Brexit.
Parliament was due to suspended for five weeks from September 10, until the State Opening of Parliament on October 14, just over two weeks before Johnson’s self-imposed no-deal Brexit day.
Protests broke out around the country and a string of court cases followed.
The Conservative Party then lost their working majority on September 3 in the first of two shocking moments that day.
First, MP Philip Lee theatrically walked across the House of Commons chamber to defect to the Liberal Democrats in the middle of a Johnson speech.
Later in the day, 21 Conservative MPs, including the longest serving elected MP Kenneth Clarke and former Chancellor Philip Hammond, had the party whip withdrawn – effectively booting them out of the party – after going against orders and supporting an opposition motion to block a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson responded by announcing he would call for a snap General Election. His attempt was unsuccessful after failing to get the required two-third support needed from MPs.
Further embarrassment for Boris Johnson came two days later on September 5, 2019, when his brother resigned from the government. Jo Johnson said he was “torn between family and national interest,” adding his intention to step down as an MP.
That was not the final resignation of the week, however, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd then resigned from the government and the party, saying that withdrawing the whip from the 21 tory MPs was an “assault on decency and democracy.”
As this was going on, courts in England and Scotland debated the legality of the prorogation.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom declared the prorogation unlawful on September 24, 2019. Parliament reopened the following day.
Johnson was in New York City when the ruling came, forcing him to bring forward a speech to the United Nations General Assembly and fly back to London.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Johnson to “consider his position and become the shortest-serving prime minister there’s ever been,” as other party leaders also called for him to step down.
After returning from the US late on September 25, Johnson told MPs the Supreme Court “wrong to pronounce on a political question at a time of great national controversy.”
He refused to rule out a second prorogation and said he would not abide by the UK law that required him to request an extension to Article 50, and therefore the date of Brexit, in the event of no withdrawal agreement being signed prior to October 31.
Despite the £2.1 billion no-deal campaign, Johnson reached a withdrawal agreement with the European Union with his desired Brexit day remaining as October 31.
His deal was given first-stage approval by MPs by a 329-299 margin, but the October 31 Brexit date was not.
Before October was over, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party motioned for a General Election to take place in December of that year. Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the election, with a vote of 438-20.
Johnson ran on the slogan of “Get Brexit Done” and went on to remain Prime Minister as the Conservatives won in a landslide.
In the vote on December 12, 2019 the Conservatives claimed 365 out of the 650 available, to secure an 80 seat majority and leave Johnson in a strong position.
As the Covid-19 pandemic started the UK were won of the slowest countries in Europe to implement precautionary measures.
The UK government held a COBRA meeting on March 2, 2020 to formulate a plan on how to deal with to the virus as 36 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed within the country.
Boris Johnson failed to attend the meeting.
On March 10, Johnson’s government then gave permission for the annual four-day Cheltenham Festival racehorse meet to take place despite the number of confirmed cases in the country continuing to rise.
The National Health Service in the region subsequently registered twice the number of Covid-19 deaths compared to neighbouring areas after over a quarter of a million people attended the four-day festival.
As confirmed cases of Covid-19 moved past 1,500 in the UK on March 16, Johnson began to issue a series of suggestions, rather than restrictions, that caused confusion amongst the British public.
Johnson said that those with symptoms “should stay at home for 14 days,” and that “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.”
“We need people to start working form home, where they possibly can, and you should avoid pubs, clubs, and other such social venues,” he said.
Meanwhile, a host of European countries had already entered government-mandated quarantine lockdowns which featured the closures of schools and non-essential businesses and ordered citizens to remain at home.
Italy announced it would enter lockdown on March 9, Spain entered a on March 14, France followed on March 17, before Portugal on March 18.
Johnson waited until March 23 to release a statement saying that UK residents “must stay at home.”
Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s chief scientific advisor, revealed on July 16 that Johnson was advised on March 16 that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) insisted “the remainder of the measures should be introduced as soon as possible” as the virus spread out of control.
Boris Johnson himself then contracted Covid-19, revealing is diagnosis to the public on March 27.
