Kathy Sheridan: Boris Johnson not fit for one of UK’s highest offices

Latest ‘unguarded’ speech being ‘leaked’ at a moment of great vulnerability for his PM is quite a coincidence

Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson: “acts like Trump with a thesaurus”. Photograph: Reuters/Simon Dawson

Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson: “acts like Trump with a thesaurus”. Photograph: Reuters/Simon Dawson

 

One way of sorting the Brexit wolves from the sheep in swift order is to attend to that great British seer, Boris Johnson. Put the US president Donald Trump in charge of British negotiations, he suggests. Then stand clear.

Johnson doubtless got a big belly laugh from his comfortable, conservative, private dinner audience, imagining Trump doing Brexit. “He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”

What japes for the man-child, chilled glass in hand on a balmy summer’s night, safe among his own kind, inviting them to join this thrilling game of envisaging the Brexit department’s very own no-deal scenario come to life. Remember the one where the port of Dover collapses on day one, food runs out “within days” and hospitals run out of medicine “within weeks”?

Of course it was a joke, the whole point being to ridicule Theresa May and negotiators, already deranged by their attempts to square the nauseating whoppers peddled by Johnson and co two years ago with reality. The fact that a senior cabinet minister can make a joke of a predicament that is already hurting every British citizen is truly shocking. It’s also a very stupid joke. His proposal is the opposite of “taking back control” if the idea is to surrender the UK’s future to a man whose foreign policy doctrine is distilled by one senior White House official as “We’re America, Bitch”, according to the Atlantic’s well-sourced Jeffrey Goldberg. Johnson’s actual job is to address that little problem.

Everything is possible in a world pinging with chest-thumping, authoritarian strongmen strutting through golden doors

And where does he think his American idol would start his “go in bloody hard” bully-boy routine, if not at the toxic, dysfunctional heart of the foreign secretary’s own party. Look in vain for a trace of self-awareness, shame or embarrassment.

But who wants to focus on boring old detail when the plotting, disruption and destabilisation are so much fun. If Vladimir Putin can run elections in Britain and the US, what’s to stop Trump terrorising Michel Barnier by twirling a little gun and growling “We’re America, Bitch” while doing that little moue thing with his lips.

Chest-thumping strongmen

Everything is possible in a world pinging with chest-thumping, authoritarian strongmen strutting through golden doors, egos buffed by platoons of jogging, security goons, making themselves presidents-for-life, removing their parliaments’ teeth, stacking the judiciaries, locking up or disappearing political rivals and journalists. Such is May’s vulnerability that she must choose this time in history to indulge a diplomat-in-chief who rubbishes diplomacy and happens to be very poor at it.

The high-profile trips to dissuade his America First idol from tearing up the Iran deal or to persuade Iran to release the British-Iranian citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, came to nothing. Anyone still aghast at his ignorant remarks about the Irish Border at the weekend – “It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that Border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way” – has only to recall his moronic comparison between goods movements across the 310-mile border and traffic fees collection between Camden and Westminster.

The spectacle of men with great power and responsibility behaving like rutting stags, narcissistic clowns and cheap cabaret acts is wearisome

Ah but surely all that extra Brexit detail has him driven demented too? On the contrary. Two weeks ago, Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee complained that the foreign office has been “gradually hollowed out” as areas such as Europe, trade and international development have been hived off to other departments. By this reckoning, Johnson is dangerously under-employed and has ample time to reflect on his remaining responsibilities, explained as follows by Tugendhat: “Brexit isn’t a trade deal. Brexit is a conversation about Britain’s place in the world following our departure from the EU” .

Third to the prime minister

By that measure, Johnson is not fit to occupy one of the UK’s four great offices of state. In terms of seniority he comes third only to the prime minister and the chancellor (currently Philip Hammond, whom he accuses of being at the heart of Remain as if this was a character flaw). Then again, this was never the job he wanted. All the mop-haired whimsy, casual distortions, “unguarded” bluster and leaked impertinences are a dog whistle to those who want someone very like him in Number 10, a man who “acts like Trump with a thesaurus”, as Nick Clegg once described him.

The fact that his latest “unguarded” speech just happened to be “leaked” at a moment of greatest vulnerability for his prime minister is quite a coincidence. That May continues to express confidence in a senior cabinet member who routinely ridicules her says all we need to know about this Westminster shambles.

The spectacle of men with great power and responsibility behaving like rutting stags, narcissistic clowns and cheap cabaret acts is wearisome. This week’s antidotes include the photograph of Angela Merkel glowering above Trump at the G7 debacle and the new Spanish cabinet of Pedro Sanchez, in which 11 of the 17 are female. I would say that, wouldn’t I? Now take a look at the social media responses to that Spanish cabinet announcement. Then ask yourself what it takes to be a powerful woman in a world of rutting stags.

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