NEWS
09/07/2018 18:08 BST | Updated 29/09/2020 17:51 BST

14 Of The Worst Gaffes In Boris Johnson's Career

The PM has been ridiculed for not being able to quote his own coronavirus restrictions. It isn't the first time he's "misspoken" and been caught out.

Boris Johnson’s decades-long political career has been blighted with all manner of embarrassing gaffes – from fabricating newspaper quotes to violently tackling children to the ground.

The PM on Tuesday apologised and said he “misspoke” after struggling to explain his own new Covid-19 restrictions imposed on the north-east of England.

From Wednesday it will be illegal for people in large parts of the region to mix households in indoor settings such as pubs and restaurants.

Speaking to reporters in Exeter, Johnson had been unable to give a direct answer about whether or not households were allowed to meet outdoors.

He later tweeted an attempt to clarify the rules, suggesting that – while it was illegal for household to mix indoors – it was not against the law to do so outdoors even though it was discouraged.

Here are 13 other blunders the PM has made in his political career.

1. Stunned When Asked If He’s Relatable

The PM was lost for words when asked the simple question of how he was “relatable” to ordinary members of the public. 

During an interview in the run-up to the general election in November 2019, Johnson told presenter Naga Munchetty he felt faced with “the most difficult psychological question anyone has ever asked” as he struggled to answer during an awkward BBC Breakfast interview

Asked directly how ordinary people could connect with him, Johnson took a lengthy pause, before saying: “I think that the best answer I can give, of course I have been... I have had a very, very happy, and wonderful life in many, many ways.

“I was the beneficiary of my parents. [They] gave me fantastic opportunities, and they brought me up to be very intellectually... to do everything I possibly can.” 

2. Caught ‘Lying’ About Voting

During local elections in May 2019, the PM proudly announced in a tweet that he had just voted and appealed to the public to do the the same.

That’s despite the fact Johnson lived in the capital, where no local elections were taking place.

Johnson’s office later insisted he did vote in the local elections but did not elaborate or explain why he deleted the tweet.

3. Libya ‘Dead Bodies’ Remark

Johnson made a joke about “dead bodies” getting in the way of businesses investing in Libya after its bloody civil war.

Speaking on the fringes of the Conservative Party conference in 2017, he said British businesses wanted to invest in the north African country.

“They have a got brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai.

“The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies,” he said.

Johnson added Libya was a “incredible place” with “brilliant young people”.

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary at the time, said Johnson’s joke was “unbelievably crass, callous and cruel”.

Johnson, aware of his ability to tigger unwanted headlines, began the question and answer session with Tory members by asking himself out loud: “Why did I agree?”

He also asked the audience ahead of his joke about Libya: “Are there any journalists here?”

4. Risking Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Safety

The MP made a diplomatic blunder over the British charity worker being held in a brutal Iran prison.

He wrongly told MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “teaching people journalism” – remarks that were seized on by the Iranian regime as proof that she was “spreading propaganda” against the state.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on a family holiday in Iran in 2016 when she was arrested for alleged spying in Tehran, a claim vigorously denied by the British government and her family.

Her employers Thomson-Reuters Foundation urged Johnson to “correct the serious mistake he made” amid fears it would extend her jail term.

She remains in jail.

5. The ‘Prosecco Insult’

Johnson got into a row with an Italian minister after he warned Prosecco sales would be dented if the country failed to cut a favourable Brexit deal for the UK.

Carlo Calenda accused the then foreign secretary of “insulting” Italy, and countered that the UK would see “fish and chips exports” hit at the same time in a conversation that appears to have been conducted exclusively in national stereotypes.

Calenda, economic development minister, told Bloomberg TV: “He basically said: ‘I don’t want free movement of people but I want the single market.’

“I said: ‘No way.’ He said: ‘You’ll sell less Prosecco.’ I said: ‘OK, you’ll sell less fish and chips, but I’ll sell less Prosecco to one country and you’ll sell less to 27 countries.’

“Putting things on this level is a bit insulting.” 

6. Freedom Of Movement As A Founding Principle Of The EU Is ‘Bollocks’

Johnson once called it “bollocks” to suggest that EU citizens have an historic right to live anywhere across the European bloc, telling a Czech newspaper that the freedom to move between states was not a founding principle of the European Economic Community.

He said: “It’s a total myth – nonsense. It is stupid to say that freedom of movement is a fundamental right.”

7. Described Africa As A Country, Not A Continent 

Johnson managed to describe the entire continent of Africa as “that country”.

While speaking to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in 2016, Boris Johnson said: “Life expectancy in Africa has risen astonishingly as that country has entered the global economic system.”

There are 55 countries in Africa. 

8. Compared Traditional Māori Greeting To A Glasgow Pub Fight

He compared a traditional greeting to a headbutt while on a tour of the Commonwealth country in 2017.

Johnson told a Māori congregation that the Hongi would be “misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow”.

He did, however, also describe it as a “beautiful form of introduction”.

Responding to the comment, the SNP said he had “made a career out of travelling the globe with his foot firmly in his mouth”.

9. Compares French President Francois Hollande To PoW Guard

Johnson caused uproar in 2017 when he compared Francois Hollande’s attitude towards Brexit with a prisoner of war camp.

He said: “If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape [the EU], rather in the manner of some World War II movie, then I don’t think that is the way forward, and actually it’s not in the interests of our friends and partners.”

He was strongly condemned by by the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who described his comments as “abhorrent and deeply unhelpful”.

10. Recited Colonial-Era Poem In Burmese Temple

In 2017, as foreign secretary, Johnson was caught on camera part-reciting a colonial poem in a Burmese temple before being stopped by an ambassador.

Johnson began quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma.

The poem by Rudyard Kipling is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Myanmar, which Britain colonised for more than a century.  

11. Admitted He Did Not Recognise The Commonwealth Flag

Appearing before the Commons foreign affairs committee, Johnson told MPs how Brexit presented an “very exciting prospect” to strike free trade deals with Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, that were “bounding ahead” economically. 

Asked by if that meant he would commit to replacing the EU flag with the Commonwealth’s once the UK left the EU, Johnson said: “I am going to have to own up, I am unaware of the exact configuration of the Commonwealth flag. What does it look like?”

12. Tackling A 10-Year-Old Boy To The Ground

During a trade relations trip to Tokyo in 2015, Johnson charged a 10-year-old boy to the ground during a game of street rugby.

Undeterred by the age of his opponent, Johnson raced down the mini turf pitch and took out Toki Sekiguchi.

Johnson later shook the boy’s hand and, to show there were no hard feelings, they posed for photographs after the match.

13. Sacked From Newspaper For Fabricating A Quote

Johnson was sacked by The Times in 1988 for making up a quote in a front-page story.

The former journalist made up a claim by his godfather, academic Colin Lucas, that Edward II and his lover Piers Gaveston met in a newly-discovered Rose Palace.

It emerged the Palace was only built long after Gaveston was murdered.

Rather than admit his lie Johnson wrote a further story saying “the mystery had deepened”.

Describing the furore as his “biggest cock-up”, the PM admitted in 2013: “I mildly sandpapered something somebody said, and yes it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it.”