There are few people that Boris Johnson, London’s former mayor and a lead Leave campaigner, has not offended. He:
- Won £1,000 for a limerick about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president having sex with a goat (“There was a young fellow from Ankara / Who was a terrific wankerer / Till he sowed his wild oats / With the help of a goat / But he didn’t even stop to thankera.”)
- Suggested Barack Obama was backing the Remain campaign due to his African heritage
- Likened Hillary Clinton to “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”
- Tackled a 10 year-old-boy playing rugby in Japan
- Compared the European Union to a pair of ill-fitting underwear
- Described commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies,” an offensive term for black children and referred to Africans’ “watermelon smiles.”
So why on earth did Theresa May, the UK’s new, no-nonsense prime minister, name him to the top diplomatic post in the country?
There are theories, and then theories within the theories. Here are three:
May put Johnson in the post to get him out of the country as much as possible, and in charge of as little substantive work as possible.
Johnson is a master of invented hyperbole, and a disaster when it comes to details. After leading the country to vote itself out of the European Union, he went to play cricket on the estate of Earl Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother.
Johnson might write embarrassing columns for the Telegraph (for which he is paid £250,000 a year), but the appointment will, “keep him out of the country, unable to sustain a rebel following in the parliamentary party, and crucially, makes the Brexiteers responsible for the failures of Brexit,” the Spectator wrote. (Also, David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, was named minister for negotiating Britain out of the EU, so Johnson won’t be meddling there either.)
Face the mess he created
May put Johnson in a post that will allow him to go clean up some of the mess he created. The foreign service was reportedly devastated by the Brexit vote, which undoes a significant amount of work it accomplished over 40 years. Now Johnson can travel to every British outpost around the globe to see his handiwork up close and in person.
While this may seem to contradict the first theory, it doesn’t really: Johnson will have no power but his travels will take him to places that valued the UK’s role in the European Union, where they’ll have to deal with the fallout from its leaving.
As mayor, Johnson sold London to the world, and now has the chance to sell it Britain. Selling—usually himself—is something Johnson does well, so it’s a skill to harness. He can market the country as a sunny, optimistic, irreverent and fun place to do business. “It will be his task to show the rest of the world that the UK is not isolationist, gloomy, neurotic or on the edge of a nervous breakdown, the dominant impression in Europe,” the Guardian wrote.
Not exactly the truth, but facts have never been Johnson’s forte.