PROFILE: UK’s new prime minister Boris Johnson

55-year old started his career as journalist, before moving into politics as conservative MP, then foreign secretary

Rabia İclal Turan  | 23.07.2019 - Update : 24.07.2019
PROFILE: UK’s new prime minister Boris Johnson


Boris Johnson, born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, has been selected the United Kingdom’s new prime minister. One of the leaders of the Leave campaign prior to the 2016 Brexit EU referendum, Johnson worked as a journalist before moving onto politics.

Born in 1964, Johnson received his education at Eton College, an elite British private school that produced numerous British prime ministers, including David Cameron, who ordered the Brexit referendum.

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

The 55-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 for three months as interior minister in the government of Damat Ferit Pasha. An opponent of the 1919-1923 Turkish War of Independence, Ali Kemal lived in exile in Europe.

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 he worked as the newspaper’s Brussels correspondent from 1989 to 1994, known as a Euroskeptic.

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 apologized six years later during his run for mayor of London.

In August 2019, just after quitting the foreign secretary post, he was widely criticized 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 apologize 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 2001-2008.

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

Mayor of London

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.

Pro-Leave and no deal

In the runup to the landmark 2015 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 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,” and “warned” of the possibility of Turkey’s possible EU membership. But he later denied saying anything about Turkey joining the EU.

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

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

Johnson is known as a hardline Brexit supporter, and in seeking the prime minister’s chair, has repeatedly said that he would ensure the U.K. leaves the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, and would prefer a no-deal Brexit, despite economists’ warning that crashing out would take a heavy toll on Britain’s economy.

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