Johnson to be UK's prime minister

Boris Johnson previously told a French journalist him becoming prime minister was as likely as him turning into an olive. He takes up the post tomorrow.

23 July 2019
By Oliver Rowland

Mr Johnson has pledged to leave the EU on October 31 deal or no-deal, “do or die”.

The former Foreign Secretary has insisted he will ditch the ‘Northern Irish backstop’, a key part of the negotiated Brexit withdrawal agreement – which was asked for by his predecessor Theresa May – despite the EU repeatedly saying the agreement cannot be re-opened.

He has also threatened to "withhold" the Brexit 'divorce' settlement money until there is 'greater clarity' on the terms of the UK and EU's future trading relationship but has also previously told EU citizens living in the UK that their rights will be "protected whatever happens".

His election by members of the Conservative Party as party leader today means he will automatically take over from Mrs May.

It has been greeted by one French daily newspaper, Libération, with the headline ‘Boris Johnson – the Queen’s future jester’ and the standfirst paragraph: “lier, egocentric, obsessed by money but appreciated for his eccentricity and self-deprecating humour”; 20 Minutes said "his career has been built from shocking phrases and buffoonery, but also pragmatism" while France Info called him "a loose cannon and a notorious europhobe".

Last year he suggested that a bridge across the Channel could enhance transport links after Brexit.

In June there was controversy after he reportedly referred to the French as “turds” while filming a BBC documentary about the work of the Foreign Office, a comment that, it later emerged in a leak to the UK press, the government had asked to be left out as it might be “potentially awkward”.

However Mr Johnson later told journalists he had no recollection of the remark, which was said to have been due to what he saw as French intransigence in the Brexit negotiations.

He also ruffled feathers in 2012 when, referring to a high rate of tax on income over a million euros under then French president François Hollande, the then mayor of London claimed that "not since 1789 has there been such tyranny in France" (which implied it was worse than the Nazi occupation of 1941-1944). 

Mr Johnson, whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, was born in New York to British parents but renounced his joint American nationality in 2016 which commentators linked to his previous complaints of 'absolutely outrageous' US tax demands on the sale of his north London home.

He grew up hearing tales from his grandmother than he was descended from French aristocrats and remembers seeing a chest of the ‘de Pfeffel silver’, however the BBC discovered that his noble ancestors actually hailed from Germany. 

In a French interview in 2013 he stated that he would vote Remain if there was a Brexit referendum and that he was much more likely to be decapitated by a frisbee or reincarnated as an olive than to become prime minister. 

In his earlier career as a Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in the 1980s-1990s he is considered to have been one of the originators of what the EU calls the 'euro myth' news story, with claims such as that 'Brussels' intended to ban prawn cocktail flavour crisps or British pink sausages. 

Mr Johnson won twice as many votes from Conservative Party members as rival Jeremy Hunt.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Get news, views and information from France