© Suzanne Plunkett 2017.


When: 2003

The quote: “My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”

Context: After being sacked by Michael Howard as shadow arts minister, Johnson, on Have I Got News for You, claimed that his sacking was not the end of the world — or future disasters to come.

When: 2004

The quote: “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”

Context: Writing in The Independent, Boris Johnson underplayed the heights of his political career, claiming that his chances of obtaining the highest political office were slim to none. 15 years later, Johnson became prime minister.

When: 2004:

The Quote: “That is the best case for Bush; That, among other things, he liberated Iraq. It is good enough for me.”

Context: Writing in the Telegraph, Johnson explained why he was in favour of Bush’s intervention in Iraq. His professed answer? A successful “liberation” of Iraq.

When: 2005

The Quote: “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”

Context: During the 2005 General Election, Johnson attempted to persuade potential Tory voters by arguing their wives would have bigger boobs if they voted Conservative. Clearly, it didn’t work, but the quote bolstered Johnson’s habit for making sexist remarks.

When: 2005

The Quote: “What we hate, what we fear, is being ignored.”

Context: Johnson, when discussing what the fears of MPs were, listed being ignored as one of them. Perhaps it is this that explains Johnson’s desire for the limelight (and his constant ability to generate headline-catching quotes).

When: 2006

The Quote: “For 10 years we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”

Context: Writing again in his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson argued people in Papua New Guinea still engage in the practices of cannibalism and chief-killing. Johnson later angered the country’s high commission and said “”I meant no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea, who I’m sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity…My remarks were inspired by a Time Life book I have which does indeed show relatively recent photos of Papua New Guinean tribes engaged in warfare, and I’m fairly certain that cannibalism was involved.”

When: 2012

The quote: “As I never tire of saying, my chances of becoming prime minister are only slightly better than being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a fridge or being reincarnated as an olive.”

Context: 8 years after his original quote which underplayed his chances of becoming prime minister, Johnson told an audience at the Hay Festival that he had too much work to do at City Hall. This, he said, meant his chances of becoming prime minister we very slim.

When: 2013

The Quote: “I don’t know what a pint of milk costs — so what?”

Context: Asking the price of groceries is a common question to ask MPs, and it’s used to determine whether they’re in touch with the public. During an interview with Jeremy Paxman, however, Johnson doubled down on his ignorance over the price of a pint of milk.

When: 2016

The quote: “I have more in common with a three-toed sloth or a one-eyed pterodactyl or a Kalamata olive than I have with Winston Churchill.”

Context: During an interview with USA Today, Johnson claimed that he held few similarities to his personal political hero, Winston Churchill. In fact, he went as far as to even say he had more in common with an olive. Odd.


When: 1998

Quote: “Weep, O ye shirt-makers of Jermyn Street, ye Cool Britannia tailors and whatever exists of human finer feeling. In the Ministry of sound, the tank-topped bum boys blub into their Pils.”

Context: Writing on the subject of Peter Mandelson’s resignation, who had long been subject to rumours of his sexuality, Johnson described gay men as “tank-topped bumboys.” When confronted in 2019, Johnson replied, “If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases, there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course, I understand that.”

When: 1999

The Quote: “All the young people I know, ie those under 30 — are just as avaricious as we flinty Thatcherite yuppies of the 1980s — in fact, they have an almost Nigerian interest in money and gadgets of all kinds.”

Context: As editor of the Spectator, Johnson racially stereotyped Nigerians, claiming they had a fixation on money. Like many of his quotes, he was later criticised for making the racist comment.

When: 2002

Quote: “If gay marriage was OK…then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog,”

Context: Boris Johnson, on the issue of gay marriage, compared same-sex marriage to polygamy and bestiality in his debut book, Friends, Voters and Countrymen. In 2012, Boris Johnson later gave his backing to same-sex marriage.

When: 2002

The Quote: “What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.”

Context: Writing a column in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson called Black people “piccaninnies”, a highly racist term. The comment has haunted his premiership since.

When: 2002

The Quote: “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”

Context: Speaking about the continent of Africa, Johnson in 2002 claimed that Britain’s role in Africa’s colonisation should never have been ended, and later dismissed Britain’s role in the slave trade.

When: 2018

The Quote: “If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – 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.”

Context: Writing an article in The Telegraph, Boris Johnson compared the Muslim women wearing the burqa to “bank robbers.” The comment caused outrage, but Johnson was later cleared by a panel that investigated the quote.

When: 2019

The Quote: “You know, £60M I saw being spaffed up a wall, you know, on some investigation into historical child abuse.”

Context: Speaking on LBC, Johnson argued that police time and resources were being wasted on historical child abuse claims. Labour soon after criticised Johnson’s claim that investigating historical offences was a waste of money.


When: 2016

The quote: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”.

Context: When asked his policy on leaving the European Union after the Brexit referendum, Johnson claimed his approach was having his own cake and eating it. Johnson was later mocked for his claim. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, quoted German leader Ludwig Erhard who said, “compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.”

When: 2016

The Quote: “The Remain campaign…I’ve never seen a more miserable offering. All they are saying is stay in and we’ll do our best to make sure that Britain’s Parliamentary independence isn’t eroded faster than we can possibly imagine.”

