Premiership of Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson official portrait (cropped).jpg
Premiership of Boris Johnson
24 July 2019 – present
PremierBoris Johnson
Cabinet1st Johnson ministry
2nd Johnson ministry
AppointerElizabeth II
Seat10 Downing Street
Theresa May
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Royal Arms of HM Government

The premiership of Boris Johnson began on 24 July 2019 when Johnson accepted Queen Elizabeth II's invitation, at her prerogative, to form a government. It followed the resignation of Theresa May, who stood down as leader of the Conservative Party following UK Parliament's repeated rejection of her Brexit withdrawal agreement.[1]

The results of the leadership election were announced at an event in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster on 23 July 2019. Johnson was declared leader with 92,153 votes, 66.4% of the total ballot. His competitor Jeremy Hunt received 46,656 votes. In a snap general election in December 2019, Johnson led the Conservative Party to their biggest victory since 1987 (under Margaret Thatcher).

Bid for Conservative leadership[edit]

Theresa May, after failing to pass her Brexit withdrawal agreement through parliament three times, announced her resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 24 May 2019 amidst calls for her to be ousted.[2][3] Boris Johnson had already confirmed at a business event in Manchester days earlier that he would run for Conservative Party leader if May were to resign.[4]

Prior to his state visit to the United Kingdom, US president Donald Trump endorsed Johnson for party leader in an interview with The Sun, opining that he thought he "would do a very good job."[5] Johnson won all five rounds of voting by MPs,[1] and entered the final vote by Conservative Party members as the clear favourite to be elected PM.[6] On 23 July, he emerged victorious over his rival Jeremy Hunt with 92,153 votes, 66.4% of the total ballot, while Hunt received 46,656 votes.[7] These results were announced an event in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster. In his first speech as Prime Minister Johnson pledged that Britain would leave the European Union (EU) by 31 October 2019, "no ifs or buts".[8]


On the day of his announcement as Prime Minister Johnson handed the role of Chief Whip to "relative unknown" Sherwood MP Mark Spencer.[9] Spencer served under the additional title Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.

Andrew Griffith, an executive at the media conglomerate Sky, was appointed Chief Business Adviser to Number 10. Munira Mirza, who was a Deputy Mayor for Johnson throughout his mayoralty of London, was appointed Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.[10] Dominic Cummings, former chief of the Vote Leave campaign, was appointed a role as a senior advisor to Johnson.[11]

Johnson's key Cabinet appointments were Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, and Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Michael Gove moved to become the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was replaced as Environment Secretary by pro-Brexit MP Theresa Villiers. Gavin Williamson became Education Secretary, Andrea Leadsom became Business Secretary, Liz Truss became International Trade Secretary and Grant Shapps became Transport Secretary. Stephen Barclay, Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd and Alun Cairns retained their previous cabinet roles, whilst Julian Smith, Alister Jack and Nicky Morgan took on new roles. Entering Cabinet for the first time were Ben Wallace, Robert Jenrick, James Cleverly, Rishi Sunak and Robert Buckland.[12]

First 100 days[edit]

Johnson with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, 25 August 2019

On 27 July 2019, Johnson gave a speech at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester where he promised to build a high-speed rail route connecting the city to Leeds. He said the project would bring "colossal" benefits and "turbo-charge the economy".[13]

Johnson focused on strengthening the Union within his first few days in office, creating a Minister for the Union position and visiting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Loss of working majority, Conservative MPs and ministerial resignations[edit]

On 29 August 2019, Johnson suffered the first ministerial resignation of his premiership, when Lord Young of Cookham resigned as a government whip in the House of Lords.[14]

On 3 September 2019, Phillip Lee crossed the floor and defected to the Liberal Democrats following disagreement with Johnson's Brexit policy. This left the government with no working majority in the House of Commons.[15] Later that day, 21 Conservative MPs including former Chancellors Kenneth Clarke, Philip Hammond and Nicholas Soames, the grandson of former Conservative Party Leader Winston Churchill, had the party whip withdrawn for defying party orders and supporting an opposition motion.[16] Johnson saw his working majority reduced from 1 to minus 43.

On 5 September 2019, Johnson's brother Jo Johnson resigned from the government and announced that he would step down as an MP, describing his position as "torn between family and national interest."[17]

On 7 September 2019, Amber Rudd resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and from the Conservative Party, describing the withdrawal of the party whip from MPs on 3 September as an "assault on decency and democracy".[18][19]

Prorogation of parliament[edit]

On 28 August 2019, Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue parliament between 12 September 2019 and 14 October 2019, which was given ceremonial approval by the Queen at a Privy Council meeting.[20] The prorogation spurred requests for a judicial review of the advice given by Johnson as the order itself, under royal prerogative powers, cannot be challenged in court.[21] As of 29 August, three court proceedings had been lodged, and one European legal proceeding had begun:

On 24 September 2019 the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom found that Johnson's attempt to prorogue Parliament for five weeks "had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account", that the matter was justiciable, and therefore that the attempted prorogation was unlawful.[26][27] It accordingly declared that the prorogation was void ab initio.[26] Parliament returned the following day and the record was made to show that Parliament was not in fact prorogued but rather "adjourned".[28] On 2 October 2019, Johnson announced his plans to prorogue Parliament on 8 October and hold a new State Opening of Parliament on 14 October.[29]

Brexit plan publication[edit]

On 2 October 2019, the government delivered its Brexit proposals to the EU in a seven page document, including plans to replace the Irish backstop. The proposals would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the customs union, resulting in new customs checks.[30]

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said he did not think Johnson's Brexit plan would get EU support, claiming it was worse than the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May. He also said the proposal was "very unspecific on how the Good Friday Agreement can be upheld."[31]

