Boris Johnson’s Contradictions Have Caught Up with Him

You can only change your mind so many times before people start to see you for the political opportunist you are.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, campaigns for reelection, April 15, 2012
Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, campaigns for reelection, April 15, 2012 (BackBoris2012/I-Images/Andrew Parsons)

It seems Boris Johnson did one flipflop too many.

Only days after 52 percent of Britons took his advice and voted in a referendum to withdraw from the European Union, the former mayor of London suggested that the island nation could negotiate so close a relationship with the continent that it would barely feel the effects of leaving.

He went on to say the leave campaign was never really about immigration, all evidence to the contrary which suggests that the majority of those who voted out did so in order to control immigration.

“Taking back control” was Johnson’s very pitch for leaving the EU.

What finally doomed his candidacy to succeed David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and prime minister was an early-morning announcement on Thursday from Michael Gove, the justice secretary and his deputy on the leave campaign, that he would stand for the leadership himself.

Gove had been expected to back Johnson. Many of his allies had already come out in support of Johnson.


The Brexiteers, who are now likely to rally around Gove, should have seen this coming.

Johnson, a former Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph, could always be counted on to poke fun at the EU, but not until a few months ago did he favor leaving it.

He led a campaign that exploited voters’ concerns about immigration despite saying in the past, “I am the only British politician who will admit to being pro-immigration.”


The contradictions were obvious in his speech today, when he presented himself as the champion of the working man, despite being more of a libertarian than a one-nation conservative.

He spoke positively of diversity, marriage equality and immigration, apparently not realizing what kind of a campaign he just led. The 52-percent vote to leave the EU wasn’t a celebration of the twenty-first century. It was a rejection of the modern world.

You can’t go back and forth between nostalgia and optimism, between isolationism and cosmopolitanism, and expect people not to eventually see you for the political opportunist you are.

Johnson tried to appeal to everyone on the right, from tax-cutting Thatcherites to social justice warriors, from Brexiteers to liberals. In the end, his act convinced no one.

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