Much of Boris Johnson’s trajectory for the coming years, even months, remains largely unclear, most probably even for the man himself. But one thing seems certain about his time after he leaves Downing Street: he will make a lot of money.
Johnson spent his last full day in No 10 performing tasks including a final call to President Zelenskiy, and a promise of help to veterans of early UK nuclear tests. On Tuesday, after a crack-of-dawn mini address in Downing Street, he flies to Balmoral to formally resign to the Queen.
Johnson will then, once again, be just another backbench MP, albeit one who has done nothing to quash speculation he would enjoy a return to the top job should Liz Truss struggle with an in-tray piled with crises and lukewarm support from her parliamentary party.
While Johnson pledged last week he would give his “full and unqualified support to whoever takes over from me”, he has made it plain he believes Tory MPs ousted him prematurely and unfairly, a sense unlikely to be lessened by the rousing applause whenever his name was invoked at leadership hustings.
One friend of Johnson said he felt “very bruised” but did not plan to make trouble: “I don’t think he’ll be a back-seat driver. He’ll write provocative articles, make interesting speeches, all of which he’ll make a lot of money from. I do think he likes the idea of making a glorious, Churchillian comeback. But whether he actually has plans in place to do it, I’m not so sure.”
While on the back benches, Johnson will be free to earn outside income, something barred to ministers, and he plans to do so at pace.
A good chunk will come from newspaper columns, with old employer the Telegraph reportedly vying with the Mail for his services, presumably at a higher fee even than the £23,000 a month he was paid pre-No 10.
The really big sums are likely to come from public speaking. Johnson has long been a popular draw for corporate events, making up to £100,000 a time in 2019. Being a former prime minister brings extra cachet, with the notably more wooden Theresa May now making up to £120,000 a time addressing banks and other businesses.
Yet more money could come from books, whether Johnson’s long-delayed treatise on Shakespeare or even a hugely lucrative memoir, even if the latter may risk feeling too valedictory for a man planning a comeback.
But at the back of his mind as Johnson pays off his debts and restores his bank balance after his financially crippling divorce from former wife Marina Wheeler, finalised in 2020, is the thought that if he ever does return to top-level politics, he will want to be sufficiently rich that he can buy his own £840-a-roll wallpaper, without a loan from rich friends.
Johnson has never been poor by any serious metric. But his perception that as prime minister he required and deserved a better standard of living played a part in his downfall, with damaging revelations about how renovations to his official flat were initially financed by David Brownlow, a rich Tory peer.
An official salary of £160,000 is greater than all but a couple of per cent of the UK population, but nonetheless felt a struggle for a man used to mixing with the very wealthy.
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This paradoxical sense of poverty is echoed by the fact Johnson is sometimes described as homeless beyond Downing Street. In fact he owns a house in Oxfordshire and, jointly with Carrie, one in south London currently on sale for £1.6m.
The couple have reportedly been looking at a bigger property in another part of south London, Herne Hill, for about £3.5m.
Will this be the base camp for a return to Downing Street? With polling of all voters, rather than just Tory party members, showing deep unpopularity, one friend of Johnson called this ambition “delusional”, adding: “He needs therapy if he thinks what the country needs right now is Boris back in No 10.”