Wednesday 21 March 2018

Boris may not be a diplomat but now we're stuck with him

Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Boris Johnson has huge admiration for Winston Churchill and therefore must be familiar with his definition of diplomacy.

Churchill reckoned it was the "art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions".

It could be argued that the new British foreign secretary achieved exactly that during the Brexit referendum, convincing people that the EU was akin to something that Napoleon and Hitler had tried previous but "by different methods".

That sort of rhetoric and bombastic populism have got him this far but the former mayor of London is about to enter a world where loud statements often need to be drowned out by consensus.

Over the years few have been spared Johnson's swipes. He once said the potential next president of the United States had "dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital".

The Chinese he believed are overrated in terms of global importance.

"Compared with the old British Empire, and the new American imperium, Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase."

And in 2009 he sparked controversy by cancelling a St Patrick's Day Gala Dinner in London to save money.

He said the event was "lefty crap" like "spending £20,000 on a dinner at the Dorchester for Sinn Féin".

But subsequently apologised for those remarks, telling the Irish Independent: "I am profoundly sorry if I have offended any Irish person. I hope that people will see I was making a point about cost cutting."

Organisations pointed out that the black-tie night was self-financing and embraced the entire Irish community, including the likes of Bob Geldof, the Irish Ambassador and chef Richard Corrigan.

As a result Mr Johnson wrote to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith to clarify his position.

"Although I note that the guests of honour at the 2008 St Patrick's Day dinner were Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty, these were not dinners for Sinn Fein and, of course, I make absolutely no assumptions about the political allegiances of those who attended the dinners," he said.

Until now his interactions with Irish politicians have been limited but Rural Development Minister Michael Ring did enjoy a day at the London Olympics with him four years ago.

Mr Ring found himself sitting beside a dapper David Cameron and the glamorous Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton was behind him.

"Boris was there that day with no suit but he gets away with it," the Mayo TD told the Irish Independent.

"He didn't seem like the typical politician. It is certainly an interesting appointment for him to be entering the diplomatic corps. It's going to be different, the way he does business."

Joan Burton used Boris Johnson to explain why Ireland should have living wage, quoting the London version that he championed as mayor. "He has seen that it actually works," she enthused a couple of years ago.

And President Michael D Higgins has had occasion to meet with Mr Johnson, most notably during his historic State visit to Britain in 2014.

But it's not clear what other exposure to Ireland and our ways Boris has had.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is hoping for an early meeting to discuss Brexit and Anglo-Irish relations.

Perhaps we should offer to host that meeting in Dublin and show him some hospitality because Boris is back and we need to be diplomatic even if he's not.

Irish Independent

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