News·The National Today

Boris Johnson plagued by controversy amid U.K. leadership campaign

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Boris Johnson's attempt to change the channel on coverage of his controversial personal life isn't going as planned, an up close and personal look at the border crisis on the ground in Arizona.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Boris Johnson, the favoured leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, attends a party event in Birmingham, U.K. last week. His campaign has hit a rough patch for all-too familiar reasons. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Boris Johnson's leadership campaign has hit a snag over a series of all-too-familiar controversies that have plagued the former foreign minister in his attempt to succeed Theresa May.
  • Paul Hunter takes a firsthand look at the U.S. border crisis, travelling with Border Patrol agents on the ground in Arizona.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Boris Johnson 'breaks cover'

Boris Johnson is a walking, talking controversy, but he remains the odds-on favourite to become the U.K.'s next prime minister

The former foreign minister and front-runner in the race to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader, returned to the public eye today"broke cover" seems to be the phrase of choice in the press – after a few days of intensely negative coverage about his personal life.

Late Friday night, police were called to the London flat that the twice-married, presently divorcing, 55-year-old Johnson shares with his 31-year-old girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, a former Tory party spokeswoman, after a neighbour expressed concerns about a loud and long argument.

Police have said that there were no apparent "offences or concerns" and that no action was taken, but that hasn't stopped the British media from focusing on the fight, just the latest incident in Johnson's fraught and oddly public love life.

BoJo, as he is popularly known, is now busy trying to change the channel with a flurry of media interviews, campaign stops and announcements.

But despite Johnson's attempts to shut down discussions about his personal life – "I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones," he told the BBC, saying it was "not fair on them" – the questions keep coming

This morning, it was over a grainy photo of a happy-looking Johnson and Symonds holding hands in the British countryside, that somehow made it into several Sunday newspapers. 

A radio interviewer noted the picture, purportedly taken in Surrey on Saturday, shows Johnson with much longer hair and pressed the issue of when it was taken and why it was released

Johnson refused to bite, despite being asked about his hair 23 times over a 20-minute phone-in interview

"I'm not going to comment on the antiquity or the provenance of some photo that newspapers decide to put on their front pages," he told the LBC network host. 

The vote to select the next Tory leader will take place on July 23, with the winner also receiving the keys to 10 Downing Street. And Johnson, long the most popular figure in his party, has been following the front-runner's playbook, sloughing off his rival Jeremy Hunt's calls for a series of televised debates.

Conservative Party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt leaves his home in London, Britain, June 24, 2019. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

But some polls suggest that the race is now tightening. And the concerns about Johnson's fitness for office are rising.  

Max Hastings, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph, penned a particularly scathing op-ed for The Guardian yesterday, bearing the headline "I was Boris Johnson's boss: He is utterly unfit to be prime minister."

Hastings, who employed Johnson as a reporter and then political columnist in the 1980s, calls him a "brilliant entertainer," but says he is a "bully" and of "weak character".

"Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it. Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience, whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later," Hasting writes. 

Johnson's checkered past and sometimes estranged relationship with the truth are well known to British voters. His shambolic style of politics, dress and speech is a big part of his charm, and serves to blunt his status as an Oxford-educated, card-carrying member of Britain's ruling class

And for his turn, he seems happy enough to make it part of the act. As in this clip from another interview today, in which an interviewer unwisely asked him how he relaxes away from the office.

Johnson has always made himself extraordinarily available to the media, and participated in two different TV documentaries during his time as May's foreign minister. Neither were flattering. Blond Ambition captured him reciting a Kipling poem while touring a temple in Myanmar like some sort of cartoon colonial. Inside the Foreign Office showed him to be so painfully clueless, people wondered if it was a parody of political life.

Should Johnson win next month, he is vowing to take the U.K. out of the European Union by Oct. 31, deal or no deal, "do or die."

And that promise alone could be enough to secure him the support of the majority of 160,000 party members who are eligible to cast a ballot in the contest. 

Provided that he can behave himself

"Don't have any more rows," a member of the public advised Johnson as he toured some country gardens in Surrey this afternoon

"No more rows. No, no, no. All quiet, all quiet," was his response.


  • Like this newsletter? Sign up and have it delivered by email.
  • You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.

Fences and neighbours

The U.S. border crisis is a problem that seemingly can't be solved, and an eight-metre high wall fortified with razor wire in Arizona isn't stopping the flow of illegal migrants, writes CBC News Washington Correspondent Paul Hunter.

