The Wild Number Of Scandals Boris Johnson Has Been Involved In

To call Boris Johnson a controversial figure would be an understatement. Originally making his name as a Euro-skeptic journalist who fomented anti-EU sentiment among his readers with strident claims concerning EU policy — that they had plans to ban curved bananas, for example – Johnson also drew attention in his early public life for other surprising reasons. One of these was that, while editor of The Spectator, he discussed plans to have another journalist beaten up, while it also emerged he had smashed up restaurants in his youth as a member of the notorious Bullingdon dining club.

Some commentators pointed to a letter that Johnson's father, Stanley, received from one of Johnson's school teachers which revealed that, as a boy, Johnson exhibited a "gross failure of responsibility," adding that Johnson saw himself as "one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else."

But despite the immense privilege of his upbringing, Johnson nevertheless managed to harness a populist wave of support to propel him into politics, first as Mayor of London, then as a parliamentarian and member of the cabinet under Theresa May, and finally as Prime Minister himself. For many, Johnson's disdain for the rules was part of his allure. However, once in the post, Johnson's rulebreaking eventually had consequences, and he lurched from scandal to scandal. Here are the major events of his premiership that have contributed to his downfall.

Boris Johnson illegally dissolved Parliament

In 2019, casual followers of British politics learned a new word: prorogation. And it turned out that it was Boris Johnson's latest political weapon ... and that he was using it illegally.

The British Parliament is usually ordered by "sessions" — generally a year in length — punctuated by a number of scheduled recesses throughout the year for parliamentarians to take a break, to return to their constituencies throughout the country, and for political parties to hold annual conferences. As The Guardian explains, traditional and protocol parliamentary sessions are typically ended by the Prime Minister making a visit to the Queen, and asking for her permission to dissolve, or prorogue, Parliament. Though the Queen is instrumental in doing this, her role is largely ceremonial (via Foreign Policy).

When it came to dissolving Parliament in 2019, however, Johnson had a trick up his sleeve. To avoid scrutiny of the then-ongoing Brexit negotiations by MPs, the Prime Minister went to the Queen early and asked her to prorogue Parliament for a total of five weeks rather than the usual three. The was an outcry from opposition parliamentarians and commentators, who highlighted that Johnson was manipulating the Queen — who is meant to remain impartial — for political ends. As reported in The Guardian, the prorogation was challenged in a case taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled against Johnson, and Parliament was allowed to reconvene.

He purged talented politicians for loyal juniors

In 2019 and with the clock ticking on the U.K. having to negotiate a Brexit deal with its EU counterparts, many British MPs were spooked that, were a new agreement unable to be made, the country would stumble into a "no deal" Brexit, in which all systems regarding trade with the bloc and, for example, shared security resources would suddenly become null and void, at great cost to the country (via BBC). Indeed, other prominent politicians — including Boris Johnson — were suggesting that "no deal" was a viable option, though this may have simply been a negotiating tactic.

As a September 2019 editorial in The Guardian notes, the threat of "no deal" led to a number of prominent Conservative MPs joining with the opposition Labour Party to table a bill that would legally guarantee that the government could not actively pursue such an outcome. In response, Johnson "withd[rew] the whip" from those from his party who had limited his options, effectively ruling them out of any active role in the executive government.

The fact that many of these figures were senior Tories with great experience shocked many commentators, and showed that, rather than ability, Johnson hired his ministers based on sheer loyalty. After his decisive General Election win in December 2019, Johnson filled key government roles not with the best-of-the-best, but with the most devoted to him among his party ranks.

Hiding from journalists

The General Election in question — fought against veteran socialist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — was heated and animated, with the shape of Brexit riding, in many ways, on which way the vote went (via BBC).

