Premiership of Boris Johnson

The premiership of Boris Johnson began on 24 July 2019 when Johnson accepted Queen Elizabeth II's invitation, at her prerogative, to form a new administration. It followed the resignation of Theresa May, who stood down as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party following Parliament's repeated rejection of her Brexit withdrawal agreement.[1] Johnson was declared leader after the results of the leadership election were announced on 23 July 2019.

Official portrait, 2019
Premiership of Boris Johnson
24 July 2019  present
Boris Johnson
Cabinet1st Johnson ministry
2nd Johnson ministry
Seat10 Downing Street
Royal Arms of HM Government

The extraordinary political turmoil over Brexit, begun during Theresa May's premiership, continued into the start of Johnson's premiership. This included a prorogation by Johnson that was overturned by the Supreme Court, the passing of the Benn Act against the government's fierce opposition, the expulsion of 21 MPs from the Conservative Party, the loss of the government's working majority, and allegations, particularly by Conservatives, of bias, rule-breaking and bullying by the Speaker John Bercow.[2][3][4] A snap general election was held in December 2019, and Johnson led the Conservative Party to their biggest victory since 1987 (under Margaret Thatcher). Following the election, Parliament ratified Johnson's Brexit withdrawal agreement, and the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, beginning an eleven-month transition period.

The global pandemic of COVID-19 emerged as a serious crisis within the country in early 2020.[5] In late March, Johnson himself tested positive for the disease.[6] As the pandemic continued, the UK and EU negotiated the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which provisionally came into force on 1 January 2021.

Bid for Conservative leadership

Theresa May, after failing to pass her Brexit withdrawal agreement through parliament three times, announced her resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 24 May 2019 amidst calls for her to be ousted.[7][8] Boris Johnson had already confirmed at a business event in Manchester days earlier that he would run for Conservative Party leader if May were to resign.[9]

Prior to his state visit to the United Kingdom, US president Donald Trump endorsed Johnson for party leader in an interview with The Sun, opining that he thought he "would do a very good job."[10] Johnson won all five rounds of voting by MPs,[1] and entered the final vote by Conservative Party members as the clear favourite to be elected PM.[11] On 23 July, he emerged victorious over his rival Jeremy Hunt with 92,153 votes, 66.4% of the total ballot, while Hunt received 46,656 votes.[12] These results were announced an event in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster. In his first speech as Prime Minister Johnson pledged that Britain would leave the European Union (EU) by 31 October 2019, "no ifs or buts".[13]

Formation of Government

Johnson holds his first Cabinet meeting

On the day of his announcement as Prime Minister Johnson handed the role of Chief Whip to "relative unknown" Sherwood MP Mark Spencer.[14] Spencer served under the additional title Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.

Andrew Griffith, an executive at the media conglomerate Sky, was appointed chief business adviser to Number 10. Munira Mirza, who was a deputy mayor for Johnson throughout his mayoralty of London, was appointed director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.[15] Dominic Cummings, former chief of the Vote Leave campaign, was appointed a role as a senior advisor to Johnson.[16]

Johnson's key cabinet appointments were Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, and Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Michael Gove moved to become the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was replaced as Environment Secretary by pro-Brexit MP Theresa Villiers. Gavin Williamson became Education Secretary, Andrea Leadsom became Business Secretary, Liz Truss became International Trade Secretary and Grant Shapps became Transport Secretary. Stephen Barclay, Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd and Alun Cairns retained their previous cabinet roles, whilst Julian Smith, Alister Jack and Nicky Morgan took on new roles. Entering cabinet for the first time were Ben Wallace, Robert Jenrick, James Cleverly, Rishi Sunak and Robert Buckland.[17]

First 100 days

Johnson focused on strengthening the Union within his first few days in office, creating a Minister for the Union position and visiting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Showing a commitment to the North of England, he gave Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry a right to attend cabinet.[18]

On 27 July 2019, Johnson gave a speech at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester where he promised to build a high-speed rail route connecting the city to Leeds. He said the project would bring "colossal" benefits and "turbo-charge the economy".[19]

Johnson with US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz in August 2019

Johnson's first overseas trip as Prime Minister was when he travelled to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 21 August 2019. He visited France to hold meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron the next day. From 24 to 26 August he attended his first multilateral meeting with world leaders as Prime Minister, when he travelled to Biarritz for the 45th G7 summit.

