Joking about the deaths of hundreds of people would be unacceptable in any job. For it to come from a Foreign Secretary is the final straw.
693. That’s the number of people killed in the war-torn Libyan city of Sirte in 2016. Of course, it’s more than a number: it’s hundreds of children, parents, partners, friends.
To our Foreign Secretary however, they are a joke.
Last night, at a Conservative Party Conference event, one of the most senior cabinet members in the UK, a man who represents us on the world stage, said this:
“There’s a group of UK business people, wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte…
“And they literally have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, to turn it into the next Dubai.
“The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they’ll be there.”
Perhaps the next most worrying thing in this disgraceful outburst is the reaction from the audience: laughter:
Here is a bunch of Tories laughing at Boris Johnson talking about clearing the dead bodies away in Libya pic.twitter.com/dQpOP7sfaS
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) October 3, 2017
Johnson’s response when challenged on what he said? People “are determined to distort what you say”. No contrition. No apology.
On Twitter, the Foreign Secretary pitifully tried to cover his tracks. He’s looking more like Trump by the day:
Disingenuous as well as crass, Boris Johnson scrambles to tweet spin his Libya comments. pic.twitter.com/v46dhnYWgO
— JOHN NICOLSON (@MrJohnNicolson) October 4, 2017
Now his Tory colleagues are calling for him to go – in strong terms. Conservative MP Heidi Allen said:
[This would be] 100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”
The Lib Dems noted too that this is man who is supposed to be an expert on diplomacy – making light of the deaths of hundreds of people.
Lib Dem deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesperson Jo Swinson said:
“Diplomacy is a basic requirement for the role of Foreign Secretary.
“This latest unbelievably crass and insensitive comment about an issue of such importance is further proof Boris is not up to the job.
“May needs to get her house in order and sack him.”
Either Boris Johnson goes – or Theresa May does. The former is an embarrassment to the UK, the latter is now looking weaker by the day.
She must make her choice: whether to do the right thing and change that, or to accept she has no control of her cabinet.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.