February 2, 2023

Boris Johnson appointed foreign secretary

The appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary is a surprise to many. Some newspapers however misrepresent the reactions of foreign politicians as furious (Guardian), outrage (Sun), or the appointment being irresponsible (Daily Mail).

The headline-addicted Daily Mail gets it wrong as it refers to a quote where Johnson’s behaviour is described as irresponsible and not the appointment:

“Rebecca Harms, leader of the ecologist Greens group in the EU legislature said: ‘At first I thought it was a joke. Now I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I know it’s not good when irresponsibility is rewarded in politics.'”

The Independent and other papers created confusion with an assessment about Brexit and Boris Johnson which the German foreign minister Steinmeier had presented a few hours before Johnson’s appointment and not afterwards as the time of publication of the article could imply:

The German foreign minister, Franz Walter Steinmeier, did not mention Johnson by name but it was clear enough who he had in mind when he expressed sympathy for the misled British voter. He said: “People are experiencing a rude awakening after irresponsible politicians first lured the country into a Brexit to then, once the decision was made, bolt and not take responsibility. Instead they went to play cricket. To be honest, I find this outrageous but it’s not just bitter for Great Britain. It’s also bitter for the European Union.”

The assessment that reflects international reactions best and without exaggeration is produced by the Guardian:

International reaction to the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary has been overwhelmingly negative. The news prompted incredulity in stunned global capitals, with few finding anything good to say about Britain’s new top diplomat. Some even wondered whether the story was a joke.

This hostile view has several explanations. In his colourful career as a newspaper columnist Johnson has offended a large number of world leaders. They include the US president, Barack Obama, and his likely successor, Hillary Clinton, as well as the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

But additionally, and perhaps more seriously, Johnson is widely viewed as inherently untrustworthy. In Brussels, and in other EU capitals, he is seen as the man whose lies, opportunism and vaunting ego brought about Britain’s disastrous EU exit.

This anger is genuine. And unlikely to dissipate quickly. On Thursday France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, summed up what most of unhappy continental Europe felt, declaring: “He [Johnson] lied a lot to the British. Now, he is the one with his back against the wall.”

The problem, in Ayrault’s damning view, was that France needed a UK partner who was “clear, credible and reliable” and “with whom I can negotiate”. This was not Johnson, he made clear. Much of the rest of the world agrees, with Johnson regarded as a new and unnecessary problem.

The Brussels correspondent of German public broadcaster ZDF, Anne Gellinek, said that Johnson was “properly, properly hated” and seen as “the head of a campaign of lies” in the EU’s headquarters. ZDF’s Berlin correspondent, Nicole Diekmann, tweeted: “So, Boris Johnson, foreign minister. British humour.”

Nikolaus Blome, the deputy editor of Germany’s biggest tabloid Bild, tweeted: “There’s justice after all. As foreign minister, Boris Johnson now has to lie in the bed he made himself.”

The Guardian view on Boris Johnson’s appointment needs to be reflected on:

Theresa May’s supporters will argue that his appointment was about managing Brexit fallout. Mr Johnson is merely the most prominent of the leave campaigners to have a share in the job of dealing with the shattering consequences of victory. But however tactical the move, its parochialism hardly squares with the wider challenges Britain confronts: defending Britain’s interests in Europe and beyond is a task that has just become much more difficult; it will require no small degree of precision, steadfastness and reliability, none of which anyone has ever had reason to suppose are among Mr Johnson’s prime qualities.

Still, there is likely to be more damage ahead for Britain’s image in the world: this is not just a country internally shaken, economically weakened, and whose alliances are questioned, but one that will now be represented at world gatherings by a personality many have come to see as an object of derision.