The sun shone on Boris Johnson a year ago next week, as he stood outside Downing Street, Prime Minister at last. He’d been to see the Queen, his blue tie knotted neatly and his hair brushed. He’d vanquished his enemies. He was about to appoint a Cabinet of loyalists, eager to get Brexit done, just as he wanted. What could go wrong?
Well, 12 months on, he’s almost died in a global pandemic, become a father, got divorced, won a general election, lost a chancellor, got Britain out of the EU but not into a new deal, faced a fresh Labour leader, tried to close down Parliament for months, seen the economy implode, shut pubs, banned cricket, and clung on to Dominic Cummings. He’s also had a haircut. Well, they never said it would be boring. Here’s year one of the Johnson era.
The month that ... Johnson became Prime Minister on July 24 and kicked out the old Cabinet.
What he said: “Like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self doubt and negativity” — Johnson as he won.
Crazy rating: Just one star. Given what followed, July seems normal.
The month that … The Liberal Democrats won a by-election (remember them?) and Johnson’s plan for Brexit looked in peril as opponents went to court to stop him closing down the House of Commons.
What he said: “I am not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of parliament” — Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign promise before trying to do exactly that.
Crazy rating: Two stars. August was the last month before everything went weird.
The month that … Everyone seemed to resign: John Bercow, Amber Rudd, even the PM’s brother Jo as the battle to stop a no-deal Brexit sent heads spinning. The Supreme Court ruled that suspending Parliament was unlawful — and Lady Hale’s spider brooch went viral. Meanwhile, we heard about an entrepreneur called Jennifer Arcuri.
What they said: “He literally was talking to her about the tech situation, and he wanted an adviser. And if you were a guy, looking for an adviser, would you want some guy in his forties ... or her?” — a “friend” of Arcuri explaining why Johnson had visited her flat when he ws Mayor of London.
Crazy rating: Four stars. The PM seemed on the ropes — and that was before we heard about the dancing pole in Arcuri’s flat.
The month that … Brexit raged in the Commons, led by Tory rebels such as Oliver Letwin. They stopped the Prime Minister’s promise to get out of the European Union by October 31 or be found “dead in a ditch”. Everyone talked about second referendums, new parties or a government of national unity. The special 50p Brexit coins were melted down. Then the Prime Minister hit back with a plan for a general election — and the Liberal Democrats let it happen. On October 29 the Commons voted for one and suddenly Johnson was back in control.
What he said: “A bridge from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland — that would be very good. It would only cost about £15 billion.” — Johnson on his new idea to improve connectivity in the UK.
Crazy rating: Four stars. It was the wildest Parliamentary session in years.
This was the month that … Nigel Farage withdrew his election candidates, Johnson sold his family home in Islington, Andrew Neil didn’t get to interview the Prime Minister, who didn’t turn up on Channel 4 either and was replaced in a debate by a melting block of ice. The Unite to Remain alliance tried to help pro-EU candidates and Jo Swinson (remember her?) said she wanted to be PM. It also rained a lot and Johnson was seen with a mop in Matlock.
What he said: “Get Brexit done” — the Conservative election campaign message. It worked
Crazy rating: Two stars. Who wanted to watch TV debates anyway?
This was the month that … Johnson crushed Labour to get an 80-seat majority on December 12, and a few days later the Commons gave the go-ahead to leave the EU on January 31. Everyone was exhausted. Johnson flew off at the end of the month to start the New Year on Mustique. Surely 2020 was going to be calmer than the year before?
What he said: “Let the healing begin” — Johnson after winning the election
Crazy rating: One star. Unless you wanted Labour to win the election.
This was the month that ... Covid started killing in China (and ever-alert, Public Health England raised the threat level from very low to low). The first cases in Britain were diagnosed on January 30 but no one really noticed — the big news was that Brexit happened at 11pm the next day. Big Ben did not bong but the PM celebrated with English sparkling wine.
What he said: “This is an astonishing moment of hope” — Johnson as Brexit happened
Crazy rating: One star. Or five, if you think it was mad not to prepare for Covid.
This was the month that ... Sajid Javid quit as chancellor after the PM tried to control his advisers, and a reshuffle saw other ministers go too. It rained again and there were more floods. Johnson’s divorce was completed, his partner Carrie Symonds announced she was pregnant and the same day the first case of local Covid transmission was recorded. The UK failed to join EU planning schemes on Covid and the PM disappeared to a country retreat, missing meetings. We started to learn the phrase “herd immunity”.
What he said: “There is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic … that go[es] beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage” — Johnson’s big speech after Brexit.
Crazy rating: Three stars. And this was just the beginning.
This was the month that … Covid took over our lives. The Government published an action plan that didn’t contain a lot of action. There was a budget. Many other countries went into lockdown. Johnson told us to avoid pubs but he went to a Six Nations Rugby match with Carrie. The death rate shot up, and on March 23 the PM announced lockdown. Too late for Number 10 — where the PM was diagnosed with Covid on the same day as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Dominic Cummings got it too. We found out more about that later.
What he said: “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody” — Johnson before he fell ill
Crazy rating: A full five stars. More if it was possible
This was the month that … Things turned dark. Many thousands died of Covid. The economy shrank by 25 per cent. On April 5 the PM went into hospital. On April 9 he left intensive care and a few days after that he was back — just before the birth of his son.
What he said: “We have so far succeeded in the first and most important task we set ourselves as a nation to avoid the tragedy that engulfed other parts of the world” — Johnson’s statement on April 30, when the UK’s death rate per capita was world beating.
Crazy rating: Five stars, again
This was the month that ... Stay at Home became Stay Alert. Whatever that meant. People were allowed unlimited exercise and unlimited journeys just in time for us to find out about Cummings’s visit to Barnard Castle.
What he said: “We agreed to go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. I drove for roughly half an hour and we ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town” — Cummings.
Crazy rating: Five stars. The eye test alone earned it
This was the month that … Deaths and infections began to fall. Lockdown began to lift. Statues fell. The PM’s poll rating began to slide and one of his former scientific advisers said that if lockdown had begun a week earlier the death rate would have been halved.
What he said: “Let’s take that combination, that spirit, bottle it, swig it” — Johnson trying to lift the national mood
Crazy rating: Down to four. We can hope can’t we?
This was the month that … Pubs reopened. Cricket came back. Air bridges replaced quarantine for holidays abroad. The Government decided that wearing masks in shops was a good idea months after most other countries.
What he said: “The problem with cricket as everybody understands, that the ball is a natural vector of disease”. Soon after, the PM changed his mind
Crazy rating: Four again. But what will the next 12 months be like?