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What Britain's New Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Coworkers Have to Say About Him

You know it's bad when even your old boss goes on record about how much he hates you.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Jul 23 2019, 3:00pm

VICE U.K. originally published this article.

Well, Britain has really done it this time. Big congrats to everyone for destroying literally any semblance of respect the U.K. might have held on an international political stage. Yes, of course, there was the whole British empire fuckup, which retrospectively, was not good, but the U.K. has moved away from that a bit! It was getting better! The country stopped colonizing places! And then Brexit came, and just when you didn’t think it could get any worse: Boris Johnson.

Johnson. Johnson. There is no bigger emblem of the entire failure of the British political system than a man so fundamentally determined to lie and climb the political ladder. Johnson, who is frequently touted as bad at his job, bad at creating and implementing policy, bad at managing teams, actively dangerous when it comes to international relations, and routinely an embarrassment outside of the U.K., has become our Prime Minister. Some of his own MPs preemptively said they would not work under him—an unprecedented declaration of mistrust—and the U.K. has never been so politicized nor the Tory [Conservative] party.

Notably, Johnson’s election campaign has been characterized by a total lack of detail or policy initiative beyond “miraculously pull us out of Europe on October 31.” Beyond grandly announcing to “defeat Jeremy Corbyn” in today’s speech, we’re unlikely to get any more detail around what he intends to do for the country.

So we decided to go to Johnson’s own friends and colleagues—the ones who know him best—to figure out what exactly the new *choking, barely able to get the words out* Prime Minister has in store for us.

On Boris Johnson's Temperament

Sonia Pernell, Boris Johnson’s colleague at The Daily Telegraph, writing in the Times:

“Boris Johnson can change from bonhomie to a dark fury in seconds… [he] has the fiercest and most uncontrollable anger I have seen. It was the sight of Boris Johnson in full flow that convinced me all those years ago in the 1990s, when I worked alongside him in Brussels reporting on the EU for The Daily Telegraph, that he was temperamentally unsuitable to be entrusted with any position of power, let alone the highest office of all—in charge of the United Kingdom and its nuclear codes.”

Peter Guilford, who worked with Johnson in Europe as a Times journalist, in the Independent:

“[Johnson was happy to] ham up the story, so there wasn't much difference between news and entertainment. He would write outrageous stories with only slenderest connection of truth in them."

Max Hastings, Boris Johnson’s former boss at the Telegraph, writing in the Guardian:

“I have known Johnson since the 1980s, when I edited the Daily Telegraph and he was our flamboyant Brussels correspondent. There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth.”

Mathew Leeming, a friend at Oxford and former roommate, writing in the Telegraph:

“He has a low boredom threshold and he does not do detail.”

Matthew d’Ancona, his former editor at the Spectator, writing in the Guardian:

“Especially in his early years, Johnson had the will to power of Pinochet and the social graces of Gussie Fink-Nottle. He was clever without being a swot. He winged it, which drove his editors mad but inspired considerable envy in his peers. He was fun. He activated the narcotic weakness within the English for eccentricity—especially potent when it is suspected that the eccentric in question may one day be the leader of the gang.”

On Brexit

Max Hastings:

“As it is, the Johnson premiership could survive for three or four years, shambling from one embarrassment and debacle to another, of which Brexit may prove the least.”

Sonia Purnell:

“That anger remains an issue. Rachel [Johnson’s sister] in particular is said to fear her brother’s ire if she dares to criticize him in public, or make her disagreement with his “leave” stance on Brexit too obvious. She has also talked of her brother’s “very Sicilian” attitude to anyone who crosses him.”

Matthew Leeming:

“Boris is the only front-line politician who can make us see Brexit as a huge opportunity.”

On Boris Johnson's Politics

Max Hastings:

“For many of us, his elevation will signal Britain’s abandonment of any claim to be a serious country.”

Matthew D’Ancona:

“His shtick was no longer an aspect of his politics. It was his politics. While the rest of Westminster operated within the structures of 20th century political discourse, Johnson worked on his material like a stand-up preparing for a Netflix special.”

On Boris Johnson's Fitness for Becoming PM

Max Hastings:

“I have argued for a decade that, while he is a brilliant entertainer who made a popular maître d’ for London as its mayor, he is unfit for national office because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”

Mathew Leeming:

“Boris has an ability to articulate what the majority of people think and know, just as Margaret Thatcher did…. Boris has extraordinary talents and needs extraordinary circumstances for those talents to take him to the very top, just as Churchill did.”

Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan, who worked under Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in the Foreign Office, speaking to the BBC:

“I’ve served both Foreign Secretaries and I’ve got no doubt which is the more capable and competent. I have very grave concerns that he flies by the seat of his pants and is all a bit haphazard and ramshackle… I think he’s going to go smack into a crisis of government.”

Sarah Hayward, former leader of the London Borough of Camden who worked with Johnson as the Mayor of London, writing in the Guardian:

“The most important aspect of Johnson’s working style is his lack of attention to detail. In every setting, from one-on-one meetings to big set pieces, such as the annual London government dinner, he would be ill-prepared. This comes across as disinterest or worse. But this isn’t a problem of his manner or working style. Those who worked as his closest advisers in City Hall are quite open about the fact that Johnson would lose interest if a policy briefing took more than a few minutes, five maximum…

The challenges, first of Brexit and then of the huge domestic conundrums we face—housing, adult social care, post-Brexit industrial, and trade policy—all require attention to detail, hard work, and tough choices. The Boris Johnson I and many of those around him have seen has shown no evidence that he is capable of that.”

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