On 5 September 2019, Johnson launched a national campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers.[20] He also pledged to build 40 new hospitals by 2030[21] and increase schools funding.[22]

Loss of working majority, Conservative MPs and ministerial resignations

On 29 August 2019, Johnson suffered the first ministerial resignation of his premiership, when Lord Young of Cookham resigned as a government whip in the House of Lords.[23]

On 3 September 2019, Phillip Lee crossed the floor and defected to the Liberal Democrats following disagreement with Johnson's Brexit policy. This left the government with no working majority in the House of Commons.[24] Later that day, 21 Conservative MPs including former Chancellors Kenneth Clarke, Philip Hammond and Nicholas Soames, the grandson of former Conservative Party Leader Winston Churchill, had the party whip withdrawn for defying party orders and supporting an opposition motion.[25] Johnson saw his working majority reduced from 1 to minus 43.

On 5 September 2019, Johnson's brother Jo Johnson resigned from the government and announced that he would step down as an MP, describing his position as "torn between family and national interest."[26]

On 7 September 2019, Amber Rudd resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and from the Conservative Party, describing the withdrawal of the party whip from MPs on 3 September as an "assault on decency and democracy".[27][28]

Prorogation of parliament

On 28 August 2019, Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue parliament between 12 September 2019 and 14 October 2019, which was given ceremonial approval by the Queen at a Privy Council meeting.[29] The prorogation spurred requests for a judicial review of the advice given by Johnson as the order itself, under royal prerogative powers, cannot be challenged in court.[30] As of 29 August, three court proceedings had been lodged, and one European legal proceeding had begun:

On 24 September 2019 the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom found that Johnson's attempt to prorogue Parliament for five weeks "had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the government to account", that the matter was justiciable, and therefore that the attempted prorogation was unlawful.[35][36] It accordingly declared that the prorogation was void ab initio.[35] Parliament returned the following day and the record was made to show that Parliament was not in fact prorogued but rather "adjourned".[37] On 2 October 2019, Johnson announced his plans to prorogue Parliament on 8 October and hold a new State Opening of Parliament on 14 October.[38]

Brexit plan publication

On 2 October 2019, the government delivered its Brexit proposals to the EU in a seven-page document, including plans to replace the Irish backstop. The proposals would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the customs union, resulting in new customs checks.[39]

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said he did not think Johnson's Brexit plan would get EU support, claiming it was worse than the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May. He also said the proposal was "very unspecific on how the Good Friday Agreement can be upheld."[40]

On 4 October, government papers submitted to the Scottish court indicated that Johnson would ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process if a deal was not reached by 19 October. However, later the same day Johnson reiterated his earlier statement that the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October, regardless of whether or not a deal had been reached.[41]

Revised withdrawal agreement

Unsigned letter from Boris Johnson requesting an extension
Signed letter from Boris Johnson saying that an extension would be a mistake
The 29 October European Council decision agreeing an extension until 31 January 2020

Following negotiations between the UK and EU, a revised withdrawal agreement was reached on 17 October.[42] A special Saturday sitting of Parliament was held two days later to debate the new agreement.[43][44][45] MPs passed an amendment, introduced by Sir Oliver Letwin by 322 votes to 306, withholding Parliament's approval until legislation implementing the deal was passed, and intending to force the government to request a delay from the EU for the exit until 31 January 2020.[46] Later that evening, 10 Downing Street confirmed that Johnson would send a letter to the EU requesting an extension, but would not sign it.[47] EU Council President Donald Tusk subsequently confirmed receipt of the letter, which Johnson had described as "Parliament's letter, not my letter". In addition, Johnson sent a second letter expressing the view that any further delay to Brexit would be a mistake.[47]

On 21 October, the government published the withdrawal agreement bill and proposed three days of debate for opposition MPs to scrutinise it.[48] The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow refused a government request to hold a vote on the Brexit deal, citing their previous decision to withdraw it.[49]

The government brought the recently revised EU Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons for debate on the evening of 22 October 2019.[50] MPs voted on the Bill itself, which was passed by 329 votes to 299, and the timetable for debating the Bill, which was defeated by 322 votes to 308. Prior to the votes, Johnson had stated that if his timetable failed to generate the support needed to pass in parliament he would abandon attempts to get the deal approved and would seek a general election. Following the vote, however, Johnson announced that the legislation would be paused while he consulted with other EU leaders.[50][51]

On 30 October, Johnson took part in a one-hour and eleven minute long session of Prime Minister's Questions – the longest on record. He led tributes to parliamentarian John Bercow who stood down the following day after ten years as Speaker of the House of Commons.[52]

