Boris Johnson Named U.K. Prime Minister

Boris Johnson - H - 2016

A hugely contentious figure accused of sexism, racism and homophobia, Johnson has vowed to take the U.K. out of the European Union on Oct. 31.

The U.K. is set to have a new political leader. 

Former London mayor and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson will become prime minister, taking over from Theresa May, who announced in May that she would resign after less than three years in power and following intense pressure from within the ruling Conservative Party.

Johnson, who had been the favorite to succeed May from the outset, beat current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in the final round of the Conservative Party's fiercely fought leadership election, a result that by default makes him prime minister, with the party having won the last general election in 2017. He officially takes up the post July 24. 

One of the most contentious figures in current British politics, Johnson was arguably the most prominent name behind the successful campaign to leave the European Union and has since argued that the U.K. should exit the EU even without a deal in place, a move many experts have labeled as economically catastrophic. His leadership campaign was based around a promise to leave the EU on Oct. 31. 

But Johnson, a former journalist (he was fired by The Times in 1987 for inventing a quote and later edited The Spectator magazine) has also faced fierce criticism over the years for a litany of comments that have been called sexist, homophobic and racist. In a regular weekly column he's written for The Telegraph newspaper, he once described black people as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles," gay men as "tank-topped bumboys" and Muslim women in burqas as looking like "bank robbers" and "letterboxes."

The new British leader already has a supporter in the U.S., Donald Trump, to whom Johnson has regularly been compared, having previously spoken of his admiration for the politician. Earlier this month Trump said that he thought Johnson would "do a great job" as prime minister and that they would have a "very good relationship."

Despite the victory, several pundits have predicted that Johnson's tenure could be among the shortest in British history. Deep divisions within the Conservative Party over its handling of Brexit may leave Johnson without a workable majority, and a number of prominent government ministers have already said they would resign were he to win. Were he to fail to gain parliamentary support for his Brexit policy, the U.K. could be heading straight for a general election.