Boris Johnson is seen as a “joke” by EU diplomats, his own civil servants and even the Trump White House, it was claimed today.
The Foreign Secretary faced multiple attacks - including claims that intelligence chiefs didn’t trust him with secrets - after a former senior Whitehall chief Lord Kerr said he lacked respect in America and Europe.
Johnson risked fresh irritation among allies of Theresa May last week as he used a trip to Libya to ridicule her decision to call a snap general election.
But Downing Street was forced on Monday to say the PM had “full confidence” in her Foreign Secretary and that he was “doing a good job”.
No.10′s response came after MPs, ministers and officials lined up to declare that he was “a clown” who failed to focus on his important brief.
One diplomatic source told The Times newspaper that officials in the White House “don’t want to go anywhere near Boris because they think he’s a joke”.
The UK’s former ambassador to Washington and its Brussels representative, Lord Kerr was withering in an Evening Standard article, attacking Johnson’s lack of visibility and credibility as the globe faced a string of vital issues from Syria to Korea to Russia.
“Keeping our heads down isn’t always wrong. But a policy of always doing so risks seeming ignominious . . . Callaghan, Carrington, Howe, Hurd: foreign secretaries used to cut ice abroad, particularly in Europe and America, but maybe that’s not Boris’ game,” Lord Kerr wrote.
Referring to the Brexit talks, the ex-Whitehall mandarin suggested Johnson was too lazy to do his job
“Davis’s remit is divorce; Liam Fox’s is trade; Johnson’s is UK foreign policy, including its European dimension. So why, though so damagingly voluble on others’ business, is he so silent about his own?” he wrote.
“I don’t believe the Foreign Office has lost all the necessary expertise. I do wonder if the Foreign Secretary has a taste for the necessary application.”
Critics of Lord Kerr point to his strong anti-Brexit views and when contacted by HuffPost UK, one of Johnson’s allies said his article was “not worth a response”.
But one unnamed minister also told the Times: “It’s worse in Europe. There is not a single foreign minister there who takes him seriously. They think he’s a clown who can never resist a gag.”
“The French think Boris is totally unreliable, the Germans think he’s a liar and the Italians think he’s dangerous,” a Tory MP added.
Johnson has joked about Italy’s falling prosecco sales if Brexit went badly and compared Brussels chiefs to prisoner of war camp guards.
Last month he is said to have infuriated the French government by revealing Emmanuel Macron’s plans for Libyan peace talks, having been briefed about the initiative on condition that he told no one about it.
“He is undermining our ability to negotiate internationally and degrading our position abroad. The foreign secretary is supposed to enhance Britain’s reputation but all over the world Boris is making matters worse.”
The paper claimed that civil servants in the Foreign Office were “horrified” by Johnson’s “lack of discipline” and had taken to dealing instead with his deputy Sir Alan Duncan, the Europe minister, when they need a decision.
Worse still, it was claimed that some of the UK’s intelligence agencies - MI6 comes under the Foreign Office’s remit - have “a nervousness about giving sensitive material to a politician who treats every public outing like an after-dinner speech”.
“It’s all about managing Boris, not respecting him,” said one Whitehall source. “He’s got no concentration span so it’s difficult to have a detailed discussion with him. The whole thing is completely ramshackle for someone who is supposed to be so clever. He doesn’t know what he thinks so he flies by the seat of his pants.”
Asked about the Times’ allegations, the PM’s official spokeswoman said: “I’m not going to comment on a column in a newspaper.
“But the Prime Minister meets the Foreign Secretary regularly and they have a good relationship...It’s an opinion piece.”
Asked if the PM had full confidence in Johnson, the spokeswoman replied: “Yes...He’s doing a good job.”
Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, told HuffPost UK: “That the UK’s Foreign Secretary is held is such low regard by our international partners is no joke.
“At a time when our diplomatic relations are more important than ever, Boris Johnson has lost the respect of the EU and wider international community and, even more worryingly, the Government’s own intelligence chiefs.”
Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake added: “Theresa May’s claim she has ‘full confidence’ in Boris Johnson sounds suspiciously like a football chairman just before they sack the manager.
“Boris has gone from being the poster boy for Brexit to a national liability. He duped the country with a promise of £350m for the NHS, but bluff and bluster aren’t enough to represent Britain on the world stage.
“It’s damning that even the Trump administration now regard Boris Johnson as an out-of-control buffoon.”