He was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London on April 5 as his symptoms worsened.
Johnson’s conditioned continue to deteriorate to the point where he was admitted to the intensive care unit, staying there for three nights, ultimately being discharged from hospital on April 12.
By May 5, 2019, the UK had the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths in Europe as cases skyrocketed around the country.
Despite this, on May 10 Johnson changed the public message from “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” to “stay alert, control the virus, save lives.”
The messaged caused widespread confusion, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ainsworth saying that people would be “puzzled” by the change.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Surgeon said “I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means.”
“For Scotland right now, given the fragility of the progress we’ve made, given the critical point that we are at, then it would be catastrophic for me to drop the ‘stay at home’ message, ” she said.
“I am particularly not prepared to do it in favour of a message that is vague and imprecise.”
Professor Susan Michie, a behavioural expert and part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said the new slogan may be interpreted as a “green light” to socialise.
“I do not think this is a helpful message in terms of guiding behaviour. It does not give advice as to what people should do,” she said.
Johnson told the public that if they couldn’t work from home they should return to their workplace, but asked people not to use public transport.
He also revealed a “conditional plan” to return to normal day-to-day life from May 13.
This included people in England being allowed to view homes for sale, return to open spaces, and the re-opening garden centres and sports courts.
People were also told they could socialise with no more than one person from a different household.
The leaders of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, meanwhile, decided to extend lockdown until May 28.
After photos emerged of hundreds of people enjoying a Saturday afternoon at park in Hackney, northeast London, a police spokesman criticised Johnson and the Covid response calling it “wishy washy.”
Speaking to the BBC, Ken March of the Metropolitan Police Federation said that authorities “needed to be firmer right from the beginning” and if they had been “we would have a better result right now.”
Little did the public know at the time, but as Covid-related deaths in the UK went past 34,000, on May 15 Johnson allegedly attended a party with government officials in the gardens of Downing Street.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was also allegedly at the party, despite earlier telling people to “stay at home as much as is possible” and to “please stick with the rules, keep an eye on your family and don’t take risks” as the UK enjoyed several days of warm weather.
A photo later surfaced showing Johnson with a bottle of wine and cheese while socialising with staff on a terrace.
It was the first of string of gatherings that took place between government officials while millions around the UK were ordered to stay at home.
On May 20, Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, sent an email to over 100 government employees inviting them to a “bring your own booze” party in the gardens of the Prime Minister’s official residence.
“Hi all,” began the email which was obtained by ITV News and made public on January 10, 2022.
“After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.
“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Dominic Cummings, who used the nickname ‘Trolley’ for Johnson, wrote on Twitter: “Trolley was there” in reference to the event.
Coronavirus rules expert and human rights barrister Adam Wagner said the gatherings were “unlikely to be legal for attendees.”
“Being outside the home was illegal at the time unless it was for the need to work. ‘Socially distanced drinks’ [and] ’BYOB’ don’t sound like work.”
Deputy labour leader said of the parties and Johnson: “It’s a disgrace and he should be ashamed.”
As the UK struggled to get on top of the pandemic, further restrictions were implemented by Johnson including a tier system.
In the buildup to Christmas 20020, London was designated as a Tier 3 zone.
UK law stated that “no person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 3 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place in any indoor space.”
Focusing on the UK tradition of holding a Christmas party with family, friends, or work colleagues, Johnson’s government issued a clear message that the tradition was banned.
“You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity.”
Despite this, in December 2021 it emerged that a Christmas party was held at Downing Street on December 18, 2020.
Although it is thought Johnson did not attend this party – where government officials and advisors reportedly exchanged gifts, shared drinks and a chessboard, and made speeches – his spokeswoman resigned after video emerged of her joking about the event with prime ministerial adviser Ed Oldfield four days after it too place.
Video also came out of a speech given by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg joking about the scandal after it had came to light.
“I see we’re all here obeying regulations, aren’t we? “I mean, this party is not going to be investigated by the police in a year’s time,” he said in reference to police comments on the party.
