Boris Johnson has burst back onto the international scene as the new foreign secretary of the UK. His previous forays into international affairs have led to hilarity and steely patience from governments the world over – including, of course, in Turkey. Johnson has gone from advocating Turkey’s EU membership to denouncing it in his Brexit fear campaign, a political flip-flop that is entirely in keeping with his habit of saying whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases, regardless of who it might offend.
In power as Britain’s newest Prime Minister, Theresa May has done everything she can to get Boris Johnson as far away from the political chaos he helped to trigger with the Brexit campaign to get Britain to leave the EU.
By appointing him as Foreign Secretary, May has ensured Johnson will be busy abroad, but – given his diplomatic track record – not out of her hair. Johnson’s comments have sparked outrage, bafflement, and sometimes raucous laughter the world over. Turkey, however, has been one of the few countries to respond to the man with magnanimity.
Critics have suggested May is only deflecting the danger. Johnson has been known to flatten 10-year olds in Japan. He argued that US President Obama was only against Brexit because he has Kenyan heritage and thus, an inherited distaste for the ex-colonial power. He has praised Syria’s Bashar Al Assad for protecting Palmyra, and, arguably thanks to his elite education, won a poetry competition for writing the most offensive poem about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And these are only a sliver of his diplomatic blunders.
In fact, we must be thankful to this education at some of the UK’s top institutions for giving the world a man who has shared his opinions on everything from ping-pong (invented in 1800s England and called wiff-waff – oh, to be British), cannabis (apparently it used to be “much stronger”), and cocaine (he tried it once but sneezed it all out; remains suspicious that it might have been icing sugar). And these are just his extra-political thoughts.
The reactions from international leadership were as amusing as Johnson’s own contributions to international media. From a US official trying to stifle his laughter on hearing of Johnson’s appointment, to Swedish and Czech officials hoping it was a joke, to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s wish for Boris that God “help him and reform him.”
“God willing, he will not make such mistakes from now on and he will endeavour to win the hearts of Turks,” said Yıldırım, an astute comment given that Johnson’s grandfather Ali Kemal was a journalist officer in the Ottoman government, who fell foul of Turkish nationalists and was assassinated.
Whatever Johnson’s cosmopolitan ancestry, the barely-muffled wave of laughter travelling the world seems to be an affirmation of Johnson’s prediction that he was more likely to be “reincarnated as an olive” than be voted Prime Minister. Yes, Boris.
But in his capacity as Foreign Secretary, the only diplomatic power Johnson will not have to deal with is Brussels. It seems he is being kept at bay from Britain’s Brexit negotiations with the EU. This might be to Johnson’s liking, given that he controversially claimed that the EU is on par with Hitler.
Since his poem earlier this year, Johnson and the Brexit campaigners, with thinly veiled racism and anti-Islamist sentiment, used the ‘threat’ of Turkey joining the EU in their bid to get Britain to leave the EU. But Turkey is willing to put that behind itself, as a senior official is reported to have said that “British-Turkish relations are more important than [Johnson’s inflammatory comments] and can’t be hostage to these statements”.
These comments are despite Johnson’s previous position that Turkey ought to be a part of the EU because of its old ties to Europe through the Roman Empire.
His appointment is perhaps best summed up in his own words: “My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”