On 4 October, government papers submitted to the Scottish court indicated that Johnson would ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process if a deal was not reached by 19 October. However, later the same day Johnson reiterated his earlier statement that the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October, regardless of whether or not a deal had been reached.[32]

Revised withdrawal agreement[edit]

Following negotiations between the UK and EU, a revised withdrawal agreement was reached on 17 October.[33] A special Saturday sitting of Parliament was held two days later to debate the new agreement.[34][35][36] MPs passed an amendment, introduced by Sir Oliver Letwin by 322 votes to 306, withholding Parliament's approval until legislation implementing the deal has been passed, and forces the Government to request the EU for a delay to Brexit until 31 January 2020.[37] Later that evening, 10 Downing Street confirmed that Johnson would send a letter to the EU requesting an extension, but would not sign it.[38] EU Council President Donald Tusk subsequently confirmed receipt of the letter, which Johnson had described as "Parliament's letter, not my letter". In addition, Johnson sent a second letter expressing the view that any further delay to Brexit would be a mistake.[38]

On 21 October, the government published the withdrawal agreement bill and proposed three days of debate for opposition MPs to scrutinise it.[39] The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow refused a government request to hold a vote on the Brexit deal, citing their previous decision to withdraw it.[40]

The government brought the recently revised EU Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons for debate on the evening of 22 October 2019.[41] MPs voted on the Bill itself, which was passed by 329 votes to 299, and the timetable for debating the Bill, which was defeated by 322 votes to 308. Prior to the votes, Johnson had stated that if his timetable failed to generate the support needed to pass in parliament he would abandon attempts to get the deal approved and would seek a general election. Following the vote, however, Johnson announced that the legislation would be paused while he consulted with other EU leaders.[41][42]

On 30 October, Johnson took part in a one hour and eleven minute long session of Prime Minister's Questions - the longest on record. He led tributes to parliamentarian John Bercow who stood down the following day after ten years as Speaker of the House of Commons.[43]

2019 general election[edit]

Calls for early election[edit]

On 3 September 2019, Johnson threatened to call a general election after opposition and rebel Conservative MPs successfully voted against the government to take control of the order of business with a view to preventing a no-deal exit.[44]

Despite government opposition, the bill to block a no-deal exit passed the Commons on 4 September 2019, causing Johnson to call for a general election on 15 October.[45] However, this motion was unsuccessful as it failed to command the support of two-thirds of the House as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).[46] A second attempt at a motion for an early general election failed on 9 September.[47]

After the programme motion for the withdrawal agreement bill failed to pass on 22 October, Johnson once again submitted a motion for an early general election under the FTPA. After the motion failed, the government put forward a short bill to hold another election - a method which needed only a simple majority and not a two thirds majority as required by the FTPA.[48] Opposition MPs submitted an amendment to change the date of the election to 9 December rather than 12 December, but the amendment failed. On 29 October, MPs approved the election for 12 December in a second vote.[49] The date of the election became law when royal assent was given on 31 October.[50]


Campaigning for the election began officially on 6 November.[51] Johnson participated in a television debate with Jeremy Corbyn hosted by ITV on 19 November, and one hosted by the BBC on 6 December.[52][53] He worked with Brett O'Donnell, a US Republican strategist, in preparation for the debates,[54] whilst his campaign was managed by Isaac Levido, an Australian strategist.

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had suggested the Brexit and Conservative parties could form an electoral pact to maximise the seats taken by Brexit-supporting MPs, but this was rejected by Johnson.[55]

During the floods which hit parts of England in November, Johnson was criticised for what some saw as his late response to the flooding[56][57] after he said they were not a national emergency.[58]

The Conservatives banned Daily Mirror reporters from Johnson's campaign bus.[59][60]

On 27 November, Labour announced it had obtained leaked government documents; they claimed these showed that, despite claims otherwise, the Conservatives were in trade negotiations with the US over the NHS. The Conservatives said Labour were peddling "conspiracy theories".[61]


A map presenting the results of the election

Under Johnson's leadership, the Conservative Party polled their largest share of votes since 1979 and won their largest number of seats since 1987. Their total of 13.9 million votes was the largest number of raw votes won by any party since 1992. Their victory in the final contest of the election - the seat of St Ives, in Cornwall - took their total number of MPs to 365, giving them a majority of 80.

After the results of the election were announced on the night of 12 December, Johnson asked the Queen permission to form a new government, and hence began organising his second ministry.[62] This remained the same as his first, aside from a new Secretary of State for Wales, to replace Alun Cairns, who resigned after claims that he had known about a former aide's role in the 'sabotage' of a rape trial. Nicky Morgan, who had not stood in the election, and Zac Goldsmith, who lost his seat, were made life peers to allow them to remain in the government.

Post-election Brexit developments[edit]

On 18 January 2020, Johnson revealed plans for the Brexit Day celebrations in Downing Street, and the commemorative coin which will enter circulation.[63]

On 20 January, in its first defeat since the general election, Johnson's government lost three votes in the House of Lords over its Brexit legislation.[64] However, two days later, he said the UK had "crossed the Brexit finish line" after parliament passed the EU bill for implementing the withdrawal agreement.[65] On 23 January, the bill was given royal assent and the next day it was signed by European leaders in Brussels and by Johnson in Downing Street. The signing in Downing Street was witnessed by both British and European officials, including the Prime Minister's Europe advisor David Frost. There will by a vote on the bill in the European Parliament on 29 January.[66]

Foreign affairs[edit]

On 3 January 2020, a US airstrike in Iraq killed the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Johnson was not told about the attack by Donald Trump prior to it happening. He was criticised for not returning from his holiday in Mustique as tensions between Iran and the west rose.[67]

Foreign trips[edit]

See also[edit]


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British Premierships
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Johnson Premiership