2019 general election

Calls for early election

On 3 September 2019, Johnson threatened to call a general election after opposition and rebel Conservative MPs successfully voted against the government to take control of the order of business with a view to preventing a no-deal exit.[53]

The bill to block a no-deal exit, which the government opposed, passed the Commons on 4 September 2019, causing Johnson to call for a general election on 15 October.[54] However, this motion was unsuccessful as it failed to command the support of two-thirds of the House as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).[55] A second attempt at a motion for an early general election failed on 9 September.[56]

After the programme motion for the withdrawal agreement bill failed to pass on 22 October, Johnson once again submitted a motion for an early general election under the FTPA. After the motion failed, the government put forward a short bill to hold another election – a method which needed only a simple majority and not a two thirds majority as required by the FTPA.[57] Opposition MPs submitted an amendment to change the date of the election to 9 December rather than 12 December, but the amendment failed. On 29 October, MPs approved the election for 12 December in a second vote.[58] The date of the election became law when royal assent was given on 31 October.[59]

Campaign and results

Campaigning for the election began officially on 6 November.[60] Johnson participated in a television debate with Jeremy Corbyn hosted by ITV on 19 November, and one hosted by the BBC on 6 December.[61][62] He worked with Brett O'Donnell, a US Republican strategist, in preparation for the debates,[63] whilst his campaign was managed by Isaac Levido, an Australian strategist. The Conservative Party's election manifesto said that the UK would spend 0.7% of its gross national income on overseas aid and more than 2% of its gross national product on defence, exceeding the defence spending target set by NATO.[64]

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had suggested the Brexit and Conservative parties could form an electoral pact to maximise the seats taken by Brexit-supporting MPs, something the US President Donald Trump urged the pair to do, but this was rejected by Johnson.[65] Despite this Farage later agreed that his party would only contest non-Conservative seats.

During the floods which hit parts of England in November, Johnson was criticised for what some saw as his late response to the flooding[66][67] after he said they were not a national emergency.[68]

The Conservatives banned Daily Mirror reporters from Johnson's campaign bus.[69][70]

On 27 November, the Labour Party announced it had obtained leaked government documents; they claimed these showed that, despite claims otherwise, the Conservatives were in trade negotiations with the US over the NHS. The Conservatives said Labour were peddling "conspiracy theories".[71]

Whilst campaigning in his constituency on 29 November, Johnson returned to Downing Street after news of a stabbing on London Bridge. Five people were stabbed and two died from their injuries; Johnson declared the incident an act of terrorism.

A map presenting the results of the election

Under Johnson's leadership, the Conservative Party polled their largest share of votes since 1979 and won their largest number of seats since 1987, resulting in a landslide victory. Their total of 13.9 million votes was the largest number of votes won by any party since 1992. Their victory in the final contest of the election – the seat of St Ives, in Cornwall – took their total number of MPs to 365, giving them a majority of 80.

Start of second term

On the morning of 13 December, after the results of the election were announced, Johnson asked the Queen's permission to form a new government, therefore beginning his second term.[72] His administration remained the same as his first, aside from a new Secretary of State for Wales, to replace Alun Cairns, who resigned after claims that he had known about a former aide's role in the 'sabotage' of a rape trial. Nicky Morgan, who had not stood in the election, and Zac Goldsmith, who lost his seat, were made life peers to allow them to remain in the government, which was criticised as cronyism.

On 3 January 2020, a US airstrike in Iraq killed the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Johnson was not told about the attack by US President Donald Trump prior to it happening. He was criticised for not returning from his holiday in Mustique as tensions between Iran and the West rose.[73]

Johnson welcomed a decision by political parties in Northern Ireland to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly on the basis of negotiations between the British and Irish governments. Talks succeeded under Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to create a 6th Northern Ireland Assembly, which resumed meeting on 11 January 2020. It followed a three-year hiatus with a new power sharing agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

On 18 January 2020, Johnson revealed plans for the Brexit Day celebrations in Downing Street, and the commemorative coin which entered circulation on that day.[74]

On 20 January, in its first defeat since the general election, Johnson's government lost three votes in the House of Lords over its Brexit legislation.[75] However, two days later, he said the UK had "crossed the Brexit finish line" after parliament passed the EU bill for implementing the withdrawal agreement.[76] On 23 January, the bill was given royal assent and the next day it was signed by European leaders in Brussels and by Johnson in Downing Street. The signing in Downing Street was witnessed by both British and European officials, including the Prime Minister's Europe advisor David Frost.

