13th May 2018

How Is Boris Johnson Still Foreign Secretary?

By former MP for Stirling, Steven Paterson

The extraordinary power and influence exerted by Boris Johnson are things I admit to find perplexing.

True, as Foreign Secretary, Boris holds one of the great offices of state, yet he proves himself again and again to be hopelessly out of his depth in the office and wholly unsuitable to carry out even the most elementary functions for which he is responsible in government.

I have written previously about the distressing case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains jailed in Iran accused of trying to overthrow its government by teaching journalism, and who saw her sentence increased thanks to the cack-handed intervention of the Foreign Secretary last year.

Now this week, the carefully brokered deal on halting Iran’s ambitions to develop nuclear weapons was imperilled after President Trump and his hawkish administration announced that the United States would be reneging on the agreement. Not only that, but they openly threatened that as well as re-imposing severe economic sanctions on Iran, they would extend retaliatory sanctions to countries which continued to trade with Iran, which would clearly include many EU countries including the UK.

It would be remarkable if the United States was indeed prepared to engage in a trade war with the EU over this, particularly at a time when an extension of the actual warfare going on in the Middle East is a real possibility, yet this is what the US President has now suggested. And given what we’ve seen from this unpredictable and whimsical president, this is a threat which will have to be taken seriously.

Where was the Foreign Secretary in all this? Well, to be fair, he did indeed fly to Washington DC in order to urgently lobby the US administration for the retention of the Iran deal, but he had just as much success lobbying the US Government as he did the Iranian authorities. He had barely touched down back in London following these efforts before President Trump was tearing up the agreement and issuing his wide ranging threats.

Instead of finding any success in international diplomacy, Boris appeared rather more concerned with trashing the Prime Minister’s attempts to force a square peg in the round chasm of Brexit, describing her latest “customs partnership” concept as “crazy”. It is clear to anyone with any sense that if we are to leave the EU, the least-worst option is to retain some sort of deal on the single market and the customs union. Something of this nature also seems the only realistic means of solving the conundrum of the Irish border post-Brexit.

Yet extreme Brexiters such as Boris Johnson waste no time in decrying any plans which would deliver exactly this, meaning that a disastrous “no deal” is left and the Irish border must be a hard border in spite of all the assurances that this will not happen. Why? The current beleaguered Prime Minister will almost certainly be succeeded by a Brexiter, and Boris and his colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg are the bookies’ favourites.

For the current Prime Minister, the consistent and petulant disobedience from her Foreign Secretary must be infuriating, principally because it reveals how weak her position is as she fears sacking him would simply trigger a no confidence vote in her leadership and a challenge from Boris and others in which she would have little realistic chance of winning.

Perhaps the only good news to be had, for both the Prime Minister and the weary electorate, is that the Brexit soap opera is slowly building towards some sort of conclusion that will finally end the fevered speculation on all aspects of Brexit, so it will be over soon one way or another. A deal, if indeed there is to be one, must be struck by October in order to allow the parliaments of the EU27 to ratify it. Or we will have it confirmed that there will be no deal, and the economic carnage will accelerate given that the UK Government’s own analyses predict that a reduction in GDP through a “no deal” scenario could be four times worse than the 2008 economic crash.

I just hope that the idea of Boris Johnson, or indeed Jacob Rees-Mogg, emerging from the wreckage of Brexit as the next Prime Minister demonstrates once and for all that the UK really is broken beyond repair, and that for Scotland, there is only one way out.


Featured Image By Dianna Bonner for Financial Times (Flickr: Boris Johnson Leo Johnson) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons