Boris Johnson: From fallen Brexiteer to foreign minister

  • AFP, London
  • Updated: Jul 14, 2016 13:57 IST
Former mayor of London Boris Johnson walks to 10 Downing Street in central London on July 13, 2016 after New British Prime Minister Theresa May takes office following the formal resignation of David Cameron. (AFP Photo)

Boris Johnson, the top Brexit campaigner and former London mayor, made a sensational comeback Wednesday after two weeks in the political wilderness to become foreign minister in new Prime Minister Theresa May’s government .

Johnson is one of Britain’s most recognisable politicians with his blond mop-top hair, bumbling manner and tendency to drift into Latin during speeches.

He is also one of the most controversial after he drove the campaign for Britain to leave the EU and then spectacularly ducked out of entering the race to succeed Remain-campaigning prime minister David Cameron -- a contest Johnson had been expected to win.

Johnson, one of a coterie of Conservative politicians who attended Britain’s elite Eton boarding school, was the figurehead of the “Leave” campaign.

The job of foreign secretary is the first in government for Johnson, whose tenure as London mayor from 2008 until May this year included overseeing the 2012 Olympic Games.

The leadership ambitions of the former Brussels-based journalist had been the worst-kept secret in British politics, ever since his victory in London’s mayoral race eight years ago sent his profile skyrocketing.

At the time, he was the most senior Conservative in elected office.

Many within the centre-right party and the country believe prime ministerial ambitions, rather than ideology, drove him to rebel against Cameron by campaigning for a divorce from the EU.

But after securing a victory which forced Cameron to quit, Johnson’s close Brexit ally Michael Gove decided to stand for the leadership himself.

Gove said Johnson was incapable of doing the job -- forcing Boris to step aside from running.

The decision prompted a furious reaction from former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine who described Johnson, a huge admirer of Winston Churchill, as “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it”.

Read| Brexit: When paranoia is the other side of patriotism

‘King of the world’

Known to millions simply as Boris, he was born in New York in 1964 as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson into a competitive, high-achieving family.

His father Stanley was a Conservative member of the European Parliament; one brother, Jo, was a minister in Cameron’s government and his sister Rachel is a journalist and writer.

All three gave their support to the “Remain” camp.

Rachel Johnson told her brother’s biographer that, as a child, he wanted to be “king of the world” when he grew up.

Johnson won a scholarship to Eton, which Cameron also attended two years below him.

The pair were then contemporaries at Oxford University and both members of the Bullingdon Club -- an elite, all-male dining society known for its rowdy behaviour.

After graduating in classics, Johnson became a journalist, working at The Times -- from which he was sacked for fabricating quotes -- and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, including as Brussels correspondent.

He became a lawmaker for the then opposition Conservatives in 2001 and was later appointed as the party’s arts spokesman before being sacked over accusations of lying about an alleged extra-marital affair.

After leaving the London mayoralty in May he spearheaded the “Leave” campaign.

Johnson is the bookmakers’ favourite to become the next Conservative Party leader.

Despite constant speculation, Johnson had always batted away rumours about his political ambitions, once saying that his chances of being prime minister were on a par with “my being reincarnated as an olive”.

Read| Theresa May makes Johnson foreign secy, says needs time before Brexit talks

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