However, the campaigns were also characterized by a number of headline-grabbing gaffes from Boris Johnson. As the opinion polls saw Johnson and Corbyn running almost at neck-and-neck, The Guardian reports that Johnson plunged the Conservative campaign into turmoil when, on an early morning tour of a dairy farm, the Tory leader was confronted by a TV producer who told him that one-time U.S. chat show chair Piers Morgan wanted to interview him via satellite link. To avoid the interview, Johnson hid in a nearby industrial refrigerator, making him look spineless and unable to face his critics. In another bizarre incident, during an interview, a journalist attempted to confront Prime Minister Johnson with a mobile phone image of a sick boy awaiting treatment in an underfunded hospital, and, in full view of the cameras, Johnson snatched his phone; an opposition MP noted, "Refusing to even look at an image of a child suffering because of Conservative cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris Johnson" (via Business Insider).

Nevertheless, Johnson delivered for the Conservative Party an 80-seat majority (via CNBC), a resounding victory which, on the face of things, seemed to herald that his tenure at the top of British politics would be a long one.

Dominic Cummings

There have been few more divisive figures in British politics than Boris Johnson, and in the early months of his tenure, he was notable for having a backroom staff that was also unusually divisive.

One of those who pulled the strings behind the scenes for Johnson was Dominic Cummings, an architect of the "Vote Leave" campaign who had successfully helped to convince millions of Britons to vote to leave the EU. As reported in The Guardian, Cummings had already been found in contempt of Parliament at the time of his appointment, but his proximity to the levers of power grew more controversial by the day, with reports being leaked of his bizarre behavior and eccentric ideas regarding how the country should be managed.

But the most controversial moment came in 2020, when Britain was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and citizens had been banned from socializing and unnecessary travel, told to "stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives." However, evidence soon came to light that Cummings had traveled with his family across the country to his parent's home in Durham and had also taken a daytrip to nearby Barnard Castle (via I News). In an unprecedented live television address to the public, Cummings claimed that the journey was necessary to secure adequate childcare, but convinced nobody when he insisted that his drive to Barnard Castle was in fact a short trip to "test his eyesight" for the drive back to London. The public was infuriated, and Johnson was pressured to immediately fire his top adviser. Though Johnson defied popular opinion and kept Cummings in his post, the adviser resigned just months later after disagreements with Johnson and his wife, Carrie.

Johnson's underhand Downing Street refurbishment

It is no surprise that along with his wife Carrie, Boris Johnson — who was educated, like countless other senior Tory MPs down the years, at the prestigious Eton public school, per BBC — has a taste for the finer things in life.

Part of the package that comes with being the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the luxurious country retreat, Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, while, per the Times (via Tatler) the PM also receives a yearly stipend of £30,000 ($36,000) for the renovation and redecoration of their Downing Street apartment in Westminster. However, according to The Guardian, the Johnsons didn't find this amount adequate and lobbied for larger payments, including one of £59,000 ($70,800) from Conservative Party donors.

Commentators were shocked that the new Prime Minister was spending such lavish amounts of other people's money — it was reported that he had his wife were even purchasing wallpaper at £840 ($1,000) a roll — but things got worse when Johnson failed to officially declare that he had received the sums and later misled an ethics advisor regarding where the money had come from, claiming not to have known its origin, though his own direct texts asking for the funds were later published.


Boris Johnson's opposite in the British House of Commons is Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the center-left Labour Party which has been out of power since 2010. The two men face off each week that Parliament is in session in what is known as Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), a period in which Starmer and other MPs can ask questions of the leadership and interrogate their actions and motives. 

The sessions are usually heated, and notoriously contain a great deal of jeering and point-scoring. Before forging a career in politics, Starmer held the esteemed role in the British legal system of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), for which he was later knighted, and his legal abilities have since become tools to cross-examine the notoriously slippery Johnson.

Johnson, however, fights back in PMQs, with one line of attack from early 2022 causing an outcry. Per the BBC, the Prime Minister repeatedly claimed that, while DPP, Starmer failed in his responsibility to prosecute Jimmy Savile, a notorious British pedophile whose crimes over several decades only came to light after his death. Per the same source, "parliamentary privilege" means that MPs cannot be charged for slander for what they say in the House of Commons, and though Johnson's claims were roundly debunked, he faced no consequences for his dangerous claim.