On 28 January, the UK government decided to let Huawei have a limited role in building its new 5G network and supplying new high-speed network equipment to wireless carriers, whilst ignoring the US government's warnings that it would sever intelligence sharing if they did not exclude the company. The UK government stated that they deemed Huawei as a high-risk vendor but decided against banning the company from its 5G network, and said instead that they had decided to "use Huawei in a limited way so we can collectively manage the risk".[77][78] Several Conservative Party members, on their part, warned against using Huawei.

There was a vote on the UK government EU bill in the European Parliament on 29 January where it was ratified by 621 votes to 49.[79][80]

Brexit transition period

The Department for Exiting the European Union was closed down at 11:01 pm on 31 January, a minute after the United Kingdom officially left the European Union.[81]

The Brexit transition period lasted until 31 December 2020, an end date that was included in Theresa May's withdrawal agreement. Under an article of the agreement, the UK-EU Joint Committee could have decided to extend the transition period by "up to two years",[82] but Johnson expressed his wish to have signed a free-trade deal with the EU by the end of December. During this time the UK remained in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

Johnson came under pressure to "pay back the trust of Northern voters" after his victory in the 2019 general election. This was a factor in him giving the go-ahead to the High Speed 2 (HS2) project on 11 February 2020.[83] The rail line, capable of speeds above 186 mph, is scheduled to open in phases between 2028 and 2040. It has been criticised for its projected costs and impact on the environment. Additionally, Downing Street said that work was underway "by a range of government officials" to look into the prospects of building a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

On 27 February, a court ruling deemed a third runway at Heathrow Airport "unlawful". Johnson said he was not planning to appeal against the ruling. However, the court said that a third runway could be built in the future if it worked in line with the UK's commitments in the Paris Agreement.[84] The Supreme Court lifted the ban on building a third runway a number of months later.[85]

Johnson stated that he was "appalled and sickened" by the killing of George Floyd, which lead to protests being held across the UK.[86] He urged people to protest peacefully and said that the protesters who "attack[ed] public property or the police" would "face the full force of the law".[87]

On 16 June 2020, Johnson announced that the Department for International Development would merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to create a new department named the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.[88] The move was carried out on 2 September, but was criticised by the Labour Party and by former Prime Ministers David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.[89]

During the Hong Kong–Mainland China conflict, Johnson's government offered up to three million Hong Kong citizens the opportunity to live in the UK with a "route to citizenship" if they held British National (Overseas) passports.[90]

In July 2020 the newly reconstituted Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia was released. It stated that the British government and intelligence agencies had failed to conduct any proper assessment of attempts by the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 EU membership referendum. It stated that the government "had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes". The committee's Stewart Hosie, an SNP MP, said "The report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know". Yet, the report stated that committee members had said that no firm conclusion could be ascertained on whether the Russian government had or had not successfully interfered in the referendum.[91]

Due in part to pressure from the US government, in July 2020 Johnson's government decided not to buy any of Huawei's equipment, and told mobile providers to remove the firm's 5G technology from their networks by 2027.[92][93] In November 2020, the government announced that the installation of 5G equipment will no longer be permitted from September 2021.[94]

On 4 September 2020 former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott was appointed by the government as an advisor to the Board of Trade. Opposition MPs called for him to have been rejected over his views on "homosexuality, women and climate change".[95] Seven months after the UK left the EU, the country's first major post-Brexit trade agreement was signed, a deal with Japan, with Liz Truss on the British negotiating side. It was said that "99% of exports to Japan" would be "tariff-free" as a result of the deal.[96]

2020 cabinet reshuffle

Sajid Javid (top) resigned as Chancellor and was replaced by Rishi Sunak (bottom)

Johnson conducted a cabinet reshuffle on 13 February 2020 when a number of senior ministers were sacked, including Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Others leaving included Nicky Morgan and James Cleverly. In a surprise move, Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor and was succeeded by Rishi Sunak. Javid's departure came from a refusal to comply with an order by Johnson to sack his advisory team and replace them with aides from Johnson's office.[97] Stephen Barclay, Alok Sharma, Brandon Lewis and Oliver Dowden changed their portfolios whilst Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Suella Braverman, George Eustice and Amanda Milling newly joined the cabinet.

UK-EU trade negotiation

The UK and EU trade negotiations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in that videoconferencing was employed by the two sides.[98]

The introduction of the UK Internal Market Bill to Parliament caused controversy[99] as there were concerns about the impact of parts of the bill on the rule of law. The government ultimately withdrew these parts before enactment.[100]

On 16 October 2020 Johnson said that the UK "must get ready" for no trade deal with the EU.[101] After last-minute negotiations, it was announced on 24 December that a trade deal had been agreed.[102] Entitled the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, it provisionally came into force on 1 January 2021.

