Some say his role is merely symbolic. Even so it gives two fingers to the countries whose goodwill we will need
Theresa May could scarcely have made a worse choice of foreign secretary than Boris Johnson. Short of appointing Nigel Farage, or Jeremy Clarkson, the new prime minister could not have made a more reckless decision, one that smacks of the fateful error made by her predecessor putting the demands of party management ahead of the needs of the country.
I know the counter-arguments. Ive even heard them made by Foreign Office insiders, as they seek to console themselves about their new boss. In this view, the post of foreign secretary may still technically qualify as one of the great offices of state, but the magic went long ago. On any topic that counts, prime ministers make their own foreign policy: just look at Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The last foreign secretary who actually shaped, rather than merely spouted, the government line was, they say, Ernest Bevin. He held the job seven decades ago.
And this already diminished role was diminished further this week. May deleted two of the most important paragraphs from the job description, handing Brexit negotiations to David Davis and international trade to Liam Fox. On this reading, Johnson will be left with the presentational fluff, serving as a glorified cheerleader charged with making foreigners smile and feel good about brand Britain. Think of him as a minor royal, Prince Andrew with a classics degree. He wont be able to do much harm.
Besides, why not admire the political cunning? May has ensured a potential rival will now be inside the tent, pissing out. Hell have little time to pace the tea rooms and the backbenches: you cant do much plotting at 30,000 feet or at a state dinner in Islamabad.
More importantly, his appointment is just the most visible move in a wider strategy to ensure that leave is in the hands of the leavers. May has tasked Johnson, Davis and Fox along with Andrea Leadsom at agriculture with climbing their way out of the abyss into which they led the British people. They laboured for Britain to leave the European Union; now they have to make it a reality. Think of it as Brexit jobs for Brexit workers.
That should gag the anti-EU headbangers, at least for a while. They can hardly accuse the government of going soft on Brexit when its their own champions who are in charge. And it could be a win-win for May. If things go horribly wrong during the exit process, shell let the three stooges take the blame.
Alternatively, there is the scenario remainers cling to. What if May is planning a Bino Brexit in name only in which she complies with the letter, rather than the spirit, of the 23 June verdict? What if we end up with an out that looks a lot like in; what, indeed, if that is the only way to retain our access to the single market?
In that situation, who better to sell this sellout to the British people than the leader of Vote Leave himself? It could be Johnsons finest hour, lovable Boris ruffling his hair as he looks the voters in the eye and says: I, your most ardent advocate, believe this is the best deal for Britain. By installing Johnson at the Foreign Office, May has brought in her own little Nixon ready for the day she needs to go to China.
The problem with all this political logic is that its for domestic use only. Its not what the rest of the world sees. And, remember, thats what this job is for: to be our nations chief diplomat, our face to the nations of the earth. Its not just another piece on the Westminster chessboard.