A Bewilderingly Long Timeline of Boris Johnson Screwing Up

Our Prime Minister has had a career chock-full of fuck-ups.
boris johnson mistakes
Photo: Piero Cruciatti/ Alamy Stock Photo

While Boris Johnson has never been convicted of anything, the Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary, Mayor of London and editor of The Spectator has gained a reputation over the years for saying things that don’t entirely correlate with the truth – or indeed, simple human decency.

Here's an exhausting (but sadly, not exhaustive) list of the times BoJo's got it wrong.

Johnson is sacked by The Times, where he had landed a role as a graduate trainee through family connections, for inventing a quote in an article about the archaeological discovery of Edward II's palace. He falsely attributed the made-up quote to the historian Colin Lucas, his own godfather.


10 January 2002
Having become MP for Henley the previous year, Johnson writes in his Daily Telegraph column that the Queen loves the commonwealth "partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies". In the same column, he predicts that when Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in the Congo, "the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles". Two bits of casual racism for the price of one.

17 June 2002
In his book Friends, Voters, Countrymen, Johnson likens same-sex marriage to bestiality, writing: "If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog." Two years before that, he'd written in The Spectator about "Labour's appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it". Two years before that, he referred to gay men as "tank-topped bum boys" in a Daily Telegraph column about Peter Mandelson's resignation.

16 October 2004
As editor of The Spectator, Johnson publishes a highly inflammatory leading article referencing the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, a fatal crush of people at a football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that took 96 lives. After conceding that Hillsborough was "undeniably" a tragedy, the article claims: "That is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon."


The article then says of people in Liverpool generally: "They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it."

Johnson has been apologising for the massive offence caused ever since. In 2012, he admitted that any suggestion that "drunken fans" contributed to the Hillsborough deaths is a "myth", and said that he "bitterly regretted" the article.

14 November 2004
Conservative leader Michael Howard fires Johnson from his roles as shadow arts minister and party vice-chairman for lying about his lengthy affair with a fellow Spectator journalist. Johnson had tried to dismiss a tabloid story about the affair as "an inverted pyramid of piffle".

1 November 2007
Johnson writes of Hillary Clinton in his Daily Telegraph column: "She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital." The title of Johnson’s column is: "I want Hillary Clinton to be president".

7 May 2008
Now Mayor of London, Johnson bans the consumption of alcohol on the capital's public transport – without first bothering to consult the people he expects to impose the new rules: train drivers, platform staff and bus drivers. Eleven years later, the ban is such a joke that Diane Abbott becomes a Twitter hero for flouting it by cracking open an M&S mojito on the Overground.

14 July 2009
Johnson describes his £250,000-a-year salary for writing a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph as "chicken feed" – yup, that's £5k-a-column "chicken feed".


11 February 2012
Johnson offends London’'s Irish community by referring to the city's St Patrick's Day gala dinner – which he'd already axed – as "lefty crap". He also implies, inaccurately, that the dinner is somehow linked to Sinn Féin.

1 August 2012
Johnson gets stuck riding a zip wire over Victoria Park as part of the London 2012 Olympic celebrations. "It's very, very well organised. It’s going well so far," he tells onlookers, but staff have to use a rope to tow him to the bottom of the line.

8 July 2013
At the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum in London, Johnson interrupts Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak, to suggest that the reason more women are attending university in the Southeast Asian nation is because they "have got to find men to marry".

27 July 2015
Johnson is criticised by safety campaigners for giving wife Marina Wheeler a "backie" while cycling through London. Johnson – who was mayor when the capital's public bicycle hire scheme now commonly known as "Boris Bikes" was introduced – claims he didn't realise he was breaking the law.

15 October 2015
While playing a game of touch rugby at an official event in Japan, Johnson boulders into a ten-year-old boy and knocks him to the ground.

22 April 2016
Writing for The Sun, Johnson implies that President Barack Obama urged the UK to remain in the EU because he is "part-Kenyan". Johnson claims that the removal of a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from Obama's office in the White House had been perceived by some "as a symbol of the part-Kenyan President's ancestral dislike of the British empire".


Churchill's grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, calls the article "deplorable" and "completely idiotic". Obama responds by saying that he has a bust of Churchill outside his private office at his official residence. He also says of the wartime PM: "I love the guy."

19 May 2016
Two months before he becomes Foreign Secretary, Bantsy Boris wins a £1,000 prize from The Spectator for writing a "lolz" limerick about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It goes: "There was a young fellow from Ankara / Who was a terrific wankerer / Till he sowed his wild oats / With the help of a goat / But he didn’t even stop to thankera."

17 May 2017
Apparently unaware that alcohol consumption is forbidden under many Sikh teachings, Johnson starts talking about a whisky-related trade deal between the UK and India during a visit to a Sikh temple in Bristol. "How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple," one onlooker asks him.

16 September 2017
Johnson quotes the infamous figure from the Vote Leave bus in his latest Daily Telegraph column, writing: "Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week." This particular column is no longer online.

2 October 2016
During a speech at the Conservative Party conference to mark his first three months as Foreign Secretary, Johnson confuses Africa for a country, telling an audience of adoring Tories: "Life expectancy in Africa has risen astonishingly as that country has entered the global economic system."


October 3 2017
Johnson praises Libya for wanting to turn the city of Sirte "into the the next Dubai", adding: "The only thing they've got to do is clear the dead bodies."

5 August 2018
Writing in his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson suggests that women wearing burqas and niqabs look like "letter boxes". "If a constituent came to my MP's surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled … to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly," he writes. "If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct."

13 March 2019
During a radio interview, Johnson claims that money spent on police investigations into historic child sexual abuse had been "spaffed up the wall".

12 April 2019
The Independent Press Standards Organisation rules that Johnson's Daily Telegraph column from the 6th of January contained a false claim, and orders a correction. Johnson had claimed that a no-deal Brexit was "by some margin preferred by the British public".

29 May 2019
District judge Margot Coleman rules that Johnson is required to appear in court to face accusations of misconduct in public office over claims that he lied during the EU Referendum campaign. The attempted prosecution of Johnson is being spearheaded by Brexit Justice's Marcus Woods, who has crowdfunded more than £200,000 to pay for it. At his "chicken feed" 2009 rate, that’s enough to pay for around 40 of Johnson's Daily Telegraph columns.