Boris Johnson is set to win a majority in Parliament, securing his position as UK prime minister. His victory is a near-guarantee the United Kingdom will leave the European Union at the end of January.
It’s a triumph for the 55-year-old Conservative member of Parliament, former foreign minister, and former mayor of London. An ardent backer of Brexit, Johnson has a reputation for brashness, bending the truth, and bad hair, which has earned him comparisons to President Donald Trump (who is a fan of his).
Johnson can be cringeworthy, but that’s also part of his charm. His critics see him as a calculating self-aggrandizer who’d do or say anything to succeed. He’s generated controversy over racist, sexist, and Islamophobic statements he’s made.
Johnson — full name Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson — was born in New York City (he gave up his US citizenship in 2016) and was educated at the prestigious English prep school Eton, and later at Oxford University.
He began his career as a journalist, where he was known for playing loose with facts and writing skeptically about the European Union as a Brussels correspondent. He became a member of Parliament in 2001, and in 2008 mounted a successful bid to become mayor of London.
Johnson’s record as mayor was mixed. He was a booster for London and loved publicity stunts. He presided over the 2012 London Olympics, where, as the Guardian put it, he demonstrated “his greatest strength as mayor — an ability to generate laughter and a mood of upbeat bonhomie,” mostly because of the infamous zipline incident.
Johnson served two terms as mayor, declining to run again in 2016, just as the Brexit referendum was getting underway.
Johnson broke with his political allies, including the pro-Remain Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, to become the unofficial leader of the “Vote Leave” campaign.
During the campaign, he made a lot of questionable assertions — including that the UK was sending £350 million a week to the EU, which he said could instead help fund Britain’s popular National Health Service. He also argued the EU’s freedom of movement made the UK less safe and that Brexiting would let the UK regain control over its borders.
Leave won the referendum on June 23, 2016. Cameron resigned, and Johnson was seen as his obvious successor. But Johnson’s candidacy imploded after a political ally betrayed him. Instead, Theresa May became prime minister. Johnson had to settle for the job of foreign secretary, though he quit in July 2018 in protest of May’s handling of Brexit.
Johnson frustrated May’s Brexit efforts from the sidelines, along with fellow Brexiteers in Parliament. Those defeats ultimately forced May to resign earlier this year. And Johnson got another chance to be prime minister.
Johnson won the Conservative leadership contest in July, promising he would deliver Brexit “do or die” by the October 31 deadline by seeking a new Brexit deal with the EU or leaving without a deal, if necessary.
The pitch worked, even if Johnson’s plan didn’t. Parliament rebelled against him to pass a law preventing the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. Johnson did secure a new Brexit deal in October, reaching a last-minute compromise with the EU. It won the support of the hardcore Brexiteers, but enough lawmakers objected to the rushed timeline, denying him the necessary votes.
That left one way to break the Brexit stalemate: elections. Parliament agreed to a December 12 vote. Johnson and the Conservatives were expected to win, and exit polls suggest they did, overwhelmingly.
Johnson promised he would “get Brexit done.” He’ll likely finalize the UK-EU divorce in January. But the next phase — negotiating the future relationship with the EU — is the harder part. And Johnson has given himself less than a year to do it.