Behind the curve with COVID policy

June 21, 2021, after Britons had gone through long, arduous lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, was slated to be the U.K.'s "freedom day," the day in which all legal restrictions that were put in place to control the spread of the virus would be lifted, and citizens could once again go back to their regular lives.

However, as noted in The Washington Post, this wasn't the case. The lifting of restrictions was delayed by four weeks, as the Delta variant spiked within the population and led to a new wave of infections. Usually, however, it was when it came to imposing restrictions that the British government usually hesitated. Per the same source, critics had roundly criticized Boris Johnson and his cabinet for failing to react to the growing threat of the pandemic and delaying legislation for travel restrictions, mask mandates, and lockdowns, all of which cost the U.K. countless lives.

Per NPR, in May 2020, the U.K. reportedly had the second-worst death rate from COVID-19 on the planet, while today total deaths are estimated to be in excess of 177,000.

Corrupt COVID-19 contracts

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government were repeatedly accused of cronyism, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when, it is argued, those in power intentionally channeled public funds into the pockets of their close friends and allies at a time when the regulation of the tendering of government contracts was stripped back to allow for a quicker response to the deadly crisis.

A report by Transparency International cited in the British Medical Journal in April 2021 highlighted the scale of the irregularities in the early months of the pandemic. According to the report, around a fifth of public contracts awarded in that time "contained red flag indicators of possible corruption." These contracts were mainly awarded when the U.K. was short on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which was now increasingly required by medical staff — among whom there was a shortage — and the general public.

The report claims that those with close personal links to the government were awarded "VIP" status during the pandemic, allowing them to scoop up valuable contracts worth a collective £3.7 billion ($4.4 billion). The same report notes that, in many cases, multi-million-pound contracts were awarded to companies that were less than 60 days old. Many outlets including The Guardian labeled Johnson's government a "chumocracy."

Test and Trace

Per a report published by the British Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, in May 2020, when Britain was in the throes of the first of many strict nationwide lockdowns, Boris Johnson's government announced a major new project to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure, they said, that the British public would not have to be locked down again.

The project was NHS Test & Trace, an app-based system for tracking potential infections and calling those exposed to get tested, which, per The Guardian, was touted by Johnson's ministers as the key to ensuring that Britons could navigate the rest of the pandemic with a degree of freedom and safety.

Sadly, the Test & Trace system made little impact. But what was worse was the eye-watering budget that had been poured into it: £22 billion ($24.6 billion), with another £15 billion ($18 billion) allocated to the project the following year. Much of this budget, it was reported, was spent on consultancy fees, and as the Public Account Committee Meg Hillier noted, "The £22 billion for test and trace is about the annual budget of the Department for Transport. Test and Trace still continues to pay for consultants at £1000 ($1200) a day ... British taxpayers cannot be treated by Government like an ATM machine. We need to see a clear plan and costs better controlled." The project is still under investigation.

'Let the bodies pile high'

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on and it became clear that the U.K. had failed to control it, the scale of the tragedy the country — and the rest of the world — was facing was growing more and more apparent. However, there was evidence that the man in charge of the U.K.'s response, Boris Johnson, wasn't taking the threat to human life quite as seriously as many hoped ... and, indeed, behind closed doors was quite flippant in how he talked about it.

According to senior Tory figures who are tipped as sources in The Guardian, it was claimed that with the prospect of new restrictions on the horizon — and, with it, a blow to his approval ratings — Johnson told staffers: "no more ... lockdowns — let the bodies pile high in their thousands."

This insight into Johnson's attitude to the pandemic response enraged the public, millions of whom had lost loved ones due to the virus. The government officially denied the remarks were ever made, but a wide number of reputable news outlets claimed that their sources were verified, providing more detail that they were said "during a heated discussion in No 10" (via The Guardian).

