Just three years after leading the Conservatives to their biggest election victory in 30 years, Boris Johnson is stepping down as prime minister. The man who dreamed as a child of being “world king” is now planning his next career move.
His biographer Andrew Gimson says he is not “the sort of person who would go to the country and do lots of good work for the local church and live a life of blameless obscurity”.
So what could he do next?
Return to writing
Mr Johnson had a highly-paid career in journalism before entering politics and continued to write for newspapers and magazines as he climbed the greasy pole at Westminster – only giving it up days before he became PM.Media caption,
Boris Johnson has refused to rule out political comeback
He had been paid £275,000 a year to write a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph and there could be a media bidding war to secure the former PM’s services.
He may also be tempted by offers to write his memoirs, a guaranteed earner for former prime ministers. Literary agents have predicted he could be paid “north of £1m” for a book on his time in power.
Mr Johnson has already written eight books (if you count collections of his newspaper columns), including a best-selling biography of his hero, Winston Churchill, and the political satire Seventy-two Virgins.
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But his first post-Downing Street task will be finally to finish his biography of William Shakespeare, which he has been writing, on and off, for the past seven years. Publishers Hodder & Stoughton bought the rights to “Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius” in 2015, for a reported £500,000.
The book was due out in 2016. But winning the Brexit vote, becoming foreign secretary and then prime minister derailed Mr Johnson’s writing schedule.
“Shakespeare is about power and about when it’s right to rebel and kill a king,” according to Mr Gimson, who has a second volume of his biography on Mr Johnson coming out next month. “Now his own party will turn against him he may have a ready-made ending to his book.”
One way former prime ministers can make a large amount of money is through public speaking. Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May has earned £715,000 from making nine speeches in 2022 alone.
Mr Johnson’s talent for comedy made him a favourite on the after-dinner circuit before he gained power. But he can also turn his hand to more heavyweight fare. In March 2019, when he was between government roles, he was paid more than £160,000 for giving two speeches – to a bank and an Indian media group.
“Undoubtedly he will do a lot of writing and speaking,” says Lord Udny-Lister, a long-time advisor to Mr Johnson. Lord Udny-Lister, who served as Mr Jonson’s chief of staff while mayor and again as prime minister, said his old boss “will speak on subjects close to his heart” after he stands down.
“Things like Ukraine, where you can already see the western alliance sagging,” the Conservative peer added.
The financial benefits of a speaking career will not be lost on the ex-PM, says Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “By all accounts, Boris Johnson is obsessed with money and his lack thereof compared to so many of his friends. He will do whatever he can to put that situation right.”
Step away from politics
There has been a lot of speculation about whether Mr Johnson will remain as an MP. It seems unlikely that he will be offered a cabinet job by the next PM. So it would mean a return to the backbenches – something he has done before after political setbacks.
No matter what happens he will be banned from directly lobbying the government for two years after leaving office, under the Ministerial Code. “I don’t see him walking away from parliament that quickly,” Lord Udny-Lister said. “But I don’t think he’s going to just sit there throwing rocks from the back bench either.”
Mr Johnson’s hand could be forced if he is found to have misled parliament over parties in Downing Street during lockdown by a committee of MPs, which could lead to him being suspended from the Commons. And with a majority of 7,100, he is not certain to retain his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat at the next election, if there is a significant swing away from the Conservatives.
Mr Johnson declared “mission largely accomplished, for now” before signing-off with “hasta la vista, baby.” He could only have dropped a heavier hint that he was not finished yet if he had used another catchphrase from the Terminator films: “I’ll be back.”
Could he really return, perhaps as leader of the opposition if his successor loses the next general election?
Prof Bale, who has written a history of the Conservative Party, said a return can’t be ruled out, but he argues the party would have to be “pretty desperate”.
“It would make me seriously worried about the future of the Conservative Party if they returned to Boris Johnson,” he added.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a long-time ally of Mr Johnson, who did not want him to quit, recently pointed out no one had come back having lost the leadership since William Gladstone. But Mr Gimson is not concerned about historical comparisons.
“No matter what he does, there will remain a cult of Boris Johnson. Lots of people have been prime minister two or three times with a gap”.Media caption,
Boris Johnson pledges to give his “full and unqualified support” to whoever takes over from him in No 10.
Go his own way?
Whatever he does he will have the Public Duty Cost Allowance to help him along the way. The scheme, introduced by John Major, provides funds of up to £115,000 a year to former prime ministers to be spent on office and secretarial costs.
Mr Johnson has defied the normal rules of politics for so long it is hard to believe he will follow the path of those who have gone before him.
“He’s never been an either-or-person, he’s been a have-your-cake-and-eat-it person,” said Mr Gimson. “Whatever he does I think he will be very busy, he can’t bear inactivity.”
Prof Bale agrees: “There’s no zero-sum game for him here,” he said. “The political campaigning, the comeback and the money-making can go hand-in-hand.”