It’s been a little over 18 months since Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary and so far his reign has been turbulent and frankly gaffe prone. We have had the mishandling of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, we have had callous remarks about ‘clearing dead bodies’ in Libya, and now we have his response to the Salisbury poisoning, the most sensitive and delicate situation he has had to deal with since assuming his role. This week the head of Porton Down stated that they have ‘not identified the precise source’ of the Novichok agent used in Salisbury. That’s funny, because just a few weeks ago Johnson said in an interview that he has spoken to Porton Down and that they were ‘absolutely categorical’ that it the nerve agent was made in Russia. This contradiction has already led to the Foreign Office having to delete a tweet, and frantic attempts at clarification from the Government.
The worrying thing is that none of this is surprising in the slightest. Heads were scratched up and down the country as soon as Johnson’s position was announced in the first place. Some even posited that Theresa May put Boris in this role knowing he would fail, in order to expose and derail him as a serious challenger to her.
But if this is the case, Theresa May made a big mistake. Johnson’s implosions do not only harm him, they harm her too. Up until this point the Government looked very composed on Russia, in stark contrast to Corbyn and Labour. But now Johnson’s gaffe has allowed Corbyn’s position to seem more acceptable – you only have to glance at Twitter to see the lines of Corbynistas shouting that their hero was right all along to question the Government’s intelligence. Theresa May had led the way in building an international consensus on how to respond to this incident. Johnson’s jumping of the gun on Porton Down could undo all of this good work.
It’s an old political adage that it’s better to have someone inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in. The problem with Johnson, to put it crudely, is that he just pees everywhere.