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From Brexit to coronavirus, Boris Johnson's dramatic first four months as Prime Minister

The PM has been put through the paces since his landslide victory in December, not least now leading the country from his hospital bed as he fights off coronavirus
By David Hughes, Harriet Line & Ryan Merrifield

01:39, 6 APR 2020 Updated 07:23, 6 APR 2020

Boris Johnson has had an eventful start to his time as Prime Minister from his landslide victory and finally guiding Britain out of the EU to leading the country against the coronavirus crisis.  And that's all just four months after moving into Number 10.  In what seems a lifetime ago, the PM crushed Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in the general election on December 12 long before anyone had heard of COVID-19.  But less than four months later, he is in the hospital fighting the very virus he has led the national effort to defeat.  The Prime Minister has been presiding over a country subjected to unprecedented peacetime restrictions and battling the biggest public health crisis in a generation.  This was not how it was meant to be for Mr. Johnson, who secured his place in Number 10 on a promise to "get Brexit done" and revive a spirit of national optimism.  His key election promise was delivered on January 31 as the UK left the European Union.  With Big Ben's bongs silenced by repair work, it was left to a light show on 10 Downing Street to mark the occasion - although the terms of the transition deal meant there was little noticeable change.  Talks have begun on striking a trade deal with the EU, although early exchanges have laid bare divisions on issues ranging from fisheries to a "level playing field" on workers' rights, environmental standards, and state subsidies to ensure fair competition.  Despite the coronavirus crisis, the Prime Minister has insisted he will not extend the transition period, meaning the UK risks leaving the transitional arrangements without any permanent trade deal at the end of the year.  After securing an 80-seat majority at the election, Mr. Johnson had the political capital to reshape his Government in a reshuffle designed to reward allies and promote fresh talent.  But a showdown with Sajid Javid saw his chancellor quit less than a month before the Budget after refusing an ultimatum from Mr.  Johnson to sack his entire team of aides and replace them with a joint No 10/No 11 unit.  In a quietly devastating Commons statement, Mr. Javid said chancellors had to be able to "speak truth to power" and "the arrangement proposed would significantly inhibit that, and it would not have been in the national interest".

He also took a swipe at Mr. Johnson's aide Dominic Cummings, whose influence within Government has been clear.  "I do not intend to dwell further on all the details and personalities the Cummings and goings if you will," Mr Javid said.

Ahead of the reshuffle, Mr. Cummings had given a dismissive assessment of the talent in the cabinet, suggesting cartoon superheroes PJ Masks "will do a greater job than all of them put together".

Mr Cummings's drive to recruit "misfits and weirdos" into the ranks of government advisers also caused controversy, with Andrew Sabisky's tenure as a contractor cut short after past comments about eugenics and racial IQ emerged.  Mr. Sabisky once suggested enforcing the uptake of contraception to stop unplanned pregnancies "creating a permanent underclass", and claimed the benefits of a purported cognitive enhancer, which can prove fatal, were "probably worth a dead kid once a year".

The contractor, who quit in February, had also suggested that black Americans have a lower average IQ than whites.  Also in February, Mr Johnson was dubbed a "part-time Prime Minister" by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after spending time holed up in the Chevening grace-and-favour mansion rather than visiting parts of the country hit by flooding.  One of the reasons why Mr Johnson may not have been keen to be out on the road was confirmed at the end of February when the Prime Minister's partner Carrie Symonds announced she was pregnant and the couple was engaged.  News of the pregnancy emerged just hours after Sir Philip Rutnam quit his post as the senior civil servant in the Home Office following a bitter public feud between Priti Patel and her officials.  Mr Johnson publicly stood by his Home Secretary, who has denied allegations of bullying staff in three Whitehall departments where she has been a minister.  But those scandals and Westminster rows have been dwarfed by the challenge now facing the Government. The Prime Minister chaired his first Cobra meeting on coronavirus on March 2 and the speed with which events have progressed have given a sense of a Government understandably scrabbling to keep pace with the challenge posed by a new threat and rapidly evolving science. Within weeks, he had warned "many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time", and given advice for every Briton to work from home and avoid pubs and restaurants.

The draconian restrictions felt a long way from the kind of politician Mr Johnson once said he respected - the mayor in the movie Jaws who kept the beaches open despite the threat of the shark, with fatal consequences.  Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced 12 billion of coronavirus support in his first Budget and then, less than a week later, that looked like small change as he set out a 350 billion package of loan guarantees, grants and tax breaks.  Further measures followed, as the Government raced to ensure the economy and individuals could weather the storm and strict social distancing measures were enforced to prevent the spread.  The PM was diagnosed with coronavirus in late March, and said he would self-isolate inside his Downing Street flat for a week.  But his symptoms persisted, and late on Sunday it was announced he had been admitted to hospital for tests.  His pregnant fiancee Ms Symonds, 32, also suffered coronavirus symptoms but after a week in bed, she said she was "on the mend".  Mr. Johnson, a biographer of Winston Churchill, said he had declared war on the virus.  "We must act like any wartime government and do whatever it takes to support our economy," he said.

But Mr. Johnson's front line in the battle against the disease is now an acutely personal one.