Tuesday marks 1,000 days since Boris Johnson first began working in Downing Street on 24 July 2019. When he came to power, many warned that UK was in for a bumpy ride. He promised to defy the “the doubters, the doomsters and the gloomsters”, but since then his premiership has exceeded even the gloomiest, most doom-laden fears of his doubters and detractors.
Here is a list of some of the most notable scandals, U-turns and examples of law breaking.
Unlawfully proroguing parliament
A protester dressed as Boris Johnson outside the supreme court on 24 September 2019. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images
The supreme court unanimously ruled that Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament at the height of Brexit crisis was unlawful. In a devastating judgment, Lady Hale, the president of the court, said the move was “unlawful, void and of no effect”.
3 September 2019
Purge of senior Tory MPs
Dominic Grieve speaks at PMQs on the day Johnson removed the whip from him. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/EPA
Johnson removed the whip from 21 senior Tories who defied the government by voting to delay Brexit to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal. The prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who was believed to be behind the move, was quoted as saying: “When are you fucking MPs going to realise we are leaving on 31 October? We are going to purge you.”
22 September 2019
Former lover Jennifer Arcuri awarded cash and access
Boris Johnson, with Jennifer Arcuri, guest speaking at the Innotech Summit in July 2013. Photograph: Innotech Network/YouTube
The Sunday Times revealed that US business woman Jennifer Arcuri was given tens of thousands of pounds in public funds and access to overseas trade missions led by Johnson during his time as mayor of London. Johnson made no mention of Arcuri in his lists of interests as mayor, and claimed was no interest to declare. But Arcuri later allege that she had an affair with Johnson.
He avoided a criminal investigation into the funds and favours granted to Arcuri, but the Independent Office for Police Conduct found evidence that officials were influenced by the close relationship between the pair. The IOPC investigations are ongoing and Johnson has denied misconduct in public office.
5 November 2019
Attempting to use public money to attack Labour
Johnson’s administration was blocked from attempting to use the civil service to rubbish Labour’s spending plans before the December 2019 election. The permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, ruled that the publication of Treasury analysis before the 12 December poll would be improper.
11 December 2019
Hiding in a fridge
Johnson was caught hiding in a fridge in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, to avoid being interviewed by ITV’s Piers Morgan on the eve of the election. He also refused to be interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil ahead of the election.
31 January 2020
Leaving Brexit unresolved
As promised in the election the UK formally left the EU on 31 January. But Brexit is far from done. Unresolved rows rumble on over UK imports, fishing, and the Northern Ireland border.
Fatally slow response to Covid
Medical experts believe that 20,000 deaths from Covid could have avoided if Johnson had not delayed the decision to introduce the first lockdown. The prime minister skipped the first five Cobra meetings about the virus and boasted of shaking hands with medical staff on his first hospital visit to a Covid ward.
Backs Cummings over lockdown breaches
Dominic Cummings speaks as he delivers a statement with journalists sat at a distance in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street on 25 May 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/AFP/Getty Images
The Guardian and the Daily Mirror reveal that Dominic Cummings breached lockdown rules by travelling to Durham and Barnard Castle with his family after they contracted Covid. The revelations prompt widespread anger, including among dozens of Tory MPs, and the first accusation that the government is operating by different rules from the rest of the country.
Spring and summer 2020
‘Chumocracy’ Covid contracts
Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, and Boris Johnson on 17 July. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA
Appointments and millions of pounds worth of PPE and Covid-related contracts were awarded to individuals and companies with links to the Conservative party. The High Court later ruled that the VIP lane for awarding PPE contracts was illegal. The government insisted that circumventing the usual procurement rules allowed it to act quickly in national emergency.
16 June 2020
U-turn on school meal vouchers
Johnson’s government had refused to provide £15 food vouchers for some of England’s poorest families, but was forced into a humiliating U-turn after a campaign launched by the footballer Marcus Rashford.
A banner in Wythenshawe, where Marcus Rashford grew up. Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters
Johnson promised a “world beating” test-and-trace system for tackling coronavirus in England. Instead the £12bn scheme was dogged by delays, IT problems, expensive contracts and proved only to have a “marginal impact”.
