Twenty one of Boris Johnson’s biggest gaffes from letterbox burqas to hiding in fridge

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Boris Johnson is finally stepping down as prime minister after nearly three tumultuous years in power.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP is being banished to the back benches, for now at least, after both candidates to replace him – Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak – ruled out giving him a cabinet job.

But Mr Johnson himself, never one to shy away from the limelight, recently refused to rule out some form of politcal “comeback”.

And there has already been some speculation that he could have another “Trump-style” tilt at the Tory leadership in the future.

Much like Donald Trump, his political career to date has been littered with gaffes – some more catastrophic than others.

From insulting entire cities, countries and cultures, the Etonian schoolboy has offended many during his time in the limelight.

Here The Independent looks back at just some of Mr Johnson’s most damaging and humiliating blunders.

Boris Johnson was known for gaffes before he became Prime Minister – and they just kept coming (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

1.‘Let the bodies pile high’ during pandemic

Mr Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings claimed that as Covid spread across the country during the pandemic, the prime minister had said “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” rather than have a third lockdown.

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said at the time: “If this report is true, then these are truly shocking and sickening comments.”

“It is hard to imagine how families who have lost loved ones to Covid will feel reading them. Boris Johnson must make a public statement as soon as possible in his response to this report.”

2.Business chiefs lectured on Peppa Pig theme park

The prime minister was left floundering when he lost his place in a high-profile speech to business leaders – and resorted to talking about the Peppa Pig World theme park.

Mr Johnson was rendered speechless for 20 seconds as he searched through his text, muttering “forgive me, forgive me”.

Addressing the CBI’s annual conference, he compared himself to Moses, made “vroom, vroom” noises, cracked risque jokes, stumbled over his words, fell silent for almost half a minute after losing his place and asked the executives to put their hands up if they had visited Peppa Pig World.

At Peppa Pig World with wife Carrie (via REUTERS)

3.Sleeping at climate summit

Political opponents and climate campaigners were angry when Mr Johnson was pictured with his eyes closed during the opening ceremony of the Cop26 climate talks.

He was seated between UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Sir David Attenborough.

A No10 source said it was “total nonsense” to suggest Mr Johnson had been asleep.

4.‘Slip of the tongue’ on Iranian detention

During a 2017 select committee hearing the then-foreign secretary erroneously said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in the region.

After Mr Johnson’s comments the 38-year-old Briton was hauled in front of an Iranian court and told her sentence could double.

He later faced calls to resign and issued an apology 12 days after his remarks.

She was finally released and allowed to return to her long-suffering family earlier this year.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured at RAF Brize Norton following her release from Iran, was hauled into court after Mr Johnson’s comment (PA Wire)

5.‘Casual’ rule-breaking over finances

Mr Johnson broke Commons rules by failing to declare a financial interest in a property within the time limit.

The Commons Standards Committee accused him in April 2019 of displaying “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”.

The ruling came just four months after the Ruislip MP was made to apologise for breaching the rules by failing to declare more than £52,000 of outside earnings.

6.Hiding in fridge to avoid TV reporter

Boris Johnson hid in a fridge while being pursued by a TV reporter attempting to interview him on the eve of the 201 general election.

The prime minister was joining an early morning milk round in Leeds when he was confronted by Good Morning Britain’s Jonathan Swain about his “promise to talk to Piers [Morgan] and Susanna [Reid]”.

“I’ll be with you in a second,” Mr Johnson replied, before escaping into a large fridge.

In a video of the incident, one of the prime minister’s aides can be seen mouthing “oh for f***’s sake” after seeing Swain approaching the group.

✕ Boris Johnson’s minder swears at reporter live on tv as PM’s team whisk him off into a giant fridge

7.Insulting niqab wearers as ‘letterboxes’

Theresa May publicly rebuked Mr Johnson in August 2019 after he compared women wearing burqas and niqabs to letter boxes.

In a column for The Daily Telegraph – a weekly commitment that earned him £275,000 a year – Mr Johnson described the garments as oppressive, adding it was “absolutely ridiculous” that people should “choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.

He said some restrictions on wearing them were “sensible” but that he opposed a Denmark-style full ban in public places and claimed: “One day, I am sure, they will go.”

He wrote: “If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled… to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly.

“If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct,” he wrote.

8. ‘Clearing dead bodies’ in Libya to make way for resort

At the Conservative Party conference in October 2017, Mr Johnson was widely condemned after claiming the Libyan city of Sirte would have a bright future as a luxury resort once investors “cleared the dead bodies away”.

Asked about a recent visit to Libya, where fighting still continues eight years after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall, he praised the “incredible country” with “bone-white sands”.

