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PM to ‘echo’ chastising of Boris Johnson after Libya gaffe

Theresa May is expected to “echo” the public slap-down by her effective deputy Damian Green.

Downing Street has rebuked Boris Johnson over his latest gaffe, branding his comments about clearing bodies from a Libyan city inappropriate.

A Number 10 source said Prime Minister Theresa May would “echo” the public slap-down by her effective deputy Damian Green, who said the Foreign Secretary should have chosen his words more carefully.

But the source said Mrs May now regards the matter as closed.

Asked if Mr Johnson should apologise, the source said: “That is a matter for him.”

Mr Johnson sparked outrage on Tuesday evening by telling a meeting on the fringe of the Conservative conference in Manchester that the city of Sirte could be like Dubai if the Libyans could “clear the dead bodies away”.

First Secretary of State Mr Green said Mr Johnson’s remarks were “unacceptable”, telling Sky News: “Everyone, including Boris, needs to be careful in their use of language.”

And the Downing Street source told reporters: “The Prime Minister would echo that sentiment. We didn’t feel it was an appropriate choice of words.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd made clear she was losing patience with her Cabinet colleague, branding him a “distraction” as he continued to suck attention away from the party’s policy announcements at conference.

Ms Rudd told Sky News: “The Foreign Secretary has clarified what he meant.

“I hope we can move on from that for now, until his next comment. He’s a distraction sometimes, from the real stuff we are trying to do.”

Tory former minister Anna Soubry said Mr Johnson is “embarrassing & PM should sack him”.

Heidi Allen, a Tory MP who represents South Cambridgeshire, tweeted: “100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Well I think these remarks were crass, poorly judged, grossly insensitive and this is from the person who is representing us on the world stage, I think this is really disappointing.”

She added: “Of course he should unequivocally apologise, not sort of try to justify those kinds of remarks and the way in which it was said.

“I think he should consider his position.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the remarks were “unbelievably crass, callous and cruel”.

But Mr Johnson defended his comments in a series of midnight tweets, saying: “Shame people with no knowledge or understanding of Libya want to play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte.

“The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby traps.”

Mr Johnson’s comments were made during a discussion of his recent visit to Libya, which has suffered from widespread unrest following the ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

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He said Libya was an “incredible country” with “bone-white sands, beautiful sea, Caesar’s Palace – obviously, you know, the real one”.

UK businesses were keen to invest in Sirte, which became a stronghold for Isis following Gaddafi’s downfall, he said.

But he added, laughing: “The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away.”

As Mr Johnson continued to speak, the event’s host Baroness Stroud, a former special adviser to ex-Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, stepped in to bring his comments to a halt, saying: “Next question.”

The Legatum Institute chief executive added: “The dead bodies was the move-on moment.”

Justice minister Phillip Lee became the first member of the Government publicly to condemn Mr Johnson’s remarks.

“Why is anyone having a problem condemning these comments?” he asked in a Twitter post. “I do. Anyone decent would.”

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