Further details later emerged of ELEVEN other parties that allegedly took place in the lead-up to Christmas while Covid restrictions on gatherings were in place.
This includes one alleged party at Boris Johnson’s apartment on November 13, 2021 – the same date that Dominic Cummins left his position in Johnson’s government.
Another two parties took place on April 16, 2021, despite Covid restrictions at the time outlawing gatherings on the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
The two separate events were held in honour of Boris Johnson’s former director of communications James Slack, who was leaving his Downing Street position to become Editor-in-Chief of The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper.
Government staff and advisors enjoyed alcoholic drinks and danced to music, according to eyewitness accounts.
Approximately 30 people attended the two events, in honour of Slack who was also one of the Prime Minister’s official photographers.
Downing Street officials apologised to the Queen for the parties taken place while the public were told they could not do the same in honour of her late husband, Prince Philip.
Slack later said publicly apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by the parties held to celebrate his new job as head of The Sun.
In November of 2021 Boris Johnson supported a motion to block the suspension of Conservative MP Owen Paterson.
The independent standards commissioner had ruled that Paterson had broken paid lobbying rules and committed an “egregious case of paid advocacy.”
Parliament’s standards watchdog has recommended Paterson be suspended for 30 days for his position as an MP to undertake paid lobbying for two companies, including one that he previously worked for as a consultant.
Despite over 100 of the 361 Conservative MPs either abstaining from the vote, or voting against it, the motion passed.
“Corruption. There is no other word for it,” leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer said on Twitter after the vote results were announced to cries of “shame” in the commons.
An exasperated Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said to parliament that “In no other profession in our country could someone be found guilty by an independent process and just have their mates vote them back into the job.”
Johnson defended supporting the bid to prevent Paterson from being suspended, telling MPs that while “paid advocacy in this House (of Commons) is wrong,” he felt that “the issue in this case… is whether a member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case and whether as a matter of natural justice our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal.”
Paterson earned almost three-times his annual MP salary from the two firms.
On April 14, 2022, Johnson delivered a speech outlining a new plan that would see people seeking asylum in the UK being sent to the African country of Rwanda.
“From today, our new migration and economic development partnership will mean that anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st – may now be relocated to Rwanda,” he said.
Johnson claimed that it was an “innovative approach… made possible by Brexit freedoms.”
He went on to say that “economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country.”
Outrage poured in over the plans including from the British Royal Family, with The Guardian reporting that first-in-line to the throne Prince Charles called the proposal “appalling.”
Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said that sending people seeking asylum to another country “let alone one with such a dismal human rights record” was “the very height of irresponsibility.”
The news came one year after Johnson’s government told the United Nations they were concerned over “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom” in Rwanda.
Theresa May said the government would ban conversion therapy when still Prime Minister in 2018, with a law banning the practice announced during the Queen’s Speech in 2021, when Johnson was in office.
However, on March 31, 2022, ITV published a leaked document from a Johnson government document titled “Conversion Therapy Handling Plan.”
The document details that “the PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation to ban LGBT conversion therapy.”
It continues with a warning to officials to expect a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed.”
The leaked document details how the government can minimise outcry over the announcement, saying that “the LGBT sector will read this decision as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues.”
It also showed that Johnson made the decision without consulting government officials, despite saying in a 2020 press conference that conversation therapy is “absolutely abhorrent” and” has no place in a civilised society.”
It saw the resignation of Iain Anderson, the government’s LGBT+ business champion on April 5, 2022.
Anderson described seeing a leak of Johnson’s plans to “drop the government’s flagship legislation protecting LGBT+ people from conversion therapy” as “devastating.”
Such was the backlash, Johnson then announced on April 6 that he would be banning gay conversion therapy, but that transgender conversion therapy would still be legal.
“We will have a ban on gay conversion therapy, which to me is utterly abhorrent,” he said. “But there are complexities and sensitivities when you move from the area of sexuality to the question of gender.”
