Boris Johnson’s decade-long dance with bigotry



The former Foreign Secretary is in hot water again. But when you take a look back at his political career, it doesn’t seem like he’s ever wanted to be out of it.

The news in the first week of August has been filled with outrage over Boris Johnson’s comments made in his Telegraph column, where he said that women wearing burkas looked “like letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May came out and asked for Johnson to apologise – a break from tradition, as the PM generally lets Johnson get on with it. Meanwhile, two of the Conservative Party’s most powerful Muslim members condemned Johnson for his comments.

Lord Sheikh, a Conservative peer and leader of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said on Wednesday that Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, should be removed from the party whip, adding that “severe action” needed to be taken by the Conservative Party.

Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party chairman, accused Johnson of making hate crime ‘more likely’ with his incendiary comments. Writing in the Guardian, Lady Warsi added: “As a feminist, what really disgusts me in this whole episode is that Muslim women are simply political fodder, their lives a convenient battleground on which to stake out a leadership bid.”

This is by no means the first time the Foreign Secretary has caused offence with his comments on a group of people. Indeed, his career is littered with the kind of comments that could sink a thousand careers. We’ve outlined some of his most serious moments of bigotry.

“Watermelon smiles”

In his Telegraph column – the same place which has got him in hot water this month – Johnson referred to people from Commonwealth countries as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

He wrote: “What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies,” he wrote. It also mentioned “watermelon smiles”.

Obama is “Part-kenyan” with “Ancestral dislike’ of Britain”

In 2016, when campaigning for the Brexit leave campaign, Johnson wrote a column in the Sun newspaper suggesting then US president Barack Obama’s attitude to Britain may be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “ancestral dislike of the British empire”. The column was published on the day Obama visited the UK to encourage staying in the EU.

Boris Johnson Assad

Boris Johnson… always provocative

Playing the Hitler card

Johnson came out with a reference to Nazi Germany when summing up the UK and EU relationship, when campaigning for it to end, claiming that the past 2,000 years had seen failed attempts to recreate the “golden age” of the Roman Empire.“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

Condoning racism

Johnson’s reign as Editor of The Spectator came back to haunt him in 2008, after an article published in the paper five years prior, by a columnist who said that “Orientals … have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole”. Johnson responded to accusations of condoning the behaviour – by overseeing its publication – by saying “I am sorry for what was previously written as it does not reflect what is in my heart.”

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Dishonourable mentions

In general Johnson’s public statements about foreign countries can be summed up as reactionary, provocative, but most importantly wide of the mark. And whilst his generalisations about other nations are usually ill-founded, they are often also based on wild characterisations from the annals of history. Writing in his Telegraph column in 2006, Johnson said of the Labour leadership crisis: “For 10 years we in the Tory Party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.” That’s a lot to unpack.

The further he finds his way out of his comfort zone of diplomatic commentary, the worse things get. Johnson found himself ranting about the fight against female genital mutilation in 2002, after a visit to Uganda. Writing in The Spectator, Johnson wrote: “Almost every dollar of Western aid seems tied to some programme of female emancipation — stamping out clitorectomy, polygamy, bride-price, or whatever. And while some readers may feel vaguely that the African male should not be stampeded into abandoning his ancient prerogatives, one cannot doubt the care — bordering on obsession — with which Western workers pursue their ends.”

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Daniel Cody

Daniel Cody is SEO Editor at the New Statesman, and the creator of No Majesty. He is the host of the podcast Britain on the Rocks.