Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson quits controversial newspaper column

Johnson used his column to showcase his sharp wit. In photo: Boris Johnson addresses staff inside the Foreign Office on his first day as foreign secretary. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP London, United Kingdom Jul 18, 2016, 02.23 PM (IST)
Britain's new foreign minister Boris Johnson has given up his lucrative newspaper column, which he had used for years to mock world leaders, his spokesman said today.

The leading Brexit campaigner was paid £250,000 ($330,000, 300,000 euros) a year for his weekly article in The Daily Telegraph broadsheet which he continued writing during his eight-year tenure as mayor of London.

He used the column to showcase his sharp wit, but some of his barbs, including comparing White House hopeful Hillary Clinton to a "sadistic nurse", came back to haunt him when he was named foreign secretary last week.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who took office following the June-23 referendum vote for Britain to leave the European Union, stunned observers by naming gaffe-prone Johnson as her top diplomat.

His new job comes with a salary of £135,527 a year, which includes £74,962 for being a Member of Parliament.

"Whilst Mr Johnson has enjoyed a close working relationship with The Daily Telegraph for over 20 years, it would not be appropriate for him to continue writing his long-standing column for the newspaper given his new role as foreign secretary," his spokesman said.

When asked if May had told Johnson to give up the column, the Prime Minister's spokeswoman said only that it was his decision.

"Boris has been an outstanding columnist for The Daily Telegraph for many years, with a legion of devoted readers," said Telegraph Media Group editor Chris Evans, adding that he wished him well in his new job.

Johnson, who stepped down as London mayor in May, was in Brussels today for his first talks with EU counterparts.

The fifty-two-year-old was also working on a book on Shakespeare that was due to be published in October, but has now been postponed "for the forseeable future", publishers Hodder and Stoughton said.

Johnson has received an advance payment of about £90,000 for the book, but it is thought unlikely that he will have to repay it as the commission has not been withdrawn.

"Hodder and Stoughton confirm that they are postponing publication of Boris Johnson's 'Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius'," the publishers said in a statement.

Documents released earlier this year showed Johnson earned £987,097 from his Telegraph column over the past four years, while book royalties brought in a further £469,385.

In 2009, Johnson described his Telegraph earnings as "chicken feed".