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|The Right Honourable
|Official portrait of Boris Johnson as prime minister of the United Kingdom
Official portrait, 2019
|Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
24 July 2019 – 6 September 2022
|Deputy||Dominic Raab[lower-alpha 1]|
|Preceded by||Theresa May|
|Succeeded by||Liz Truss|
|Leader of the Conservative Party|
23 July 2019 – 5 September 2022
|Preceded by||Theresa May|
|Succeeded by||Liz Truss|
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs|
13 July 2016 – 9 July 2018
|Prime Minister||Theresa May|
|Preceded by||Philip Hammond|
|Succeeded by||Jeremy Hunt|
|Mayor of London|
3 May 2008 – 9 May 2016
|Preceded by||Ken Livingstone|
|Succeeded by||Sadiq Khan|
|Member of the United Kingdom Parliament
for Uxbridge and South Ruislip
7 May 2015
|Preceded by||John Randall|
|Member of Parliament
7 June 2001 – 4 June 2008
|Preceded by||Michael Heseltine|
|Succeeded by||John Howell|
|Born||Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson
19 June 1964
New York City, US
|Children||7,[disputed ] including Lara Johnson-Wheeler|
|Signature||Boris Johnson's signature|
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Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (//, born 19 June 1964) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2019 to 2022. He previously served as foreign secretary from 2016 to 2018 and as mayor of London from 2008 to 2016. He has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, having previously been MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008. On 9 June 2023 he announced his intention to resign as an MP.
Johnson attended Eton College, and studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. He was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1986. In 1989, he became the Brussels correspondent – and later political columnist – for The Daily Telegraph, and from 1999 to 2005 he was the editor of The Spectator. Following his election to Parliament in 2001, he became a member of the shadow cabinets of Michael Howard and later David Cameron. In 2008, Johnson was elected mayor of London and resigned from the House of Commons. He was re-elected mayor in 2012. At the 2015 general election he was elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and the following year did not seek re-election as mayor. Johnson was a prominent figure in the successful Vote Leave campaign for Brexit in the 2016 European Union membership referendum. After the referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him foreign secretary in her cabinet. He resigned from the position in 2018 in protest at both the Chequers Agreement and May's approach to Brexit.
Johnson defeated Jeremy Hunt in the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election to succeed May, who resigned after Parliament’s repeated rejections of her Brexit withdrawal agreement. After becoming prime minister, Johnson re-opened Brexit negotiations and in early September prorogued Parliament, with the Supreme Court later that month ruling the action to have been unlawful.[lower-alpha 2] After agreeing to a revised Brexit withdrawal agreement which replaced the Irish backstop with the Northern Ireland Protocol, but failing to win parliamentary support for the agreement, Johnson called a snap general election to be held in December 2019. In the election, he led the Conservative Party to their largest victory since 1987. On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union, entering into a transition period and trade negotiations that led to the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
A decisive event that occurred during Johnson's premiership was the COVID-19 pandemic which began in March 2020. The government responded to the pandemic by introducing various emergency powers and measures across the country to mitigate its impact, and approved the rollout of a nationwide vaccination programme. He also responded to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine by imposing sanctions on Russia and authorising foreign aid and weapons shipments to Ukraine. Amidst the Partygate scandal, Johnson was issued a fixed penalty notice in April 2022. The publishing of the Sue Gray report in May 2022 and a widespread sense of dissatisfaction led in June 2022 to a vote of confidence in his leadership among Conservative MPs, which he won. In July 2022, revelations over his appointment of Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip led to a mass resignation of members of his government and to Johnson announcing his resignation as Prime Minister. He left office on 6 September and was succeeded by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Johnson remained in the House of Commons as a backbencher. He announced his resignation as an MP in June 2023.
