Boris Johnson says England could boycott the World Cup. Or does he?

Written by David Singleton on 6 March 2018 in Diary

The foreign secretary put his special advisers through their paces with his remarks in the Commons.

The collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury was already leading the news bulletins before Boris Johnson stood up in the Commons.

The foreign secretary then appeared to put rocket boosters on the story by suggesting that England could pull out of the football World Cup in Russia if Moscow is found to be responsible.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Johnson warned that “no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished”.

He added: "If things turn out to be as many members suspect that they are, I think we will have to have a serious conversation about our engagement with Russia.

"And for my own part, I think it will be very difficult to see how, thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way. We will certainly have to consider that."

But the news that Johnson was considering pulling England out of the World Cup came as a shock to his special advisers who had to issue urgent clarifications to lobby journalists.

The foreign secretary was not talking about our boys, but rather "dignitaries and officials who bless the event" Team Boris told excited lobby hacks.

"He was trying to show the range of hard and soft power available to show our international displeasure," explained one source close to Johnson.

How could the kerfuffle have been avoided? Writing on Twitter, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry came up with a helpful suggestion: "It really would save a lot of time and hassle if Boris preceded every Commons appearance, media interview and memo by saying: 'Please take none of this seriously until my aides have confirmed if I meant to say it.'"




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