Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has defended Boris Johnson over his public criticism of British ally Saudi Arabia, saying he was “absolutely right”.
The Foreign Secretary suffered a humiliating slap down from No 10 after accusing the state of being behind “proxy wars”, while a Conservative predecessor said the “jury’s out” over Mr Johnson’s future in the job.
But Ms Davidson said that while she understands why Downing Street has distanced itself from the comments, Mr Johnson was “not wrong”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “I think Boris Johnson was absolutely right about what he said about proxy wars, and about Saudi and about Iran. And I agree with his analysis.
“Now, that might not be the position of the UK government, but guess what – I am not in the UK government, and I think he was right.”
Theresa May’s official spokeswoman said the Prime Minister has “full confidence” in Mr Johnson, but told reporters his comments were his own personal view and they do not reflect government policy.
And she pointedly noted that Mr Johnson will have the opportunity to set out official policy – of Britain’s desire to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia and support for its controversial military involvement in Yemen – when he travels to the desert kingdom.
Asked if No 10 was right to distance itself from Mr Johnson’s comments, Ms Davidson said: “I think there is a long standing diplomatic convention about not panning your allies in public. I think that this situation, particularly in Yemen, is desperate. I think that the UK government is trying its hardest to make a dreadful situation better and I absolutely understand why the UK government had to come out and say what it said – but I don’t think Boris was wrong.”
Ms Davidson, who has previously been reluctant to back Mr Johnson in the role, also said she has been “pleasantly surprised by his performance in the job”.
The Foreign Secretary is in Bahrain for the first leg of a diplomatically-testing tour of the Middle East.
The Guardian published footage of Mr Johnson’s comments to the Med2 conference in Rome last week, in which he lumped Saudi Arabia in with Iran when he raised concerns about “puppeteering” in the region.
Mr Johnson said: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region.”
Meanwhile, ex-foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said Mrs May’s appointment of Mr Johnson had been a “gamble” and he may be more “comfortable” in another Cabinet role. Asked if Mr Johnson is fit to be Foreign Secretary, he said: “The jury’s out, if I can put it that way. This is early days.”