He added: “There’s a group of UK business people, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte on the coast, near where Gaddafi was captured and executed. They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai. The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away.”

Mr Johnson’s commnets about Islamic dress attracted criticism before he was PM

9.Describing Africa as ‘that country’

Reflecting on his first three months in the job at the Tories’ 2016 conference Mr Johnson referred to Africa as “that country”, while painting the world a “less safe, more dangerous and more worrying” place than it had been a decade prior.

Mr Johnson appeared to suggest the continent could benefit from adopting more British values, warning that a number of leaders were instead becoming more authoritarian.

And he then said: “Life expectancy in Africa has risen astonishingly as that country has entered the global economic system.”

10.Losing the no-deal argument on Brexit

A second showing for Mr Johnson’s Telegraph column.

In April 2019, the Independent Press Standards Organisation said the ex-foreign secretary had breached accuracy rules by claiming that polls showed a no-deal Brexit was more popular “by some margin” than Theresa May’s deal or staying in the EU.

The paper argued it was “clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”, but the watchdog ruled against it.

Boris Johnson’s famous relatives Show all 11 1 /11 Boris Johnson’s famous relatives Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 1. King George II of Great Britain and Ireland, Elector of Hanover (1683 to 1760) Boris Johnson is a Hanoverian, and, thus distantly related to the Queen, David Cameron (via William IV) and Danny Dyer (via Edward III), among others. Boris’s paternal grandmother, Yvonne Eileen Williams, known in the family as “Granny Butter” and whose family name was de Pfeffel, was a descendant of Prince Paul Von Wurttemberg. The German prince was, in turn, a direct descendant of George II. Discovered by genealogists f other BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are, Johnson commented, in 2008: “I felt I was the product of newcomers to Britain so it is totally bizarre, surreal in fact, to be told that in fact my Great x 8 Granddad is George II. But don’t neglect the point that he shares that distinction with 1,023 others – there must be several thousand other people out there in the same position.” National Portrait Gallery Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 2. The “Mummy of Basel”, Anna Catharina Bischoff (1719 to 1787) Last year, scientists in the Swiss city of Basel solved a decades-old mystery over the identity of a mummified woman. DNA extracted from the mummy’s gig toe indicates that the female is a great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Boris Johnson. The body was uncovered in 1975 while renovations were being done on Basel’s Barfüsser Church, and was buried at the altar, wearing fine clothes, indicating she was at least well-to-do if not nobility. High levels of mercury in her remains suggested she had been treated for syphilis (the metal also helped preserve her). National Gallery of Basel Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 3. Ali Kemal (1867 to 1922) (Pictured with wife Winifred Brun) For a man who made so much capital in the 2016 referendum on the prospect of Turkey joining the EU and its 80 million citizens thus enjoying free movement to the UK, Boris Johnson sometimes makes a surprisingly big deal of his Turkish Muslim great-grandfather on his father’s side, who he claims was an asylum seeker. Ali Kemal, according to his famous descendant, came to Britain because it was “a beacon of generosity and openness”. I t might be overstating it, but he did live in exile in England for a time. Unknown Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 4. George Williams (1821 to 1905) Sir George, as he became, is the great (x4) grandfather of Boris Johnson, and was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Christian Association or YMCA, in 1841. An evangelical apostle of “muscular Christianity”, George took it upon himself to organise some fellow drapers and establish a safe place for young men where they could be shielded from the debauchery and the temptations of the flesh and the grape. No sofas would suffer red wine stains in the hostel. Since then it has gone global, today assisting 58 million people across 119 countries, which is almost as many as Boris helps. A social visionary of his time, George was knighted for his works by Queen Victoria in 1894. National Portrait Gallery Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 6. King Friedrich of Wurttemberg (1754 to 1816) Though stocky of build, and handy in a game of rugger, Boris Johnson is not especially heavy or tall. This ancestor was. King Friedrich stood 6 foot 11 inches, and weighed 31 stone (2.12 metres/200 kilograms). Napoleon remarked that God had created the Prince to demonstrate the utmost extent to which the human skin could be stretched without bursting. There are rumours that he was bisexual and enjoyed the close companionship of young noblemen. This added to the strains on his marriage to Augusta, who was the granddaughter of King George II. One of their four children, Prince Paul is the link to the Johnsons, via an illegitimate daughter he fathered in Paris with an actor named Friederike Margrethe Porth. Ludwigsburg Castle Archive Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 7. Professor Elias Lowe (1879 to 1969) Elias is Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte’s great grandfather. The distinguished Princeton scholar and student of ancient scriptures (palaeographer) , Elias arrived in the United States as a refugee from Lithuania in 1891, and was affine of Albert Einstein. Jewish, Lowe came for a line of revered rabbis. Although he cannot be counted Hallachially Jewish, the Jewish Chronicle makes him 5 per cent Jewish on their reckoning. Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 8. Helen Lowe-Porter (1876 to 1963) Helen Tracey Lowe-Porter. is Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte’s great grandmother. An American, she married the Lithuanian-born academic Elisa Lowe, and is said to have been probably the most prominent literary translator in the English-speaking world working from German to English in the twentieth century. However, not necessarily the best and in such circles her reputation is contested. In any event, she retained for 50 years the exclusive rights to translate the works of her friend Thomas Mann. Her and Elias’ daughter Beatrice is Charlotte Johnson (nee Fawcett’s) mother. Lowe-Porter family Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 9. Sir Henry Fawcett MP (1833 to 1884) Before Boris and Jo Johnson became MPs and minsters, there was Sir Henry Fawcett – Britain’s first blind MP. He was the husband of the famous suffragette Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and thus an ancestor of Boris on his mother’s side – though the family tree isn’t clear on how close they are related. Glasgow University Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 10. Prince Paul of Wurttemberg (1785 to 1852) Odd looking, an amusing womaniser (remind you of anyone?), this minor German aristocrat was the progenitor of the Johnson’s posh pedigree, such as it is. His affair with an actress is Paris, Fredericke Porth, gave rise to a daughter (out of wedlock as they used to say) provided the link back to the royal families of Wurttemberg and Hanover, and thus of Great Britain. By the same token it means that Stanley, Boris, Rachel, Leo and Jo, and the rest of them along that branch of the tree, are also distantly related to most of the royal families of Europe including the Russian Romanovs – Johnson stands connected, albeit tenuously, to the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, Luxembourg, Norwegian and Swedish families, plus the German Kaiser. Paul had five declared children, and two illegitimate ones, at least that are known about. National Archive Holland Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 11. Fredericke Porth (1777 to 1860) When, on the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are? Boris Johnson discovered the identity of his 4x Great Grandmother, Fredericke, he was just a touch chauvinist: “An actress, could be a euphemism we may be about to turn up a prostitute here. Not that I mind. I want you to know they can get up to anything, my ancestors, they have carte blanche to commit whatever acts of fornication they want as far as I am concerned, but I want to know”. It seems Fredericke Margarethe was indeed an actress for most of her life, and was widowed by the time her illegitimate daughter, the product of her affair with Prince Paul of Wurttemberg was born, in 1805. Born Porth, Fredericke was married to a man named Vohs until 1804, and, in 1818, remarried to a man named Werdy. She was described as a “Royal Saxon Court-Actress”. Alamy Stock Photo Boris Johnson’s famous relatives 12. Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 to 1929) Disappointingly, the ancestor who is sometimes mentioned as a stands as a standing genealogical reproach to Boris Johnson may not be a related at all. As a pioneering feminist and suffragette, she’d surely disapprove of Boris’ attitudes towards womankind. As President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the largest component of the suffragette movement, she did as much as anyone to get women into the political life of the nation, and the Fawcett Society, still fighting for equal human rights, is named in her honour. Millicent lived just long enough to see the vote being granted on an equal basis to all women, and said this when it was finally enacted in 1928: “It is almost exactly 61 years ago since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on May 20th, 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning.” Bain News Service/Elliott & Fry

