LONDON — For the first time in two decades, a blond, shaggy and gritty man holed up at the heart of British politics on Monday.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sudden and furious exit from Parliament – the latest stunning turn in the ‘gate party’ scandal – means he now has no formal role in politics for the first time since 2001.
He continues this remarkable downfall of perhaps the most divisive figure in recent UK history: from the architect of Brexit and Tory mascot, to a scandal-plagued pariah that many colleagues hope is now gone for good.
This is a political epitaph that has been prematurely chiseled before, and it remains unclear whether Johnson will somehow resurrect himself. But many analysts have indicated that this could really be the end.
“I think it’s very unlikely that Boris Johnson will have a political future with a lot of consequences,” Nick Dickinson, a Bingham Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the University of Oxford, told NBC News. “While conservative activists retain much affection for him, he remains deeply unpopular in the country as a result of the scandals that led to his downfall from power.”
‘The world has progressed’
Johnson himself left open the possibility of another Lazarus-style comeback. “It is with great sadness that I leave Parliament – at least for the time being,” he said in a surprise statement on Friday.
Johnson essentially resigned before he could be fired, as fallout from a scandal involving wild parties held during Covid lockdowns threatened to leave him facing a recall vote he likely would have lost.
Some saw his charged remarks and firing at his rivals as an attempt to spark a civil war within the ruling Conservative Party, but apart from some minor resignations and supportive comments, his departure was met with more relief than anger.
“The world has moved on,” Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said She told NBC News’ UK partner Sky News on Sunday.
It may have been a sign of Johnson’s fading prestige, even as his shocking exit was partially overshadowed by the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump.
His time in office was marked by radicalism.
In 2019, he steered his party into its biggest electoral collapse since the 1970s, and became severely ill during the coronavirus pandemic while conducting one of the first large-scale vaccination campaigns in the Western world.
At the same time, he courted a regular disgrace, both personal and professional, which was ultimately too much even for his allies.
The party scandal indirectly led to him stepping down as prime minister last year. The same issue led to his departure on Friday.
Parliament’s Privileges Committee was investigating Johnson over whether he misled lawmakers about the “party gate”. The committee had the power to recommend that Johnson be suspended from work for more than 10 days, which could lead to a local election in which he would have to fight for his parliamentary seat.
Instead, after receiving the committee’s findings, he resigned first.
In a statement, he described the process as a “kangaroo court” and a “witch hunt” led by “strongly biased” MPs.
Although the committee is chaired by Harriet Harman, a veteran member of the opposition Labor Party, four of its seven members belong to Johnson’s Conservative party.
In response to the resignation announcement, the committee said Johnson had “impugned the integrity” of the House of Commons with his attack. It said it would meet Monday to “finish the investigation and publish its report promptly.”
The Illegal Blond: Boris Johnson’s Political Career
- June 2001 – Elected Member of Parliament
- November 2004 – Dismissed as senior official after allegations of affair
- May 2008 – elected Mayor of London; He was re-elected in 2012
- June 2016 – Leads the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union
- July 2016 – Appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs
- July 2018 – Resigns, criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May
- July 2019 – Prime Minister elected to replace May
- September 2019 – Parliament suspended to proceed with Brexit legislation, suspension later ruled illegal
- December 2019 – landslide election victory
- November 2021 – First party allegations come to light, and police later discover Johnson broke the law
- July 2022 – Resigned as Prime Minister
- June 2023 – Resigned as a Member of Parliament
Johnson put his message in the break by criticizing incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a former rival who was instrumental in his downfall last year.
When I left office last year, the government was only a few points behind in opinion polls. This gap has now widened dramatically. “Our party desperately needs to regain its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do.”
Parliamentary authorities announced that Johnson had formally resigned as an MP on Monday. Sunak also said of “trash talk” in a related dispute being circulated in public.
The departure of the former leader, and the apparently related resignations of two allies, are causing a huge headache for Sunak.
Having trailed in opinion polls, he now faces contests for three Conservative parliamentary seats, providing momentum for Labor ahead of next year’s nationwide election which it is expected to win.
Conservative poll ratings fell lower during the final months of Johnson’s term and have not recovered since, with Labor now repeatedly leading by 20 points.
It is not the first time the Eton and Oxford-educated Johnson has unceremoniously left office, having been sacked by both Britain’s The Times in 1987 and then the Conservative Party in 2004 over allegations of misconduct.
However, his bombastic approach helped It made him a household name as a legislator, mayor of London, foreign minister and then prime minister. A self-declared liberal, who opponents have called a brazen opportunist, was also the leader of Brexit in 2016.
“I don’t think they would have won the referendum without him,” said Anand Menon, director of the London-based think tank UK in a Changing Europe. “He’s a box office hit, he’s funny”, he is a “unique political communicator” and “has the gift of being able to talk to ordinary voters and he seems to be one of them”.
Despite his catalytic influence on the Brexit vote, his legacy for many is a country still unable to build its relationship with the EU, and a people suffering from a generational cost of living crisis exacerbated by it.
Johnson’s personal poll ratings have fallen significantly far beyond his party’s.
“Even the majority of holiday voters are now disappointed with what happened” about Brexit, said Pippa Catterall, an expert in constitutional and political history and politics at the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. “The deal with the EU was so bad that his successor decided it had to be torn up immediately.”
She added that Johnson had caused “tremendous damage” to the public image of the Conservative Party.
He may not get a chance to fix it or do it anymore.
“Travel specialist. Typical social media scholar. Friend of animals everywhere. Freelance zombie ninja. Twitter buff.”