British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who is famous for his gaffes, has broken yet another unspoken rule by criticizing British ally Saudi Arabia.
At a conference in Rome last week, he accused the Saudis and Iran of “puppeteering and playing proxy wars in the region”.
“There are politicians who are abusing and twisting religion, and different strains of the same religion, to further their own political objectives,” he suggested.
The former London mayor criticized the failure of regional leadership to create closer Sunni-Shia ties, describing it as “a tragedy to watch” and “one of the biggest political problems” in the Middle East.
Johnson’s comments coincided with Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Bahrain, where the Gulf Cooperation Council was meeting, including the King of Saudi Arabia. May had taken the opportunity to celebrate the century-long alliance between the two countries, and express her esteem for the Kingdom’s leadership.
An official statement has since been issued saying that these are "not the government's views on Saudi and its role in the region."
Johnson’s departure both from government policy, and from Foreign Office protocol, has been described by many as an embarrassing blunder:
However, the overwhelming response in Britain towards Johnson’s remarks has been praise:
Others also criticized Johnson over his actions which appear to contradict his words:
Commentators might well highlight Johnson’s hypocrisy. He was one of four ministers who last month released a statement suggesting that Britain’s weapons exports to Saudi Arabia meet licensing standards, which are designed to prevent violations of International Humanitarian Law.
The UK has made £3.3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of its campaign in March 2015, despite evidence of Saudi forces having deliberately targeted civilian sites in Yemen. At least 6,800 civilians have died in the conflict so far.
Whatever Johnson may have said in Rome, after Prime Minister May’s cosy visit to the Gulf this week it seems unlikely that British policy towards Saudi Arabia is going to change anytime soon.