The highs and lows of Boris Johnson’s time in office as prime minister

Politics

His supporters say he got Brexit done and saved the country by making the vaccine rollout happen before any other developed nation.

His opponents say his record was marred by allegations of sleaze and mismanagement and that he was unfit for top office.

Here are the main events – the highs and lows – of Boris Johnson’s time in office as prime minister so far:

25 July 2019 – Johnson takes over from Theresa May as prime minister

Opinion poll (YouGov, 29/6/19): Tories 32%, Labour 22%

The former London mayor finally fulfilled his long-held ambition of residing in 10 Downing Street after beating rival Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, by securing 66% of the party vote in a run-off.

He said it was an “extraordinary honour and privilege” to be elected Tory leader and pledged to “energise the country”.

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Earlier, he had beaten a number of other senior contenders for the top job, including Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock and Rory Stewart.

His predecessor, Theresa May, tendered her resignation to the Queen after being unable to push through her version of Brexit amid increasing deadlock in parliament.

Boris Johnson with his first cabinet. Pic: AP
Image:
Boris Johnson with his first cabinet. Pic: AP

28 August 2019 – Unlawful proroguing of UK parliament

Opinion poll (YouGov 2/9/19): Tories 35%, Labour 25%

Mr Johnson provoked fury among his opponents when he suspended parliament amid ongoing wrangling over Brexit.

He said the break, for five weeks from 9 September, was to allow the government to set out a new legislative agenda in a Queen’s Speech when MPs returned to parliament.

Subsequently, on 24 September, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the decision was unlawful.

17 October 2019 – Brexit withdrawal deal agreed with Europe

Opinion poll (YouGov 20/10/19): Tories 37%, Labour 22%

At the Tory conference, Mr Johnson had revealed a new offer to Brussels in a bid for a fresh deal.

The initial reaction from the continent was not positive, but a diplomatic dash to Brussels produced what some thought impossible – a renegotiated deal.

His joy was short-lived however, as getting the deal through parliament remained a challenge.

13 December 2019 – Election victory

Poll result: Tories 42.4%, Labour 40%

With a Brexit withdrawal deal agreed, Mr Johnson persuaded MPs that the only way forward was to put the plan to the electorate.

It was a gamble that paid off as he delivered the Conservatives’ best general election result since 1987 – achieved by tearing seats from Labour in its heartlands.

The House of Commons majority of 80 meant he had the space to push through any remaining Brexit legislation required. Labour suffered its worst election result, in terms of seats, since 1935.

Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds arrive in Downing Street after the Conservative Party was returned to power
Image:
Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds arrive in Downing Street after the Conservative Party was returned to power

31 January 2020 – Britain leaves the EU

Opinion poll (YouGov, 31/1/20): Tories 49%, Labour 30%

Despite a trade deal still to be worked out, with the clock having started (and been paused several times) after the referendum of 2016, the UK left the EU, to cheers from Mr Johnson, Brexiteers and heartbreak from pro-Europeans.

The UK had until 1 January 2021 to sort out a future relationship, while transition arrangements were in place.

18 February 2020 – Divorce settlement agreed as Carrie says she’s pregnant

Opinion poll result (SavantaComRes, 19/2/20): Tories 47%, Labour 31%

Boris Johnson and his estranged wife Marina Wheeler had reached a financial settlement, a court was told, allowing their marriage to end.

Just under two weeks later, with the COVID-19 crisis looming, Mr Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds announced she was pregnant and the couple had got engaged.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds were photographed together at an England rugby match in early March, for the first time after they announced she was pregnant
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds were photographed together at an England rugby match in early March, for the first time after they announced she was pregnant

23 March 2020 – UK lockdown announced

Opinion poll (Number Cruncher Politics, 24/3/20): Tories 54%, Labour 28%

It became clear that asking people to limit their contact with others was not going to be enough to stop coronavirus spreading rapidly and that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed.

Mr Johnson went against his natural instinct by ordering a national lockdown, telling everyone in the UK they must stay at home unless it was essential.

