8 Dec 2016

Boris Johnson: could careless talk cost his job?

Has Boris Johnson lost a life? Has he moved closer to the exit door with his indiscreet words at a conference in Italy.
The Guardian’s scoop shows him suggesting there’s some kind of equivalence between Saudi Arabia (an ally of the British Government which supports its attacks on Iranian-backed forces in Yemen) and Iran (a country we deeply distrust and who Theresa May said in Bahrain on Wednesday needed to be pushed back on the many fronts where it fights through proxies).
It’s not his first offence – amongst others are upsetting some EU leaders at various points (they start from the point of seeing him as public enemy no. 1 so that wasn’t difficult but he made it easy). He’s also upset diplomats at the FCO, not least for suggesting Turkey’s President Erdogan should be excused a little capital punishment splurge (opposing capital punishment has been a decades long campaign by the FCO).
But this is the offence that most impinges on his boss’s world. Theresa May was barely back on British soil after expending energy and air miles in Bahrain talking to Saudi and other Gulf allies than she heard the Foreign Secretary’s loose-tongued words.
One former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia suggested to us on Channel 4 News tonight that the Saudis would take a lot more notice of the PM travelling all the way to see them and gushing with measures of affinity and good faith. The Boris Johnson words might have caused a flurry but not much more. No. 10 though just couldn’t resist venting some of the anger that was no doubt witnessed at  the top of government last night.
Theresa May likes control of the message. We are only just learning how much with messages to senior civil servants and ministers warning of severe and intrusive leak inquiries even where national security is not at risk.
Boris Johnson’s modus operandi must offend many elements of her very being.
But when she was forming her Cabinet, I understand, Mrs May decided she had to have one of the two senior figures in the Vote Leave campaign at her top table. She didn’t feel she could appoint Michael Gove because of her trust levels in him being low and Boris-leaning Leave supporters’ trust being pretty low too.
So Boris Johnson it was with the hope that office would change him.

To sack him this early in her Government would reflect on her judgement in appointing him and he’s no unknown.
When Nigel Farage and his entourage visited President-elect Donald Trump at his skyscraper New York home I’m told Mr Trump asked: “Is that blond guy still popular?”

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