Johnson is a controversial figure in British politics. His supporters have praised him for being humorous, witty and entertaining, with an appeal stretching beyond traditional Conservative Party voters, making him an electoral asset to the party. Conversely, his critics have accused him of lying, elitism, cronyism and bigotry. As prime minister, his supporters have praised him for "getting Brexit done", overseeing the UK's COVID-19 vaccination programme, which was amongst the fastest in the world, as well as providing global leadership following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. His tenure was also characterised by several political controversies and scandals, being viewed as the most scandalous premiership of modern times by historians and biographers. Johnson's political positions have been described as following one-nation conservatism, whilst political commentators have characterised his political style as being opportunistic, populist and pragmatic.
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- 1 Early life
- 2 Early career
- 3 Mayor of London (2008–2016)
- 4 Return to Parliament
- 5 Premiership (2019–2022)
- 5.1 First term (July–December 2019)
- 5.2 Second term (December 2019 – September 2022)
- 5.2.1 Second Cabinet
- 5.2.2 COVID-19 pandemic
- 5.2.3 Departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain
- 5.2.4 Legislative agenda
- 5.2.5 2021 Downing Street refurbishment controversy
- 5.2.6 2021 energy crisis
- 5.2.7 2021 Party conference speech
- 5.2.8 Owen Paterson controversy
- 5.2.9 Partygate scandal
- 5.2.10 Starmer slur controversy
- 5.2.11 New hospitals
- 5.2.12 Vote of confidence
- 5.2.13 June by-elections
- 5.2.14 Pincher scandal
- 5.2.15 Mass resignations
- 5.2.16 Announcement of resignation
- 5.3 LGBT issues
- 5.4 Environmental policies
- 5.5 Foreign policy
- 6 Post-premiership (2022–present)
- 7 Political positions and ideology
- 8 Public image
- 9 Personal life
- 10 Honours
- 11 Works
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born on 19 June 1964 in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City, to 23-year-old Stanley Johnson, then studying economics at Columbia University, and 22-year-old Charlotte Fawcett, an artist from a family of liberal intellectuals. Johnson's parents had married in 1963 before moving to the United States. They returned to the UK in September 1964, so that Charlotte could study at the University of Oxford. During this time she lived with her son in Summertown, a suburb of Oxford, and in September 1965 she gave birth to a daughter, Rachel. In July 1965, the family moved to Crouch End in North London, and in February 1966 they relocated to Washington, DC, where Stanley had gained employment with the World Bank. Stanley then took a job with a policy panel on population control, and moved the family to Norwalk, Connecticut, in June. A third child, Leo, was born in September 1967.
The family returned to the UK in 1969, and they settled into West Nethercote Farm, Somerset, Stanley's remote family home in Exmoor. There, Johnson gained his first experiences of fox hunting. His father was regularly absent from Nethercote, leaving Johnson to be raised largely by his mother, assisted by au pairs. As a child, Johnson was quiet, studious and deaf, resulting in several operations to insert grommets into his ears. He and his siblings were encouraged to engage in intellectual activities from a young age, with high achievement being greatly valued; Johnson's earliest recorded ambition was to be "world king". Having no friends other than their siblings, the children became very close.
In late 1969, the family moved to Maida Vale in West London, while Stanley began post-graduate research at the London School of Economics. In 1970, Charlotte and the children briefly returned to Nethercote, where Johnson attended Winsford Village School, before returning to London to settle in Primrose Hill, where they were educated at Primrose Hill Primary School. A fourth child and third son, Joseph, was born in late 1971.
After Stanley secured employment at the European Commission in April 1973, he moved his family to Uccle, Brussels, where Johnson attended the European School, Brussels I and learnt to speak French. During this time, Charlotte had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised with clinical depression, after which Johnson and his siblings were sent back to the UK in 1975 to attend Ashdown House, a preparatory boarding school in East Sussex. There, he developed a love of rugby, Ancient Greek and Latin. While there, the teachers' use of corporal punishment appalled him. Meanwhile, in December 1978 his parents' relationship broke down; they divorced in 1980, and Charlotte moved into a flat in Notting Hill, West London, where her children joined her for much of their time.
