Who Is Boris Johnson?

Rev. Ben Johnson | July 24, 2019

Who Is Boris Johnson?

Boris Johnson, a champion of free trade and lower taxes, will serve as the next prime minister of the UK beginning on Wednesday, July 24. Officials announced on Tuesday that Johnson won 66.4 percent of the Conservative Party’s popular vote, besting rival Jeremy Hunt 92,153 votes to 46,656.

In his victory speech, Johnson thanked his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, for being “a font of excellent ideas, all of which I propose to steal.” He also praised outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May for “her legacy” of achievements, which pointedly did not include Brexit.

He vowed to deliver Brexit, united the UK, defeat Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in a forthcoming general election, and energize the nation.

His remarks made clear he will not seek another extension before leaving the European Union. “We’re going to get Brexit done on October 31,” he promised. “We are going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of can do.”

President Donald Trump became the first foreign leader to congratulate Johnson, saying his close friend will be a “great” prime minister and “straighten out” the “disaster” Theresa May made of Brexit negotiations. Supporters have said a Trump-Johnson relationship could touch off a new partnership akin to that of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. (First, Johnson will have to appoint a new ambassador to the U.S. to replace Kim Darroch, who resigned after the media leaked his caustic remarks about Trump.)

Who is Boris Johnson, and what does he mean for taxes, trade, and the economic principles that lead to human flourishing?

Early Life

Prime Minister-designate Boris Johnson was born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson in New York City on June 19, 1964. The 55-year-old held dual citizenship until 2006.

Boris Johnson will become the first prime minister of the UK who had been baptized Roman Catholic, by his mother, Charlotte Fawcett. However, he later received confirmation in the Anglican church.

Johnson hails from a political family. His father, Stanley Johnson, served as a Conservative Member of European Parliament (MEP) and worked for the World Bank and the European Commission. His paternal great-grandfather, Ali Kemal Bey, was an Ottoman journalist and politician who opposed the Armenian Genocide before being assassinated.

Boris attended Eton, then graduated from Oxford University. He was said to be a “celebrity” even during his days as a rowdy schoolboy, which presaged his larger-than-life political persona. After graduating, Johnson worked as a journalist at the Times and then the Telegraph, where he focused on exposing unreasonable EU regulations. His critics accuse him of mendacity for some of those stories, as well as for implying EU dues could be redirected to boost NHS funding during the 2016 Leave campaign. Johnson later edited The Spectator magazine.

Political Success and Brexit

Johnson’s main political success came from serving two terms as mayor of London, defeating “Red” Ken Livingstone, a socialist who went on to give surprisingly positive assessments of terrorists and Adolf Hitler, in 2008. As mayor, Johnson replaced all the ticket takers for the London Underground with automated machines, saving taxpayers £270 million. Although workers called a strike to protest the move, Johnson allowed 86 percent of commuters to reach work. He also allowed businesses to remain open longer on Sundays during while he oversaw the successful 2012 Olympics.

He found himself conflicted on Brexit but ultimately joined the Leave side – and became a leader of the Leave campaign. The success threw David Cameron out of power and brought Theresa May into party leadership.

In 2016, May appointed Johnson Foreign Secretary. His biggest mistake came in late 2017, when he said that Iran had jailed dual UK-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in April 2016 for training journalists. She had always denied the allegation. She remains jailed in Iranian custody.

Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary after Theresa May revealed her Brexit strategy at the Chequers summit last July. He said May’s negotiation strategy left Brexit “dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.” Her agreement to the backstop and willingness to remain subject to regulations passed by Brussels after Brexit meant the UK was “truly headed for the status of colony” of the EU.

What Comes Next

Boris Johnson has long been a champion of a “global Britain” hashing out free trade agreements with partners around the world.

He has staked out a tough negotiating posture with the EU, threatening to withhold the £38 billion “divorce bill” and leave without a free trade agreement if Brussels does not offer more conciliatory terms after Brexit. Michel Barnier, who oversaw Brexit negotiations, said Theresa May “never” threatened to leave the EU without a deal, giving Brussels leverage to drive a hard bargain. Johnson has warned the EU that punitive tariffs against the UK would represent a “return to Napoleon’s continental system.”

Johnson is also a believer in lower taxes and regulations. Last year, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) awarded its prestigious Irving Kristol Award to Boris Johnson.

He has proposed lightening the income tax burden by raising the income subject to the 40 percent income tax from £50,000 ($63,400 U.S.) to £80,000 ($101,500). The change will remove hundreds of thousands of Brits from the highest tax bracket.

Johnson promised to reverse the “continuing creep of the nanny state.” He has vowed to reduce sin taxes on fatty, sugary food, which he said “clobber those who can least afford it.” Even as May released a new report on Monday pledging to raise a host of new sin taxes and to end all smoking by 2030, Johnson remained steadfast.

However, Johnson proposed increased NHS funding during the Brexit campaign. He also advocates raising education spending to at least £5,000 for every secondary school student. During the Conservative Party hustings, Johnson reaffirmed his longstanding support for “a woman’s right to choose” and LGBT rights.

Johnson has not formally addressed when he will prorogue Parliament (sending MPs into recess) in order to enact a “no-deal Brexit.” However, his promise to “unite” the Conservative Party underscores the widening divisions splitting Tory ranks. Multiple Cabinet ministers have resigned in anticipation of being forcibly returned to the backbenches. Hammond is literally blocking Johnson from moving into his apartment, the slightly larger quarters at Number 11, by leaving his furniture in place until the weekend. The move serves as a metaphor for former and current Tory Remainers who oppose to a so-called “hard Brexit.” Rory Stewart has threatened to bring down Johnson just months into his leadership if he makes such a move.

Yet critics say Johnson’s biggest enemy may be within. His opponents, and some of his supporters, say Boris Johnson has been disorganized professionally and led a personal life as messy as his touseled hair. He divorced his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, after six years of marriage. Boris married Marina Wheeler 12 days later – five weeks before she gave birth to his first child. They had a total of four children together – two boys, two girls. Johnson had a string of highly publicized infidelities, including a 2004 affair with Petronella Wyatt that resulted in an abortion, and an affair with Helen MacIntyre who gave birth to a love child in 2009. Johnson and Wheeler announced the end of their marriage in 2018. His present girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, is expected to continue cohabiting with him in Number 10 Downing Street.

Johnson plans to lay out a more detailed vision of his leadership strategy in a national speech on Wednesday.

If he succeeds in opening the UK to the opportunities of Brexit, it will advance global free trade, improve the living standards of its trading partners in the Global South, and set back international institutions promoting economic regimentation from afar.

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This article has been republished with permission from Acton Institute.

[Image Credit: Flickr-EU2017EE Estonian Presidency, CC BY 2.0]