When Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary, I’m not sure she thought it all the way through.
The former Mayor of London had a bit of momentum when he ended up on the right side of Brexit. Then Michael Gove pulled the rug out from under him and his prospects of succeeding David Cameron turned bleak.
Promising Johnson the prestigious Foreign Secretary post offered him a chance to redeem himself after Gove’s betrayal. At the same time it ensured May his support during the leadership campaign.
But it is now – more than ever – that Britain needs a foreign minister who’s mastered the craft of diplomacy. Instead, it has Boris Johnson – a man prone to making avoidable mistakes that could end up weakening Britain’s position.
Since taking over from Philip Hammond, Johnson has only shown us how ill-suited he is for the role. The job of Foreign Secretary requires a form of diplomacy that Johnson simply doesn’t possess.
Johnson already started his new job on the back foot because he’d often made jibes at the expense of other politicians when he was the Mayor of London.
In his first press conference as Foreign Secretary, Johnson was forced to explain embarrassing remarks he’d made in the past.
Amongst many other things, he’d described Barack Obama as “part-Kenyan” and “hypocritical”, and published an offensive limerick about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Spectator.
Since then, Johnson has demonstrated again and again that he can’t help himself shooting his mouth off.
He had a go at European leaders after some expressed concern following Donald Trump’s election win.
Angela Merkel, for instance, said she’d only offer the US close co-operation on the basis of “democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views”.
After the loaded campaign Trump ran, many praised the German Chancellor for sending this message to the President-elect.
However, Johnson, for no apparent reason, decided to take offence and called on Europe’s heads of state to stop their “collective whinge-o-rama”.
Maybe he felt like he had to curry favour with Trump. After all he’d called him “unfit” for office and said he’d avoid parts of New York because of “the real risk of meeting Donald Trump”.
But making a big deal of a non-issue doesn’t seem the way to ease relations with Europe.
It is almost as if Johnson doesn’t realise that he can’t pull these stunts anymore. As Britain’s Foreign Secretary, his actions have consequences.
Predictably Johnson’s haughty behaviour has started to rub his European peers up the wrong way.
His claims that Britain can have single market access without freedom of movement was strongly criticised by Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The Eurogroup president stated that Johnson is promising Britons a deal that is “intellectually impossible” and “politically unavailable”.
If Johnson had taken a minute to reflect, he could’ve realised the EU was never going to let a leaving member state dictate the terms of Single Market access.
It didn’t take Johnson long to ruffle some more feathers. His Italian counterpart Carlo Calenda showed Johnson up in an interview with Bloomberg Television:
“He [Johnson] basically said, ‘I don’t want free movement of people but I want the single market,’” said Calenda. “I said, ‘No way.’ He said, ‘You’ll sell less prosecco.’ I said, ‘OK, you’ll sell less fish and chips, but I’ll sell less prosecco to one country and you’ll sell less to 27 countries.’ Putting things on this level is a bit insulting.”
At a time when Britain’s relations with Europe are a bit tense, having the right Foreign Secretary could prove crucial as the UK government negotiates a Brexit deal.
Thus far, Johnson’s done little to show us he’s the right man for the job. May needs someone who’s cunning as a fox (not Liam!), yet it looks more like she’s released a bull in a china shop.
Based on the first four months, Boris Johnson looks anything but the steady hand Britain could do with for the tortuous process of Brexit.