Boris Johnson. The great political enigma of our age. Brilliant and infuriating in equal measure. A rare breed of modern politician that seems to achieve real cut through with the public, and yet when he stood for the leadership of his party he crashed and burned in dramatic fashion, as previous supporters confronted the reality of Boris in Number 10 and decided that was just too much of a risk.
Theresa May decided she could not afford to have Boris outside the tent though, and brought him to the top table of Government in the Foreign Secretary role. But all the talk in Westminster this week is that she is beginning to regret that decision. No job requires greater tact, delicacy and diplomacy than that of Foreign Sec – and not even his greatest fans would argue these are BoJo’s great strengths.
On the back of telling four EU ambassadors that he personally backs freedom of movement last week, this week’s big faux-pas involved an attack on Saudi Arabia and its “proxy wars” in the middle east. Now few would disagree with what Boris said. But the point is that none of the rest of us are Foreign Secretary. And – for good or ill – successive Government’s have determined that Britain’s strategic interests and intelligence requirements in the ‘war on terror’ require a close relationship with Riyadh. Moreover, they are the single biggest customer for Britain’s arms exports. So if they’re fighting proxy wars, we’re arming them for the job.
Quite what May does with Boris is her biggest HR conundrum right now. She surely cannot cast him aside – he is too popular and would be too dangerous outside. So if it is true she has concluded his skillset doesn’t match the requirements of the role, she needs to either accept the regular gaffes that will come with it (and practice apologising to the foreign leaders in his wake) or find a new job for him. On top of Brexit, the economy and the decision on an early election, Theresa May’s “too difficult” in-tray gets bigger by the day