Brexit Diaries 41: The dream has died

Boris Johnson's Brexit dream has died and there are no tears for his fellow resigned UK minister, David Davis. Meanwhile, the Chequers plan could still derail Prime Minister Theresa May and football reigns over politics.

What a hectic Monday this was for the UK. The ministers in London were falling like pins, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's resignation was without doubt the highlight. He thought his exit was an historic event and even ordered a special photographer to document the moment. A pity nobody took pictures of Foreign Office staff popping open the Champagne behind his back. 

Politics | 10.07.2018

His resignation letter is, in any case, worth remembering alongside Shakespeare's great monologues. It goes on far too long, meandering and rambling every which way. But there is some great imagery. "It is as if we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them," he wrote about Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit offer. He is such an incurable romantic, stuck firmly in the 19th century. These days it's all about silent killers falling from drones circling in the sky. No flags to be seen anywhere.

Read more: Opinion: Chaos reigns supreme in London

But Boris clings tightly to past glories, to the time of Imperial greatness, when Britain made the rules for the world. The UK would become a "colony," he whined over May's softened Brexit plans. For an unrepentant colonialist this must be a horrible fate indeed.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

'Hello, is this the Armenian premier?'

In May 2018, Russian pranksters managed to hold an 18-minute long phone call with Johnson by pretending to be Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. During the call, Johnson said the UK would continue to squeeze the Russian regime by targeting London-based oligarchs. The pranksters also brought up the Skripals' poisoning in Salisbury, though Johnson mostly struck to his public pronouncements.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Ireland's post-Brexit border like London congestion charge

In February 2018, Boris Johnson likened the challenges posed by the Irish border post-Brexit to the boundaries between different London boroughs. The Irish opposition described the comments as extraordinary, adding that "trivializing the very serious concerns relating to Ireland displays a dangerous ignorance that must be challenged."

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson jeopardizes case for British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran

During a foreign affairs committee hearing in November 2017, Johnson said British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been detained in Tehran while "simply teaching people journalism." Her family criticized the foreign secretary for making reportedly misleading comments that jeopardized her case. Iran has long viewed the BBC's Persian broadcasting service as a subversive arm of MI6.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Libya's Sirte could be 'new Dubai' if they 'clear the dead bodies away'

Addressing a UK business forum in October 2017, Johnson told how fighting in Libya had prevented a group of investors from transforming the coastal city of Sirte "into the next Dubai." Johnson added that "the only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away." Downing Street chided him for his remarks, while Johnson accused his critics of having "no knowledge or understanding" of Libya.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson accused of 'incredible insensitivity' during Myanmar visit

Johnson was accused of "incredible insensitivity" during a state visit to Myanmar in September 2017, as he recited part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem in front of local dignitaries at a sacred Buddhist site. Visibly embarrassed, Britain's Myanmar ambassador forced the foreign secretary to stop halfway through his impromptu recital.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson compares France's Francois Hollande to POW guard

Johnson caused uproar early on in his career as foreign secretary by comparing then French President Francois Hollande to a WWII prisoner of war guard for seeking to punish the UK for leaving the EU. “If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War II movie, I don’t think that is the way forward... ” said Johnson.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson likens EU project to Third Reich

In May 2016, as the Brexit campaign was entering its ill-tempered final phase, Johnson told media that European history was marked by repeated attempts to unify the continent. "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically," Johnson said. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally ... there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe.”

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Obama accused of harboring 'ancestral dislike' of the UK

US President Barack Obama's intervention in the Brexit referendum in April 2016 provoked a furious reaction from Johnson. After Obama said the UK would be better off remaining part of the EU, Johnson described the US president "part Kenyan" and accused him of harboring an "ancestral dislike" of the United Kingdom.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The president and the goat

After Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about German comedian Jan Böhmermann calling him a "goat f---er" in March 2016, the UK's "Spectator" newspaper, which Johnson used to edit, ran a competition for readers to submit their own poems about Erdogan. Johnson's poem, in which he called the Turkish president from Ankara "a terrific wankerer," was awarded the £1,000 ($1,325, €1,127) prize.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The 10-year-old victim of Johnson's competitive edge

