Boris in Biden row over ‘f*** the Americans!’ outburst

Former PM in four-letter tirade against Sunak’s new Brexit deal

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 26 February 2023 17:04 GMT
Boris Johnson tries to shut down Brexit 'gloom mongering'

Boris Johnson has been accused of sparking a diplomatic rift with Joe Biden after an extraordinary “f*** the Americans!” outburst in the Commons.

He made the remark after being urged to support moves by Rishi Sunak and the EU to solve Brexit problems over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which are supported by the US President.

Allies of Mr Johnson have not disputed he made the remarks about the US in a heated exchange with his former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland.

It sparked a backlash from Mr Sunak supporters who claim Mr Johnson is determined to wreck the PM’s post-Brexit deal “out of spite”. There are also claims that his “f*** the Americans!” comment could hit Mr Johnson’s hopes of earning a fortune in America on the lecture circuit.

He was paid £277,000 for a speech to a New York bank in November and is in talks to attend further money-spinning events in the US. Insiders say this could be damaged if he is seen by patriotic Americans as “anti-US”.

Former UK ambassador to the US Sir Peter Westmacott criticised Mr Johnson’s language and behaviour towards Mr Sunak as “beyond the pale” – saying he making life more difficult for the current PM by “offending our closest ally”.

Writing for The Independent, Sir Peter said: “Language, like actions, does have consequences, even when the former prime minister uses four-letter words in jocularity. Boris Johnson has never wanted to accept that President Biden is an Irish-American Catholic who cares deeply about the island of Ireland.”

The former diplomat, ambassador to Washington between 2012 and 2016, said Mr Sunak would have “no intention of behaving so irresponsibly” as jeopardising US goodwill ahead of a possible presidential visit for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“It would help if his predecessor but one stopped making a difficult job impossible, and offending our closest ally and partner in the process, for reasons which appear to have little to do with the interests of the people of Northern Ireland,” Sir Peter added.

The controversy is a repeat of another Brexit rant by Mr Johnson in 2018 when he reportedly said “f*** business!’ in his days as foreign secretary at a Foreign Office reception to mark the Queen’s birthday.

His ‘f*** the Americans!’ remark was in response to Mr Buckland, who had told him it was vital to support Mr Sunak’s drive to resolve the protocol, partly to smooth relations with the White House.

A witness to the exchange, which happened when the pair were sitting close to each other in the Commons, said: “Robert and Boris were discussing the protocol and Robert said, ‘It’s vital you back it Boris, it’s a good outcome and with the US state visit coming up and the need to get a trade deal with them it will help keep us onside with the Americans.’ Boris said ‘f*** the Americans!’”

A source close to the former prime minister said the jibe was part of “a jocular conversation in the chamber with Robert Buckland that someone evidently misunderstood”, adding: “That is not language we would use.”

A source close to Boris Johnson said ‘that is not language we would use’
A source close to Boris Johnson said ‘that is not language we would use’ (Getty Images)

One senior Tory figure, a former minister, told The Independent: “Once you’ve said f*** business and f*** the Americans you might as well stop being a Conservative and just f*** off yourself.”

They added: “The Americans will obviously be offended by that. This will put his reputation in the US in freefall the same it is in the UK.”

Malcolm Rifkind, former Tory foreign secretary, also said the former PM’s unhelpful “f*** the Americans” were “standard Johnson” – urging MPs to ignore him and back what appeared to be a “pretty impressive” deal.

He told The Independent: “As Johnson was the significant degree the cause of the problem by signing the protocol, I think he’s the last person who should be trying to damage what appears to be the pretty impressive efforts to get an alternative. It’s unfortunate that he appears to be behaving in a negative way about the efforts of Rishi Sunak.”

David Davis told The Independent that Mr Johnson’s remarks were “Boris being Boris” as he urged all colleagues to focus on the deal, rather than any attempts to undermine Mr Sunak. “This is too important to be influenced intra-party politics.”

Mr Biden’s administration has made it clear it will not sign a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK until key political disputes in Ulster, including the protocol, which covers arrangements for imports and exports, have been defused.

Failure to do so could even stop Mr Biden, who has Irish roots, taking part in a rumoured visit to Northern Ireland in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a senior US envoy suggested recently.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are at odds on the protocol
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are at odds on the protocol (PA Wire)

The row comes as Mr Sunak tries to head off a Tory revolt led by Mr Johnson’s supporters against his Northern Ireland deal.

Hardline Brexiteers have warned that up to 100 Tory MPs could oppose the new post-Brexit trading arrangements in a potential vote amid warnings of a potential Tory “civil war”.

While the prime minister is understood to have convinced prominent pro-Brexit MPs of the merits of his deal with Brussels, a rebellion of even 40 Tory MPs would leave him in the embarrassing position of relying on Labour get it through.

The PM is “on the cusp” of securing new Brexit terms with the EU, according to his deputy Dominic Raab. Mr Raab on Sunday said a deal would be announced in “days, not weeks”.

He said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the approach from Brussels, hinting that talks had wielded changes on customs checks, as well as dealing with Unionists’ concerns around Northern Ireland not having a say in EU rules that impact on the region.

Rishi Sunak under pressure to get deal through parliament
Rishi Sunak under pressure to get deal through parliament (REUTERS)

But Mark Francois, chairman of the Tory party’s European Research Group (ERG), said parliament should not be rushed on the issue, and made clear group would not back the deal unless EU law is “expunged” in Northern Ireland.

The former minister told the programme: “I mean, if I were advising the prime minister, my honest advice to him would be: don’t try to bounce parliament next week because that is likely to go badly wrong.”

“So, if they’ve got a deal they’re proud of, show us the text. Let us run it by our lawyers. Let us fully understand what it means. Then, at that point, we might be ready to vote on it, but it would be a very bad idea.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak strongly suggested he would ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – the legislation that would hand the UK unilateral power to rip up the protocol despite warnings of a trade war.

Mr Johnson – accused on trying to use the Brexit issue to bring down Mr Sunak by ex-chancellor George Osborne and others – has urged Mr Sunak to push on with the protocol bill, saying it would be a “great mistake” to ditch the legislation introduced during his time at No 10.

But Mr Sunak appeared to offer a pointed message to his predecessor over the intervention – telling the Sunday Times everyone “should recognise that this is not ... about me, this is not about third parties or anyone else”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in