Johnson's latest high-profile blunder came during a speech made by the UK's chief diplomat to a Conservative Party conference fringe meeting when he remarked Sirte could become the new Dubai, adding "all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away." The Foreign Sec however dismissed the barrage of condemnation that ensued, pointing out his critics had "no knowledge or understanding of Libya" and accused them of simply playing politics.
Speaking at the fringe meeting, Mr. Johnson said: "I look at Libya, it's an incredible country. Bone-white sands, beautiful sea, Caesar's Palace, obviously, you know, the real one. Incredible place. It's got a real potential and brilliant young people who want to do all sorts of tech. There's a group of UK business people, actually, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte on the coast, near where Gaddafi was captured and executed as some of you may have seen. They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai. The only thing they have to do is clear the dead bodies away."
Baroness Stroud, who was hosting the fringe event, quickly stepped in to say 'next question' as the foreign secretary continued to speak.
Following the statement, critics angrily rounded on Johnson with the Liberal Democrats and Conservative MP Heidi Allen demanding that he should be sacked, while the Labor Party described his comments as "crass, callous and cruel."
100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party. https://t.co/v2RHlbjlnB— Heidi Allen (@heidiallen75) October 3, 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 (@sarahwollaston) October 3, 2017
Diplomacy is a basic requirement for the role of Foreign Secretary. This is further proof Boris is not up to the job. May should sack him. https://t.co/P29VOULGbs— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) October 3, 2017
Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said:"It is less than a year since Sirte was finally captured from Daesh by the Libyan Government of National Accord, a battle in which hundreds of government soldiers were killed and thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire, the second time in five years that the city had seen massive loss of life as a result of the Libyan civil war. For Boris Johnson to treat those deaths as a joke — a mere inconvenience before UK business people can turn the city into a beach resort — is unbelievably crass, callous and cruel."
British Foreign Sec says we just need to clear away the dead bodies to create a resort in Libya. Shameful. What will the PM do about this? https://t.co/OntocFfpxg— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) October 3, 2017
Boris Strikes Back
In an attempt to defend himself, the foreign secretary said on Twitter that he was making a point about the need for optimism in Libya, having recently visited the country.
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
The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 3, 2017
That's why Britain is playing a key role in reconstruction and why I have visited Libya twice this year in support— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 3, 2017
It is not the first time Mr. Johnson has put his foot-in-his-mouth since becoming Britain's chief diplomat in a largely surprising appointment by UK prime minister Theresa May after the last general election. Yet despite a series of hard political knocks, they all appear to simply bounce off Mr. Johnson — for the time being anyway.