The rules were strict: people must work from home unless impossible; must only leave their home for exercise once a day alone or with one member of their household; must only shop infrequently for essentials; and must not gather outdoors with more than one other person who was not in their household.

7 April 2020 – In intensive care with COVID-19

Opinion poll (Opinium, 7/4/20): Tories 59%, Labour 29%

Ten days after testing positive for coronavirus, Mr Johnson was moved to intensive care after his condition worsened.

He later revealed his condition was so serious there were “48 hours when things could have gone either way”.

29 April 2020 – Johnson and Carrie have first child together

Opinion poll (YouGov, 5/5/20): Tories 50%, Labour 30%

Mr Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds announced the birth of a “healthy baby boy”.

The prime minister was said to be present throughout the birth and Downing Street released a photograph of him beaming on his return to Number 10.

They named the child Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson – with the name Nicholas chosen in a nod to the two doctors who saved the prime minister’s life.

Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds with their son Wilfred speaking to midwives
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Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds with their son Wilfred speaking to midwives

22 May 2020 – Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle trip revealed

Opinion poll (YouGov, 25/5/20): Tories 44%, Labour 38%

In the first scandal of the COVID period, Mr Johnson’s key aide was revealed to have gone into self-isolation at his family’s farm 260 miles away with his child and wife, who had COVID-19 symptoms.

Growing numbers of Tory MPs called for Mr Cummings to be sacked for the journey that came while Britons were being told to “stay at home”.

Mr Johnson backed his adviser but the rumblings of discontent among some Tory MPs went on.

18 July 2020 – Plan for ‘normality’ unveiled

Opinion poll (Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 22/7/20): Tories 44%, Labour 36%

Mr Johnson took to the airwaves to outline a plan to contain localised flare-ups of COVID-19 infections as he expressed his hope of a “more significant return to normality” by November at the earliest, possibly by Christmas.

It proved overly optimistic.

September 2020 – Second wave begins

Opinion poll (Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 15/9/20): Tories 41%, Labour 39%

Despite the prime minister’s earlier hope, he is forced to admit the government was seeing “a second wave coming in”.

He was adamant he did not want to put the country into another national lockdown.

13 November 2020 – Cummings quits

Dominic Cummings was pictured leaving 10 Downing Street with a box, following reports that he had quit
Image:
Dominic Cummings was pictured leaving 10 Downing Street with a box, following reports that he had quit

Opinion poll (SavantaComRes, 13/11/20): Tories 41%, Labour 38%

Mr Cummings – who had helped mastermind the campaign to win the Brexit referendum – resigned after the prime minister asked him to step down, along with director of communications Lee Cain.

The initial reason why he left was not clear, but it came amid criticism from a number of MPs of him remaining in post.

Mr Cummings later said it was because Carrie Johnson tried to “appoint her friends to particular jobs” in a manner that was “completely unethical and clearly illegal”.

8 December 2020 – Vaccination rollout begins amid partial lockdown

Opinion poll (YouGov, 8/12/20): Tories 37%, Labour 37%

Ninety-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person to be given the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine after the UK health authorities gave it the green light – the first in the world by a developed nation.

Mr Johnson said it marked “a momentous step”.

It started a process that was then rolled out across the UK – with the Oxford University-developed and UK government-funded AstraZeneca vaccine coming on stream soon after. Immunity against COVID-19 was massively boosted and case numbers and deaths began to fall.

At the time, with case numbers high, Mr Johnson had resisted calls for a full lockdown but opted instead for a partial lockdown, with many businesses and venues under tough restrictions.

Margaret Keenan, 91, who was the first patient in Britain to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, arrives to receive her spring coronavirus disease (COVID-19) booster shot at the University Hospital Coventry, in Coventry, Britain April 22, 2022. Jacob King/Pool via REUTERS
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Margaret Keenan was the first patient in Britain to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine

21 December 2020 – Christmas cancelled, children taught at home again

Opinion poll (Survation, 22/12/20): Tories 39%, Labour 38%

Despite immunity beginning to rise as vaccination was rolled out, the emergence of a new variant led to surging cases.

