Boris Johnson, the favourite to succeed Theresa May as UK prime minister, has once again thrown his suitability for high office into doubt. Despite being well known for gaffes, the Foreign Secretary appears to have overstepped the mark with his latest controversy. And calls for him to resign, even from within his own party, have grown louder.
His comments were made during a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Manchester on 3 October. An audience member asked Johnson a question about the ongoing war in Libya. And his reply focused on a city called Sirte.
Sirte is a coastal city in the north of Libya. It has been heavily bombarded during the war with Daesh (Isis/Isil) fighters in the region; so it is now mostly reduced to rubble, and casualties have been heavy. Yet Johnson prioritised the area’s redevelopment potential. He said:
I look at Libya, it’s an incredible country… There’s a group of UK business people, wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte, on the coast, near where Gaddafi was actually captured and executed as some of you may have seen. 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.
Even this response was somewhat insensitive. It seemed to suggest that the suffering of those in the region was of secondary importance to investment opportunities. But Johnson had not quite finished. Because in typical style, he rounded off with a quip:
The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away!
The Tories in attendance met his punchline with guffaws and laughter:
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) October 3, 2017
The backlash has been fierce from Johnson’s political enemies; but also from his colleagues:
The vile @BorisJohnson really isn't fit to hold office.
Tories in audience actually laughed at dead civilians.
Cruel and dehumanising. https://t.co/tLA1rxcaYo
— Jeremy Corbyn for PM (@JeremyCorbyn4PM) October 4, 2017
Demeaning jokes about real people murdered in Libya would be crass even from a stand up; appalled to hear this from our Foreign Secretary
— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) October 3, 2017
— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) October 3, 2017
Johnson responded to critics by saying:
Shame people with no knowledge or understanding of Libya want to play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 3, 2017
But few people were impressed:
so let me get this straight…
okay: mocking the dead in Sirte
not okay: criticising Boris Johnson for mocking the dead in Sirte
— sam waldron (@waldron76) October 3, 2017
Accusing critics of “playing politics” is surely the laziest, most facile line in the standard issue bag of MP cliches and soundbites. https://t.co/KKR8TEHTjn
— The Media Blog (@TheMediaTweets) October 4, 2017
With their current leader in such a precarious position and the leading contender to replace her under heavy fire, this Tory conference seems to be lurching from one disaster to the next.
– Read more Canary articles about the Conservative Party Conference here.
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