Boris Johnson has warned Libya that Theresa May’s disastrous decision to call a snap general election shows the danger of going to the polls too early.
In what is sure to be seized on as a jibe at the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary twice made the point on his visit to the north African country in a bid to unite its rebel factions.
During his trip, Johnson told Libya’s acting Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj of the perils of going to the voters prematurely.
“We have had an election since I last saw you [in May]. It went more or less to plan. Well, not entirely to plan. It is a bit of a lesson which is that if you are going to have elections, you have got to get ready,” he said.
The informal remarks, captured on microphone by the BBC and passed to HuffPost UK, were echoed in an interview with Diplomatic Editor James Landale.
“We have been encouraging them [Libyan politicians], telling them about politics, telling them about what it takes to fight an election, warning them about some of the pitfalls in calling elections too soon or whatever which is one of the risks they face here because they haven’t got their ducks lined up properly.”
The Foreign Secretary, who had to repeatedly suffer jibes from May since she became Tory leader last year, appeared to exact revenge with his assessment that she called the 2017 election too soon.
His close ally Sir Lynton Crosby, the Tory campaigns guru who helped Johnson win two London Mayoral elections and David Cameron to win in 2015, is understood to have warned May not to go ahead with this year’s snap poll but was overruled.
Johnson pulled out of the Tory leadership race last year and has since been the butt of several jokes made by May at his expense. Last December, she told MPs he was “an FFS - a Fine Foreign Secretary!”
She told the Spectator’s awards that a dog called Boris was “put down... when its master decided it wasn’t needed any more”. And she singled him out for ridicule in her party conference speech: “Can Boris Johnson stay on message for a full four days? Just about.”
May called the snap election earlier this year after being lulled by large opinion poll leads over Labour, only to see her lose her Commons majority as Jeremy Corbyn increased his party’s seats.
Johnson’s jibe came as leading Tory pollster and peer Lord Hayward claimed that May had trashed her own brand in the election as badly as Gerald Ratner ruined his jewellery firm.
On a two-day trip to Libya, Johnson pledged an extra £6m to help reunify and stabilise the country, which has collapsed into anarchy since the Western-backed overthrow of Colonel Gadaffi six years ago.
The Foreign Secretary revealed that man who controls eastern Libya has pledged to give up military rule if he becomes the country’s president.
As well as the country’s PM, he met Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar during visit where he urged all sides to compromise in an attempt to unite their country.
Haftar’s forces control much of eastern Libya and he is seen as a key player if the UN-backed government of national accord is to widen its authority.
Johnson also appeared to criticise David Cameron for failing to anticipate the problems of Western military intervention in Libya.
He told the Today programme: “I certainly think that we were way over optimistic about what would happen when we got rid of Gaddafi.
“We thought that the elections of 2014 would be a solution and actually they made things worse and that’s the point that I’ve been making over the last few days to people in Libya”.
He said Libyan politicians “need to suppress their own selfish interests”, compromise and “get behind the UN plan” for the good of the country.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he added: “A deal is there to be done: gluing back together the east and the west, uniting the internationally recognised but severely limited Tripoli government with the supporters of Benghazi’s General Khalifa Haftar, who controls so much of the country.
“All it will take is a bit of maturity and patience by the Libyans and, above all, a joint approach from the international community.”