Boris Johnson’s recent comments regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have led many to question whether he is the right man for the role of Britain’s Foreign Secretary, one of the most important positions in the cabinet. In this article, Timea criticises the foreign policy department in Westminster, highlighting some of the consequences of its incompetence, namely the possible extension of a British woman’s prison sentence in Tehran.
Boris Johnson: a Fitting Foreign Secretary for a Post-Brexit Britain
The office of Foreign Secretary is one of the Great Offices of State, and is the primary official in British government responsible for foreign relations and promoting British interests overseas. In an ideal world, this office would be held by a man or woman with a grasp of the nuances and intricacies of foreign countries, a deft hand for diplomacy, and an impeccable understanding of a milieu of other nations and their unique cultural and historical perspectives. Instead, we have Boris Johnson, whose blunders are now directly measurable.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 38-year-old project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been in prison since her arrest in Tehran in April last year. Last week, Johnson told the foreign-affairs select committee that he believed she had been “simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it”. Iranian state television coted this statement as an “inadvertent confession” that she was spying in Iran, placing her future liberty at risk. Johnson has since failed to give an apology that either the IRIB or Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have deemed as acceptable. Not only that, but environment secretary Michael Gove has stated that he did not know what Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran, contradicting the official position of the government, her employer and her family that she was on holiday there.
This is one in a pantheon of blusters from a man who displays all the insight into the politics and judiciary of Iran as one would expect of a minister who once called the continent of Africa “that country”, and all the empathy and compassion for a British citizen that could only come from someone who stated that Libya could be the next Dubai once the “dead bodies” were removed. His appointment to the office of Foreign Secretary sixteen months ago is, as Brexit negotiations drag on, beginning to look more and more farcical as Britain faces perhaps its most important foreign policy decision of this century.
Jeremy Corbyn recently published a brief article in the Guardian, calling for Boris Johnson to either be sacked or resign. According to the Labour leader, the Foreign Secretary is unsuited for his role. Although his sentiment is correct, his assessment is wrong.
It is not in spite of, but because of his astronomical failings that Boris Johnson is the man perfectly suited to be Britain’s foreign secretary. What better representative of a country that voted for a campaign that claimed with either staggering arrogance or wilful impunity that it would be facile to negotiate trade deals with dozens of countries than a man who doesn’t understand half of them? What better public servant of a country that ignored decades of shared and complex European history in favour of a simplistic demonization of its governing body than a man who can do the same for the histories of entire continents? What better face to present to the world for the nation we are now- nationalistic, myopic, chaotic- than that of Boris Johnson’s?
The fact remains that this is the Britain a substantial portion of the public voted for, and for the times we live in, this is the truth of the country we are. Johnson’s attitude belies a colonial indifference that harkens back to the ages of the early 1900s, when millionaire Lords an ocean away sat around a map carving up pieces of the Middle East. Brexit Britain was in part a call-back to a romanticised version of this same colonialist history, its brutality glossed over to make room for Britain’s untethered, emancipated glory now that we have thrown off the shackles of EU bureaucracy. The foreign policy department of Westminster is now a tragicomedy that is less funny when one considers the plight of a woman who may now be imprisoned under a terror-sponsoring state for a decade of her life; its Foreign Secretary is less a man who bought into the errors of the Leave campaign than he is a physical manifestation of the aberration itself.
Men like Johnson and Gove are symptoms more than they are a cause of the country we now live in. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is one of the more visible signs of their virus – but given where we now are, she will not be the last.
By Timea Iliffe