Britain weighs divorce effect on Boris's PM bid

Opinion is divided on whether Boris Johnson's anticipated bid to replace Theresa May as Britain's Prime Minister will be affected by the intense speculation about his private life.

By Amit Roy
  • Published 9.09.18
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A file picture of Boris Johnson and his wife Marina in London on May 7, 2015. (Reuters)

London: Opinion is divided on whether Boris Johnson's anticipated bid to replace Theresa May as Britain's Prime Minister will be affected by the intense speculation about his private life.

On Friday Boris and his barrister wife, Marina Wheeler, both 54, announced they are to divorce after four children and 25 years of marriage.

Some commentators are saying the divorce will have no effect on his leadership ambitions in a socially liberally Britain, where the laws are currently being revised to make it easier for a married couple to part with as little acrimony as possible.

Others disagree and argue that the Conservative Party still remains conservative when it comes to perceived morals in the Tory shires, especially among older women.

Boris has certainly been a frequent visitor to India and, in marked contrast to May, argues it should be made possible for more Indian students to come to the UK for higher studies.

The late Khushwant Singh's journalist son, Rahul Singh, once explained to The Telegraph, how he was related to both Boris and Marina, who is half Sikh, by marriage: "Boris's mother-in-law (Dip Singh), a Sikh, was married to my father's youngest brother, Daljit Singh, a national junior tennis champion. They got divorced and she then married Sir Charles Wheeler, the BBC correspondent in Delhi."

During one mayoral election Boris boasted that unlike his Labour rival, Ken Livingstone, he did not have to squander taxpayers' money when he went to India on official trips "because I stay with my relatives".

Marina is certainly very proud of her Indian heritage. She has taken a sabbatical from work and is deep into writing a book on India using her Indian family as the framework to hang the wider story.

In 2012, Marina, whom Indians find as engaging as her husband, did an entertaining double act with her younger sister, Shirin, at a dinner hosted by the Indian Journalists' Association. "They were picking up a life achievement award awarded posthumously to their late father, whose period in Delhi enhanced his reputation as one of the most distinguished foreign correspondents of his generation."

When Rahul organised a Khushwant Singh literary festival in London in May this year, Marina was in the audience.

On Saturday, The Daily Telegraph, the newspaper which pays Boris a reported £275,000 a year and generally supports his harder line on Brexit compared with the relatively softer "Chequers deal" offered by the Prime Minister, did not put news of his impending divorce on page one - as most other papers have done. It was on page 11.

The paper does point out optimistically: "If Mr Johnson, Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who writes a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph, succeeds Mrs May he would become the first divorced party leader to live in 10 Downing Street."

It adds: "One MP said the news would 'clear the decks' to allow Mr Johnson to have a clear run at the leadership without having to worry out any hostile revelations about his private life.

"(But) in the wake of the news Ladbrokes, the bookmaker, cut the odds on Mr Johnson replacing Mrs May as leader from 4/1 to 7/2 after a punter staked £2,500 on the outcome."

It quotes Nigel Evans, the Tory MP and former deputy speaker of the House of Commons, who does not think the news would affect voters' view of him.

"It is 2018, we are not in the 1950s now, so things move on and people make judgments about people.

"They are able to distinguish between personal lives and their public lives."

Nadine Dorries, another Tory MP who openly backs Boris succeeding May, also tells the paper: "We cannot continue with a Prime Minister who is non-consensual, who doesn't listen, who doesn't take on board people's concerns and acts in a presidential style.

That is not how politics works, and I'm afraid it is the end of the road now."

According to the Daily Telegraph, Marina, for whom Boris left his first wife, "helped him pick up the pieces after his six year marriage to Allegra Mostyn-Owen collapsed in 1993".

The paper says: "Mr Johnson's career has been written off before over allegations about his private life. In 2009 he fathered a child by Helen Macintyre, an unpaid adviser in City Hall, prompting a senior Tory to say it showed he 'was not a serious figure and could not possibly become Prime Minister'. In 2004 he admitted to a four-year affair with the journalist Petronella Wyatt and was sacked from the shadow cabinet by then-Tory leader Michael Howard for having earlier denied any infidelity."

Friday's divorce announcement followed a scoop in the Sun that Marina, exasperated by her husband alleged new affair, had finally "booted him out for cheating on her again".

Saturday's Sun adds more spice to the growing speculation about the timing of the divorce. It claims that "a blonde Tory aide wined and dined by Boris Johnson on Valentine's Day".

No doubt, given the Sun's resources, the woman will soon be identified. For now, the paper provides the following information: "Diners were stunned to see Boris Johnson march into a restaurant at lunchtime on Valentine's Day with a glamorous aide while foreign secretary. MPs were sitting in the Commons and Johnson - at the centre of a Brexit storm - was supposed to be working.

"Instead he headed to a cosy corner of the exclusive London restaurant with the young blonde woman - and spent the next two hours there. As Johnson wined and dined the attractive Tory aide, a pair of 'peeved' bodyguards sat nearby."

"The split sparked immediate claims that it could devastate Johnson's chances for the Tory Party leadership," the Sun says. "One unnamed ally suggested it was in Johnson's 'interests to get this news out there' now so it will not be used by his enemies at the height of any leadership contest.

"But a close pal yesterday dismissed that as 'b******s', saying, 'This is the last thing he wants out there.'"

The Sun goes on: "We revealed yesterday that Johnson's daughter Lara had stunned close pals at a party by saying her mum Marina 'will never take him back' after accusing him of cheating on her again. The fashion journalist, 25, is said to have told friends that her dad is a 'selfish bastard'. And she insisted to one, 'Mum is finished with him. She will never take him back now.'"