The first few days as foreign secretary have been anything but mundane for Boris Johnson as European leaders round on PM Theresa May’s choice and he is booed whilst making his first speech after his appointment.
There has been widespread fury in Europe after Johnson’s appointment, with the German foreign minister calling his past behaviour ‘outrageous’ and his French counterpart labelling him a liar. Many senior European politicians believe that Johnson lied to British people in the run-up to the Brexit vote and then jumped ship in the aftermath.
France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault told French radio listeners that Johnson’s appointment highlighted Britain’s ‘political crisis’ after the referendum vote and called for action on Brexit to put an end to the current ‘ambiguous, blurred situation’.
In Berlin, meanwhile, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, suggested that Johnson was reckless and deceitful in the run-up to the Brexit vote and called his behaviour ungeheuerlich, meaning outrageous or egregious.
Prior to Johnson’s first appearance at a foreign ministers’ summit in Brussels on Monday, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz said that Britain and Europe would be hurt by the ‘dangerous vicious cycle’ of events in Britain and claimed Theresa May’s choice of cabinet members was aimed at solving problems within the Conservative party rather than at addressing wider issues.
Another EU diplomat said that Britain needed a foreign minister capable of negotiating in a calm and serene manner, attributes that have not been displayed by Johnson so far.
The new foreign secretary can be in no doubt about the level of reaction to his appointment; his first speech was met with boos during a reception at the French Embassy. It was not clear whether the booing came from the English or French contingent, or a mixture of the two.
In his speech at the residence of the French Ambassador, Mr Johnson pledged that the relationship between the French and British governments would be made stronger in the run-up to Brexit and stressed that the UK was leaving the EU and not Europe as a whole.
The appointment of the new Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has not attracted total negativity, however. Whilst seemingly in the minority for now, some national newspaper writers, for example, have welcomed Theresa May’s decision, calling Johnson everything from an ‘inspired’ choice to the obvious man for the job.
It is also worth pointing out that Johnson’s future remit does not include the complex Brexit negotiations. Foreign Office veteran David Davis has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. It has been suggested that this decision indicates that Theresa May and her government will be working on a swift move towards Brexit.
Mr Davis, a former Tory leadership candidate, was not popular with David Cameron but he will now head up a completely new Whitehall department which will have its own dedicated civil service staff as Britain moves towards its ultimate departure from the European Union.