Goats, cannibalism and a sadistic nurse: the insults of Britain's new top diplomat
Boris Johnson is famous for colorfully insulting world leaders and even entire countries.
That makes him an unusual choice for the position of Britain's top diplomat. As we reported, he was selected by incoming Prime Minister Theresa May as foreign secretary as the U.K. prepares to leave the European Union.
Johnson "is one of the more cosmopolitan figures on the world political stage: great-grandson of a Turk, born an American citizen (and, depending on whom you ask, perhaps still one), and a veteran journalist on the European continent," as The Atlantic reported. He has some knowledge of at least five languages, the magazine said.
But despite this background in international affairs, Johnson will likely have his work cut out for him to overcome the long list of zingers he has thrown at major international figures. Here are some highlights.
Johnson compared Hillary Clinton to a "sadistic nurse" in a 2007 column in The Telegraph. "She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital," he wrote.
The column is actually an endorsement of Clinton's presidential bid, but much of it is tied to his admiration for her husband. He praised Bill Clinton in the column and added: "I am prepared to pay the price of supporting Hillary just to get Bill Clinton once again padding over the shag pile carpet of the Oval Office, even if it is only to bring his wife a cup of tea."
Last year, he argued the comments about Clinton "should be taken in a 'light-hearted spirit,'" as the BBC reported.
After Trump made comments about supposed radicalization in pockets of London last year, Johnson called them "ill-informed" and "complete and utter nonsense."
Johnson then fired back: "The only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump," The Telegraph reported.
When President Obama urged the U.K. to stay in the EU ahead of the Brexit vote, Johnson wrote an op-ed in The Sun arguing that the president held a grudge against Winston Churchill and the British empire generally.
He said Obama may have been involved in nixing a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, which could be "a snub to Britain" or "a symbol of the part-Kenyan President's ancestral dislike of the British empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."
The article drew accusations of racism, as the BBC reported. In comments afterward, Obama "made clear his admiration for Britain's wartime leader."
George W. Bush
In 2003, Johnson called Bush " 'a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, unelected, inarticulate, who [epitomizes] the arrogance of American foreign policy' in an unsigned editorial in the Spectator," according to Slate.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Two months ago Johnson wrote a limerick that strongly implied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sexual relations with a goat. It won an offensive poetry competition organized by The Spectator:
"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."
The contest, which came with a £1,000 prize, was organized after Erdogan demanded that Germany prosecute a comedian who read a satirical, obscene poem about the Turkish leader on German TV. Additionally, when Merkel did eventually agree to allow a criminal investigation against the comedian, Johnson said she "numbly decided to kowtow to the demands of Erdogan."
In a 2005 column titled "Getting our knickers in a twist over China," Johnson suggested that the country's "cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase."
He went on: "Let me assert this as powerfully as I can: we do not need to fear the Chinese. China will not dominate the globe. We do not need to teach babies Mandarin."
Johnson characterized Chinese script as "so fiendishly complicated that they cannot produce a proper keyboard." And on the question of global domination, "the Chinese aren't even out of the paddock."
Johnson later used an unconventional forum to dismiss China's global influence – the Beijing Olympics. As The Telegraph reported, at the ceremonial passing of the flag, Johnson said:
"Virtually every single one of our international sports were invented or codified by the British. And I say this respectfully to our Chinese hosts, who have excelled so magnificently at Ping-pong. Ping-pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called Wiff-waff!"
The European Union
Boris Johnson was one of the most prominent politicians calling for Britain to leave the EU. In a Telegraph interview in May, he drew comparisons between the EU and Hitler.
Speaking about attempts to "unify Europe under a single government," he said, "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically." He added that the EU has "different methods" than the Nazis.
Papua New Guinea
Johnson insulted the Pacific nation as part of a dig at parliamentary opponents in a 2006 Daily Telegraph column.
"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," he wrote.
The comments did not amuse Papua New Guina's High Commissioner in London, as the BBC reported. "I consider the comments, coming from a senior British MP very damaging to the image of Papua New Guinea and an insult to the integrity and intelligence of all Papua New Guineans," Jean Kekedo said. "How far removed and ill-informed can Mr Johnson be from the reality of the situation in modern-day Papua New Guinea?"
As the BBC reported, Johnson sent a letter of apology, where he said that he "meant no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea who I'm sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity in common with the rest of us."
Johnson characterized Africans as "flag-waving piccaninnies" in a 2002 Telegraph column mocking Tony Blair's frequent travel:
"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; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.
"They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird. Like Zeus, back there in the Iliad, he has turned his shining eyes away, far over the lands of the Hippemolgoi, the drinkers of mares' milk. He has forgotten domestic affairs, and here, as it happens, in this modest little country that elected him, hell has broken loose."
Vladmir Putin and Bashar al-Assad
It's not always Johnson's insults that raise eyebrows. As we reported yesterday, "the former mayor of London has published kind words about both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad, praising in editorials the former's "ruthless clarity" and the latter's defense of the ancient city of Palmyra against ISIS."
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.