From Brexit to 'partygate': blustering UK PM Johnson faces moment of truth

By: AFP
Published: 07:55 PM, 12 Apr, 2022
From Brexit to 'partygate': blustering UK PM Johnson faces moment of truth
Caption: From Brexit to 'partygate': blustering UK PM Johnson faces moment of truth.
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Boris Johnson is known as a master of political survival but is now facing the biggest crisis of his premiership after being fined for lockdown-busting parties at his Downing Street office.

Despite his government's highly successful rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination programme, up to a dozen of his own Conservative party MPs publicly stated earlier in the year that he had lost their support over "partygate".

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, a previously loyal supporter, wrote then in the Daily Telegraph that there was "a moral vacuum at the heart of our government".

After weeks of denials and stonewalling, Johnson apologised in parliament for at least one boozy event which he attended in May 2020, when Britons were banned from socialising.

Revelations that other parties were held as Queen Elizabeth II prepared to bury Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, forced Downing Street to apologise to Buckingham Palace, calling them "deeply regrettable".

The guidance decided upon by Johnson's government at the time outlawed socialising except with your household or support bubble, meaning thousands were unable to visit loved ones sick or dying with Covid.

But just as his party looked set to pull the plug, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Johnson's leading role in coordinating the international response won him a reprieve, with MPs reluctant to trigger a leadership contest amid an international crisis.

However, the issuing of a fine against the prime minister for breaking his own lockdown rules once again plunges the leader into a deep crisis that even his famed bluster may not be able to blow away.

Crony claims 

Johnson, 57, became prime minister in July 2019, consolidating power six months later with a landslide general election victory on a pledge to "Get Brexit Done".

But he had little time to bask in victory as the pandemic swept in weeks later, leaving Britain with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and nearly taking Johnson's life.

His political fortunes were boosted by the country's vaccine rollout, but his popularity plunged as details of the parties in the heart of government were revealed.

His problems are compounded by a worsening cost-of-living crisis, partly blamed on post-Brexit immigration rules and the pandemic's global supply-and-demand shock.

Johnson, who admires strong Conservative predecessors such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, remains adamant he is setting Britain on a prosperous course, despite his government being hit by allegations of cronyism, including with Covid-19 procurement contracts.

'World king' 

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964. His sister said that as a child he wanted to become "world king".

He spent part of his childhood in the EU capital Brussels, where his father Stanley worked for the European Commission, and later attended the elite Eton school in England before studying Greek and Latin at Oxford University.

In his 2020 biography "Boris Johnson: The Gambler", journalist Tom Bower recounts the serial womanising that put paid to Johnson's two marriages and his relaxed relationship with the truth.

Johnson is believed to have at least seven children, including two with his latest wife Carrie Symonds, 34.

He first worked as a journalist for The Times, where he was sacked for making up a quote, and moved on to become Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

There he made his name by writing "Euro-myths" -- exaggerated claims about the EU such as purported plans to standardise the sizes of condoms and bananas.

Johnson then entered politics but, in 2004, he was sacked from the Conservatives' shadow cabinet for lying about an extra-marital affair.

He rallied to become mayor of Labour-voting, staunchly pro-European London in 2008, an achievement commentators put down to his brazen refusal to respect convention.

Brexit 'lies' 

Johnson felt torn about which way to leap in Britain's 2016 Brexit referendum, famously drawing up a list of pros and cons for EU membership before throwing his political charisma behind the "leave" campaign.

His popularity, and propensity for exaggeration, helped swing the bitterly divisive campaign, and he intervened in July 2019 to end the subsequent political paralysis by seizing control of the Conservative party from Theresa May.

She resigned after failing three times to get her EU divorce deal through parliament. 

Within six months, Johnson had renegotiated the deal, won an election and taken Britain out of the EU.

"Those who did not take him seriously were wrong," French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time. But he accused Brexiteers of indulging in "lies and false promises".

But even fellow Conservatives have attacked Johnson's integrity.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve last year described him as a "vacuum of integrity" over a contentious revamp of his Downing Street flat.

Johnson also has a long trail of contentious remarks in print, attacking women, gays, black people and Muslims. 

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.