In the last month, Boris Johnson has proved to be an even greater survivor than Theresa May. Of course, he’s always been prone to gaffes or careless outbursts – that’s Boris for you – but these last few weeks have taken things to a whole new level.
Firstly, he went off the rails on Brexit and embarrassed the government with ludicrous alternative proposals, including a revival of the debunked £350m bailout claim, which has been shot down numerous times; the delusional idea that somehow we will get access to the single market without paying; and explicit rejections of a lengthy transition period. His article in the Telegraph just before May spoke in Florence, and his subsequent comments, have made it quite plain he was taking a swipe at the leadership. He even hosted the Institute for Free Trade – a eurosceptic think-tank led by Dan Hannan – at the Foreign Office. Wholly un-Ministerial of him.
Boris is also becoming a liability not just on Europe, but also on other parts of the world. Take, for example, his recent visit to Burma: at a visit to a major temple, he began reciting Rudyard Kipling’s “Mandalay” (a colonial-era poem) before being abruptly stopped by the British ambassador. Whether or not he meant anything by it is irrelevant, it’s a completely brainless lapse of sensitivity for a foreign secretary to recite such a poem at that time and in that place. It’s a good job the British ambassador was there to remind him of that.
In the last few days we’ve seen his response to Catalonia as well. Johnson rejects calls for the UK government to take the issue up with the Spanish government, saying that it is for the Spanish to deal with. This being despite the completely disproportionate police response – in which voters were forcibly dragged from polling stations, fired at with rubber bullets and even kicked down stairs – just for voting in a referendum that had already been legally invalidated anyway. There was no need for such a thuggish response to the vote, valid or not. As foreign secretary, Johnson should have been among the first to condemn the response of the Spanish government to the Catalan vote, but he has meekly equivocated instead.
The facts on the ground are that he seems unable to do his job and has no qualms about rocking the government boat while it’s on stormy seas. You would think that for all this any self-respecting PM would have shown Johnson the door, but not so with May. Even just his article on Brexit was really enough to give him the sack, but it seems that May is so weak she’s unable to displace Johnson even now.
At first May’s appointment of Boris looked odd; then it looked strategic, as though May was waiting for Boris to make a blunder so she could discredit him. Now, as Boris has made several gaffes and even publically humiliated the PM, it just looks like a farce to keep him on.
(Image courtesy of The Sun)