In October 2015, Boris Johnson was forced to apologize as his competitive nature on the sports field saw him knock over a 10-year-old during what was supposed to be an informal game of rugby in Tokyo. Despite being bulldozed to the ground by the then-mayor of London, the young Toki Sekiguchi appeared unfazed by the incident, saying later he "enjoyed" meeting Johnson.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The zip-line incident

Johnson sought to mark Team GB's first gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London with a high flying zip-line act. However, as he zipped across Victoria Park, the mayor lost momentum and came to a halt, leaving him dangling above a crowd of mystified onlookers. “I think they needed to test this on somebody going a bit faster,” he told onlookers, before urging them to get him a ladder.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Cannibalism in Papua New Guinea

Johnson was lampooned for one of his columns in "The Telegraph" in 2006, in which he compared infighting within the UK's Conservative and Labour parties to "Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing." Johnson issued an openly sarcastic apology, saying he did not mean to insult the people of Papua New Guinea, "who I am sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity."

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson accuses Liverpool of wallowing in their Hillsborough 'victims' status'

As editor of the "Spectator" in 2004, Johnson claimed that drunken supporters of Liverpool football club were partly to blame for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 fans lost their lives. Johnson went on to accuse Liverpudlians of wallowing in their "victims' status." A coroner's inquest concluded in 2016 that the supporters were unlawfully killed due to police negligence.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Racist portrayal of Africa colonies and DRC

In another column for the "Daily Telegraph" in 2002, Johnson wrote that the Queen loved the Commonwealth "partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies." Also writing ahead of Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UK's future top diplomat described how "the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles."

And then there are the false claims about the European Union that even in his resignation letter Boris can't resist. Brussels has prevented the UK from changing safety features for trucks that would save cyclists' lives, he claimed, when in fact the European Parliament in 2014 voted in favor of these changes and they will come into effect next year. And the sad truth is: The British government opposed them in the European Council. This saga is so very typical of the toxic mix of prejudice, half-knowledge and disregard for the truth that makes up Boris Johnson. He'd do anything for a cheap laugh and a good kick against the EU.

And finally the pinnacle of the resignation letter: "The dream (of Brexit) has died." If only! Experience shows that Boris is irrepressible and will continue to snipe from back stage. May better get some extra-strength body armor.

Nobody cries for David Davis

The mad Monday began with with David Davis taking his hat during the night. Not that the resignation of the Brexit minister would be greatly noticed in Brussels, as he has spent no more than four hours with his EU counterparts this year. Somehow his special mix of jocularity and swagger was not a great success with fellow negotiators. They always suspected that emptiness might lurk behind the surface. One of Davis' political friends told the press that he was not "a details man." In a negotiation process that has to address thousands of details, from aviation to pharmaceuticals, that might be seen as a disadvantage.

Read more: 'Brexodus' continues as May loses two more party members

Thankfully Davis' resignation note was comparatively shorter and less digressive. He simply did not agree with May's latest Brexit plans: "It seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my Department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript." One can image Davis pressed into service and groaning under the weight of his task.

Now live
03:52 mins.
DW News | 09.07.2018

The Day - Battle of the Brexiteers

Reaction from the EU was terse. The talks will carry on with whoever London chooses to send and there was no room for emotions like regret or disappointment. In any case, May's aide Ollie Robbins has been running the show in Brussels for a while. Davis was sidelined because his particular negotiating style, more in the spirit of a poker game, didn't inspire trust: Keep a straight face, put everything on one card at the last moment and hope for the best. What will Davis do after his resignation? "Go and have some fun," was the answer. We are sorry he did not enjoy himself more in Brussels.

Related Subjects

When May meets Merkel

On the sidelines of the Western Balkans summit in London, May met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two ladies have a lot in common these days. Both have survived attacks from their own ministers and cannot yet be certain the hostilities are over. But May seems, momentarily, to be slightly better off than Merkel, because at least two of her worst troublemakers have fallen on their swords.

Read more: Where Germany stands on Brexit

TM: Hi Angela, did you notice that Boris and David Davis have left? How about that Seehofer over at your place?

AM: Oh, it's unpleasant when ministers resign. But when they stay it's not much better…

TM: Maybe we could we talk for a moment about my Chequers proposal…

AM: Isn't that Larry the cat back there walking across the lawn?

