Boris Johnson apologises to London Irish community

Mayor says his comments in the <em>New Statesman</em> were exploited to suggest he had anti-Irish fe

Boris Johnson, no stranger to gaffes, is well-practiced in the art of laughing off any offence caused. However, the mayor's buffoon act did not deflect his comments about London Irish community in last month's New Statesman, and he has now apologised.

Interviewed by Jemima Khan, Johnson made this throwaway remark:

"I'll tell you what makes me angry -- lefty crap," he thunders in response. Like? "Well, like spending £20,000 on a dinner at the Dorchester for Sinn Fein!"

As my colleague Mehdi Hasan pointed out, this was not founded in fact:

Is the mayor referring to the annual St Patrick's Day Gala Dinner, the £150-per-ticket black tie event that ran between 2002 and 2008 and was, ahem, self-financing? The dinner that Boris cancelled in 2009 to save money despite the fact that it was, um, er, self-financing? The dinner that wasn't held "for Sinn Fein" but at the request, and for the sake, of the Irish community of Kilburn, Cricklewood and other parts of the capital?

The remarks triggered a strong reaction among the Irish community. The front page of the Irish Post proclaimed "Boris: your attitude stinks".

Now, a month later and struggling to get ahead in the polls, Johnson has apologised for any offence caused. He told the Irish Independent: "I am profoundly sorry if I have offended any Irish person." He added: "I hope that people will see I was making a point about cost cutting."

The mayor's office has also released a letter send to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith to clarify his position. In it, he says that his comments were exploited to suggest he had anti-Irish feelings, saying that this was "deeply upsetting". In a rather non-apologetic apology, he said:

Although I note that the guests of honour at the 2008 St Patrick's Day dinner were Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty, these were not dinners for Sinn Fein and, of course, I make absolutely no assumptions about the political allegiances of those who attended the dinners.

He makes no mention of the fact that the dinner included Irish public figures from across the spectrum, with a guestlist including Bob Geldof, Dermot O'Leary, the mayor of Dublin and the Irish ambassador to the UK.

In a classic Johnson move, he emphasised his apology for the "unintended offence that I may have given" with the gag: "Mayoral culpa, mayoral maxima culpa." One wonders whether this will be enough to undo the damage done by his reiteration of the old stereotype that all Irish people are Provos.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why it's far too early to declare Ukip dead

The party could yet thrive if Brexit disappoints those who voted Leave.

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won," wrote the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo. Ukip can testify to this. Since achieving its founding aim - a British vote to leave the EU - the party has descended into a rolling crisis.

Theresa May's vow to pursue Brexit, and to achieve control of immigration, robbed Ukip of its political distinctiveness. But the party's greatest enemy has been itself. Its leader Paul Nuttall did not merely lose the Stoke by-election (despite the city recording the highest Leave vote), he self-destructed in the process. Contrary to his assertions, Nuttall did not achieve a PhD, was never a professional footballer and did not lose "close personal friends" at Hillsborough. Ukip's deputy Peter Whittle pleaded last weekend that voters needed more time to get to know Nuttall. No, the problem was that they got to know him all too well. A mere three months after becoming leader, Nuttall has endured a level of mockery from which far stronger men would struggle to recover (and he may soon be relieved of the task).

Since then, Ukip's millionaire sugar daddy Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party unless he is made chairman and Nigel Farage is awarded a new role (seemingly that of de facto leader). For good measure, Farage (a man who has failed seven times to enter parliament) has demanded that Ukip's only MP Douglas Carswell is expelled for the crime of failing to aid his knighthood bid. Not wanting to be outdone, Banks has vowed to stand against Carswell at the next election if the dissenter is not purged. Any suggestion that the party's bloodlust was sated by the flooring of Steve Woolfe and Diane James's 18-day leadership has been entirely dispelled.

For all this, it is too early to pronounce Ukip's death (as many have). Despite May's ascension and its myriad woes, it has maintained an average poll rating of 12 per cent this year. This is far from its 2014 zenith, when it polled as high as 25 per cent, but also far from irrelevancy. Incapable of winning Labour seats itself, Ukip could yet gift them to the Conservatives by attracting anti-Tory, anti-Corbyn voters (in marginals, the margins matter).

Though Theresa May appears invulnerable, Brexit could provide fertile political territory for Ukip. Those who voted Leave in the hope of a radical reduction in immigration will likely be dismayed if only a moderate fall results. Cabinet ministers who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce immigration have already been forced to concede that newcomers will be required to fill vacancies for years to come. Ukip will be the natural vehicle for those aggrieved by Brexit "betrayal". Some Leave voters are already dismayed by the slowness of the process (questioning why withdrawal wasn't triggered immediately) and will revolt at the "transitional period" and budget contributions now regarded as inevitable.

The declarations of Ukip's death by both conservatives and liberals have all the hallmarks of wishful thinking. Even if the party collapses in its present form, something comparable to it would emerge. Indeed, the complacency of its opponents could provide the very conditions it needs to thrive.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.