Boris Johnson sows confusion over England’s World Cup involvement
The Foreign Secretary’s remarks over UK representation at the tournament were later clarified as referring to British ‘officials and dignitaries’.
Boris Johnson sowed confusion over England’s World Cup involvement – before his team rejected suggestions that Gareth Southgate’s squad could be pulled from the competition.
The Foreign Secretary told MPs that it would be “very difficult to imagine that UK representation” at the World Cup in Russia could “go ahead in the normal way” this summer if Russian links were proven in the Salisbury contamination scare.
A source close to Mr Johnson later said he was talking about a scenario in which British “officials and dignitaries” may not attend, adding he is not seeking to push for the Three Lions to be withdrawn from the tournament.
England are the only one of the home nations to have qualified, with Mr Johnson’s remarks in the Commons prompted by the incident which has hospitalised former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia.
I think it’ll be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary
Mr Johnson alluded to the belief among some MPs of Russian involvement in the incident, adding such a situation would lead to a “serious conversation about our engagement with Russia”.
He added: “For my own part, I think it will be very difficult to see how we can – I am thinking ahead to the World Cup this July this summer – I think it’ll be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way. We’d certainly have to consider that.”
England will face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in the group stages of the competition, which begins on June 14 in Moscow as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.
Labour’s Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) later called for Mr Johnson to come back to the Commons to explain his comments.
Raising a point of order, Mr Perkins quoted Mr Johnson’s remarks and said: “If what the Foreign Secretary was saying was that it was his view that England should pull out of the World Cup, the consequences of that are absolutely massive – on the travel industry, on businesses, on the tens of thousands of supporters who are intending to travel and the media and so on.
“I wonder if you have heard if there is going to be a statement to that effect and if not that we should ask the Foreign Secretary to come back and explain such an important claim very quickly.”
Commons Speaker John Bercow replied: “To be fair to the Foreign Secretary who (Mr Perkins) briefly quoted, the Foreign Secretary used the conditional tense and I think it would be correct to say that he was ruminating on the possibilities in the event of no improvement in the situation.
“I don’t think it would be right to say that he made a statement of policy.”