What Is Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Human Rights Record?

Boris Johnson: What Is The Next Prime Minister’s Human Rights Record?

Boris Johnson has been named the new leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 

The former Foreign Secretary and Daily Telegraph columnist was on Tuesday (July 23) crowned winner of the Tory leadership elections.

More than 159,000 Conservative members took part in the leadership ballot, with the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip winning 66 percent of the vote.

Johnson officially becomes PM on Wednesday, July 24.

RightsInfo has done some digging into how the incoming PM stacks up on human rights.

Human Rights Act 

Boris Johnson

Image Credit: Flickr.

Despite leading the charge to leave the European Union, ardent eurosceptic Johnson has spoken favourably about the Human Rights Act.

Introduced in 1998, the Act embeds international human rights protections which were set out in the European Human Rights Convention in UK law.

Speaking at a Vote Leave rally in 2016, held at a racecourse in York, Johnson said: “Keep the European Convention, it’s a fine thing… We wrote it. Get out of the EU.”

His reverence for the Convention seems to stem from former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s role in helping to craft it.

“I am not against the Convention or indeed the Court because it’s very important for us,” he added, according to the Daily Mirror.

“The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights do not have to be applied either by the UK courts or by the UK Parliament.”

The Act means that citizens can now go to courts in the UK, rather than in Strasbourg, for human rights matters.

The Conservative Party has pledged in past manifestos to repeal the Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, the details of which are unclear.

When MPs took a vote on whether to repeal the Human Rights Act in 2016, Johnson was absent.

Foreign Policy


Johnson is believed to have worsened the plight of British mum jailed in Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after mistakenly saying she was “teaching people journalism”. Image Credit: Free Nazanin Campaign. 

Johnson spoke proudly about championing human rights internationally during his time as Foreign Secretary from July 2016 to July 2018. 

Months before resigning from his ministerial post, Johnson said: “Standing up for human rights is not only the right thing; it also helps to create a safer, more prosperous and progressive world.”

He described “championing” human rights as “integral” to the work of the Foreign Office and the everyday work of British diplomats.

Nevertheless, when it came to foreign affairs, watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) described his approach to human rights as “weak, inconsistent, and often incoherent”.

HRW’s Advocacy and Press Officer Myrto Tilianaki cited the sale of £4.6bn of arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war in Yemen until June last year as a prime example.

Johnson’s career as Foreign Secretary was perhaps most stained by a faux pas which is believed to have exacerbated the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian being held prisoner in Iran since 2016.  

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the news organisation the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she denies – maintaining that she was visiting family. 

Johnson had told a Commons committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “teaching people journalism” in Iran – which Iranian officials cited as evidence she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime”.

Press Freedom

newspaper on fire freedom of the press

Image Credit: Unsplash. 

Before entering into politics Johnson worked as a journalist, although he was sacked from the Times Newspaper in 2013 over allegations he made up a quote.

He retains a regular column for the Daily Telegraph. As Foreign Secretary, he pumped £1m funding into projects to promote freedom of speech internationally.

He came under fire for his alleged unwillingness to come under public scrutiny during the current Conservative leadership conference. 

At one Conservative Party, he refused point blank to answer multiple questions as to why police were called to the home of his girlfriend Carrie Symonds amid reports of a loud altercation.

In 1990, Johnson was also secretly recorded having a discussion with a friend who wanted his help in beating up a journalist.

In recording heard by the Independent, Darius Guppy requested that Johnson provide the address of News of the World reporter Stuart Collier, so that he could arrange for him to have his ribs cracked as revenge for investigating his activities.

No assault took place in the end, with Guppy being jailed for a seperate £1.8m fraud. Johnson has also dismissed the incident as a joke.

Read more: What Right To Privacy Has Boris Johnson Amid Girlfriend ‘Row’?


In August, Johnson was also referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for a controversial Telegraph column in which he compared Muslim women who wear burqas as “looking like letter boxes” – prompting accusations of Islamophobia.

While it branded Mr Johnson’s comments as “inflammatory and divisive”, the EHRC said it had no powers to investigate the matter. The remarks were also deemed not to be in breach of the Conservative Party’s code of conduct.

He and other Conservative leadership candidates were bounced into a commitment to launch an independent investigation into alleged Islamophobia within the Conservative Party by Home Secretary Sajid Javid during a BBC debate.

Featured Image Credit: BBC.

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About the Author

Aaron Walawalkar

News and Digital Editor
Aaron is an NCTJ-accredited multimedia journalist focussing on human rights. His extensive reporting on rough sleeping in east London has been nominated for multiple awards. He has worked for regional and national newspapers and produced illustrations, infographics and videos for humanitarian organisation RedR UK. View all posts by Aaron Walawalkar.
Boris Johnson: What Is The Next Prime Minister’s Human Rights Record?
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