Boris Johnson has made sure the silly-season spotlight is firmly on him by blowing the Islamophobic dog-whistle. In his Telegraph column on Monday, he compared women who wear the burka to looking like "bank robbers", and said they "choose to go around looking like letter boxes".
Labour's David Lammy MP called Johnson a "pound shop Trump", while pundits are saying it's yet another example of Islamophobia in the Tory party. They’re also suggesting that this has something to do with Johnson's recent meetings with Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist. (Fair enough, but also this is the guy who called black people "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" back in 2008 – not every vulgar statement has to be a US import.)
So far, so grim, but like so many politicians making bigoted statements, Boris Johnson softens the edges. He's not above slipping in some relatable prejudice to play to the Telegraph letters page colonels, but he plays this off against the image of an affable rogue rather than a ranting bigot. And so, while managing to stigmatise burka wearers, he was actually arguing that banning the burka – as Denmark recently has – "seems a bit extreme" and at odds with the country's liberal spirit.
"Ah Denmark, what a country. If any society breathes the spirit of liberty, this is it," he coos. "It was only a few weeks ago that I was in Copenhagen for some international conference… Denmark is the only country in Europe, as far as I know, that still devotes a large proportion of its capital city to an anarchist commune, called Christiania, where I remember spending a happy afternoon 25 years ago inhaling the sweet air of freedom." Take me to your dealer! Haha, what a legend.
He continues: "Yes, if you wanted to visit a country that seemed on the face of it to embody the principles of JS Mill – that you should be able to do what you want provided you do no harm to others – I would advise you to head for wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen."
But what was funny old Boris doing in Copenhagen this time, if not the extremely cool and anti-establishment activity of lighting up a big fat bifter?
Hanging out with authoritarian stooges, of course!
Johnson was in town for the Ukraine Reform Conference, where Britain gave Ukraine £35 million to support Ukraine. However, while they were both in town, the old libertine couldn't help but check in with his old pal Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, which is ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the world's foremost political strong men.
Footage on Turkish conservative news website Yeni Şafak shows Johnson laying it on thick to Çavuşoğlu, welcoming the “[inaudible] success in the recent elections in Turkey, and we look forward as ever to intensifying what is already a very important friendship and partnership, and one that has been going from strength to strength. How is your President?"
"The President is fine," says Çavuşoğlu of Erdoğan. "He is still very energetic," he continues – which becomes a bit sinister if you think about how many journalists he has arrested – "and now he is working hard to form the new government, and also we have the new Presidential system."
That would be the new system that will make Erdoğan a "dictator in all but name".
Çavuşoğlu goes on to acknowledge the congratulatory messages that he received from Johnson and other British government ministers following the election. JS Mill would be proud.
Çavuşoğlu tweeted happily about the "cooperation" between the two countries on show at the meeting, but weirdly Boris Johnson didn’t reciprocate, and the Foreign Office didn’t mention it.
It's almost like this is yet more evidence that Johnson's loveably outrageous buffoon image is an opportunistic cover for his reactionary policies and his comfort in sucking up to any autocrat who will offer Britain some post Brexit trade??