Wednesday 28 September 2016

Boris Johnson thrown political lifeline with Foreign Secretary appointment

Sam Lister and Andrew Woodcock

Published 13/07/2016 | 20:35

Boris Johnson Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Boris Johnson Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Boris Johnson has been thrown a political lifeline after Theresa May appointed him Foreign Secretary little more than a week after his bid to take her on for the leadership of the party spectacularly crashed and burned.

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The former London mayor's greatest political achievement had, ironically, fatally undermined his long-held ambition of succeeding David Cameron in No 10.

Mr Johnson pulled out of the leadership race after Brexit ally Michael Gove's shock announcement of his own candidacy and brutal personal assessment that the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP ''cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead''.

Once Mrs May was installed as the new leader, her flamboyant former rival's political career appeared all but over.

But his credentials as the star of the Leave campaign and popularity with the party's grassroots make him difficult to ignore and the new PM is keen to build a top team that reaches out to both sides of the EU referendum debate.

For a man who once claimed there was more chance of him being ''reincarnated as an olive'' than taking the keys to No 10, Mr Johnson, 52, did a remarkable job of making himself appear the inevitable successor to Mr Cameron.

After leading the Brexiteers to victory, his stock among the widely Eurosceptic Conservatives grassroots was higher than ever and a string of MPs had already thrown their support behind him.

Read more: Theresa May vows to govern for all not just 'privileged few' - New PM's speech in full

But doubts remained about his commitment to Brexit, prompted in part by his late and agonised declaration for the Leave camp and fuelled by a Telegraph column in which he declared that ''Britain is part of Europe, and always will be''.

Tory colleagues in the Remain camp always suspected the Old Etonian was not an ''outer'' at heart and many believed he threw his allegiance behind Leave to give himself the best chance of taking over from frenemy Mr Cameron, who was a few years behind him at school and a fellow member of the Bullingdon dining club at Oxford.

Meanwhile, his reputation as the Tory capable of reaching out to voters way beyond the party's traditional support took a blow as he was viciously heckled outside his home by cycling members of the youthful and metropolitan constituencies which he had cultivated as London mayor.

His election to City Hall in 2008 and retention of the powerful position four years later was a clear demonstration of Mr Johnson's star quality at the ballot box, catapulting him into the front rank of contenders for the Tory leadership.

Despite achieving only minor shadow cabinet experience during his first stint in Parliament, his distinctive shock of blond hair, his erudite and joke-packed speaking style and his regular appearances on TV's Have I Got News for You had already made him one of the UK's most recognised politicians.

Read more: David Cameron and family leave Downing St as 'greatest honour' draws to a close

His sometimes elusive relationship with the truth led to him being sacked from The Times for inventing a quote and dumped from the Tory frontbenches for lying over an alleged affair.

In an uncomfortable TV grilling in 2013, he was accused by interviewer Eddie Mair of being a ''nasty bit of work'' over allegations that he promised to help a friend's plan to have a journalist beaten up.

A stint at the Daily Telegraph as its Brussels correspondent honed his EU-bashing skills but saw him accused of myth-making as he set off a string of warnings about the EU's supposed attempts to ban bendy bananas or prawn cocktail crisps.

And as editor of The Spectator, he was forced to apologise to the city of Liverpool after signing off on an editorial accusing its citizens of wallowing in pity after engineer Ken Bigley's killing in Iraq.

One of Parliament's highest-earning MPs, Mr Johnson paid nearly £1 million in tax over four years, much of his earnings coming from his Daily Telegraph column and royalties from books.

His marriage to first wife Allegra Mostyn-Owen lasted six years and he later married Marina Wheeler, a QC.

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