Eton and Oxford: 1977–1987
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— Boris Johnson
Johnson gained a King's Scholarship to study at Eton College, a boarding school near Windsor in Berkshire. Arriving in the autumn term of 1977, he began using his middle name Boris rather than his first name Alexander, and developed "the eccentric English persona" for which he became famous. He denounced his Catholic faith and became an Anglican, joining the Church of England. School reports complained about his idleness, complacency and lateness, but he was popular and well known at Eton. His friends were largely from the wealthy upper classes; his best friends being Darius Guppy and Charles Spencer, both of whom later accompanied him at the University of Oxford and remained friends into adulthood. Johnson excelled in English and the Classics, winning prizes in both, and became secretary of the school debating society and editor of the school newspaper, The Eton College Chronicle. In late 1981, he became a member of Pop, the small, self-selecting elite and glamorous group of prefects. Later in Johnson's career it was a point of rivalry with David Cameron, who had failed to enter Pop. After leaving Eton, Johnson went on a gap year to Australia, where he taught English and Latin at Timbertop, an Outward Bound-inspired campus of Geelong Grammar, an independent boarding school.
Johnson won a scholarship to study Literae Humaniores at Balliol College, Oxford, a four-year course in the study of the Classics, ancient languages, literature, history, and philosophy. Matriculating at the university in late 1983, he was one of a generation of Oxford undergraduates who were later to dominate British politics and media in the second decade of the 21st century; among them David Cameron, William Hague, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Nick Boles. While at Oxford, Johnson participated in college rugby union, playing as a tighthead prop for Balliol College's team for four years. To his later regret, he joined Bullingdon Club, an exclusive drinking society notorious for acts of vandalism on host premises. Many years later, a group photograph including himself and Cameron in Bullingdon Club formal dress led to much negative coverage from the press. He began a relationship with Allegra Mostyn-Owen, cover girl for Tatler magazine and daughter of Christie's Education chairman William Mostyn-Owen. She was a glamorous and popular student from his own social background, and they became engaged while at university.
Johnson was popular and well known at Oxford. Alongside Guppy, he edited the university's satirical magazine Tributary. In 1984, Johnson was elected secretary of the Oxford Union, and campaigned unsuccessfully for the career-enhancing and important position of Union President. In 1986, Johnson ran successfully for President, but his term was not distinguished or memorable, and questions were raised regarding his competence and seriousness. At graduation, Johnson was awarded an upper second-class degree, and was deeply unhappy he did not receive a first.
The Times and The Daily Telegraph: 1987–1994
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I saw the whole [European Union] change. It was a wonderful time to be there. The Berlin Wall fell and the French and Germans had to decide how they were going to respond to this event, and what was Europe going to become, and there was this fantastic pressure to create a single polity, to create an answer to the historic German problem, and this produced the most fantastic strains in the Conservative Party, so everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this I suppose rather weird sense of power.
In September 1987, Johnson and Mostyn-Owen were married in West Felton, Shropshire, accompanied by a duet for violin and viola Allegra e Boris specially commissioned for the wedding from Hans Werner Henze. After a honeymoon in Egypt, they settled in West Kensington, London, where he secured work for a management consultancy company, L.E.K. Consulting; he resigned after a week. In late 1987, through family connections, he began work as a graduate trainee at The Times. Scandal erupted when Johnson wrote an article for the newspaper, on the archaeological discovery of Edward II's palace, having invented a quote for the article which he falsely attributed to the historian Colin Lucas, his godfather. After the editor Charles Wilson learnt of the matter, he dismissed Johnson.
