Libya’s parliament has condemned Boris Johnson for joking about “dead bodies” getting in the way of businesses investing in the country after its bloody civil war.
The foreign affairs committee of the North African country’s eastern parliament has demanded an apology for his “unacceptable” comments made at a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party conference.
Referring to Libya’s coastal city Sirte, the Foreign Secretary told Tory members: “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.”
Johnson has not apologised, commenting only to criticise those who want to “play politics” after referring to the clearing of booby trapped bodies of Islamic State militants.
The committee for foreign affairs and international cooperation of Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) denounced the comments on Sirte, adding that “it considers it a violation of Libyan sovereignty to talk about British businessmen investing there”.
“The committee demands a clarification from the British prime minister and an apology to the Libyan people,” a statement said.
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said Johnson’s joke was “unbelievably crass, callous and cruel”.
Tory grandee Ken Clarke accused the Cabinet minister of throwing his party’s conference into “mayhem”.
The BBC’s Eddie Mair likened Johnson to off-colour comedian Bernard Manning during an interview with Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who admitted her Cabinet colleague’s comments were sometimes “ill-judged”.
Local Libyan forces backed by US air strikes fought for more than six months last year to oust militants from Sirte, which the jihadist group had turned into its most important base outside the Middle East.
The coastal city of about 80,000 was badly damaged during the campaign and is struggling to rebuild.
The HOR has been based in eastern Libya since 2014 when a conflict in Tripoli led to the setting up of rival parliaments and governments in the capital and the east.
Its cooperation is considered crucial for the progress of a new UN plan to stabilise Libya and the ending of turmoil that began after the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Individual politicians in Libya have already criticised the comments. The UN- and Western-backed government in Tripoli declined to comment on Johnson’s remarks.
Johnson said on Twitter: “The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh [Isis] fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps.
“That’s why Britain is playing a key role in reconstruction and why I have visited Libya twice this year in support.”