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Opinion

Opinion: With Boris Johnson, a clown makes his exit

Boris Johnson was the face of the "Leave" campaign, helping it to victory. He seemed like a shoo-in for prime minister, until a close ally got in his way. A stroke of luck for Britain, says DW’s Barbara Wesel.

Brits call him the "blond bomb." That has less to do with his sex appeal, and more to do with his hair and his political forcefulness. Boris Johnson gave powerhouse performances wherever he appeared. At Conservative Party conventions, he stood out with his provocative nature, garnering huge applause. Johnson could talk the birds down from the trees, and they would still be laughing while he twisted their necks. He entertained his audiences with wordplay, Latin quotations, flattery, and jokes at the expense of his opponents. And the Brits loved him for it.

The man who made Brexit happen

It was Boris Johnson who helped Brexit make a breakthrough in last week's referendum. Next to David Cameron himself, he is to blame for the UK's decision to leave the European Union. The prime minister knew that his chances of a victory had greatly decreased the moment Johnson, after weeks of sitting on the fence, suddenly emerged on the side of the Brexiteers. Not even his friends doubted that anything other than personal ambition drove the former London mayor to take this step. The rivalry between Johnson and Cameron dates back to their privileged school and university days at Eton and Oxford. And Johnson always wanted to be king of the world.

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*

DW's Barbara Wesel

Johnson is a genius when it comes to populism, one who doesn't seem to care for what purpose he puts his talents to use.

On the morning of the referendum, he was cavorting around a London fish market, even kissing a British fish for the photographers and donning a white fishmongers' coat. And it's quite likely that everyone who watched him then went and voted for "Leave."

Boris Johnson could sell used cars, worthless real estate, or junk bonds - he'd be sure to make millions. It's just in politics that the man is a liability.

Post-factual age?

In the face of the "Leave" campaign's lies and distortions, many in the media began talking about life in the "post-factual" age. Which of course is nothing other than an intellectual euphemism for the end of any obligation to the truth in politics. Boris Johnson has always had a capricious relationship with the truth. In his early career as a journalist in Brussels, he systematically and for years wrote the EU into the ground for the conservative "Telegraph" newspaper. He would allegedly invent anecdotes or bend the facts to suit the nature of the story he was writing. It was all pretty funny at the time, and after all, no one had to buy the "Telegraph."

In politics, however, the amusing liar is dangerous. Many people clearly find it difficult to tell the difference between TV shows and reality. Anyone who can make them laugh has already won, no matter how baseless and absurd their assertions are. Parallels here to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are no coincidence.

In the end, it was Michael Gove, Johnson's closest ally in the Brexit campaign, who stuck the knife in, because he didn't buy Johnson's promises of a cabinet post in the new government. Gove surprised everyone by announcing his own candidacy for prime minister. Johnson's notorious unreliability proved to be his undoing.

Dangerously populist

Insiders who experienced Boris Johnson during his time as mayor of London have long known that he is not suited to any higher political office. A recent biographer wrote that he doesn't read files, hates details, is a reluctant decision maker, and essentially, avoids doing work. During the Brexit campaign, Britons were seduced by a talented populist who now wants nothing to do with the consequences of the decision. British newspapers have coined him "Borisconi," a reference to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He was also extremely entertaining, but ultimately extremely damaging for his country. Boris Johnson has managed to be the same, without even becoming prime minister.

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