11. Accusing Liverpool of ‘wallowing in victim status’

Back in 2004, Mr Johnson was forced to apologise to a whole city after printing an editorial about Liverpool.

The Spectator piece claimed Liverpudlians had “an excessive predilection for welfarism”.

“They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it,” the piece continued.

He was chastised by Conservative leader Michael Howard, who was urged to sack the-then shadow arts minister for the comments.

12.Boasting about Johnnie Walker in a Sikh Temple

While foreign secretary he was berated at a Sikh temple in Bristol for talking about increasing whisky exports to India – despite alcohol being forbidden in the Sikh faith.

“I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here by saying that when we go to India, we have to bring ‘clinky’ in our luggage,” he said in 2017. “We have to bring Johnnie Walker.”

A BBC recording captured a female worshipper asking him: “How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple?”

Then then foreign secretary was criticised by ‘livid’ audience after promoting alcohol

13.Don’t mention the war

During a visit to India early in 2017, Mr Johnson appeared to accuse the EU of wanting to inflict Nazi-style “punishment beatings” on the UK because of Brexit.

He said: “If [former French president Francois] Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some World War Two movie, I don’t think that is the way forward, and it’s not in the interests of our friends and partners.

“It seems absolutely incredible to me that, in the 21st century, member states of the EU should be seriously contemplating the reintroduction of tariffs or whatever to administer punishment to the UK.”