Free school meals

It's no secret that the cost of living has become a huge crisis in the U.K., where more than a decade of Conservative-driven austerity policies have pushed many working families into poverty. And when the pandemic hit, things only got worse for many vulnerable people.

One consequence of the pandemic was a rise in child food poverty, which was highlighted by Manchester United soccer player and poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford. Per The Guardian, in October 2020, Johnson's Conservative colleagues voted down a bill that would extend the provision of free school meals to school children from low-income families, causing a national outcry and putting the party at odds with public opinion. Under pressure from Rashford and other campaigners, the party U-turned and let the bill through (via The Guardian). 

This wasn't the first time that Rashford had managed to maneuver Johnson and his government to achieve his aims. In June 2020, Rashford successfully lobbied for public funds to continue to provide free meals throughout the summer in what was known as the "covid summer food fund," per The Guardian.


Perhaps the biggest scandal of Boris Johnson's time in government — or at least the one that got the most global press attention, and which dramatically altered the public perception of his time in office — was "Partygate," a scandal that exposed "​​a culture of casual law-breaking" at 10 Downing Street, overseen by Johnson himself, at a time when the British public was instructed to comply with some of the most restrictive and draconian laws imposed on the populace since the end of World War II.

"Partygate" is the collective term for the scandal arising from a series of leaked photographs and witness statements from inside Johnson's government — and the subsequent police investigation — that revealed that Johnson, his wife, and staffers were repeatedly hosting parties in government buildings, when Britons were barred from socializing with one other person outside their own home. Per the Evening Standard, the scandal culminated in the publication of the "Sue Gray report," which confirmed the rumors that alcohol-fueled parties had taken place, and that cleaners were repeatedly left dealing with wine stains and vomit. The police eventually issued more than 100 fines, including ones to Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

More than any other scandal of his career, "Partygate" may be identified as the moment that popular opinion turned against Johnson. From then on, his days were numbered, and his government stumbled from crisis to crisis.

Lying to the Commons

The sharpest point of Partygate, however, came when it became apparent that Boris Johnson had lied to parliament about what he knew. Worse perhaps than his own involvement in the illegal gatherings was the fact that, as the details of 10 Downing Street's party culture dripped out, the Johnson camp repeatedly changed their story.

One peculiarity of the British House of Commons is that it is against parliamentary etiquette to directly accuse another MP of lying. As such, figures such as Johnson who are looking to change the narrative concerning their own wrongdoing have some immediate freedom to do so: However, if MPs suspect that a parliamentarian has intentionally misled the House, they can request an inquiry ... which is exactly what happened.

Per The Guardian, Sir Keir Starmer was incensed by Johnson's Partygate denials, claiming in April 2022, "[Johnson] has stood before this house and said things that are not true, safe in the knowledge that he will not be accused of lying. He has stood at that dispatch box and point-blank denied rule-breaking took place, when it did."  Per the same source, though Conservatives initially attempted to block the beginning of an investigation, it was eventually launched, while several of Johnson's own MPs warned him that now was the time to step down.

Jennifer Arcuri

While Boris Johnson's conduct while serving as Prime Minister was repeatedly brought into question, details of his behavior in former political roles also began to seep out and affect public opinion of him and his government.

One of the most egregious involved Jennifer Arcuri, an American businesswoman who first met Johnson while he was serving as Mayor of London. As noted by The Guardian, Arcuri and Johnson made headlines in 2019 when news of their earlier affair became public, along with information detailing how Johnson had purposefully diverted public funds into Arcuri's business to win her affection, against the advice of colleagues.

Johnson has repeatedly denied that any conflict of interest took place and that he had nothing of "interest to declare" in relation to Arcuri during his time as mayor. However, the same source reveals that contemporaneous diaries kept by Arcuri during the time of their affair provide more insight into their relationship, including the following quote reportedly uttered by Johnson to Arcuri: "How can I be the thrust — the throttle — your mere footstep as you make your career? Tell me: how I can help you?"

