Boris Johnson has stumbled past the competition to become Britain’s next prime minister, despite a long career filled with physical gaffes, political controversies, accusations of racism and a loose relationship with the truth.
The man they call “BoJo” has been a major figure in British politics for decades as a rabble-rousing columnist, former mayor of London, leader of the Brexit “leave” campaign and, most recently, the U.K.’s foreign secretary.
With his wild blond hair, his politically incorrect tone and his penchant for memorable quotes, Johnson has often been compared to U.S. President Donald Trump.
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But Johnson is no knock-off POTUS. He is an eloquent writer who often uses that skill to say nasty, controversial or untrue things. He’s also a silver-tongued speaker with a bad habit of putting his foot in his mouth.
Here are some of the wildest controversies from the “blunder years” of Boris Johnson, the man now charged with leading Britain out of the European Union. It’s hardly an exhaustive list — and there’s no guarantee that he’s left these behind him.
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A column plagued by racism, homophobia and false claims
Johnson was a journalist before he became a politician, although most of his work involved stirring up debate via his columns for The Telegraph newspaper.
Johnson actually started his journalism career with the Times of London, but he was fired a few months into the job after inventing a quote for a front-page story. He attributed the false quote to his godfather, an Oxford historian named Colin Lucas.
Johnson later joined The Telegraph, where he transformed himself into a columnist who used his bully pulpit to attack the European Union, his political foes and various minorities around the world.
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His columns have frequently stirred up accusations of racism against black people, Muslims and many other groups.
In 2006, for example, Johnson wrote a column comparing the chaos within the British Conservative Party to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief killing.”
In 2002, he referred to the people of Africa as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.”
More recently, he has suggested that Barack Obama has an “ancestral dislike” for the U.K. because he is “part Kenyan.” He has also compared women in burqas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes.”
Many of these incidents prompted calls for Johnson to be fired. None of them actually cost him his job.
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Johnson has also targeted LGBTQ2S people in the past. He referred to gay men as “tank-topped bumboys” in a 1998 column, and compared homosexuality to polygamy and bestiality in his 2001 book Friends, Voters, Countrymen.
The soon-to-be PM has also used his column to raise all kinds of bizarre moral panics around the EU. He has claimed without evidence that the EU wants to regulate the curvature of bananas and standardize the size of condoms.
“I think if you look at each and every one of those articles… the quotations have been wrenched out of context in some cases to mean the opposite of what I intended,” Johnson told reporters last month, as the Conservative leadership race was heating up. He added that his controversial comments have been made in “a wholly satirical way.”
The Olympic zipline snafu
One of the more slapstick moments of Johnson’s career occurred in 2012, when he participated in a publicity stunt to promote the Olympic Games as London’s mayor.
Johnson strapped himself into a harness, donned a blue helmet and jumped at the top of a zipline cable for the stunt in London’s Victoria Park. He rode most of the way down the zipline with a British flag in each hand. However, he got stuck partway, leaving him dangling in midair above a host of journalists and TV cameras.
“Can you get me a rope?” he called out.
The only tackler in touch rugby
Johnson has an awkward history with sports. He was roped into several odd sports-themed photo ops as London’s mayor ahead of the 2012 Olympics. However, those moments pale in comparison to Johnson’s appearance in an exhibition rugby game in Tokyo on Oct. 15, 2015.
Johnson was supposed to be playing a friendly game of touch rugby against some schoolchildren. He took things to the next level when he bowled over a hapless 10-year-old in front of a sea of cameras.
Johnson helped the kid up and shook his hand. The boy was uninjured.
Leave the European Union — and stay in the European Union
Boris Johnson became one of the leading proponents of leaving the European Union during the Brexit campaign in 2016, after publishing a strongly-worded column supporting the “leave” side of the debate. But he nearly went the other way — and he had a column ready to do it, too.
In his unpublished column, Johnson suggests that Britain would be better off by staying in the EU.
“This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms,” he wrote. “The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”
The column later emerged in the book All Out War.
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Johnson has downplayed the column, saying that he was simply trying to explore both sides of the argument through his writing.
“I set them side by side and it was blindingly obvious what the right thing to do was, and I think the people made the right decision, they voted very substantially to leave the European Union,” he told Sky News in October 2016.
Johnson added that the unpublished column was “a sort of semi-parodic article.”
Boris Johnson, bawdy poet
Johnson became a published poet in May 2016, when he won a contest in The Spectator by writing an offensive limerick about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Johnson collected 1,000 pounds for his winning poem, which suggests that Erdogan has sex with goats.
The poem goes:
“There once 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.”
He was named the U.K.’s foreign secretary two months later.
—With files from ReutersFollow @JoshKElliott
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