Johnson secured employment on the leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph, having met its editor, Max Hastings, while at Oxford University. His articles appealed to the newspaper's conservative, middle-class, middle-aged "Middle England" readership, and were known for their distinctive literary style, replete with old-fashioned words and phrases and for regularly referring to the readership as "my friends". In early 1989, Johnson was appointed to the newspaper's Brussels bureau to report on the European Commission, remaining in the post until 1994. A strong critic of the integrationist Commission president Jacques Delors, he established himself as one of the city's few Eurosceptic journalists. He wrote articles about euromyths such as the EU wanting to ban prawn cocktail crisps and British sausages, and to standardise condom sizes because Italians had smaller penises. He wrote that Brussels had recruited sniffers to ensure that Euro-manure smells the same, and that the Eurocrats were about to dictate the acceptable curve of bananas[lower-alpha 3] and the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners,[lower-alpha 4] and to order women to return their old sex toys. He wrote that euro notes made people impotent, that euro coins made people sick, and that a plan to blow up the Berlaymont building was in place because asbestos cladding made the building too dangerous to inhabit. Many of his fellow journalists there were critical of his articles, opining they often contained lies designed to discredit the commission. The Europhile Conservative politician Chris Patten later stated at that time Johnson was "one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism". Johnson opposed banning handguns after the Dunblane school massacre, writing in his column "Nanny is confiscating their toys. It is like one of those vast Indian programmes of compulsory vasectomy."
Johnson's biographer, Andrew Gimson, believed these articles made him "one of [Euroscepticism's] most famous exponents". According to another one of his biographers, Sonia Purnell, – who was Johnson's Brussels deputy – he helped make Euroscepticism "an attractive and emotionally resonant cause for the Right", whereas it had been associated previously with the Left. Johnson's articles established him as the favourite journalist of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but Johnson annoyed her successor, the Europhile John Major, who spent a great deal of time attempting to refute what Johnson said. Johnson's articles exacerbated tensions between the Conservative Party's Eurosceptic and Europhile factions. As a result, he earned the mistrust of many party members. His writings were also a key influence on the emergence of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the early 1990s. Conrad Black, then proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, said Johnson "was such an effective correspondent for us in Brussels that he greatly influenced British opinion on this country's relations with Europe".
In February 1990, Johnson's wife Allegra left him; after several attempts at reconciliation, their marriage ended in April 1993. He then entered a relationship with childhood friend Marina Wheeler, who had moved to Brussels in 1990. They were married in May 1993 in Horsham, Sussex. Soon after this Marina gave birth to a daughter. Johnson and his new wife settled in Islington, North London, an area known for its association with the left-liberal intelligentsia. Under the influence of this milieu and of his wife, Johnson moved in a more liberal direction on issues such as climate change, LGBT rights and race relations. While in Islington, the couple had three more children, all given the surname Johnson-Wheeler. They were sent to the local Canonbury Primary School and then to private secondary schools. Devoting much time to his children, Johnson wrote a book of verse, Perils of the Pushy Parents – A Cautionary Tale, which was published to largely poor reviews.
Political columnist: 1994–1999
Back in London, Hastings turned down Johnson's request to become a war reporter, instead promoting him to the position of assistant editor and chief political columnist. Johnson's column received praise for being ideologically eclectic and distinctively written, and earned him a Commentator of the Year Award at the What the Papers Say awards. Some critics condemned his writing style as bigotry; in various columns he used the words "piccaninnies" and "watermelon smiles" when referring to Africans, championed European colonialism in Uganda and referred to gay men as "tank-topped bumboys".
Contemplating a political career, in 1993, Johnson outlined his desire to stand as a Conservative candidate to be a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 1994 European Parliament elections. Andrew Mitchell convinced Major not to veto Johnson's candidacy, but Johnson could not find a constituency. He subsequently turned his attention to obtaining a seat in the UK House of Commons. After being rejected as Conservative candidate for Holborn and St. Pancras, his party selected him the candidate for Clwyd South in north Wales, then a Labour Party safe seat. Spending six weeks campaigning, he attained 9,091 votes (23 per cent) in the 1997 general election, losing to the Labour candidate.