14.Prosecco row bubbles over

In November 2016, Mr Johnson was mocked by European ministers following a bizarre argument about whose country would sell more prosecco or fish and chips post-Brexit.

Italy’s economic minister Carlo Calenda said Mr Johnson’s approach appeared to be based on “wishful thinking”.

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

The row took place after Mr Johnson described suggestions that free movement of people was among the EU’s founding principles as “b*******”.

Italian economic development minister Carlo Calenda said the argument was ‘insulting’

15. ‘Bikey’ goes missing

Mr Johnson appeared to be caught out during the Tory leadership campaign after being asked at a hustings event when he had last cried.

He claimed it was when his beloved bicycle was stolen from outside parliament, saying he had used the vehicle, named “Bikey”, for the entirety of his eight years as Mayor of London.

He said: “It was never nicked during all my time as mayor and I used to chain it up across the whole city. Barely had [his successor as mayor] Sadiq Khan’s reign begun before it was nicked.”

He added: “Anyone who has something they love stolen feels a sense of outrage and injustice. That’s another reason we need more police on the streets.”

However, the claim appeared to unravel when an article emerged from 2014, in which Mr Johnson described how “Bikey” had been written off after a crash. The bike’s frame had snapped after he rode it into a pothole concealed by a puddle during a storm, he said.

Given the article dated from 2014, it appeared to contradict his claim that “Bikey” had been used throughout his time at City Hall, which ended in 2016, and had been stolen years later, after Mr Khan took office.

16.Smoke me a kipper

Mr Johnson raised eyebrows at the last hustings of the leadership contest after brandishing a smoked kipper on stage.

He waved the fish during a rant about “pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging” EU regulations, claiming that Brussels bureaucracy had “massively” increased costs for fish suppliers because of rules saying that their products must be transported in ice.

However, it later emerged that the regulations had, in fact, been introduced by the UK government, not by the EU.

Holding a kipper at the final hustings of the Conservative leadership campaign in July, 2019 (Getty Images)

17.Domestic strife

Mr Johnson’s leadership bid got off to a rocky start after reports emerged of a major row between the MP and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, now his wife.

An audio recording leaked to the media appeared to reveal Ms Symonds telling Mr Johnson to get off her and repeatedly telling him to “get out of my flat”.

The candidate and his team faced a flurry of questions over the incident, but the next day photos emerged showing the seemingly happy couple enjoying some relaxing time in the countryside, suggesting they had reconciled.

However, eagle-eyed observers were quick to point out that Mr Johnson’s hair looked significantly longer than it had the previous day – suggesting that, rather than having been snapped that day, the photo had actually been taken some time ago.

18.‘Backie’ backlash

A blast from the past. While mayor of London Mr Johnson was filmed breaking the law by giving his then-wife Marina Wheeler a lift on the back of his bike.

National cycling charity CTC said he “should have known better”.

Mr Johnson apologised through a spokesman after it emerged he had breached Section 24 of the Road and Traffic Act 1998. Offenders can ordinarily expect a £200 fine for committing the error.

Mr Johnson’s premiership has come to an end after three years in the job (Tim Hammond/No10 Downing Street)

19.Money spent on child abuse probes ‘spaffed up the wall’

In 2019, he again sparked outrage after claiming money spent investigating historic child sexual abuse had been “spaffed up the wall”.

During a radio interview, Mr Johnson argued that money spent on investigating historic crimes would be better channelled into boosting police numbers, in the wake of a spate of fatal stabbings.

Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh said his comments were inappropriate and offensive to victims’ families, branding him a “shameless, dangerous oaf”.

20.Dismissing £250,000 a year newspaper column as ‘chicken feed’

In 2009, then London Mayor Mr Johnson described his quater of a million pound earnings from writing for the Telegraph as “chicken feed”.

Mr Johnson insisted it was “wholly reasonable” for him to write newspaper columns on the side because he did them “very fast”.

At the time, he was already earning £140,000 for his day job as many Londoners struggle from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis.

21.Tone deafness, colonial-style

Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar had to stop Mr Johnson as he recited a Rudyard Kipling poem in the country’s most sacred temple.

The poem is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in what was then known as Burma, which Britain ruled between 1824 and 1948, and also references kissing a local girl.

Mr Johnson had also referred to a golden statue in the Shwedagon Padoga temple as a “very big guinea pig” shortly before launching into verse.

As he recited the poem video showed the British ambassador to the country, Andrew Patrick, growing visibly tense. When the then-foreign secretary reached the poem’s third line – “the wind is in the palm trees… the temple bells they say” – Mr Patrick decided to interject.

“You’re on-mic,” he said. “Probably not a good idea.”

Mr Johnson replied: “What, The Road to Mandalay?”

“No,” the ambassador said. “Not appropriate.”