By Arab News
By Ben Flanagan
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been slapped down over controversial comments he made regarding the UK’s key ally Saudi Arabia.
The UK government was forced to distance itself from remarks by Johnson, made at a recent conference in Rome involving religion and proxy wars.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokeswoman said that while the premier had “full confidence” in Johnson, his comments were his own personal view and did not reflect government policy.
The Foreign Office was also keen to emphasize the UK’s good relations with Saudi Arabia following Johnson’s remarks, which many commentators saw as a diplomatic blunder.
“As the foreign secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people,” the office told Arab News in a statement.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong and misinterpreting the facts.”
Sources in the British government confirmed to Arab News that Johnson is still intending to travel to Saudi Arabia this weekend, where he is expected to engage in talks with government officials.
The visit will come just days after The Guardian newspaper published footage of Johnson at a conference in Rome last week, in which he broke with convention by publicly criticizing a UK ally.
The timing of the news was particularly unfortunate, given that it was around the same time Theresa May was speaking in Bahrain, where she pledged to boost defense ties with the Gulf, and acknowledged the “threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and to the wider Middle East.”
Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, said that Johnson’s comments will not be well-received in the Gulf.
“They won’t be seen as positive and constructive at all,” he said of Johnson’s remarks. “I think that Saudi Arabia will take this very badly — and perhaps not just Saudi Arabia.”
May’s official spokeswoman did not specify whether Johnson will apologize for his remarks.
Doyle suggested that the foreign secretary is more likely to claim that some of his comments were taken out of context, and not directly aimed at Saudi Arabia.
“There is quite a lot of room for interpretation for his comments in a number of areas,” Doyle told Arab News.