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Boris Johnson, the Cabinet's Basil Fawlty, tries not to mention the war at his first EU summit

The former mayor of London didn't apologise for comparing the EU's ambitions to those of Adolf Hitler

Tom Peck
Tuesday 19 July 2016 01:41 BST

Usually, when an ex-London mayor compares someone to Hitler he only has to justify himself to the newts in his garden pond.

But these are unconventional times, so of course it would be that Boris Johnson’s first Monday morning as Foreign Secretary would be spent in Brussels, talking counter-terrorism with his European counterparts, assiduously trying with Basil Fawlty-like determination not to mention the Third Reich, to which he likened the EU scarcely more than a month ago.

This is a man who has twice been sacked for lying. Once by The Times, for making up quotes. And once by Michael Howard for making up that he wasn’t having an affair. To his credit, in his first major engagement as Foreign Secretary, he almost made it into the Justus Lupsius Building, before the elasticity of an important bit of recent truth had been tested to far beyond its breaking point.

“We are not in any way going to be abandoning our leading role in European cooperation and participation,” he told waiting journalists.

David Cameron was here two weeks ago for a two-day summit of European leaders, at which he went home at the end of the first day because he’d been told he wasn’t invited to the second. "Not abandoning our leading role in European participation" is not how he described it at the time.

Anyway, the Hitler thing that so upset certain EU figures (quite a few of them are German, after all), didn’t matter so much here.

The foreign ministers of Europe are not employed by the EU, any more than Mr Johnson is. They are not riders of the Brussels gravy train. Quite a lot of people in the UK are quite confused about how the EU actually works, partly because a blond-haired Brussels Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph spent quite a lot the 1990s making up stuff that turned out not to be true. Whatever happened to him?

“If you look at the events in Nice, and what’s happening in Turkey, you can see the need to work very closely together,” he said.

Turkey indeed. They were about to join the EU, if you believe what Vote Leave wrote on their website before they deleted it, which you shouldn’t. Still, at least we can veto it. Or at least we could.

French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault told reporters that Johnson "did not apologise" for the Hitler remark. “I did not feel it targeted me when he said that,” he said, which, if nothing else, is possibly not the most important matter for a French foreign minister to be discussing at the present time.

“Everyone knows what the EU is,” he continued. “Everyone knows, who discusses it reasonably, that the EU presents a great opportunity for freedom, democracy and for prosperity.”

Bridging Europe’s cross-cultural barriers has always been the European project’s most difficult barrier. It may very well be that in certain parts of France the notion of ‘reasonable discussion’ of a topic extends to painting a load of lies about it up the side of a bus and driving around the country in it for a couple of months or so.

On the slim chance it doesn’t, then good luck with your "leading role in participation", Mr Foreign Secretary.

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