6 August 2020
Planning reform prompts Tory revolt
Boris Johnson visits a construction site, August 2020. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images
Johnson’s government proposes tearing up the planning system by tipping the balance of power in favour of developers and away from local objectors. The plans cause outrage in the Tory heartlands, and were seen as the main cause of the loss of the previously safe Tory seat in the Chesham and Amersham byelection 10 months later.
17 August 2020
In a humiliating change of policy the UK government abandoned a controversial computer modelling system for assessing the exam grades after thousands of stories of unfairly awarded grades.
Quick Guide How ministers defended the A-level results system Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to ITV “[I have] every confidence that the system we have put in place is a robust system, a system that’s fair” Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to the BBC “The system, for the overwhelming majority of young people, is going to deliver credible, strong results. It’s a robust system, it’s a fair system, it’s making sure that young people get the grades that they’ve worked so hard towards” Nick Gibb, 12 August, to Sky News “Most young people … will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.” Gavin Williamson, 13 August, to Sky News Q) “Can you give a cast-iron guarantee that you will not be forced into the embarrassing U-turn that John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon were in Scotland?”
A) “Absolutely” Boris Johnson, 13 August, to reporters in Northern Ireland “Let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results that we’ve got today are robust. They’re good, they’re dependable for employers. It’s very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable” Gavin Williamson, 15 August, interview to the Times “This is it… No U-turn, no change… [In Scotland] you’ve got a system where there aren’t any controls, you’ve got rampant grade inflation. There’s been no checks and balances in that system; it degrades every single grade as a result and in-baked unfairness” Show Hide
8 September 2020
Attempting to break international law
The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admits that plans to reinterpret the Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland will break international law “in a very specific and limited way”. The move was eventually abandoned after the resignation of the UK’s top legal civil servant, Jonathan Jones, and a mutiny in the House of Lords by a gang of former Tory party leaders.
Evgeny Lebedev given peerage despite security concerns
Johnson with Evgeny Lebedev and his sister Rachel Johnson in November 2012. Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock
Johnson gives a peerage to the Russian tycoon Evgeny Lebedev despite the concerns of the security services. Johnson was warned that Lebedev could be a potential security risk because his father, Alexander Lebedev, was once a KGB spy. The media owner dismissed the concerns as farcical.
‘Get Covid live longer’
Johnson was holding out against lockdown measures and appear to suggest he was unconcerned by the deaths of people in their 80s, according to WhatsApp messaged released by his former aide Cummings. A message quoted the prime minister as saying: “I must say I have been slightly rocked by some of the data on Covid fatalities. The median age is 82 – 81 for men, 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So get Covid and live longer.”
‘Let the bodies pile high’
A protester holds cover page of the British newspaper Daily Mail outside the Cabinet Office, April 2021. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock
After he left No 10, Cummings alleged that Johnson resisted advice to introduce a second lockdown with the words: “no more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”. Despite corroboration from several other sources, Downing Street denied Johnson uttered those words.
8 November 2020
Second U-turn child food poverty
After weeks resisting calls to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during school holidays in England, the government performed another screeching U-turn.
20 November 2020
Johnson’s ethics adviser quits in protest
Johnson’s ethics adviser, Sir Alex Allan, resigned after the prime minister ripped up the rulebook by refusing to sack Priti Patel despite a formal investigation finding evidence that she bullied civil servants.
19 December 2020
Boris Johnson on the television during a media briefing, 19 December 2020. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
Johnson is accused of cancelling Christmas after suddenly abandoning plans to avoid tight Covid restrictions over the festive period. The U-turn prompts an immediate backlash from lockdown sceptic backbenchers.
3 March 2021
‘Pork barrel’ spending
The government is accused of “pork barrel politics” after towns fund cash is awarded almost exclusively to Tory supporting areas. All but six of the 45 towns granted cash in the first tranche of the scheme were represented by Conservative MPs.
25 June 2021
‘Matter closed’ after Hancock apologises for kissing an aide
Matt Hancock with adviser Gina Coladangelo. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Johnson initially resisted calls to sack his health secretary Matt Hancock after he was caught on camera kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo in breach of social distancing rules. After Hancock apologies, Downing Street said it considered the “matter closed”. But a day later, after mounting anger, Johnson dismissed Hancock and tried to claim credit for acting decisively.
