Boris Johnson came to Middle East after Saudi “Proxy Wars” comment

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will face a diplomatically testing tour of the Middle East this weekend after accusing British ally Saudi Arabia of being behind “proxy wars”.

The senior Cabinet minister was slapped down by Downing Street over his comments, with Number 10 saying his views did not represent official government policy.

Johnson will deliver a keynote speech at a major regional conference in Bahrain on Friday before heading to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokeswoman said she had “full confidence” in Johnson but told reporters that his comments at a conference in Italy were his own personal view and did not reflect government policy.

And she pointedly noted that Johnson will have the opportunity to set out official policy – of Britain’s desire to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia and support for its controversial military involvement in Yemen – when he travels to the desert kingdom.

May spoke with Saudi King Salman during her visit to the Persian Gulf this week, when he was able to hear the PM assure him of “her commitment and that of her government to enhancing and strengthening this relationship”, said the spokeswoman.

The Guardian published footage of Johnson’s comments to the Med2 conference in Rome last week, in which he lumped Saudi Arabia in with Iran when he raised concerns about “puppeteering” in the region.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “As the Foreign Secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong and misinterpreting the facts.”

May’s spokeswoman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “Those are the Foreign Secretary’s views. They are not the government’s position on Saudi and its role in the region.”

“The Foreign Secretary will be in the region this weekend. He will be in Saudi Arabia on Sunday and will have the opportunity to set out the way the UK sees its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the work we want to do with them and other partners to bring an end to the appalling conflict in Yemen,” the spokeswoman said.

Asked whether Johnson was expected to apologise to the Saudi regime on Sunday, the spokeswoman said: “He will have meetings with senior representatives in Saudi Arabia and he will have the opportunity to set out the government’s position.”


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