Hard to imagine, but it's been fully four years now since Donald Trump came down that escalator at Trump Tower in June of 2015 to announce his run for the presidency.

That was the speech in which he slammed Mexicans crossing the border north into the U.S. as "rapists" and pledged to build a wall to stop them from getting in. 

It was a pledge that became central to his campaign and to his time in office.

A jacket is seen stuck in the razor wire of a border fence between Nogales, Arizona and Mexico. (Jason Burles/CBC)

CBC News has reported from the U.S.-Mexico border multiple times since then, but never had we spent a full day with U.S. Border Patrol agents to see it through their eyes.

Until now.

After an approval process lasting months (bureaucracy is everywhere!), we finally settled on a day last week and headed down to Nogales, Az., for a so-called ride-along.

And what a ride it was.

You often head out on such assignments thinking there's a pretty good chance you'll not actually encounter anything interesting — that somehow bad luck will seize the day and you'll come home empty-handed. That wasn't the case on this shoot.

On the morning of our day with an agent, as we were driving to their offices for our first meeting, coffees in hand, we idly noticed on the other side of a busy road a bunch of flashing blue and red lights — police cars and Border Patrol vehicles.

At first you naturally think, Aha! Someone caught for speeding. Then you think, wait — Border Patrol? Pull over!

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jacob Stukenberg patrols the border west of Nogales, Arizona. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

And sure enough, as CBC cameraman Jason Burles scrambled to grab his gear, there it was on the sidewalk: Border Patrol agents (with help from local authorities) detaining a suspected undocumented migrant, alleged to have just crossed into America.

Such moments bring a mix of fascination and sorrow. It was at once evidence of the regularity of illegal border crossings, as well as of the desperation that can go into such activity.

The man appeared disheveled and broken. He'd hardly be the only suspected illegal migrant we'd see that day.

Yes, there's a wall in Nogales. It's eight metres high. And yes, it's now extra-fortified with razor wire. But no, it doesn't stop the crossings.

We saw cuts in the wire, clothes caught and tangled within it, handprints on the bollards, abandoned water bottles, even a lost wallet — all evidently made or left behind by the seemingly endless flow of undocumented migrants making their way into the U.S.

In the Nogales District alone, authorities find and detain about a thousand people a week.

A border fence adorned with razor wire is seen in Nogales, Arizona. Despite the wall, U.S. Border Patrol authorities find and detain about 1,000 illegal migrants a week. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

The agent we spent the day with told us he sees a mix of people — some fleeing strife in Central America, others smuggling narcotics. (Fentanyl, we're told, is now the smuggled drug of choice.)

Policy on what to do, he told us, is Washington's domain. His job is to catch and detain. And so he does.

Meanwhile, the crossings continue.

"Build that wall" remains a loud refrain in this country. Likewise, apparently, the desire to jump over it.

  • WATCH: A day on the front lines of the Arizona border tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

A few words on...

An anything but mellow yellow.


Quote of the moment

"The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denounces a new round of "outrageous and idiotic" U.S. sanctions against the senior leadership of the Islamic Republic.


What The National is reading

  • Afghan war memorial to be re-dedicated — this time with soldiers' families present (CBC)
  • 'Climate apartheid' looms, warns UN expert (BBC)
  • Royals double their carbon emissions (The Times)
  • China's pork and soybean imports down 55.3 % due to U.S. trade war (South China Morning Post)
  • Kaiser's descendant loses court battle to regain 13th-century German castle (Guardian)
  • Mexico cracks down at U.S. border with 15,000 troops (Agence France Presse)
  • Inside the secret, million-dollar world of baby eel trafficking (CBC)
  • Cornhole (yes, cornhole) is going pro (Experience)

Today in history

June 25, 2002: Protests at the Kananaskis G8 

The 2002 G8 Summit was in Kananaskis, Alta., for a reason. The location put a lot of distance — and some bears — between world leaders and the crowds of activists who were there to protest them, globalization, inequality and a whole bunch of other stuff. They're "a grab bag of interest groups, each with their own message and their own way of getting heard," says Peter Mansbridge. The question being asked is whether it's effective. 

As Kananaskis, Alta. prepares to host the 2002 G8 Summit, protesters have come out in full force. But does anyone really know what they're protesting? 17:14

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​


About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.