Boris Johnson, least diplomatic person, is now new head of diplomacy for Britain

Among many surprising entrants in new British PM Theresa May's cabinet, perhaps the most intriguing appointment is that of Boris Johnson as the nation's foreign secretary.

FP Staff July 14, 2016 18:55:08 IST
Boris Johnson, least diplomatic person, is now new head of diplomacy for Britain

Among the many surprising entrants in new British PM Theresa May's Cabinet, the most intriguing appointment is that of Boris Johnson as the foreign secretary. Former London Mayor and top Brexit campaigner Johnson has made a sensational comeback as Britain's top diplomat, after two weeks in the political wilderness

With his blond mop, bumbling manner and his knowledge of Latin, Johnson is one of Britain's most recognised politicians. He is also one of the most controversial, after he headed the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, and became, in fact, the face of Britain's exit from the Union, popularly known as Brexit, and then ducked out of the race to become post-Brexit premier, leading critics to accuse him of walking away from the fallout.

But here's why Theresa May will have to deal with a world of pain for appointing the gaffe-prone politician as the foreign secretary. The country's new head of diplomacy is the least diplomatic man. In fact, Theresa May's judgment is already being questioned by a large section of the British media, who allege that May's credentials come under serious scrutiny because all that she stands for is in direct contradiction of Johnson's appointment.

Many feel May is taking a huge risk by putting Johnson in such a key role — which also sees him in charge of MI6. Days ago, she mocked him for his ­negotiating skills, noting “the last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly new water cannons". Moreover, the new British PM has handed over the responsibility of untangling the Brexit mess to the one man who led the campaign to leave the Union.

Here's a man, a former editor of a leading British magazine The Spectator, who did not think twice before offending world leaders, countries, cities and races over a string of racist and xenophobic remarks. The list is endless. In fact, as the British foreign secretary, it is worrisome how the US will react to him, when Johnson has garbled about Obama's "part-Kenyan" heritage and called Hillary "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital".

Writing a column for The Sun, Boris Johnson had criticised the US President Barack Obama and suggested that his attitude towards Britain might be based on his "part-Kenyan" heritage and his "ancestral dislike of the British empire". The former Mayor of London recounted a story about a bust of Winston Churchill purportedly being removed from White House. "Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender," he wrote.

Boris Johnson least diplomatic person is now new head of diplomacy for Britain

Boris Johnson, Britain's new foreign secretary. Reuters

In November 2007, Johnson in his column in The Telegraph, declared his support for Hillary Clinton, as the woman to succeed George Bush in the White House — just to have Bill Clinton as a First Husband and said:

"She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital..."

He did not stop at that.

"For all who love America, it is time to think of supporting Hillary, not because we necessarily want her for herself but because we want Bill in the role of First Husband. And if Bill can deal with Hillary, he can surely deal with any global crisis."

Johnson even won the most offensive poem competition in 2016 against Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was published by The Spectator. He even won a £1,000 prize for the limerick.

"There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer," his poem began. "Till he sowed his wild oats, With the help of a goat, But he didn't even stop to thankera."

In 2008, as the editor of The Spectator, Johnson was forced to apologise after running articles that claimed black people had lower IQs and African-American NBA players had "arms hanging below their knees and tongues sticking out." In 2015, Johnson, who was thought to be on track to become Britain's next conservative PM, said he would renounce his US citizenship because he wanted to avoid paying US taxes.

"I think, it's absolutely outrageous. Why should I? I think, you know, I'm not a — I, you know, I haven't lived in the United States for, you know, well, since I was five years old."

In a 2005 column for The Telegraph entitled "Getting our knickers in a twist over China", Johnson played down the importance of the world’s most populous nation when compared to that of, for example, "the British Empire". He said:

"We do not need to fear the Chinese. China will not dominate the globe. We do not need to teach babies Mandarin. Compared with the old British Empire, and the new American imperium, Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase."

In another column in The Telegraph, Johnson took issue with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her decision to prosecute the German comedian, who insulted President Erdogan and sparked the free speech row in the first place.

"What is truly incredible – indeed what is positively sickening – is that the German government has agreed at the express request of Angela Merkel that the prosecution should go ahead. She numbly decided to kowtow to the demands of Erdogan."

Jonhson, in May, 2016 said that the EU was an attempt to recreate the Roman Empire’s united Europe. "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods," he added.

Even the media loves Johnson. No. We are just kidding

Britain's newspapers also focused on May's challenge-laden in tray, while her appointment of top Brexiteers led by Johnson thrilled some, but alarmed others. Dailies concentrated on the slant of the incoming government team replacing that of David Cameron, who stepped down as premier on Wednesday.

However, most newspapers were more interested in the surprise appointment of Johnson as foreign minister. "New PM's bombshell," said The Daily Mirror. "Dear world... Sorry", with a front page picture of Johnson stuck on a zip wire holding two British flags, from the London 2012 Olympics. "Britain's credibility was hanging by a thread last night as new PM Theresa May chose gaffe-prone Boris Johnson as foreign secretary," the left-wing tabloid said.

The Daily Telegraph had a picture of May's first step into 10 Downing Street, taken from inside. "May brings in the Brexiteers," the conservative broadsheet said. Its cartoon had a picture of traders looking at a screen bearing a line plunging then soaring.

"That's not the pound, that's Boris Johnson's career," read the caption. "May's team to battle Brussels," said the EU-despising Daily Express, with pictures of Johnson and eurosceptic Brexit negotiator David Davis filling the front page. "Boris bounces back!" said The Daily Mail's front page, accompanied by a picture of Cameron's five-year-old daughter Florence.

"Days after his PM dream imploded, May makes him foreign secretary," said the right-wing tabloid. "Then she sacks Osborne and hands top Cabinet jobs to Brexiteers."

The Sun, Britain's biggest selling newspaper, also concentrated on Florence Cameron. "Go with the Flo", the tabloid's headline said, with the entire front page a picture of Cameron looking at his smiling youngest child. "David Cameron left Downing Street yesterday — but was upstaged by his giggling daughter Florence," its front-page story began. Free commuters' newspaper Metro had a picture of the Camerons, with the headline: "The May team".

Incidentally, Johnson's start as foreign secretary was not that brilliant. Apparently, (and this has nothing to do with what we think about the him), Johnson could not find his car as he left his residence as the new Foreign Secretary on Thursday. When the media asked him questions about his first day as the foreign secretary, Johnson bumbled saying, "I am so sorry" and walked away.

Well, it wasn't the best apology, Mr Johnson.

With inputs from agencies

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