Scandal erupted in June 1995 when a recording of a 1990 telephone conversation between Johnson and his friend Darius Guppy was made public. In the conversation, Guppy said that his criminal activities involving insurance fraud were being investigated by News of the World journalist Stuart Collier, and he asked Johnson to provide him with Collier's private address, seeking to have the latter beaten to the extent of "a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib or something like that". Johnson agreed to supply the information, although he expressed concern that he would be associated with the attack. When the phone conversation was published in 1995, Johnson stated that ultimately he had not obliged Guppy's request. Hastings reprimanded Johnson but did not dismiss him.
Johnson was given a regular column in The Spectator, sister publication to The Daily Telegraph, which attracted mixed reviews and was often thought rushed. In 1999, he was also given a column reviewing new cars in the magazine GQ. His behaviour regularly disgruntled his editors; the large number of parking fines that Johnson acquired while testing cars frustrated GQ staff. At The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, he was consistently late delivering his copy, forcing many staff to stay late to accommodate him; some related that if they published without his work included, he would get angry and shout at them with expletives.
Johnson's appearance on an April 1998 episode of the BBC's satirical current affairs show Have I Got News for You brought him national fame. He was invited back on to later episodes, including as a guest presenter; for his 2003 appearance, Johnson received a nomination for the BAFTA Television Award for Best Entertainment Performance. After these appearances, he came to be recognised on the street by the public, and was invited to appear on other television shows, such as Top Gear, Parkinson, Breakfast with Frost, and the political show Question Time.
The Spectator and MP for Henley: 1999–2008
In July 1999, Conrad Black offered Johnson the editorship of The Spectator on the condition he abandon his parliamentary aspirations; Johnson agreed. While retaining The Spectator's traditional right-wing bent, Johnson welcomed contributions from leftist writers and cartoonists. Under Johnson's editorship, the magazine's circulation grew by 10% to 62,000 and it began to turn a profit. His editorship also drew criticism; some opined that under him The Spectator avoided serious issues, while colleagues became annoyed that he was regularly absent from the office, meetings, and events. He gained a reputation as a poor political pundit because of incorrect political predictions made in the magazine. His father-in-law Charles Wheeler and others strongly criticised him for allowing Spectator columnist Taki Theodoracopulos to publish racist and antisemitic language in the magazine.
Journalist Charlotte Edwardes wrote in The Times in 2019 alleging that Johnson had squeezed her thigh at a private lunch in the offices of the Spectator in 1999 and that another woman had told her he had done the same to her. A Downing Street spokesman denied the allegation.
In 2004, Johnson published an editorial in The Spectator after the murder of Ken Bigley suggesting that Liverpudlians were wallowing in their victim status and also "hooked on grief" over the Hillsborough disaster, which Johnson partly blamed on "drunken fans". In an appendix added to a later edition of his 2005 book about the Roman empire, The Dream of Rome, Tell MAMA and the Muslim Council of Britain strongly criticised Johnson for arguing Islam has caused the Muslim world to be "literally centuries behind" the West.
Becoming an MP
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The selection of Boris Johnson ... confirms the Tory Party's increasing weakness for celebrity personalities over the dreary exigencies of politics. Johnson, for all his gifts, is unlikely to grace any future Tory cabinet. Indeed, he is not known for his excessive interest in serious policy matters, and it is hard to see him grubbing away at administrative detail as an obscure, hardworking junior minister for social security. To maintain his funny man reputation he will no doubt find himself refining his Bertie Wooster interpretation to the point where the impersonation becomes the man.
–Max Hastings, London Evening Standard, 
Following Michael Heseltine's retirement, Johnson decided to stand as Conservative candidate for Henley, a Conservative safe seat in Oxfordshire. The local Conservative branch selected him although it was split over Johnson's candidacy. Some thought him amusing and charming while others disliked his flippant attitude and lack of knowledge of the local area. Boosted by his television fame, Johnson won the seat in the 2001 general election with a majority of 8,500 votes. Alongside his Islington home, Johnson bought a farmhouse outside Thame in his new constituency. He regularly attended Henley social events and occasionally wrote for the Henley Standard. His constituency surgeries proved popular, and he joined local campaigns to stop the closure of Townlands Hospital and the local air ambulance.