As COVID once against threatened to overwhelm the NHS, the PM had no choice but to bring in tougher restrictions, with millions of people told to only hold Christmas celebrations with members of their household.

Days later, shortly after urging parents to send their children back to classrooms, he said youngsters should have lessons from home, except in certain situations, in another national lockdown that went on for three months.

Mr Johnson, addressing the nation with a grim face, acknowledged the “inconvenience and distress” faced by pupils and parents.

31 December 2020 – Britain completely leaves EU as transition ends

Opinion poll (YouGov, 4/1/21): Tories 39%, Labour 39%

With just a week to go before the UK left the EU completely without an agreement, a deal was struck on how the UK would continue to trade with the bloc in coming years.

On 1 January, the new deal kicked in, but within weeks it was clear that – combined with the effects of COVID – future relations would not be plain sailing, particularly over the way in which goods were moved between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The prime minister characterised the impact of non-tariff barriers on traders as “teething problems”.

While Brexiteers regard Boris Johnson as a hero for getting the UK out of the EU, many pro-Europeans were devastated to see the country exit the bloc. Pic: AP
Image:
While Brexiteers regard Boris Johnson as a hero for getting the UK out of the EU, many pro-Europeans were devastated to see the country exit the bloc. Pic: AP

28 May 2021 – Report says Johnson acted ‘unwisely’ over Downing St refurbishment

Opinion poll (Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 31/5/21): Tories 45%, Labour 34%

Among the many scandals of Mr Johnson’s premiership was controversy over the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat where he lived with his partner Carrie and later their children.

In late May, Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s adviser on standards, deemed that while the PM did not break the ministerial code, he had “unwisely” allowed renovations to go ahead without knowing how they would be paid for.

30 May 2021 – Johnson marries Carrie Symonds

Opinion poll (Survation, 1/6/21): Tories 41%, Labour 33%

With no advance warning, Downing Street announced the prime minister, 56, had tied the knot with Ms Symonds, 33, in a small ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

It was reported the couple had sent out “save the date” cards telling family and friends to keep 30 July 2022 free for celebrations.

Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson in the garden of 10 Downing Street after their wedding on Saturday.
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Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson in the garden of 10 Downing Street after their wedding

27 June 2021 – Matt Hancock resigns

Opinion poll (Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 28/6/21): Tories 41%, Labour 34%

Despite having been health secretary throughout the COVID crisis and having Mr Johnson’s support up until that point, Matt Hancock was forced to resign after admitting breaking coronavirus rules.

It came after leaked CCTV showed the MP kissing aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office, and marked increasing concerns among a number of MPs about the behaviour of members of Mr Johnson’s government during the pandemic.

19 July 2021 – ‘Freedom Day’ marred by surging infections

Opinion poll (YouGov, 20/7/21): Tories 38%, Labour 34%

Having outlined the roadmap to end lockdown earlier in the spring, Mr Johnson had been determined to open up the economy, to get the country back to normal as soon as possible. It concluded with the end of restrictions on 19 July, which was dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, even as case rates were rising once again.

While it was celebrated, the move was a “gamble” which contributed to more than 40,000 hospital admissions and more than 4,000 deaths, the chair of the British Medical Association Dr Chaand Nagpaul later said.

26 October 2021Owen Paterson scandal begins

Opinion poll (YouGov, 27/10/21): Tories 39%, Labour 33%

In late October, Kathryn Stone, parliamentary commissioner for standards, found that MP for North Shropshire Owen Paterson consistently broke Commons rules when he lobbied for two companies that were paying him large sums of money.

The government initially backed him, deepening the sleaze row it found itself embroiled in, but then performed a U-turn.

An embarrassed Mr Johnson finally admitted the Conservative ex-minister broke lobbying rules – two weeks after he encouraged a bid to save Mr Paterson from a House of Commons suspension. Mr Paterson resigned forcing a by-election, which the government lost.

22 November 2021 – Peppa Pig World speech

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and son enjoy a ride at Peppa Pig World near Ower, England, Britain November 21, 2021. Picture taken November 21, 2021. George Edgar/Handout via REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT  George Edgar/Handout via REUTERS
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Mr Johnson, Carrie and their son enjoyed a ride at Peppa Pig World in November 2021

Opinion poll result (YouGov, 24/11/21): Tories 36%, Labour 38%

Opposition politicians lampooned the prime minister after he struggled to get through a keynote address to business leaders, despite claiming afterwards he thought the speech “went over well”.