COVID-19 pandemic

By 1 March 2020, cases of COVID-19 had reached every nation of the UK. Johnson unveiled the Coronavirus Action Plan and declared the outbreak a 'level 4 incident'. On 6 March he announced £46 million in funding for research into a coronavirus vaccine and rapid diagnostic tests.

On 12 March Johnson said the outbreak represented the "worst public health crisis in a generation" after chairing an emergency COBR meeting. Johnson, and his team of advisers, including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, held daily press briefings from Downing Street to update the public on developments. The press briefings, which were also chaired by other cabinet ministers, were not a daily occurrence after 23 June, and were instead more sporadic.[103]

The government advised on measures such as social distancing and advised people in the UK against "non-essential" travel and contact with others, as well as suggesting people should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, and work from home if possible. Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions were urged to consider the advice "particularly important", and would be asked to self-isolate. Johnson announced that the UK would close the majority of its schools beginning on 20 March.[104] That year's summer exams were cancelled across the UK.[105][106] On 20 March, during the daily 5 pm press conference, Johnson requested the closure of pubs, restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues, museums and galleries that evening, though with some regret, saying "We're taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub".[107][108]

On 23 March, in a televised broadcast, Johnson announced wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of movement in the UK, enforceable in law for a period of up to 2 years.[109] The UK had been amongst the last major European states to progressively encourage social distancing, close schools, ban public events and order a lockdown.[110][111]

Johnson returned to Downing Street after recovering from COVID-19

On 27 March it was announced that Johnson had tested positive for coronavirus.[6] Before he tested positive he said he had shaken hands "with everybody" at a hospital where there were confirmed coronavirus cases. The SAGE committee had warned that the government should advise against handshaking due to existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene.[112] On 5 April he was taken to St Thomas' Hospital in London for tests due to him displaying "persistent symptoms".[113] He was moved to the hospital's intensive care unit the next day as his condition had worsened. First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab began deputising for him "where necessary".[114] After receiving "standard oxygen treatment" in hospital, he was moved out of intensive care on 9 April.[115] He left hospital on 12 April after a week of treatment, and was moved to his country residence, Chequers, to recuperate.[116] After a fortnight at Chequers, he returned to Downing Street on the evening of 26 April and was said to be chairing a government coronavirus "war cabinet" meeting.[117] During the pandemic Johnson also reached a divorce settlement with his estranged wife Marina Wheeler, before his fiancée Carrie Symonds gave birth to a son.[118]

On 30 April Johnson said that the country was "past the peak" of the outbreak and spoke about the importance of mask-wearing. He said that to avoid a second peak of infections, it was important to keep the R number below one (the number of cases directly generated by one case).[119] On 10 May he asked those who could not work from home to go to work, avoiding public transport if possible, encouraged the taking of "unlimited amounts" of outdoor exercise, and allowed driving to outdoor destinations within England. The slogan previously used by the government, "Stay at Home", was newly changed to "Stay Alert".[120]

Regarding a controversy about Dominic Cummings' travelling during the lockdown, Johnson used the televised coronavirus update on 24 May to say that he believed he had acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity".[121] There was media pressure for Cummings to resign, or for Johnson to dismiss him.[122] Cummings, and his ally Lee Cain, later departed Downing Street near the end of 2020.[123]

Amid fears of a second peak, on 9 September it was announced that from 14 September, in new rules, gatherings of more than six people in England would become illegal, with a number of set out exceptions. Fines beginning at £100, reaching £3,200 as a maximum for repeated offences, would be issued to those failing to comply.[124] Johnson announced more restrictions on 22 September, which the media termed a "second Covid shutdown".[125] During this time England was also under certain additional local restrictions.[126] These restrictions were replaced with a three-tier approach for England on 14 October.