In Parliament, Johnson was appointed to a standing committee assessing the Proceeds of Crime Bill, but missed many of its meetings. Despite his credentials as a public speaker, his speeches in the House of Commons were widely deemed lacklustre; Johnson later called them "crap". In his first four years as MP, he attended just over half of the Commons votes; in his second term, this declined to 45 per cent. He usually supported the Conservative party line but rebelled against it five times in this period. In free votes, he demonstrated a more socially liberal attitude than many colleagues, supporting the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the repeal of Section 28. However, in 2001, Johnson had spoken out against plans to repeal Section 28, saying it was "Labour's appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools". After initially stating he would not, he voted in support of the government's plans to join the US in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in April 2003 visited occupied Baghdad. In August 2004, he backed unsuccessful impeachment procedures against Prime Minister Tony Blair for "high crimes and misdemeanours" regarding the war, and in December 2006 described the invasion as "a colossal mistake and misadventure".
Although labelling Johnson "ineffably duplicitous" for breaking his promise not to become an MP, Black decided not to dismiss him because he "helped promote the magazine and raise its circulation". Johnson remained editor of The Spectator, also writing columns for The Daily Telegraph and GQ, and making television appearances. His 2001 book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the Stump, recounted that year's election campaign, while 2003's Lend Me Your Ears collected together previously published columns and articles. In 2004, HarperCollins published his first novel: Seventy-Two Virgins: A Comedy of Errors revolved around the life of a Conservative MP and contained various autobiographical elements. Responding to critics who argued he was juggling too many jobs, he cited Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli as exemplars who combined their political and literary careers. To manage the stress, he took up jogging and cycling, and became so well known for the latter that Gimson suggested he was "perhaps the most famous cyclist in Britain".
Following William Hague's resignation as Conservative leader, Johnson backed Kenneth Clarke, regarding Clarke as the only candidate capable of winning a general election; the party elected Iain Duncan Smith. Johnson had a strained relationship with Duncan Smith, and The Spectator became critical of his party leadership. Duncan Smith was removed from his position in November 2003 and replaced by Michael Howard; Howard deemed Johnson to be the most popular Conservative politician with the electorate and appointed him vice-chairman of the party, responsible for overseeing its electoral campaign. In his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle of May 2004, Howard appointed Johnson to the position of shadow arts minister. In October, Howard ordered Johnson to apologise publicly in Liverpool for publishing a Spectator article – anonymously written by Simon Heffer – which said the crowds at the Hillsborough disaster had contributed towards the incident and that Liverpudlians had a predilection for reliance on the welfare state.
In November 2004, tabloids revealed that since 2000 Johnson had been having an affair with Spectator columnist Petronella Wyatt, resulting in two terminated pregnancies. Johnson initially called the claims "an inverted pyramid of piffle". After the allegations were proven, Howard asked Johnson to resign as vice-chairman and shadow arts minister for publicly lying; when Johnson refused, Howard dismissed him from those positions. In July 2005, Who's the Daddy?, a play by The Spectator's theatre critics Toby Young and Lloyd Evans being performed at Islington's King's Head Theatre, satirised the scandal.
In the 2005 general election, Johnson was re-elected MP for Henley, increasing his majority to 12,793. Labour won the election and Howard stood down as Conservative leader; Johnson backed David Cameron as his successor. After Cameron was elected, he appointed Johnson as the shadow higher education minister, acknowledging his popularity among students. Interested in streamlining university funding, Johnson supported Labour's proposed top-up fees. He campaigned in 2006 to become the Rector of the University of Edinburgh, but his support for top-up fees damaged his campaign, and he came third.
In April 2006, the News of the World alleged that Johnson was having an affair with the journalist Anna Fazackerley; the pair did not comment, and shortly afterwards Johnson began employing Fazackerley.