At one stage, he went off at a tangent, reflecting on a trip he made to a Peppa Pig World theme park in Hampshire, which he said was “very much my kind of place” but “they are a bit stereotypical about Daddy Pig”.

30 November, 2021 – Downing Street party reports emerge

Opinion poll (YouGov, 1/12/21): Tories 36%, Labour 33%

At the end of November, the Daily Mirror broke a story about a party in Downing Street the PM had attended that broke COVID rules.

It unleashed a torrent of anger from the public, bitter than many had been unable to see friends and relatives during the pandemic, even as some were dying, while those in Downing Street had been able to enjoy their leisure time together.

It led to further revelations, which resulted in resignations from the PM’s team.

As pressure grew, the prime minister was forced to say he “certainly broke no rules”.

By mid-January, he had appointed senior civil servant Sue Gray to head up an inquiry into potential rule breaking. Meanwhile, the police were eventually dragged into carrying out their own investigations.

EDITORS NOTE IMAGE REDACTED AT SOURCE Handout photo dated 19/06/20issued by the Cabinet Office showing a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's birthday, which has been released with the publication of Sue's Gray report into Downing Street parties in Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown. Issue date: Wednesday May 25, 2022.
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Handout issued by the Cabinet Office showing a gathering in 10 Downing Street on Boris Johnson’s birthday, released with the publication of Sue Gray’s report

9 December 2021 – PM and wife have second child

Opinion poll (YouGov, 9/12/21): Tories 32%, Labour 40%

The prime minister and his wife announced the birth of their second child, a baby girl, which they subsequently named Romy Iris Charlotte Johnson, partly after members of their family.

20 January 2022 – MP defects and grandee says ‘go’ at PMQs

Opinion poll (Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 24/1/22): Tories 34%, Labour 41%

As rumours swirled Mr Johnson may face a vote of no-confidence, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford crossed the political divide to join Labour, immediately before PMQs began, telling Mr Johnson that “you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.

During the PMQs, senior Conservative MP David Davis addressed Mr Johnson directly, when he said: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.”

24 Feb 2022 – Invasion of Ukraine

Opinion poll result (SavantaComRes, 25/2/22): Tories 34%, Labour 42%

Within a few days of Russia invading Ukraine the political mood had undergone a sea change, with previously disaffected Tory MPs suddenly rallying around the PM as he stood firm against the actions of the Putin regime.

Even some of his staunchest critics, such as Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, became supportive, with Mr Ross saying “the middle of an international crisis is not the time to be discussing resignations”.

Boris Johnson travelled to Ukraine to meet its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the invasion of the country by Russia. Pic: AP
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Boris Johnson travelled to Ukraine to meet its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the invasion of the country by Russia. Pic: AP

25 May 2022 – Sue Gray report published

Opinion poll result (SavantaComRes, 27/5/22): Tories 31%, Labour 42%

Sue Gray said “senior leadership” must bear responsibility for rule-breaking during lockdown at parties in Downing Street, as she detailed drunkenness, fighting, karaoke, wine spillages, aides being sick and others being rude to security staff and cleaners, in events that often went on into the night despite restrictions being in place barring social mixing.

Meanwhile, the Met’s separate inquiry saw a total of 83 people receive at least one fixed-penalty notice (FPN) each, for attending get-togethers over eight dates, including Mr Johnson himself.

6 June 2022 – No confidence vote

The publishing of the Sue Gray report reopened debate among Tories about the PM’s future.

On the anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Europe by allied forces signed off by his hero Winston Churchill, Mr Johnson faced a vote on his future as leader of the Conservatives, after the number of backbench MPs submitting letters to the 1922 Committee passed the threshold.

He won, but not by the kind of margin that guaranteed his long-term survival. Time will tell if he can hold on.

Poll results from www.electoralcalculus.co.uk.

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