Boris Johnson: Three decades of scandals, blunders and rows

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·5-min read
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  • Dominic Cummings
    Dominic Cummings
    British political strategist who served as chief adviser to UK prime minister from July 2019 until Nov 2020
  • Jennifer Arcuri
    American technology entrepreneur
  • Michael Howard
    British politician; Former leader of the Conservative Party (UK) (born 1941)

Watch: UK's Johnson apologizes for lockdown party

Boris Johnson has survived a series of scandals, blunders and controversies which could have sunk other political careers.

Here are some of them:

– Journalism

In 1988 Mr Johnson was sacked from his first job in journalism as a graduate trainee on The Times for fabricating a quote.

In 1995 a recording emerged of a telephone conversation in which he agreed to provide an old friend, Darius Guppy, with the address of a journalist who was investigating him so that he could have him beaten up to the extent of “a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib or something like that”.

Jennifer Arcuri
Mr Johnson was investigated over his relationship with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri (PA)

In the event Mr Johnson said he did not pass on the information.

As a columnist on The Daily Telegraph he faced accusations of racism and homophobia for describing Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and referring to gay men as “tank-topped bum boys”.

In 2018, he caused further controversy with an article for the paper in which he described Muslim women who wore the niqab or the burka as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

– Personal life

The three times-married Mr Johnson has led a colourful personal life, with allegations of multiple affairs. He has never confirmed how many children he has fathered in and out of wedlock.

In 2004 he was sacked as a shadow minister by then-Tory leader Michael Howard for lying to journalists over reports he had an affair with the columnist Petronella Wyatt who said she had had two abortions.

Michael Howard
Mr Johnson was sacked as a shadow minister by then-Tory leader Michael Howard (Victoria Jones/PA)

While he was campaigning to be Tory leader in 2019, police were called to the flat of his girlfriend (now wife), Carrie Symonds, following reports of a noisy altercation between the pair.

His first Conservative Party conference as leader was marked by claims by the journalist Charlotte Edwardes that he squeezed her thigh during a private lunch when he was editor of The Spectator magazine. He denied the allegation.

– Jennifer Arcuri

Mr Johnson was investigated by the police watchdog over his relationship with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri who said she had a four-year affair with him when he was London mayor.

Dominic Cummings
Mr Johnson refused to sack Dominic Cummings over his lockdown visit to Barnard Castle in 2020 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In 2019, he was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over reports Ms Arcuri’s tech firm was able to access £25,000 in public funds and that she was allowed onto three overseas trade missions.

The IOPC found that while there was no basis for any criminal charges, Mr Johnson should have declared an interest concerning Ms Arcuri and that his failure to do so may have breached the London Assembly’s code of conduct.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

– Foreign Secretary

In 2017 Mr Johnson was accused of worsening the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – the British-Iranian dual national held in Tehran on spying charges – after he wrongly claimed she was in the country teaching journalism.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Mr Johnson was accused of worsening the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2017 (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe/PA)

Following his comments, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who always maintained she was in Iran on holiday with her young daughter, was brought before a court and accused of engaging in propaganda.

– Standards

Following his resignation as foreign secretary, Mr Johnson was forced to apologise to Parliament for failing properly to declare outside earnings – totalling more than £50,000 on nine separate occasions.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found the failings were not inadvertent and showed a lack of regard for the rules of the House.

– Priti Patel

Mr Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests Sir Alex Allan quit after Mr Johnson overruled his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Mr Johnson overturned a finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied civil servants (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Prime Minister said he did not accept that Ms Patel – a fellow Brexiteer – had breached the Ministerial Code which would normally meant she would have been required to quit.

– Covid-19

Mr Johnson was widely criticised for failing to attend a series of five Cobra meetings in early 2020 just as the virus was beginning to spread.

He controversially refused to sack his chief adviser Dominic Cummings over his notorious trip to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight” while the country was in lockdown.

The Prime Minister came under fire for the chaotic way Christmas was cancelled for millions following the discovery of the Alpha variant and his slow response when the Delta variant emerged in India.

Lord Geidt
An investigation was undertaken by Lord Geidt into the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s Downing Street flat (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He reportedly said he would rather see bodies “piled high” than order a third national lockdown and was panned for his reluctance to wear a face mask in Parliament.

– The Downing Street flat

Mr Johnson was accused by Dominic Cummings, his former adviser, of secretly trying to arrange for wealthy Tory donors to pay for a lavish £112,000 revamp of his official flat over No 11.

Following an inquiry, his new adviser on ministerial interests, Lord Geidt, accepted that Mr Johnson had not known what was going on and when he found out he paid for the work out of his own pocket.

Lord Geidt reacted angrily when he learned later that Mr Johnson had exchanged WhatsApp messages with one of the donors involved, although he said it would not have changed his final conclusion that there was no breach of the Ministerial Code.

In a separate investigation, the Electoral Commission fined the Tory Party £17,800 for failing to properly declare a donation, part of which was originally used to help pay for the revamp.

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