What a strange few weeks it has been for Boris Johnson. The former London mayor's political star soared last month when he led Britain's "leave" campaign to a shocking victory in a national referendum on the country's membership in the European Union. Then it plummeted when a key lieutenant betrayed him and spoiled his bid to be Brexit-Britain's new prime minister.
The political obituaries for Johnson that followed lambasted the buffoonish, brash politico for his cynicism and opportunism — he was opposed to Britain's leaving the E.U. before he was for it. The fact that he has chosen to shy away from the challenge of leading the country out of the constitutional crisis that he and the leave campaign had created spoke volumes to his critics.
But now it appears Johnson is back in the game. On Wednesday, as Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, took office, news broke that Johnson had been appointed the nation's foreign secretary, replacing Philip Hammond, who was set to become the chancellor of the exchequer.
To be sure, Johnson is an unusual candidate for the job. The former journalist is known for his deliberately provocative manner, ruffled appearance and penchant for sometimes-insulting commentary.
Just two months ago, a poem he concocted about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sexual congress with a goat won the first-place prize in a contest sponsored by Spectator magazine.
"There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer," the limerick begins. "Till he sowed his wild oats, With the help of a goat, But he didn't even stop to thankera."
Before the news of Johnson's new appointment, the BBC had pressed Turkish Prime Minister Bilal Yildirim on the conservative politician's bawdy verse, as well as his anti-Turkish rhetoric ahead of Britain's E.U. referendum.
"May God help him and reform him," Yildirim said, "and I hope he won't make any more mistakes and tries to make it up with the Turks."
With regard to the conflicts of the Middle East, Johnson has controversially bucked the Western trend and praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for battling the Islamic State, no matter his parallel campaign of violence on Syria's civilian population. He also hailed the "ruthless clarity" of Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for the Assad regime. In 2006, he wrote an op-ed laying out the logic for giving Iran a nuclear bomb.
In the past, Johnson has had to apologize for referring to Africans as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles." He even once suggested Africa would be better off if it were still administered by the former colonial powers. On Thursday, a Ugandana government spokesman responded to queries about Johnson's new role.
“Boris Johnson’s opinion that countries like Uganda would be better off as a colonies is inconsequential,” said Ofwono Opondo, a government spokesman. “We would be more concerned if the U.S. or Russia appointed someone like Boris. But Britain no longer wields much power globally, that’s why they have run away from the EU.”
Foreign affairs commentator Ian Bremmer quipped that British-U.S. ties with Johnson as foreign secretary will go from the "special relationship" to the "special needs relationship." That's because the loud-mouthed former mayor has said some unsavory things about American leaders.
In a 2007 Daily Telegraph column that he wrote about Hillary Clinton's first presidential election bid, he described the potential future American leader this way: "She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital." He then went on to suggest that Americans should vote for Clinton, if only to bring her husband back to the White House.
"If Bill can deal with Hillary, he can surely deal with any global crisis," Johnson wrote.
If that sexism seems a bit unpalatable, the new foreign secretary was also recently accused of racism after writing another column critical of President Obama. The president had waded into the debate over Britain's place in Europe, urging British voters to choose to remain in the European Union.
This angered Johnson, who wrote an op-ed in the right-wing Sun tabloid that piled into Obama, while fixating on the president's supposed contempt for Winston Churchill. (Obama has insisted that he has great respect for the late British prime minister.)
Johnson claimed the "part-Kenyan president" harbored an "ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."
The remarks irked Conservative member of Parliament Nicholas Soames, who happens to be Churchill's grandson.
"Time and time again, his judgment is awry, and he shows in this article a remarkable disregard for the facts, the truth and for all judgment," Soames told LBC radio, referring to Johnson. "I don’t think Boris has the stature to be leader."
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