Boris Johnson Says His Jokes Are Good For British Foreign Policy

But foreign secretary told not everyone agrees.

Boris Johnson has hit back at suggestions his jokes are damaging the United Kingdom’s relationships with other countries.

The foreign secretary said on Wednesday that “telling jokes is often a very effective way of getting a diplomatic message across”.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has suggested Johnson should cut out the gags as it was “really, really hard to do cross-cultural humour”.

Appearing before Tugendhat’s committee today, Johnson said it was “a little bit condescending” to think people in other countries did not have a sense of humour.

“Sometimes actually people greatly appreciate you are talking to them in an informal way while subtly getting the point across,” Johnson said.

Tugendhat, speaking in French, told Johnson: “There are people who do not agree with you.”

Tom Tugendhat has criticised Boris Johnson's jokes.
Tom Tugendhat has criticised Boris Johnson's jokes.
PA Archive/PA Images

Johnson faced calls to resign as foreign secretary last month when he joked that “dead bodies” in Libya were getting in the way of British business investment.

In an interview with The House magazine, Tugendhat took a swipe at Johnson’s style.

“He’s certainly got a lot of passion for the United Kingdom and has a way of expressing himself which certainly carries a lot of noise,” he said.

“There are many people who don’t understand quite how difficult it is to translate humour, because humour is fundamentally cultural. It is really, really hard to do cross-cultural humour.

“I just think that at the moment, when what we really need is a very, very cool headed, stern and strategic look at our foreign policy and our alliances, what we need is a very, very cold and considered approach to our foreign strategy.

He added: “I think there are ways of doing diplomacy. I’ve done it in Afghanistan, in Iraq and Saudi [Arabia] and across parts of Africa and most of the Middle East, and I just think that it’s very, very hard to make humour work in international environments, which is why very few serious politicians try it.”


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