Boris Johnson is facing new calls to resign after he again rejected demands to apologise for making a joke about “dead bodies” in Libya getting in the way of British business investment.
The foreign secretary on Tuesday morning told MPs was actually his critics who were guilty of “trivialising the reality” of the situation in the North African country that has suffered a bloody civil war.
SNP MP David Linden said: “As foreign secretary, he’s meant to be Britain’s top diplomat. Instead, still behaving like he’s in the Bullingdon club. He should resign.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary accused Johnson of hypocrisy in the attack on his critics.
Speaking to a gathering of Tory activists at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester earlier this month, the foreign secretary joked:
“There is a group of UK business people actually, wonderful guys, who want to invest in Sirte.
“They have a got brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai. The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away”
HuffPost UK recording of Johnson’s joke
Appearing in the Commons today, his first appearance since the conference, Johnson ignored repeated demands from opposition MPs that he apologise.
“We must all be aware of the reality in Libya and indeed indeed Sirte that there is a tragic absence of security and that the problems of that city have yet to be resolved,” he said. “I think the people of Libya do indeed have fantastic economic prospects.”
Hitting back at calls for him to say sorry, Johnson added: “I don’t believe political point scoring of this kind or trivialising the reality of the security situation in Sirte does any favors to the people of Libya.”
Johnson was criticsed by several Tory MPs at the time he made the joke.
Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, said the comment was “100 per cent unacceptable from anyone” and added: “Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”
Philip Lee, a justice minister, tweeted: “Why is anyone having a problem condemning these comments? I do. Anyone decent would.”
Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry said Johnson’s joke was “embarrassing” and said Theresa May “should sack him”.
Libyans also condemned Johnson. Salah Suhbi, a member of the House of Representatives said the foreign secretary should be fired.
“Is this is a reflection of the British government’s current views on Libya? Because this is not the UK that I know,” he said.