Saturday 3 December 2016

Boris Johnson 'outed' journalist as an MI6 spy 'for a laugh'

'It's a physical threat to them if it's believed they're working for British intelligence,' says Dominic Lawson

Harriet Agerholm

Published 22/07/2016 | 06:38

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson looks up during the
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson looks up during the "Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: Joint Plenary Session" at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks with with a delegate before the start of the "Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: Joint Plenary Session" at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been accused of putting lives in danger after he published an article suggesting a former colleague was a spy "for a laugh".

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While editor of The Spectator in 2001, Mr Johnson released an article naming a secret service agent using the pseudonym “Smallbrow” as the Daily Mail journalist, Dominic Lawson.

The article was based on allegations made in a book by a former spy, Richard Tomlinson. Mr Tomlinson claimed Mr Lawson, who was then editor of the Daily Telegraph, used to provide cover for British secret agents.

Mr Johnson published the claim Mr Lawson used to give letters to spies so they could pretend to be foreign correspondents on assignment.

Mr Lawson, who said he has never worked for the Secret Service, responded to the allegations by telling Mr Johnson's biographer, Sonia Purnell, how he had put the lives of his staff in jeopardy.

"He knew me, we were friendly. It was intensely annoying,” Mr Lawson said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks with with a delegate before the start of the
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks with with a delegate before the start of the "Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: Joint Plenary Session" at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“And apart from anything else, if you're running a newspaper with foreign correspondents in strange parts of the world, as I was then, it's potentially a physical threat to them if it's believed that they're working for British intelligence.

“You can imagine how angry I was.

"I rang him up, but there was just this sense of ‘Never mind, Dommers, I just did it for a laugh’," Mr Lawson said.

He added: “And the thing about Boris is that because in some strange way he is adorable, one forgives him. It's not just women; men too fall for that charm."

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yawns during the
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yawns during the "Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: Joint Plenary Session" at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The revelations have surfaced following a conference on the ongoing war in Syria, in which Mr Johnson accidentally referred to Turkey as Egypt on two occasions.

There have been claims that the Foreign Secretary will no longer oversee MI6 following Mr Johnson’s appointment.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Adam Boulton said the Foreign and Commonwealth office is now left “with an unspecified role as it reels at the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.”

The Government has strongly denied Mr Johnson will no longer be responsible for the Secret Service. A spokesperson told Politics.co.uk: "As has been long standing practice, responsibility for SIS and GCHQ lies with the Foreign Secretary. This has not changed and will not change."

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