UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the following on the issue of rising crime in the UK:

"We are committed to rolling up the evil county lines drugs gangs. . . . which predate on young kids and send them to die in the streets to feed the cocaine habits of the bourgeoisie."

Does "to rolling up" mean "to defeat"?

Source: PM Boris: ‘Bourgeoisie’ Cocaine Users Fuelling Killing of Children on Streets of Britain

2 Answers 2


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. one meaning of roll up is

to increase or acquire by successive accumulations.

But its hard to connect the phrase with MW's definition.

A second meaning of the verbal phrase is to reduce something (e.g., roll up the maps, roll up the papers). From Collins

If you roll up your sleeves or trouser legs, you fold the ends back several times, making them shorter.

I have a feeling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson used "rolling up" figuratively (meaning from Collins) to mean that his administration is committed to reducing/curbing the number of evil county lines drugs gangs. He intends to do this by "hiring 20,000 new police officers to patrol the streets."

  • 1
    Yes. To reduce or compact. Oct 6, 2019 at 19:43

I have assessed this question with a focus on British English because your quotation is from the British Prime Minister.

I did initially think you had either misheard the word rounding, or that Prime Minister Boris Johnson from whom you were quoting had made a characteristic gaffe:

We are committed to rounding up the evil county lines drugs gangs.

This is a common expression and would make a lot more sense. "Rounding up" idiomatically means to gather in or bring together. It was historically used to describe the herding of cattle but now is commonly used to describe catching criminals.

"Roll up" has several common idiomatic uses but none that would fit this context. However, it has been pointed out to me that this expression is sometimes used to refer to catching criminals in a similar way to the expression "rounding up".

I do not believe it is widely used in British English as I have never heard it before now, and have only been shown a small handful of news headlines using it and as yet have not seen this definition in any British English dictionary. I suspect that it is a phrase "borrowed" from American English.

So it would seem that the quotation means to catch, get rid of, or in a sense "defeat" the drugs gangs.

  • 2
    Actually, 'rolling up' might make sense in this context; it usually implies that the process will be a possibly protracted one in which a few low-level 'easy pickings' will be arrested and interrogated, and the information garnered by such interrogations used to get some slightly-higher-level people, and so on until the enforcement establishment has gone as high as it can. Oct 4, 2019 at 11:33
  • In UK usage one can 'roll up' gangs of criminals, spies, terrorists, etc. The expression evokes the idea of starting at one end of something and dealing with it progressively until the other end is reached. Oct 4, 2019 at 11:50
  • Does the use of "drugs gangs" bother any of you like it bothers me?
    – AIQ
    Oct 5, 2019 at 6:44
  • "Drugs gangs" does not bother me at all; it is a common way of referring to gangs of criminals who specialise in supplying illegal drugs, at least in the British media. "Drug gangs" might also be seen. Why does it 'bother' you? Do 'fraud gangs' and 'robbery gangs' bother you too? Oct 5, 2019 at 13:55
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    @AIQ About "drugs gangs": It sounds very odd to me too, but that is because I use American English. I'm surprised no one is mentioning this difference between US and British (+ maybe others?) usage. "Drugs laws", "drugs charges", etc. vs. US singular: "drug laws" & "drug charges".
    – Lorel C.
    Oct 6, 2019 at 19:58

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