A Foreign secretary who travels around the world saying things which are not the position of his government is a novel concept. It must be like a company employing a salesman to travel round the world not selling its products.
Actually its is worse than that because the actions of the errant salesman are making it harder for the company to do business. It is hard to believe that salesman would stay long in his job.
The slapping down of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson by Theresa May is one of the most public and humiliating reproofs in modern politics. No doubt there was an element of personal exasperation given that Mrs May had just returned from visiting the Saadis in a bid to “strengthen” the relationship with the influential state. It is likely that Mr Jonson’s unwise comments will have undone any achievment by Mrs May.
Some will argue that Mr Johnson was simply telling the truth, albeit an unpalatable truth, becuase it is true that the Saudis and Iran are acting in Syria and Yemen on different sides of the conflicts. Those people will probably argue that diplomatic circles could do with a breath of fresh air and it would help to be blunter and more transparent.
And others will argue that Britain is unhappy about causing offence only because it fears it might impact the billions of pounds British companies get from selling military equipment and arms to the Middle Eastern state. It is not clear why protecting thousands of jobs in this country might be perceived to be a bad thing.
But it is not just about defence contracts as was starkly highlighted yesterday by the new head of MI6, Alex Younger, who said that the scale of the terrorism threat to the UK is “unprecedented”. He said that UK intelligence and security services had disrupted 12 terrorist plots since June 2013 and that many of the threats came from ungoverned spaces in the Middle East - namely Iraq and Syria.
A vital ally in the battle against terror, especially for intelligence gathered around the conflcits in Syria nd Iraq, is Saudi Arabia. The information gained by them particuarly around the movement of known terorists can be vital in early warning of attacks on Europe. By offending the Saudis Mr Johnson puts that lifeline at risk.
Mrs May knew that appointing Boris Johnson to the Foreign Office was a high risk strategy. His entire political track record will show that he finds it impossible to keep an opinion to himself. He is popular in some places because his outspoken eccentric persona goes down well with the public. But to be succesful a Foreign Secretary does not need the acclaim or affection of the public, he needs the respect of other world leaders who are prepared to do business with him.
The village where Mr Johnson was gainfully employed before he entered politics has obviously not reported him missing. The inhabitants are likely keeping their heads down and longing for a protracted separation. It is to be hoped that Mrs May has some disappointment in store for them in the new year.