Context: During an interview with the Telegraph, Johnson outlined what he believed were the weaknesses with the Remain campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

When: 2016

The Quote: “Our campaign has been about optimism and self-reliance. This is an absolute turning point in the story of our country because I think if we go on with being enmeshed in the EU it will continue to erode our democracy. That is something that worries me.”

Context: During the announcement of the Brexit referendum results, Johnson was optimistic about the result in favour of Leave. He claimed Vote Leave told a story of a free nation outside of the European Union, one that would be democratic and free.

When: 2016

The Quote: “I’m rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.”

Context: In his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson outlined his love for the European continent — and their women.

When: 2016

The Quote: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe.”

Context: During the European Union referendum, Johnson argued that the EU resembled Nazi Germany. He later stood by the comparison, saying the row over the issue was an “artificial media twit storm.”

When: 2016

The Quote: “I believe we now have a glorious opportunity: we can pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of the U.K. economy.”

Context: Johnson, speaking about the benefits of Brexit.


When: While Blair was prime minister.

Quote: “It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall.”

Context: Mr Johnson gave the particularly colourful quote during the time Tony Blair was prime minister, presumably in response to the growing pressure on Blair over the war in Iraq. The famous quote went to the evasiveness of Blair, who came to be known as “Teflon Tony” — since nothing would ever stick.

When: 2007

Quote: “They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.”

Context: Writing in the Telegraph in 2007, Johnson claimed about Gordon Brown’s “lack of a mandate from the British people” to become prime minister.

When: 2007

Quote: “She has got dyed blond hair and pouty lips and a steely-blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”

Context: Writing in his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson described Hilary Clinton as a “sadistic nurse”. Johnson had some apologising to do when he met Clinton in 2015 at her office in Manhattan.

When: 2008

Quote: “My speaking style was criticised by no less an authority than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a low moment to have my rhetorical skills denounced by a monosyllabic Austrian cyborg.”

Context: Whilst London Mayor, Johnson was ridiculed by the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was amused by Johnson’s strange speaking style. Johnson later hit back, comparing Schwarzenegger’s own speaking style to a robotic cyborg.

When: 2013

Quote: “Nigel Farage has always struck me as a rather engaging geezer.”

Context: Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson explained his curiosity with UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

When: 2014

Quote: “He’s a wobbling jelly of indecision and vacillation.”

Context: During an interview with LBC, Johnson criticised the then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg for being an indecisive politician. He didn’t stop there, however. He also called Clegg a condom: “[Clegg] is a kind of shield. He’s a lapdog who’s been skinned and turned into a shield.” Right so … he was a dog, and now he’s a condom.”

When: 2015

Quote: “Despite looking like a bit like Dobby the house-elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.”

Context: Writing in his Telegraph column, Johnson compared Vladimir Putin — the leader of Russia — to the elf from Harry Potter. Johnson, soon after, argued that the West needed to do a deal with Putin over the Syrian civil war.

When: 2016

The Quote: “There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer, Till he sowed his wild oats, With the help of a goat, But he didn’t even stop to thankera.”

Context:  Johnson won a £1,000 prize for a poem about the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, having sex with a goat. The competition was held by the Spectator magazine, and Johnson’s limerick was written off-the-cuff during an interview with the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche.

When: 2016

The Quote: “The part-Kenyan president [has an] ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”

Context: While London Mayor, Johnson was criticised for dog-whistle racism for the way he criticised Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum. Later, Johnson was asked whether he had any regrets about the comment. “Of course not,” he told BBC Radio 4.

When: 2018

Quote: “If he can fix North Korea and if he can fix the Iran nuclear deal then I don’t see why he is any less of a candidate for the Nobel peace prize than Barack Obama.”

Context: While Foreign Secretary, Johnson argued Trump was equally a candidate qualified for the Nobel peace prize as other politicians, including Obama. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”.


When: 2004

Quote: “I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle. It is all completely untrue and ludicrous conjecture. I am amazed people can write this drivel.

Context: Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson denied accusations of having an affair with Petronella Wyatt. It was later revealed to be true.

When: 2004:

The Quote: “I advise you all very strongly — go for a run, get some exercise and have a beautiful day.”

Context: Cornered by reporters asking about his affair after a morning run, Johnson gave some advice.


When: 1987

The Quote: “Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious.”

Context: After graduation, Johnson got a job in a management consultancy, but later quit after one week. He later explained to magazine Management Today that he found the role “insufferably boring.”

When: 2006

The Quote: “I’m like a greased panther, a coiled spring, all that suppressed kinetic energy.”

Context: Johnson, commenting on the England v. Germany Legends match.

When: 2014

The Quote: “I’m in politics to change things — if possible for the better. I was a journalist for a long time but I had a kind of midlife crisis and I decided I needed to do something, to get on the pitch and stop endlessly kicking over other peoples’ sandcastles. I’ve always sort of thought that politics was a high and noble calling and a good thing to do.”

Context: During an interview with the Spectator, Johnson explained why he switched from journalism to politics. His answer: to help people…