NEW YORK/LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed as her foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a man renowned for the occasional slip of the tongue, or as the Latin-loving Etonian might say, lapsus linguae.
BY SANGWON YOON AND ALEX MORALES
Under him, the chances of a diplomatic incident are high. The former mayor of London has aired his views on a vast array of topics from his sexual exploits — “I’ve slept with far fewer than 1,000” — to his support of David Cameron — “purely out of self-interest”. We plucked his greatest misfires on foreign policy to give a flavour of what is to come.
On Vladimir Putin
Johnson compared the Russian president to a character straight out of the Harry Potter books, in a 2015 column for The Telegraph newspaper about working with Russia to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.”
On Hillary Clinton
Writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2007 Johnson questioned whether he could back her candidacy. Clinton, who today is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was at the time seen as a favourite to win the 2008 US presidential election.
“She’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital; and as I snap out of my trance I slap my forehead in astonishment. How can I possibly want Hillary? I mean, she represents, on the face of it, everything I came into politics to oppose: not just a general desire to raise taxes and nationalise things, but an all-round purse-lipped political correctness.”
On Turkey’s Erdogan
In May, Johnson won a £1,000 prize for writing a sexually explicit limerick about Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He wrote it after Erdogan tried to prosecute a German comedian for a skit about the Turkish premier.
On Barack Obama
At the height of his campaign to quit the EU, Johnson penned an article for the Sun newspaper ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to the UK. He chose to take a swipe at the US leader, who had urged British voters to vote to stay in the bloc.
In the course of the piece, Johnson asked why a bust of Winston Churchill had been moved from the Oval Office. He speculated that it might have had something to do with his roots: “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.”
In response, Obama said that as the first African-American president he thought it appropriate to put a bust of Martin Luther King Jr in the Oval Office and that Churchill, whom he loved, was moved into the Treaty Room, where he “sees it every day”.
Four days after a deadly 2005 suicide bombing at the HaSharon Mall in Netanya, Israel, Johnson shared his thoughts about the Koran and “the problem of Islamic terror” in a column for The Spectator magazine:
“To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.”
On the EU
Johnson addressed the Centre for Policy Studies in London as part of its 2013 annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture. In a speech titled What Would Maggie do Today?, Johnson explained economic inequality was useful because it encouraged people to work harder. In building his case, Johnson spoke candidly about his feelings on the EU
“First they make us pay in our taxes for Greek olive groves, many of which probably don’t exist. Then they say we can’t dip our bread in olive oil in restaurants. We didn’t join the Common Market — betraying the New Zealanders and their butter — in order to be told when, where and how we must eat the olive oil we have been forced to subsidise.”
As then-mayor of London, which went on to host the Olympics in 2012, Johnson had this to say about the hosts of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing:
“Virtually every single one of our international sports were invented or codified by the British. And I say this respectfully to our Chinese hosts, who have excelled so magnificently at ping pong. Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called wiff-waff!”
In a 2002 column published in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson mocked Tony Blair’s globetrotting, ahead of the then-prime minister’s trip to the Congo.
“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies…. They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”
Johnson has shown contrition for some of his most outlandish comments. He’s apologised for his offensive remarks on Africans and there may be more mea culpas to come. On accepting the position of foreign secretary, he was asked whether he owed Obama an apology.
Riffing off Obama’s damning comment that the UK’s exit from the EU would place it at the back of the queue for trade deals, Johnson quipped that the “United States of America will be in the front of the queue” for apologies.