Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street over his claim that British ally Saudi Arabia has been “playing proxy wars” in the Middle East.
Theresa May’s official spokeswoman said the Prime Minister had “full confidence” in Mr Johnson, but that his comments at a conference in Italy were his own personal view and did not reflect government policy.
And she pointedly noted that Mr Johnson will have the opportunity to set out official policy – of Britain’s desire to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia and support for its military involvement in Yemen –when he travels to the desert kingdom for talks on Sunday.
Mrs May spoke with King Salman during her visit to the Persian Gulf this week, when he was able to hear the Prime Minister assure him of “her commitment and that of her government to enhancing and strengthening this relationship”, said the spokeswoman.
A national newspaper published footage of Mr Johnson’s comments to the Med2 conference in Rome last week, in which he lumped Saudi Arabia in with Iran when he raised concerns about “puppeteering” in the region.
Mr Johnson said: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region.
“And the tragedy for me –and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”
The Foreign Secretary said there were not enough “big characters” in the region willing to “reach out beyond their Sunni or Shia” group.
He told the conference: “That’s why you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “As the Foreign Secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people.”
Mrs May’s spokeswoman said: “Those are the Foreign Secretary’s views. They are not the government’s position.”