The 360: Why do so many people distrust Boris Johnson?

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks up as he meets with fundraisers for the Royal British Legion outside 10 Downing street in central London on October 28, 2019. - European Union members agreed today to postpone Brexit for up to three months, stepping in with their decision less than 90 hours before Britain was due to crash out with no divorce deal. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)


Yahoo News UK has published a similar ‘360’ on Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Why is Jeremy Corbyn so unpopular with so many voters?’

What’s happening?

Boris Johnson has been questioned so many times about whether he can be trusted during the election campaign, he was forced to address it head-on this week, saying the accusation makes his “blood boil”.

There are few doubts about his uncanny ability to be likeable to significant numbers of the public. If one performance sums up Mr Johnson’s strengths and weaknesses, it was the Leaders Debate against Jeremy Corbyn in November, in which the PM emerged as more likeable and prime ministerial, but less trustworthy and more out of touch.

Why there’s debate

His critics have a long list of U-turns, backtracking, mistruths and outright lies to point to.

Considered a popular London mayor, Mr Johnson’s public profile was broadly that of an amenable, at-times clownish figure.

His divisiveness exploded during the EU referendum. First when he decided to support the Leave side and campaign against his friend David Cameron (having given assurances he would back Remain); and then when he repeatedly stood in front of the now infamous bus, which boasted that Britain could spend £350m more every week on the NHS if the country voted to leave the EU. A claim that was found to be inaccurate.

As foreign secretary, Mr Johnson trustworthiness was questioned when he incorrectly stated a British national jailed in Iran on spying charges was "teaching people journalism". Critics said he made the mistake after a failure to stay on top of his brief.

As prime minister his promise that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit after 31 October backfired; then he was found to have acted unlawfully when he suspended Parliament.

Critics have used these recent examples to highlight what they claim is a pattern of behaviour stretching back decades.

They point to Mr Johnson being sacked from The Times in 1988 for making up quotes and, more seriously, to the time he was fired as shadow arts minister by the then Tory leader Michael Howard for lying about having an affair.

And yet, despite all of the above, Mr Johnson is trusted more than any other leader on the issue of Brexit - and it is this that could propel him back to Downing Street.

What’s next?

A major survey of 100,000 people released two days ahead of the election suggests Mr Johnson is on course for an election victory.

Should Mr Johnson secure a majority, it would hand the Tories control of the House of Commons and he will no doubt push on with his aim of delivering Brexit before the next deadline at the end of January 2020.

His next enormous challenge will be to deliver a trade deal by the end of 2020, something Mr Johnson has vowed to do - but which many experts in his own government have said would represent a major challenge.

Perspectives

Boris has not been a lifelong Brexiteer

“Mr Johnson has not been one of the “long marchers” like Bill Cash or John Redwood who have devoted their career to the Eurosceptic cause and the study of obscure texts from Brussels. Rather he was a polemicist journalist for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels and now writes a pungent Eurosceptic column for the newspaper. But when it came to the crunch of the 2016 referendum he wavered.” – George Parker, Financial Times

He has previously advocated charging to use the NHS

“Anyone tempted to take the PM at face value should examine his previous pronouncements on the country’s most important public service. After all, he has previously backed the idea of making patients pay charges for health services that are currently free, such as £50 for calling out an ambulance via 999 for an ailment that turned out to be not serious, arguing that there was both a “moral [and] economic” justification for bringing in user charges and co-payments.” – Denis Campbell, The Guardian

NHS trade deals have reportedly been discussed despite PM’s denials

“Meetings have taken place where the relationship between the deal and health service remained open, sources have told Channel 4’s Dispatches. There have been six formal discussions with US trade officials, one told the programme. Representatives from American drug companies were also reportedly given direct access to British officials in five meetings – two of which took place in Washington. The most recent is understood to have taken place after Mr Johnson became prime minister. A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said it was “no secret” they met with US businesses to understand their position. “That’s how it works”, they added. “ – The Independent

MPs believe the PM really wants a no-deal Brexit

“But even lawmakers who were considering supporting Mr. Johnson’s agreement said they worried they were being “duped,” as Philip Hammond put it, into voting for a no-deal Brexit in disguise. They fear that after clinching approval, Mr. Johnson will run down the clock on a transition period and fail to secure a free-trade agreement with the European Union, allowing Britain to effectively leave the bloc without a deal protecting trading ties and other arrangements in December 2020.” – Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

Boris nearly campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum

“According to a new book on the EU referendum campaign, he declared: "Britain is a great nation, a global force for good. It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that she should be intimately engaged in the EU." His unpublished article for The Daily Telegraph was written two days before his shock announcement that he would campaign to leave. He referred to warnings that Brexit could lead to an economic shock, Scottish independence and Russian aggression, according to All Out War, by Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman.” – Sky News

Johnson looks like a man on a mission

“His apparent bumbling, and to some degree his rackety romantic life, have already been, as it were, “priced in”, but it’s not just that he is indulged or forgiven for things that no other politician would get away with, or that enough people find him attractive, or amusing, or a “character”. There are other considerations. First, that the more shrill and vehement the attacks on him, the more he looks reasonable and hard done by. Secondly, that he looks — in sharp contrast to recent PMs — as though he knows what he wants, and is determined to get it.” - Andrew McKie, The Herald

The Prime Minister will do anything for power

“Johnson is trying to bounce parliament into backing his deal. Again, why? And what does the answer to that question say about whether he can be trusted? The prime minister has shown time and again that he will say and do anything to increase and maintain his own power. Less than a year ago he said that "no British Conservative government could or should sign up" to an Irish Sea border. He lied about his reasons for proroguing parliament just last month. He has now casually thrown the DUP under a bus.” – Chaminda Jayanetti, Politics.co.uk

His prorogation of Parliament was ruled unlawful

“In short, he abused his power. He raided the fancy-dress box of usually benign ceremonial features of parliamentary business, plucked out a potentially awesome ancient weapon – the ability to dismiss the legislature when it is being a nuisance – and wielded it as if he were himself the monarch. He snatched the crown from the Queen’s head and used it to try to bludgeon opponents into a Brexit they did not endorse.” – Rafael Behr, The Guardian

Brexit has changed the response to liars

“The last three years have exposed the idea of a broad moral consensus, some unwritten national agreement on the red lines politicians shouldn’t cross, for the comforting myth it is. Old moral certainties are dissolving in the acid bath of Brexit. Being caught out in a barefaced lie isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker now, if you think all politicians are liars anyway.” – Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian

His charm is his secret weapon

“The Johnson personality is clearly not to be underrated. As democracy becomes less a matter of interests and resources, it falls back on secondary responses, on making people relaxed and comfortable about the world about them. Voters seem drawn to someone who does not take life too seriously, is casual about presentation and possesses eccentric unpredictability. People like laughing at politics, and Johnson appears a fellow human. He is preferable to the spouters of robotic cliches, such as Theresa May.” - Simon Jenkins, The Guardian

Brexit crisis has been made worse by Boris Johnson’s personality

“Johnson's personality has made the crisis worse. His pugnaciousness, his insistence on confronting parliament, has led to a conflagration this week which would not have occurred had he been more conciliatory. His famous slipperiness, his reputation for mendacity, has made prime ministerial assurances (such as over an election date) worthless, similarly unimaginable under any of his predecessors.” - Lewis Goodall, Sky News

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Top photo: Getty

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