Theresa May is facing fresh pressure to sack Boris Johnson after the former head of the Foreign Office said he was not a “serious heavyweight” figure on the global stage.
Lord Ricketts, the UK’s head of the diplomatic service between 2006 and 2010, hit out amid a growing backlash at Johnson’s blunder over a British national being held in a jail in Iran.
The Foreign Secretary was forced to apologise after telling MPs last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in the country - rather than being on holiday with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella.
Iranian state TV last night seized on his gaffe, claiming his “unintended confession” was “proof” that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been spreading propaganda against the Tehran regime.
Confronted in Washington on Thursday about the Iranian TV report, Johnson replied only: “We have some difficult consular cases in Iran and we are working on all of them.”
Asked if he was ‘unsackable’, he ducked the question.
Johnson appeared on FoxNews in the US to instead heap praise on US President Donald Trump, claiming he was “one of the huge great global brands”.
But Lord Ricketts - who was also the UK’s former National Security Adviser under David Cameron - became the latest high profile former diplomat to warn that Johnson was not fit for the job he holds.
“I don’t think it’s for me to decide who’s Foreign Secretary but the foreign policy of country needs a Foreign Secretary who projects authority and commands respect,” he told BBC News channel.
“It just shows that the precise words you use as Foreign Secretary are really important. Boris Johnson clearly made a mistake…but the Iranians have exploited that in a very cynical way.”
“It’s not the first gaffe. Right at the moment, Boris Johnson for all his talents has not succeeded in convincing people he’s a serious heavyweight Foreign Secretary with real authority. That’s a real problem.”
Ricketts added that he had never in all his long diplomatic career been more concerned about the image of Britain abroad.
“If you look back at the last few weeks, if you’re in a European capital or further away, it looks chaotic, confused and drifting at a time when there are massive issues of Brexit.
“Everyone that I meet abroad is ‘where are you Brits? We thought you were a stable country with a good pragmatic sense of your own national interest. What’s happened to you?’ I think that’s quite serious.”
The former mandarin’s words are the strongest attack yet on Johnson’s record and follow hints of criticism of Johnson by another former Foreign Office chief earlier this week.
Sir Simon Fraser, the permanent secretary at the FCO from 2010 to 2015, used a speech to declare that under Johnson’s leadership UK influence had waned because of “the vitriol over Brexit” and “faultlines in our society and animosity towards foreigners”.
“Our political establishment commands little respect abroad, and the negative economic consequences of Brexit are beginning to show.”
Meanwhile, Johnson showered praised on Trump in an interview with FoxNews.
“I think you’ve got to realise that the American President is one of the huge great global brands,” he said.
“He is penetrating corners of the global consciousness that I think few other presidents have ever done.
“His method tweeting early in the morning, no matter how rambunctious those tweets may be, they are communicating with people. Yes a lot of people don’t like it but a lot of people relate to it. In an age where people have been turned off politics it’s more direct and communicative than most Presidents have managed.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Iranian Foreign Minister assured the Foreign Secretary that his earlier remarks at the Foreign Affairs Committee will have no bearing on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and that he remains committed to working with the UK government to secure her release on humanitarian grounds.”
“The Foreign Secretary made clear in Parliament that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was visiting Iran on holiday and that was the sole purpose of her visit.”