The decision led to the collapse of the government’s LGBT+ right conference, Safe To Be Me, after over 120 LGBT+ and HIV groups withdrew support for the event.
Actor and Broadcaster Stephen Fry responded to the news on Twitter saying: “Just when I thought my contempt for this disgusting government couldn’t sink lower. A curse upon the whole lying, stinking lot of them.”
May said on July 1 that “the government must keep to its commitment to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy,” adding that trans people “still face indignities and prejudice, when they deserve understanding and respect”.
Johnson faced a vote of no confidence on June 6, 2022 after at least the minimum required 54 Conservative MPs asked the party to hold a no confidence vote against the Prime Minister.
It was only the third no confidence vote against a sitting Conservative Prime Minister since 1924.
The previous two votes were won, first by Margaret Thatcher in November, 1990, then by Theresa May in December, 2018; however both women resigned shortly after winning the votes by a smaller margin than they’d hoped.
While Johnson won the vote of no confidence against him, he did so with more voted against him than either Thatcher or May had received.
A string of MPs from all parties called for Johnson to resign after the vote, but he refused saying that “extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result” and enabled him to “move on to unite and focus on delivery.”
The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said that Conservative MPs had “narrowly voted to keep a lawbreaker and liar in No 10.”
By-elections were held in the Conservative stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton in the south west of England and also in the northern town of Wakefield in Yorkshire.
The by-elections that took place on June 23, 2022, were needed because of to the resignation of the two Conservative MPs that occupied the seats.
Neil Parish resigned from his post as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting to watching watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons following complaints from two female Conservative MPs.
The seat in Wakefield had become vacant after Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Despite securing a majority of 24,000 in the Tiverton and Honiton in the 2019 General Election, the Liberal Democrats took the seat in the by-election by a majority of 6,000 – a swing of 30,000 votes.
The opposition Labour Party gained the seat in Wakefield, beating the Conservatives by almost 5,000 votes, gaining an 8.6 per cent swing compared to the 2019 General Election.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned the following day, June 24, in a resignation letter to Johnson.
“Yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party,” Dowden said. “Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.”
“We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said of the results: ‘What a judgment this is on the Tories and Boris Johnson – out of touch, out of ideas, and if they had any decency they would get out the way for the sake of the country.”
Conservative MP Chris Pincher was suspended by the party on July 1, 2022, two days after allegedly groping two men while at the private Carlton Club in London.
Pincher admitted to being extremely drunk while at the club and having “embarrassed myself and other people.”
The 52-year-old had faced sexual misconduct allegations before, including in 2017 when former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story alleged Pincher made unwanted sexual advance on him in 2001.
Johnson appointed Pincher to the post of Minister of State for Europe and the Americas in July 2019, moving him to Minister of State for Housing in February 2021, before placing him back as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas in February 2022 and also naming as Deputy Chief Whip.
Six further allegations against Pincher spanning across a 10-year period then emerged on July 3, 2022.
Downing Street officials initially claimed that Johnson didn’t know of the allegations made against Pincher when promoting him to the government cabinet.
However, on Monday, July 4, Downing Street made a U-turn saying that: “The Prime Minister was aware of media reports that others had seen over the years, and some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
On Tuesday, July 5, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, Lord Simon McDonald said that lies had been told by the Conservative Party and Johnson.
In an interview with the BBC later on July 5, following Lord McDonald’s statement, Johnson admitted he had been told about sexual assault allegations against Pincher prior to appointing him to his cabinet.
He then went on to make a grovelling apology saying: “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do.”
“I apologise to everybody who has been badly affected by it,” Johnson said. “I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this Government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power.”
Members of Johnson’s cabinet then began to resign in quick succession, with a total of ten Conservative MPs quitting their posts in protest against Johnson and called on him to resign.
Instead, he appointed close allies to the cabinet positions vacated by the day’s resignations.
However, following more resignations from ministers on Thursday, July 7, Boris Johnson announced to the nation that he had stepped down as Prime Minister Johnson but will stay on “until a new leader is in place.”
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