Boris Johnson is becoming the Where’s Wally? of international diplomacy. All over the world the geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting yet at this time of huge global significance the foreign secretary is all but invisible on the international stage. On the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, the crisis over Saudi Arabia and Qatar or the clash between the US and China, he is irrelevant. On Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey and Yemen, he is incoherent. Occasionally he surfaces briefly, like a hostage paraded before the television cameras to prove he is still alive, as he did after a visit to Libya last week, but even then he is ineffective because he has ceded all influence to others.
As the US enters an extraordinary culture war under Donald Trump, Mr Johnson remains morally ambiguous, flip-flopping between dismissing criticisms of the president as a “whinge-o-rama” and claiming he got it “totally wrong” in his response to the recent racial violence in Charlottesville. He made a serious strategic error in aligning himself so quickly with a divisive populist across the Atlantic who no longer even has the support of his own Republican Party.
In this country, Labour has finally joined the argument about the implementation of Brexit, but the foreign secretary is nowhere to be seen in that debate. Having fooled the United Kingdom into voting to leave the European Union, by promising that it would mean an additional £350 million a week for the NHS, he has no realistic idea of what Brexit should entail. He suggests the policy should be to have our cake and eat it and that other EU countries can “go whistle” for UK payments, as if this were some kind of public school game rather than a negotiation on which the future of the nation depends. Again, there is an inability or an unwillingness to think through the long-term consequences of his position …
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.”