May and Merkel have a bit more in common these days

And finally, Chequers

May held talks at her country seat at Chequers over the weekend and the whole Cabinet was forced to turn up. They were greeted by the ominous warning that whoever wanted to resign would be stripped of their ministerial car and have to take a cab back to London. The local Taxi company, however, has gone out of service, as emerged later. So this was a good reason for the mutineers to wait until Monday.

The prime minister then explained her plans for a softened Brexit, which is a mix of high tech fantasy, a bit of a customs union by another name and parts of the single market. Everybody not prepared to back her should leave, she said. Boris mumbled something about "a turd to be polished" but left it at that. Further details would have been disturbing and you don't disagree with teacher to her face. May was able to announce that the collective responsibility of her Cabinet was restored and there was great relief all around. The peace only lasted until Monday.

This week May will offer the details of her Chequers proposal to the EU. Her departed Brexit-Minister was right on one point: Brussels will demand further concessions, because as it stands the plan is mostly cheeky cherry-picking. What will happen, however, when May goes back to her party and asks for more? The game is not over, watch this space.

May's hopes of uniting her Cabinet at Chequers did not last long

A different kind of success

Talking about the game, there is only one one competition on peoples' minds in London at the moment and that is the World Cup, specifically England's success. For the first time in 28 years, English football has truly come close to winning a title and this is a reason to rejoice. After the quarterfinal win against Sweden, there were raucous scenes on the streets, with fans bellowing hopefully "It's coming home" — a reference to the World Cup trophy returning to the country where football was invented.

Read more: Affable Three Lions restore hope and patriotism at World Cup 2018

Some daring commentators told May last week that she should take a page from England Manager Gareth Southgate's winning playbook. She could even adapt the football song for Brexiteers about control "finally coming home." Success in Russia may be a huge boost to English morale but sadly all parallels between football and politics end right there. Brexit is a game played by one prime minister and her divided cabinet and in the end nobody wins.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson resigned as UK foreign minister on Monday, the second resignation from Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet in less than 24 hours. The conservative had been a key face for the Leave campaign ahead of Britain's 2016 referendum. He seemed to quit in protest at May's plans to push through a "soft Brexit." May's position seemed fragile even before two key ministers quit.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

David Davis

Citing disagreement with the prime minister over EU divorce talks, Brexit Secretary David Davis quit his post late on Sunday. Davis, who served as UK's top Brexit negotiator, said Theresa May's policy could leave the UK in an "inescapable" negotiating position.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Amber Rudd

In April 2018, Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned when reports surfaced of UK authorities mistreating long-term British residents from the Caribbean. The officials wrongly labeled the so-called "Windrush Generation" as illegal immigrants. London originally invited the migrants to help rebuild UK economy after World War II, with the ship "Windrush" transporting the first group to the UK shores.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Michael Fallon

Michael Fallon stepped down as British defense secretary in November 2017 after apologizing for touching a journalist's knee in 2002 and other allegations of inappropriate conduct that have not been made public. In his letter of resignation, Fallon said he had "fallen short of the high standards" expected of the military. Fallon was replaced by Gavin Williamson, one of May's trusted allies.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Priti Patel

International Development Secretary Priti Patel also reigned in November, after being found to have had 12 undisclosed meetings with officials in Israel, including with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in breach of diplomatic protocol. Patel discussed the possibility of British aid being used to support medical assistance for Syrian refugees arriving in the Golan Heights.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Damian Green

First Secretary of State Damian Green was forced to resign after an inquiry found he made misleading statements about pornographic material found on a computer in his parliamentary office in 2008. A key ally of Prime Minister Theresa May, he was named secretary of state after May lost a parliamentary majority in early elections. Green was among those who urged Britons to vote to say in the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's changing Cabinet

Jo Johnson

Jo Johnson, the the Remain-backing younger brother of Boris Johnson, quit May's government in November over her "delusional" Brexit plans. Johnson said the withdrawal agreement being discussed by the European Union and British leaders would be a "terrible mistake" that would leave Britain weaker economically and with "no say" in EU rules it must follow, and years of uncertainty for business.