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Boris Johnson: The new UK Foreign Secretary's most controversial comments about foreigners

The Independent logo The Independent 14/07/2016 Adam Withnall

Boris Johnson’s appointment as Theresa May’s new Foreign Secretary is raising some eyebrows. Here’s why.

His remarks about Barack Obama and Kenya

After Brexit, Britain’s so-called “special relationship” with the US will take on even greater importance to the fate of the country.

So it’s concerning that Mr Johnson faced accusations of “dog whistle racism” less than three months ago after he appeared to suggest Barack Obama had a grudge against Britain because of his “part-Kenyan” heritage.

Hitting out at the US President for intervening in the Brexit debate, Mr Johnson wrote in The Sun about how he had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office.

He said: “No one was sure whether the President had himself been involved in the decision. Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President's ancestral dislike of the British Empire - of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, whose father was Nigerian, tweeted after Mr Johnson's new role was revealed, saying: "Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's first official meeting with President Obama will be interesting. Suggest it starts with the word 'sorry"'.

His comments about black people and ‘watermelon smiles’

Mr Johnson was forced to apologise back in 2008 after the then-London mayoral candidate was presented with his comments, written five years earlier, about black people.

In a column published in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson mocked Tony Blair's globetrotting. He wrote: "What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” It also mentioned "watermelon smiles" – linking black people to an appetite for watermelons is a racist stereotype, particularly common in the US.

His comments about China’s influence on the world

China is the birthplace of printing, gunpowder, the compass, toilet paper, e-cigarettes, tofu, hoverboards, the teapot, the restaurant menu, incense, fireworks, the toothbrush and the passenger drone.

Yet in a 2005 column for the Telegraph entitled “Getting our knickers in a twist over China”, Mr Johnson played down the importance of the world’s most populous nation when compared to that of, for example, “the British Empire”.

“We do not need to fear the Chinese,” he said. “China will not dominate the globe. We do not need to teach babies Mandarin.”

“Compared with the old British Empire, and the new American imperium, Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase.”

His suggestion the French would rather live in London

In a speech in 2013, Mr Johnson recalled how he had met with the former French PM Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux at the time and therefore the representative of 239,517 people – the ninth biggest city in France.

Mr Johnson said: “I got the ball back very firmly over the net, folks, because I said there were 250,000 French men and women in London and therefore I was the mayor of the sixth biggest French city on earth.”

His comparison of the EU with Hitler

Arguably Mr Johnson’s most prominent contribution to the Brexit debate came when he suggested Europe could not be unified, that Hitler and Napoleon had tried to do so and failed, and that the EU was “an attempt to do this by different methods”.

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The comments caused an uproar – but Mr Johnson stood by them, saying that while the EU was a “peaceful organisation” it was still among the several attempts over the years to “recreate the dream of the Roman Empire”.

“Very often that's been done by force. The EU is different, it's trying to do it in a more bureaucratic way,” he said.

His offensive poem about the Turkish president

He may have been busy with the Brexit campaign in full flow, but Mr Johnson took the time in April this year to write an offensive limerick about the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Amid an international free speech row between Turkey and Germany, Mr Johnson agreed to take part in a poetry competition organised by his former magazine The Spectator.

Mr Johnson’s poem described President Erdogan as a “young fellow from Ankara” who “sowed his wild oats / with the help of a goat / but didn't even stop to thankera”.

“If somebody wants to make a joke about the love that flowers between the Turkish president and a goat, he should be able to do so in any European country, including Turkey,” Mr Johnson said.

His comments about the potential next US President

In another Telegraph column, in November 2007, Mr Johnson described Hillary Clinton as having "a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital".

The piece, which framed Ms Clinton as the best candidate to replace George W Bush in the 2008 presidential election, also described Mr Obama as "plainly brilliant".

Little did he know at the time, perhaps, that Ms Clinton would one day be the favourite to take over from Mr Obama at the White House – and he the Foreign Secretary responsible for projecting a positive image of Britain to the world.

Watch: Angela Eagle react to Boris Johnson becoming Foreign Secretary



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