Johnson's Afghanistan intervention

The sudden withdrawal of western troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 resulted in scenes of chaos amid a sudden rush to evacuate allies on the ground before Kabul fell to the resurgent forces of the Taliban.

With limited transport available, many people who were at risk of reprisals were left behind to make their own escape from the country. Which meant there was deep horror when it emerged through a leaked email — obtained by the BBC — that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have intervened to ensure ​​former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, the operator of the Nowzad charity who personally kept 150 animals in Afghanistan, was prioritized — along with his menagerie — for evacuation above his own staff and other vulnerable Afghans.

The British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace spoke to journalists to deny that Johnson had prioritized the evacuation of animals in Afghanistan, claiming, "At no point were [we] directed by the prime minister to evacuate Pen Farthing, his workforce or his pets. As I made clear at the time, we were not going to put pets before people and as the actions showed, Pen Farthing left last and his workforce had to leave after the evacuation was concluded via other means" (via the BBC). The U.K.'s withdrawal was later described as a "disaster" and a "betrayal" by the MP-led Foreign Affairs Committee, according to the BBC.

Sex scandals and byelections

As the months rolled on, the number of Boris Johnson's Conservative MPs began to diminish, for some stomach-turning reasons.

In April 2022, the Tory MP Imran Ahmad Kahn was found guilty of having sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy in 2008. The same month, fellow Conservative Neil Parish was twice observed by MPs watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons during parliamentary sessions (via BBC). Per the BBC, Parish resigned, while shocked MPs decried "a culture of sexism in Parliament" during Johnson's tenure.

The seats of the two disgraced MPs were then contested in byelections that produced resounding defeats of Johnson's Tory party, confirming that the Prime Minister looked to be hemorrhaging public support amid a torrent of sleaze and scandal (per The Guardian).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A meeting with Lebedev

There have always been question marks over the Conservative Party's links with Russian donors, especially with the billionaire Alexander Lebedev, an ex-KGB agent whom Boris Johnson met while foreign secretary in 2018. According to The Independent, the meeting has raised eyebrows as there were apparently no other officials present at the time, raising the possibility of corruption.

Grilled over the meeting by the Commons Liaison Committee the day before his resignation, Johnson didn't deny a discussion with Lebedev took place, and that he had also met him a few times while he was Mayor of London, per the same source.

Johnson's links to Lebedev have come under especially intense scrutiny because of the fact that Johnson has made Lebedev's son, Evgeny (pictured), a peer in the House of Lords — essentially making him a lifetime member of the British Parliament — despite his links to Putin and suspicious donations to the party. Per the BBC, it has also been suggested that Johnson may have intervened to block the publication of an assessment of Evgeny as a potential security risk by British intelligence services.

The Peppa Pig Speech

By November 2021, the British economy was feeling severe repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic, and business leaders around the country were beginning to worry about the effectiveness of Boris Johnson and his government's response. That month was the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, a chance for Johnson to put business leaders' minds at rest and to strike a note of optimism. But instead, Johnson delivered one of the most confused, surreal, and ridiculed speeches of his career.

As The Independent reports, the now-infamous "Peppa Pig Speech" ended with the Prime Minister going on an extended tangent about his recent visit with his family to the Peppa Pig World amusement park, before comparing himself to Moses, making car noises (via The Guardian), and repeating the phrase "forgive me" as he attempted to get his speech back on track. Per the same source, the bafflement of the enormous CBI audience was perhaps summed up by a question Johnson was posed by a journalist minutes after his rambling speech had drawn to a close: ​​"Is everything OK?" (via The Independent)

The Vanishing exposé

Boris Johnson's wife Carrie has featured prominently in a number of sleazy stories surrounding the Prime Minister, and in the final months of his premiership, this continued to be the case, when details of the relationship prior to their marriage — Johnson was still married to his former wife, Marina Wheeler, when he began his affair with Carrie in 2018 – continued to emerge.