In a press conference on 31 October, Johnson said that England would enter a four-week national lockdown beginning on 5 November. Non-essential shops and hospitality closed, but schools, colleges and universities remained open.[127] By 16 November, despite not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms,[128] Johnson was self-isolating after coming into contact with an MP who tested positive,[129] leading him on 18 November to become the first Prime Minister to attend Prime Minister's Questions via video link.[130] The lockdown ended from 2 December when a revised three-tier approach for England was put into force.[131] The same day it was announced that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech had been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Johnson announced that the UK would receive 800,000 doses of the vaccine the following week for the launch of the UK's vaccination programme.[132] On 30 December it was announced that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been approved and would also be rolled out.[133]

On 4 January 2021, Johnson announced that England would enter a lockdown beginning the following day. People were told only to leave their homes for limited reasons. All schools and colleges closed to the majority of pupils. At the time the restrictions were said to last until at least mid-February.[134]

Johnson received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on 19 March 2021 and encouraged others to do the same, saying: "Everybody, when you do get your notification to go for a jab, please go and get it."[135] On 7 April the Moderna vaccine began being rolled out.[136]

"Let the bodies pile high in their thousands"

In April 2021 Johnson denied allegations made by the Daily Mail that he had said he would rather have seen "bodies pile high in their thousands" than approve a third lockdown.[137] The full remark was reported to have been "No more fucking lockdowns  let the bodies pile high in their thousands!". He is claimed to have said it on 30 October 2020, one day before the announcement of the second national lockdown.[138] The phrase came to public attention in April 2021 when reports of the alleged remark entered the public domain through a story in the Daily Mail written by Simon Walters.[139] Walters had been a political journalist since the 1980s. According to The Guardian, Walters was regarded "as an outstanding story-getter" and that "if Walters has written a story, it would be wise to take it seriously".[140]

Sources told the BBC and Robert Peston of ITV News that the remark was made.[141][142] According to Peston, the remarks were heard by a number of people.[143] Both The Guardian and the BBC reported that the remark had been heard shouted from an office in Downing Street following a main meeting.[144] Peston stated that two witnesses were prepared to swear under oath that the remarks were made.[145] Former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said in a May select committee that he heard the remarks being made.[146]

Johnson denied having made the remark, describing it as "total, total rubbish".[147] Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Ben Wallace also stated that the reports of the remarks were untrue.[148][149]

The reported remark was condemned by other British politicians and relatives of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.[144][150] The alleged remark also reignited calls for an independent public inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic.[151]

Public inquiry

On 12 May 2021, the Prime Minister said that an independent public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic will be held in spring 2022.[152]

2021 elections

On 6 May 2021 local and mayoral elections were held across the UK, as well as Senedd and Scottish Parliament elections, and a by-election in Hartlepool. Johnson's Conservatives substantially improved their vote shares in most of the country, and won Hartlepool for the first time in the constituency's history.[153] The elections were widely seen as a boost to the future of Johnson and his party, and further secured his position.[154]

See also


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  2. "John Bercow: Ex-Speaker says he is victim of a conspiracy in peerage row". BBC News. 9 February 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021. The ex-Conservative MP has been accused of bullying by former Commons colleagues, but denies the claims... The controversial speaker stood down in October after a decade in the job, during which he faced accusations of bias over Brexit as well as questions over his own behaviour towards colleagues... He has dismissed claims there was a pattern of bullying towards his subordinates... Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Bercow had regularly defied the rules when he was Speaker
  3. "John Bercow: the Speaker dogged by claims of bullying and bias who was a thorn in the side of his own party". The Telegraph. 9 September 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2021. In describing Mr Bercow as having "not just bent the rules but broken them", the business secretary... echoed the view of many MPs who have called out his perceived Brexit bias since the 2016 EU Referendum. The final straw for Downing Street came after Mr Bercow not only spoke out against the Prime Minister's move to suspend Parliament, but also used Commons procedure to facilitate the successful move by pro-Remain MPs to block no deal. Describing Mr Bercow's decision to allow MPs to take over the parliamentary timetable as a "flagrant abuse", Ms Leadsom criticised the Speaker... During his last three years in the chair, he courted criticism for his perceived Brexit 'bias' after he was accused of breaking precedent and ignoring the advice of his officials by 'unilaterally changing' parliamentary rules to allow a Government motion on the meaningful vote on the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement to be amended by remainers
  4. "John Bercow, the controversial speaker accused of bullying, will forever be a symbol of Brexit division". The Independent. 23 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021. The news that Lord Lisvane, clerk of the House of Commons for the early part of Bercow’s speakership, has filed a complaint about bullying complicates matters further... Being seen as pro-Labour and pro-Remain was terrible for the authority of the speaker. No matter how defensible each of his rulings on procedure was, they were undermined by the perception of his biases... Whatever happens to the bullying allegations, which he denies, his record will always be tarnished by the perception of bias.
  5. "Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK". GOV.UK. 20 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
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British Premierships
Preceded by
Johnson Premiership