10/07/2018 06:43 SAST | Updated 10/07/2018 06:48 SAST

Boris Johnson Quits: 9 Gaffes From His Time As Foreign Secretary

It was always a high-risk strategy when Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary in July 2016.

Simon Dawson / Reuters

It was always a high-risk strategy when Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary in July 2016.

The mood on the world stage was best summed up by former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, who tweeted that he wished it was a joke, such was Johnson's reputation as a politician whose career is littered with diplomatic gaffes

As he quits amid Brexit frustration, his tenure in the Foreign Office appears to have lived up to expectations. Here are 9 missteps during his time at one of the great offices of state.

1. Libya 'Dead Bodies' Remark

Johnson made a joke about the "dead bodies" getting in the way of businesses investing in Libya after its bloody civil war.

Speaking on the fringes of the Conservative Party conference last year, he said British businesses wanted to invest in the North African country.

"They have a got brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai.

"The only thing they've got to do is clear the dead bodies," he said.

Johnson added Libya was a "incredible place" with "brilliant young people".

Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, said Johnson's joke was "unbelievably crass, callous and cruel".

Johnson, aware of his ability to tigger unwanted headlines, began the question and answer session with Tory members by asking himself out loud: "Why did I agree?".

He also asked the audience ahead of his joke about Libya: "Are there any journalists here?"

2. Risking Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's Safety

The MP made a diplomatic blunder over the British charity worker being held in a brutal Iran prison.

He told MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been "teaching people journalism" – remarks that were seized on by the Iranian regime as proof that she was "spreading propaganda" against the state.

Nazanin was on a family holiday in Iran last year when she was arrested for spying in Tehran, a claim vigorously denied by the British government and her family.

Her employers Thomson-Reuters Foundation urged Johnson to "correct the serious mistake he made" amid fears it would extend her jail term.

She remains in jail.

3. The 'Prosecco Insult'

Johnson got into a row with an Italian minister after he warned prosecco sales would be dented if the country failed to cut a favourable Brexit deal for the UK.

Carlo Calenda accused the Foreign Secretary of "insulting" Italy, and countered that the UK would see "fish and chips exports" hit at the same time in a conversation that appears to have been conducted exclusively in national stereotypes.

Calenda, economic development minister, told Bloomberg TV: "He basically said, 'I don't want free movement of people but I want the single market."

"I said, 'no way.' He said, 'you'll sell less prosecco.' I said, 'OK, you'll sell less fish and chips, but I'll sell less prosecco to one country and you'll sell less to 27 countries.'

"Putting things on this level is a bit insulting."

4. Freedom Of Movement As A Founding Principle Of The EU Is 'Bollocks'

Johnson declared that it is "bollocks" to suggest that EU citizens have an historic right to live anywhere across the European bloc, telling a Czech newspaper that the freedom to move between states was not a founding principle of the European Economic Community.

He said: "It's a total myth - nonsense. It is stupid to say that freedom of movement is a fundamental right."

5. Described Africa As A Country, Not A Continent

Johnson managed to describe the entire continent of Africa as "that country".

While speaking to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in 2016, Boris Johnson said: "Life expectancy in Africa has risen astonishingly as that country has entered the global economic system."

For the record, there are 55 countries in Africa.

6. Compared Traditional Māori Greeting To A Glasgow Pub Fight

He compared traditional greeting to a headbutt while on a tour of the Commonwealth country earlier this year.

Johnson told a Māori congregation that the Hongi would be "misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow".

He did, however, also describe it as a "beautiful form of introduction".

Responding to the comment, the SNP said he had "made a career out of travelling the globe with his foot firmly in his mouth".

7. Compares French President Francois Hollande To PoW Guard

Johnson caused uproar earlier this year when he compared Francois Hollande's attitude towards Brexit with a prisoner of war camp.

He said: "If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape [the EU], rather in the manner of some World War II movie, then I don't think that is the way forward, and actually it's not in the interests of our friends and partners."

He was strongly condemned by by the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt who described his comments as "abhorrent and deeply unhelpful".

8. Recited Colonial-Era Poem In Burmese Temple

Johnson was caught on camera part-reciting a colonial poem in a Burmese temple before being stopped by an ambassador earlier this year.

Johnson began quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma.

The poem by Rudyard Kipling is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma, also known as Myanmar, which Britain colonised for more than a century.

9. Admitted He Did Not Recognise The Commonwealth Flag

Appearing before the Commons foreign affairs committee, Johnson told MPs how Brexit presented an "very exciting prospect" to strike free trade deals with Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, that were "bounding ahead" economically.

Asked by if that meant he would commit to replacing the EU flag with the Commonwealth's once the UK left the EU, Johnson said: "I am going to have to own up, I am unaware of the exact configuration of the Commonwealth flag. What does it look like?"