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Boris' bumbling charm might be what helps him woo doubters

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 15/07/2016

Boris Johnson has been named as Britain's new Foreign Secretary
Boris Johnson has been named as Britain's new Foreign Secretary

Appointing Boris Johnson as Britain's new Foreign Secretary is either Theresa May's first big blunder as Prime Minister, or an act of sheer genius.

Definitely the first, most observers so far agree, as they share pictures of the former Mayor London dangling from a zip line or sending a small Japanese boy flying during a game of street rugby.

But Westminster-watchers seem to have forgotten the internal report into the workings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office published just two months ago, which found that staff there were too amateurish and fusty, insisting that they "need to be liberated from process and hierarchy, in order to provide the bold and creative foreign policy advice that ministers and No 10 crave."

Mrs May clearly got the message, even if they didn't.

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The bigwigs at the FCO have certainly got a big handful of "bold and creative" now in Boris, and they're probably going to hate it. They've always considered themselves a cut above other departments, even a law unto themselves. Suddenly, they're being yanked into the 21st century.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin is unlikely to be delighted either. Anglo-Irish affairs occupy a central place in the life of both departments, and Boris is unlike anyone they've ever had to deal with before. Normally they get serious, stolid, unshowy diplomatic types. This time they have Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh stories to deal with.

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan won't be fazed. A self-confident Midlander who doesn't have the slightest trace of a chip on his shoulder about Perfidious Albion, he and Boris will surely get along splendidly. It's the backroom boys in Iveagh House in Dublin who may find Boris harder to take.

Irish journalist Eamon Delaney wrote a book called The Accidental Diplomat about his time in the department, which exposed the same tendency towards bureaucracy and management over imagination. These people don't like change. A ferocious whirlwind like Boris will be their worst nightmare. At least at first.

Because that's the thing about Boris Johnson. He's many things, most of them unprintable. But if there's one thing he is good at, it's charming doubters round to his way of thinking. He makes people like him by irresistible force of personality, and what Britain needs most of all in the post-Brexit world is friends, and lots of them. Fast.

Boris is good at making friends. Probably too good at it for his wife's liking, but he makes people love him. He's had a bad few weeks, making some wonder if his legendary lucky streak had deserted him. As of yesterday, he has a chance to redeem himself, and every fibre of his being will be screaming at him to grab it and make it work.

Dublin should be a pushover. They tend to do as they're told in Europe, so officially they may tut and shake their heads and agree with the French and the Germans that it's the end of the world as we know it, but they have a desperate desire to be liked too and may even privately be looking forward to those first few meetings with the blonde bombshell.

Europe will take longer to come round. They're already sneering at this new appointment. But the point about Brexit is that the EU is, for good or ill, set to become progressively less important to the economic and political life of the nation. The wider world matters more than it did a month ago. The Commonwealth, and the emerging economies in Asia and Latin America, are all there to be wooed, and Boris is some wooer.

It's a risky move, but it won't be dull.

Belfast Telegraph

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