Per an article in The New York Times, the couple was mired in yet another scandal when, in June 2022, it came to light that Johnson had lobbied for his new lover to be hired to his team as his chief of staff, a job which includes a salary of £100,000 ($122,000) a year.

Such overt nepotism is a scandal in itself, but soon afterward the public outcry increased after it appeared that the Johnsons and their team had suppressed an expose published in the print edition of The Times that detailed Johnson's lobbying for a role for Carrie. The newspaper is question has long been criticized as being another organ of government with overt support for the Conservative party, with former Labour advisor Alistair Campbell claiming that the incident provided "further evidence that much of our media is essentially an extension of the press office of a liar and a crook" (via The Guardian).

The Owen Paterson affair

One of the most severe scandals in terms of the damage caused to Boris Johnson regarding his popularity and ability to govern was what has become known as the Owen Paterson affair, which was notable for being an incident in which the damage was almost entirely self-inflicted as a result of Johnson's own hubris.

Per The New York Times, in November 2021, Conservative MP Owen Paterson was found guilty of breaking British political lobbying laws. As a part-time consultant, Paterson earned a significant second salary from the healthcare company Randox, which had been awarded a lucrative PPE contract the previous year.

The award of the contract revealed a blatant conflict of interest, and Paterson faced a short suspension from Parliament (via The New York Times). But though Paterson's guilt had been proven beyond all doubt, Johnson decided to make an overt attempt to change the rules so the MP could avoid punishment. It was a move that many critics including Sir Keir Starmer labeled as corruption, and an attempt to "rip up the rules on standards in public life," while political expert Hannah White described the crisis and the subsequent backlash as a "complete own goal," adding: "they totally misjudged the reaction."

A Taxpayer-funded treehouse

In 2020 Johnson and his wife Carrie welcomed the arrival of their first child, a boy named Wilf, at 10 Downing Street. And in the months that followed, the three also made great use of the Prime Minister's state-owned country residence, Chequers, for peace and quiet away from London. As reported by The Independent, it was around this time that Johnson mooted plans to build Wilf a treehouse on the grounds. The report revealed that Johnson had discussed the security of the new building with advisors, and suggested that it be built with bulletproof glass. But the most eye-catching detail was to do with the price: per the same report, the treehouse was estimated to cost in the region of £150,000 ($179,000).

The treehouse was never built, but commentators were baffled that such a plan had ever been drawn up. "We do not comment on private or family matters which do not involve any ministerial declarations or taxpayer funds," said a government representative, when questioned on why a treehouse would be worth such an exorbitant amount of public funds.

Even after Johnson had announced his resignation, he and his family still sought to exploit the benefits of power. According to The Guardian, the Johnsons still planned a lavish party at Chequers for July 2022 to celebrate the first anniversary of their wedding, which had occurred on a smaller scale the year before.


The final crisis that stripped Boris Johnson of his remaining authority and led directly to his resignation in July 2022 concerned Conservative deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. According to The Independent, Pincher was observed behaving "inappropriately" in front of several witnesses at a private London club, after which the story was leaked to the papers, leading to his resignation.

Per the same source, once news of Pincher's resignation broke, Johnson came under growing scrutiny about what he knew of the whip's past behavior, having only just promoted him to the role in February 2020. Per the BBC, Johnson's team later attempted to revise their account of what he knew, claiming that former "allegations [against Pincher] that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint," meaning they did not feel they needed to be taken into account when it came to assessing his suitability for the role of whip.

However, the government's attempts to steer the narrative collapsed when the senior civil servant Lord Simon McDonald published a letter exploding their claims, stating, "This morning I have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards — because No 10 keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth" (via The Independent). With Johnson's authority shot, scores of ministers began to resign, leaving him without the support to continue governing. He declared his own resignation on July 7, 2022 (via the Washington Post).