Tom Tugendhat appears to suggest foreign secretary should choose his words more carefully
A senior Tory has questioned the way Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, promotes Britain abroad.
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the cross-party foreign affairs committee, also criticised Johnson’s apparent suggestion that the Commonwealth was not a political priority.
In an interview with the centre-right Tory publication Bright Blue, Tugendhat said: “He [Johnson] has the ability to make his voice heard and that is a real asset for the United Kingdom. People listen. But it is important, of course, that they hear the words that Britain really wants to project.
“Those words must have to do with promoting the values of the United Kingdom and promoting our interests around the world.” Next week the Queen will open the biggest gathering of Commonwealth heads of government in London for 20 years.
Johnson appeared to suggest at a hearing by Tugendhat’s committee last month that the Commonwealth was not a priority. Tugendhat said in the interview: “If the Commonwealth is not one of the priorities in a post-Brexit era, one wonders what is.”
It is not the first time the foreign affairs committee has been critical of Johnson’s tenure at the Foreign Office. It has previously challenged him to explain what the slogan “Global Britain” means.
Johnson has been at the centre a series of controversies in recent months. On Monday he tweeted congratulations to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, on his re-election at the weekend. Hours later, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the conduct of the election campaign, saying there had been “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”.
Last month Johnson said he had been told by Porton Down that the nerve agent used in the Salisbury poisoning case could only have come from Russia, but the lead scientist at Porton Down later said this was not the sort of finding the lab could make. The Foreign Office then deleted a tweet blaming Moscow for the attack.
Johnson has also equated Russia’s hosting of the World Cup this summer with Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Brexit-backing ministers including the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, have proposed that the Commonwealth could play an important role after the UK leaves the EU. According to the ONS, at present 9% of British trade is with other Commonwealth member states.