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Johnson’s Clownish Tenure as Foreign Secretary

A year later, the reviews are in for Boris Johnson’s performance as Foreign Secretary, and they are generally very negative. Rachel Sylvester writes:

Some MPs believe Mr Johnson is pursuing a deliberate strategy of what Henry Kissinger liked to call “constructive ambiguity” — keeping his options open for the sake of personal ambition — but the truth is that he is rapidly becoming a national embarrassment. I’ve just spent a fortnight in America and was shocked by the number of tech entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers and political strategists I met who asked: “Why has your prime minister appointed a fool as foreign secretary?” According to diplomatic sources, even officials at the Trump White House “don’t want to go anywhere near Boris because they think he’s a joke”. If that seems ironic, one minister says: “It’s worse in Europe. There is not a single foreign minister there who takes him seriously. They think he’s a clown who can never resist a gag.”

That comes as a surprise to no one who has paid any attention to Johnson’s career, and it lines up exactly with what I said about the decision to make him Foreign Secretary last year:

Even so, Johnson is a goofy and indeed risible choice if he is judged on the merits. He has a long record of insulting other countries and foreign leaders, his name is synonymous with irresponsibility and clownishness, and his European colleagues will view him with special contempt.

All of that has been borne out over the last year, and all of it was fairly obvious at the time. That said, I have to admit that I didn’t anticipate just how awful Johnson would be at his job. He has stiff competition from Tillerson to be the West’s least effective top diplomat, but I think he has clinched the title. In retrospect, we can see choosing Johnson was an early sign of the incompetence that May would later demonstrate in spades when she called and then bungled the last general election. The Times columnist quotes one Tory MP’s damning verdict on Johnson’s tenure:

He is undermining our ability to negotiate internationally and degrading our position abroad. The foreign secretary is supposed to enhance Britain’s reputation but all over the world Boris is making matters worse.

That is unfortunate for Britain, as it means that two of the top members of the government are unsuited to their jobs and out of their depth. Their party and their country would benefit from resignations by both May and Johnson from their current posts.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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