Johnson's job: Awkward apologies or new take on British diplomacy?

Boris Johnson only half-joked that he would add Papua New Guinea to his "global itinerary of apology" after writing in a newspaper column in 2006 that his Conservative Party had "become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing."

Ten years later, there is no indication that his supposed itinerary of awkward apologies is getting any shorter.

So it was a surprise to many British and international observers when new Prime Minister Theresa May chose Johnson, a former rival to lead the country, as her foreign secretary late Wednesday.

"At first I thought, this is a joke. I don't know whether I should laugh or cry," Green EU lawmaker Rebecca Harms said on Thursday. "I do know, however, that it is not good when irresponsibility is rewarded in politics."

Johnson was a strong campaigner for Brexit. His Vote Leave campaign and other right-wing groups were criticized for exaggerating the potential benefits of Brexit and implicitly, or sometimes explicitly, linking EU migration to the growing number of Muslims in Britain.

"Did you see his style during the campaign? He lied a lot to the British," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told broadcaster Europe 1 on Thursday.

While co-leading Vote Leave, Johnson told the Daily Telegraph the European Union was trying to unify the bloc under one "authority," as did Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically," he said.

Johnson was educated at Eton, one of Britain's top private schools, and at Oxford University, where he read classics and was president of a debating society.

His booming voice, posh accent and mop of blond hair make Johnson, known to many Londoners as Boris, or BoJo, instantly recognizable.

He likes to make risque jokes and show off his knowledge of global history and culture, and his prowess in the English language.

But British career diplomats around the world could experience some nervous moments in the coming months if he maintains his record of offending nations, races and cultures.

In April, Johnson made a bizarre, racist claim that the White House might have removed a bust of British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill because of "part-Kenyan" US President Barack Obama's "ancestral dislike of the British empire."

After a reporter asked on Wednesday if he planned to apologize to Obama and others he had offended, Johnson said the United States "will be at the front of the queue."

He was apparently echoing a comment by Obama, who had urged Britain to remain in the EU, that London could be "at the back of the queue" for a trade deal with Washington if it voted for Brexit.

Writing in the Telegraph in December, Johnson invoked a Harry Potter character in his description of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant."

He once jokingly dismissed China's claim to be the home of table tennis. "Even ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England and it was called wiff waff," he said at an Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing in 2012.

Sitting next to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at a World Islamic Economic Forum event in London in 2013, Johnson joked that a growing number of Malaysian women were attending university because they "have got to find men to marry," drawing accusations of sexism.

The same year, another risque quip about gay marriage by Johnson reportedly prompted some guests to walk out of a Pride of London event.

"I’m delighted that as of this autumn any young man will be able to take his chum up the Arsenal... and marry him," Johnson said, referring to a London football team. He also joked about "French cowards."

But perhaps his most awkward visit could be Turkey, after Vote Leave suggested that country's proposed EU accession could unleash a flood of migrants across Europe.

Johnson also won a light-hearted competition in May by the right-of-centre Spectator magazine, which he once edited, to write the most offensive poem insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His limerick on Erdogan included the lines: "There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer."

Reacting to Johnson's appointment, a government official said Turkey's diplomacy with Britain "goes beyond personalities," adding that he expected Johnson "to act in a professional and cordial manner."

But Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the BBC: "May God help him and reform him."

Last update: Thu, 14/07/2016 - 18:27
Author: 

More from Europe

Merkel's CDU to toughen ayslum laws at party conference

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s signalled on Monday that her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) will toughen...

Concerns high as Europe eyes post-Renzi Italy

European leaders were trying to see the best path forward for Italy on Monday, a day after voters rejected a...

No political motive found in shooting of Finnish councillor, 2 others

Police investigating the fatal shooting of three women in a small town in south-east Finland have so far not found...

Italy president set to steer political crisis after Renzi resignation

Italian President Sergio Mattarella called for "calm" on Monday after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his...

British Muslim jailed for attacking teenage couple on street

A British Muslim convert who knocked out a 16-year-old boy for hugging a girl on the street was sentenced to 28...