Patrick Wintour writes: Boris Johnson’s surprise appointment as foreign secretary is as much about the dismemberment of the foreign office as the sudden resurrection of the Conservative party’s favourite loveable rogue. It is also the first confirmation that Theresa May is going to be prepared to take risks in government.
For diplomacy and Boris Johnson are not, after all, exactly synonymous. Any cursory reading of his regular Daily Telegraph columns reveals praise of Vladimir Putin, calls to accommodate Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and indiscretions about the president of the United States. The Germans have previously singled out Johnson for causing Brexit with “a diet of lies”.
So even though Johnson had played a dominant role in the leave campaign, few thought May would regard it as politically necessary to bring him back into the fold. He may remain hugely popular in the Tory constituencies and large parts of the country but he was always assumed to be too big a risk and someone who might outshine the comparatively dour prime minister.
Margaret Thatcher for instance tended to favour the duller end of the foreign secretaryship, choosing figures such as Geoffrey Howe, Francis Pym or Douglas Hurd.
But the foreign secretaryship may not turn out to be one of the great offices of state in a May government. Much of the heavy lifting on Brexit is going to be taken up by a new Brexit department, and to be conducted by David Davis, a former shadow home secretary and Europe minister in the Major government. Davis had no role in the Cameron government and was untrusted by the Cameron team, but now faces one of the toughest jobs in government. It will be his task to disentangle the UK from the European Union, including when to trigger article 50. Johnson – who has in the past likened the EU to ill-fitting underwear – will be kept away. [Continue reading…]
Polly Toynbee writes: The Boris shock appointment looks strangely out of kilter with May’s “safe pair of hands”. It may please her to see appalled faces in the Foreign Office, but this feels like an isolationist insult to the world. His first global tour will need to be on his knees.
How will the “special relationship” fare when he meets Hillary Clinton, whom he calls “a sadistic nurse”? Or the touchy, but geopolitically pivotal, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, about whom he has only just written an obscene limerick rhyming Ankara with wankerer. Funny? Not so much in a foreign secretary.
Racist pro-colonial “jokes” will precede him wherever he goes – “piccaninnies” and “natives” with “watermelon” smiles – a whole back catalogue of deliberate offence.
Those who feel ashamed already at how the world sees our xenophobic referendum will have a lot more to blush about as Boris brags and blusters his self-obsessed way through diplomatic etiquette. The Middle East? He praises Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Europe? He compared the EU to Hitler. This man, unconnected to notions of truth, is in charge of MI6. What kind of negotiator will he be on anything sensitive (and everything is)?
Maybe May hopes he’ll crash and burn, but he can do great damage wherever he goes. The joke will be on us, for letting him treat the rest of the world as his playground. [Continue reading…]