Boris Johnson: Who is the United Kingdom's incoming Prime Minister?

Former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been elected the leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently, will become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Party leaders typically become Prime Minister after a general election, such as when the party they head receives the largest number of votes or enters into a coalition as the largest party.

However, Johnson becomes Prime Minister at the grace of Conservative Party members halfway through an electoral cycle. It's the first time in UK history that Conservative Party members have decided who the Prime Minister will be without intervention of the wider public.

So who is Johnson, what is his key platform, and may that affect New Zealanders?

Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Getty.

King of the world?

As a child, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is said to have wanted to grow up to be the king of the world.

It's a title he won't ever attain, but the man with the famous mop hair has held several roles of varying levels of power and influence, including being a journalist, mayor of London and the British Foreign Secretary.

A reporter for The Times until he was fired for fabricating a quote, Johnson went on to work for The Daily Telegraph before settling into writing political columns - something he has continued to do ever since as a part-time job.

One contentious point recently raised in a series of The Guardian articles about his time as a journalist is a secretly recorded telephone conversation between Johnson and his friend Darius Guppy.

The conversation, which happened in 1990, was released in 1995 and revealed that  Johnson was asked to provide the address of a journalist, Stuart Collier, Guppy wanted beaten up. While Johnson said he would supply the information, the attack didn't happen and Johnson has since said he was just joking. Collier is still calling for an apology.

Despite controversy, Johnson entered Parliament in 2001 when he became a Conservative Party MP for the Oxfordshire seat of Henley, a seat he would hold until 2008 when he stood down to become the mayor of London.

During his tenure, he introduced a public bicycle hire scheme, known as 'Boris Bikes' and helped pull off the 2012 London Olympic Games. But he was also criticised for doing little to curb vehicle emissions in the city at a time where attention on climate change was developing momentum.

Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger riding bikes.
Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger riding bikes. Photo credit: Getty.

Johnson decided not to seek a third term as mayor in 2016, leaving the role with a heightened international profile and a YouGov poll saying 52 percent of Londoners saying he did a good job.

The exposure he gained from the role was largely due to his eccentric personality, bombast and bashfulness. Images of Johnson stuck dangling on a zipline with UK flags in his hands were plastered around the globe

Boris Johnson dangling from a zipline.
Boris Johnson dangling from a zipline. Photo credit: Getty.

But while his supporters say that attitude shows Johnson's every-day common man persona, others suggest it is a front, masquerading a man deemed elitist and out of touch. One example of that regularly pointed to was when Johnson said the £250,000 he made writing political columns on top of his mayoral salary was "chicken feed".

After leaving the mayoralty, Johnson returned to central Government politics as the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and garnered even greater awareness by taking advantage of the Brexit referendum.

A staunch supporter of the Vote Leave movement, Johnson was a provocative campaigner.

In April 2016, he criticised then-US President Barack Obama's comments that Britain should remain in the European Union by saying his view was shaped by an "ancestral dislike" of Britain as Obama was "part-Kenyan".

Labelled "idiotic" and "deeply offensive" by Winston Churchill's grandson and Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, the comments caused a stir with other party members and the public. They were defended, however, by future Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.

Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit.
Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit. Photo credit: Getty.

After the Vote Leave campaign's victory at the referendum and resignation of then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who had opposed leaving the EU, Johnson was regarded as the frontrunner for the Prime Ministership.

However, an ally of Johnson's, Michael Gove, soon ended that by criticising the former London mayor and saying he wouldn't be able to build the team necessary for pulling the UK through the Brexit process. Johnson, subsequently, announced he wouldn't stand for the leadership.

After Theresa May's election, Johnson was made the British foreign secretary - beginning a period of relentless gaffes.

For example, in May 2017, he was forced to apologise after discussing ending tariffs on whisky traded between the UK and India in a Sikh temple. Those comments provoked anger within the Sikh community as the drinking of alcohol is forbidden under some Sikh teachings.

Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Theresa May and Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Getty.

In June 2018, he is reported to have said "f*** business" when asked about the corporate concerns of a hard Brexit.

But his time as the controversial foreign secretary ended a month later, when he quit the job after failing see sense in May's Brexit plans. He said if they went ahead, the UK was headed for the status of a colony.

Johnson returned the backbench and bided his time. May's decision to step down in the wake of her several failed attempts to get Brexit across the line provided Johnson the opportunity to finally grab the Prime Ministership.

Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Getty.


Johnson's leadership campaign was defined by his stance on delivering Brexit in October - no matter what. 

Brexit was originally scheduled for March 29, 2019, but May's inability to gain the support of Parliament meant the United Kingdom was forced to seek an extension until October 31. 

Johnson said he wants the United Kingdom out of the European Union in October - with or without a deal in place.

"No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome. No one responsible would take no-deal off the table," Johnson said in a newspaper column.

Winston Peters and Boris Johnson.
Winston Peters and Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Getty.

This creates significant uncertainty for Kiwi exporters. The UK is one of New Zealand's largest export markets, meaning Brexit will have massive implications for Aotearoa.

While a transition period would be enacted if the UK left the EU with a deal, allowing countries to establish new agreements with the UK and EU, a no-deal situation would have sudden effect.

"A no-deal Brexit would likely increase the costs and procurement times of New Zealand exports, reducing demand for these products," said IBISWorld senior industry analyst Liam Harrison in April.

"In event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK reverts to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules regarding trade, which would force the UK to place tariffs and quotas on certain products."

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand does have several agreements and continuity arrangements in place to ensure continuity in some trading conditions between New Zealand and the UK, especially in the case of a no-deal exit.

But New Zealand Trade Enterprise has also released information on how businesses can prepare themselves for when Brexit arrives.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson Photo credit: Getty.

Regardless of all the talk, Johnson's ability to pull Brexit off remains to be seen. 

He will face an extremely divided Parliament, an EU which says it is not willing to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, and consistent pleas for him to announce a general election or second Brexit referendum.

Despite being the king of gaffes and self-sabotage, if he pulled off Brexit, that would almost certainly become his legacy.