* French, German foreign ministers critical of Johnson
* New foreign secretary has insulted U.S., Turkish leaders
* EU set to give former Brussels-bashing journalist frosty
(Adds Johnson comments)
By Paul Taylor
BRUSSELS, July 14 Branding him a liar, a coward
or a joker, Europe’s political class greeted Eurosceptic Boris
Johnson’s appointment as Britain’s foreign minister with a
chorus of dismay on Thursday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault eschewed the
customary diplomatic niceties to ask how a man who had told lies
as leader of the Leave campaign in last month’s British EU
referendum could be a credible interlocutor.
“I am not at all worried about Boris Johnson, but … during
the campaign he lied a lot to the British people and now it is
he who has his back to the wall,” Ayrault told Europe 1 radio.
“I need a partner with whom I can negotiate and who is
clear, credible and reliable.”
Johnson told reporters later he had received “a charming
letter” from Ayrault saying how much he looked forward to
working together and to deepening Anglo-French cooperation.
But he acknowledged: “After a vote like the referendum
result on June 23, it is inevitable there is going to be a
certain amount of plaster coming off the ceiling in the
chancelleries of Europe.
“It wasn’t the result they were expecting. Clearly they are
making their views known in a frank and free way.”
Johnson was accused of misleading voters by proclaiming that
Britain was paying 350 million pounds ($468 million) a week to
the EU that could be spent on the National Health Service. The
figure did not take account of London’s budget rebate or of EU
spending on public and private sector projects in the UK.
EU leaders including European Council President Donald Tusk
condemned Johnson’s comparison during the campaign of the EU’s
goals with those of Hitler and Napoleon.
The rambunctious former mayor of London has insulted or
lampooned a series of world leaders including U.S. President
Barack Obama, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel and both the Democratic and Republican
candidates to succeed Obama.
After the June 23 vote to leave the European Union, Johnson
took time off to play cricket and abruptly dropped a widely
expected bid to stand as prime minister in place of fellow
Conservative David Cameron, who had campaigned to stay in.
Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, named the former mayor of
London and one-time EU-bashing Brussels journalist as her
foreign secretary late on Wednesday, and put another veteran
Eurosceptic, David Davis, in charge of EU exit negotiations.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said
Johnson’s appointment was a clear signal that Britain intended
to leave the European Union and urged May to end uncertainty and
give formal notice soon of London’s intention to withdraw.
Merkel declined comment on Johnson’s elevation when asked on
a visit to Kyrgyzstan, but Steinmeier indirectly branded him
Speaking just before Johnson was appointed, Steinmeier said:
“It is bitter for Britain. People there are experiencing a rude
awakening after irresponsible politicians first lured the
country into Brexit then, once the decision was made, bolted and
instead of taking responsibility went off to play cricket.
“I find this outrageous but it’s not just bitter for
Britain. It’s also bitter for the European Union.”
That was a foretaste of the potentially hostile reception
Johnson can expect when he attends his first EU foreign
ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had invited
ministers to an informal night-before dinner to discuss the
foreign policy impact of Brexit, but diplomats said that date
was now in doubt following Johnson’s nomination.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, now the
leading federalist liberal in the European Parliament, summed up
the feelings of many on the continent when he tweeted: “Clearly
British humour has no borders.”
Rebecca Harms, leader of the ecologist Greens group in the
EU legislature said: “At first I thought it was a joke. Now I
don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I know it’s not good
when irresponsibility is rewarded in politics.”
Johnson made his name as a Daily Telegraph journalist in
Brussels in 1989-94, attacking the federalist ambitions of then
European Commission President Jacques Delors and lampooning EU
regulation, often stretching the facts to breaking point.
“He was already a little brat back then and he hasn’t
changed,” Pascal Lamy, who was Delors’ chief of staff and later
head of the World Trade Organisation, said last month.
Earlier this year, Johnson won a magazine prize for a
limerick depicting Erdogan cavorting with a goat, written to
ridicule the Turkish leader’s efforts to have German courts
punish a German satirist for insulting him.
“His negative comments on Erdogan and Turkey are
unacceptable,” a senior Turkish official said. “However we’re
sure of one thing, that British-Turkish relations are more
important than that and can’t be hostage to these statements.
“With his new responsibilities we are expecting a more
positive attitude from Mr. Johnson,” said the official of the
new British minister, who had a Turkish great-grandfather.
Some of the strongest criticism came in Britain’s own media.
The left-leaning Daily Mirror tabloid splashed a picture of
then mayor Johnson strapped on a zipwire at the London Olympics
wearing a helmet and waving Union Jack flags.
The caption: “Dear World… Sorry”
($1 = 0.7478 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Michael Nienaber
and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Alastair Macdonald and Philip
Blenkinsop in Brussels, Orhan Coskun and Nick Tattersall in
Istanbul; Writing by Paul Taylor)