12 July 2021
Manifesto busting cut to foreign aid
Johnson’s manifesto pledge to keep foreign aid at 0.7% of national income is scrapped despite opposition from senior government backbenchers.
18 July 2021
‘Pilot scheme’ to dodge self isolation
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA
Johnson and Rishi Sunak initially tried to avoid the need to self-isolate after they were were both ‘pinged’ when a colleague contracted Covid. They said they were participating in a trial scheme to allow them to continue to work if they had daily tests. They backed down within three hours after widespread criticism.
3 August 2021
Travel restrictions ditched after chaos
Johnson ditches plans for tougher quarantine restrictions for some holidaymakers after days of travel chaos. A cabinet revolt and a backlash from the travel industry forced the abandonment of planned amber watchlist to warn travellers which countries were at risk of turning red because of high Covid infection rates.
Johnson ‘authorised’ rescue of pets from Kabul
Boris Johnson meets with military personnel and Marlow, an army detection dog who worked in Afghanistan searching for IEDs, in September 2021. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Two foreign office whistleblowers alleged Johnson ordered the prioritisation of the Nowzad animal charity based in Afghanistan during the evacuation of Kabul. Johnson has denied that he had anything to do with the decision. Josie Stewart, who worked in the Foreign Office for seven years, suggested senior civil servants in the department had lied to cover up the embarrassing episode.
7 September 2021
Pensions triple lock abandoned
The government ditches its manifesto promise of a pensions triple lock, by announcing the commitment will be suspended to avoid the government having to hike payments by 8%.
8 September 2021
Manifesto-breaking hike in National Insurance
Boris Johnson speaking after announcing a 1.25% increase in National Insurance. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA
Johnson forces through another manifesto-breaking plan to increase in National Insurance to pay for a £12bn fund for the NHS and social care. He avoids a significant rebellion by springing a vote on MPs with just 24 hours’ notice. The increase from 12% to 13.5% was introduced in April 2022, adding to the cost of living crisis.
25 September 2021
Supply crisis prompts emergency visas
Panic buying prompted by a post-Brexit shortage of lorry drivers and farm workers prompts the government to hastily compiled plans to add 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to its visa scheme. Later immigration rules were also relaxed for care workers to fill another chronic workforce gap.
Paterson lobbying scandal
A poster stuck to a waste bin in Whitchurch, Shropshire protesting against Owen Paterson’s involvement in breaching lobbying rules. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian
Johnson’s botched attempt to shield his friend and former minister, Owen Paterson, from suspension for lobbying rule breaches prompts 100 Tory MPs to rebel. The prime minister reversed the plan 24 hours later forcing Paterson to resign and engulfing the government in accusation of sleaze. The Liberal Democrats win the resulting byelection in Paterson’s previously safe Tory seat of North Shropshire.
22 November 2021
Peppa Pig speech
Johnson prompts questions about his welfare after delivering a rambling speech to business leaders in which he lost his his place for 20 seconds, praised Peppa Pig, compared himself to Moses and made car noises.
9 December 2021
‘Misleading’ Geidt over flat makeover
Johnson is accused of misleading his second ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, over the source of funding for the makeover Downing Street flat. The Electoral Commission fined the Conservative party £17,800. But it also suggested he gave differing accounts to investigators looking into the redecoration.
Almost £900,000 spent on Northern Ireland bridge plan
The Department for Transport reveals that £896,681 of taxpayers money was spent on a study commissioned by Boris Johnson that found his idea to build a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland would be too expensive. Cummings described the idea as “world’s most stupid tunnel”.
12 April 2022
Johnson and Sunak fined over Partygate
A placard calling for the resignation of the PM outside the entrance to 10 Downing Street, 13 April 2022. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images
Johnson becomes the first sitting prime minister to be criminally sanctioned when he is given a £50 fixed penalty notice for breaking his own Covid laws by attending a party for his birthday in No 10. The chancellor and Carrie Johnson are also fined.