Boris Johnson "doing immense damage" to Britain's reputation

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has been accused in the Lords of doing "immense damage" to Britain's reputation abroad with his tendency to "speak first and think afterwards".

In a rare personal attack at question time, Labour's Lord Soley said the foreign secretary had a "bad reputation" for it at home and overseas.

Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon leapt to Mr Johnson's defence, saying he led from the front and represented Britain in "exemplary fashion".

The issue was raised after the foreign secretary's trip to Iran in an effort to secure the release of jailed British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Lord Soley said: "Are you aware of the immense damage being done to Britain's reputation abroad and to the rights of British citizens abroad by the tendency of Boris Johnson to speak first and think afterwards?"

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He said Mr Johnson needed to "reverse that process because he has a bad reputation for it both in this country and overseas - and it is damaging Britain's relationships and damaging individuals".

Lord Ahmad replied, to jeers: "The foreign secretary, as I'm sure many in this House would acknowledge, represents our country and the Foreign Office in exemplary fashion."

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He said Mr Johnson's visit to Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates was "testimony to that", adding: "I've seen the Foreign Secretary in operation directly as a minister within his team. He does so with a strategic outlook and in a very positive fashion."

For the opposition, Lord Collins of Highbury said he was concerned about the Foreign Office's ability to "deliver on behalf of the UK" in dealing with other countries.

He said only last week the foreign secretary had made a speech which included criticism of US President Donald Trump's controversial decision over the status of Jerusalem but omitted the section when he delivered it.

"So it's not a matter of capacity, clearly it's a matter of design here," Lord Collins said.

Lord Ahmad said Britain had stood side by side with other European nations at the UN to make clear its view on Mr Trump's decision.

He said Mr Johnson had "led the way" on a range of issues including the nuclear deal with Iran.

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord Wallace of Saltaire said he seen many critical comments on Mr Johnson's performance in the foreign media over the last year.

He asked the minister to "redress the balance" by telling peers about his close "mutually confident" relationships with any senior minister abroad.

Lord Ahmad said if he started talking about Mr Johnson's many "close and constructive relationships" with foreign ministers it would take peers beyond the 30-minute time limit for questions. The foreign secretary was "leading from the front" in sustaining and strengthening relationships with many countries, including Iran.

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