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Serial liar finally found out

Boris Johnson’s political obituaries have now been written, many recording how a combination of arrogance and laziness made him completely unfit to be Britain’s Prime Minister. And yet there is no escaping that he was a truly consequential politician, whose legacy will last long in the UK, the EU and beyond, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

There is a temptation to simply draw a line from Boris Johnson’s early career as a journalist once sacked for making up a ‘fact’ but then building a career based on fabricating ‘facts’ about the European Union. He has after all quit the British Parliament because it became clear that a report would find that he had lied to MPs about the drinking and partying in 10 Downing Street during the Covid pandemic.

‘Serial liar finally found out’ is a tempting headline and not a wholly unfair one. But his decision to stand down as an MP “at least for now … bewildered and appalled that I can be forced out, anti-democratically” deserves a wider assessment.

To be clear, his instinct for self-preservation and self-advancement has been remarkable even for a politician. He used his remarkable campaigning abilities to become Mayor of London, despite that city’s normally reliable support for the Labour Party; to win a Brexit referendum, despite almost certainly not actually believing that Britain should leave the EU; to win an election, despite his false promise -in fact partly because of it- to “get Brexit done”.


It was clear as soon as the Brexit vote was won that he had no idea how the UK should implement withdrawal from the EU. It was especially clear to his closest allies in the Brexit campaign, who sabotaged his first attempt to become Prime Minister. Instead, he became an undistinguished Foreign Secretary, merely biding his time before resigning rather than choose between Brexit fantasy and political reality.

Johnson then became a truly consequential politician, the leading light of a campaign to sabotage any sensible deal with the EU and duly becoming Prime Minister as a result. He started as he meant to go on, unlawfully suspending Parliament and then setting the UK on its path to a hard Brexit by signing an agreement on Northern Ireland which he did not intend to keep.

That enabled him to win an election on a promise to “get Brexit done”, which was duly achieved by a process of unpicking the deal he had inherited and leaving the United Kingdom all the poorer for it. It is the disastrous set of choices that he will be remembered for by future generations. But it was his handling of the covid pandemic which revealed the truth about Boris Johnson to the British people.


With hindsight, most political leaders are being shown to have made numerous mistakes in how they responded to coronavirus. Johnson made his full share of those but it was the drinking and partying in Downing Street that quickly caught up with him. Although he had himself come close to being killed by the virus, he had tolerated rule-breaking at the heart of government and then at best misled parliament and the public.

It was actually his tolerance of other misconduct by colleagues that directly led to his downfall as Prime Minister but he had already run out of political capital. And it was events in Downing Street during the pandemic that led him to quit Parliament rather than face further humiliation.

If a bad Brexit is to be Johnson’s political legacy, it will be for those lockdown parties that he will be popularly remembered. He will wish to be thought of as an early and strong supporter of the Ukrainian cause after the Russian invasion. But better politicians than Boris Johnson cannot hope to compete with Volodymir Zelenskyy.

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