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23 October 2017updated 01 Aug 2021 10:57am

Boris Johnson entertains prospect of nuclear war – but finds Brexit talks unmentionable

The government’s mess over Europe was all too clear in a foreign policy speech that didn’t even mention it.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivered a speech today defending Donald Trump’s attitude towards North Korea.

Although he insisted that no one wanted a “military solution”, he said the option must remain “on the table”:

“I’m afraid that the US President, whoever he or she might be, will have an absolute duty to prepare any option to keep safe not only the American people, but all those who have sheltered under the American nuclear umbrella.”

The US President threatened over Twitter last month that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un (who he calls “Little Rocket Man”) and foreign minister wouldn’t be “around much longer” if the country continues ramping up its nuclear tests and rhetoric. He said the US is “prepared for anything”.

Johnson, speaking at an event in central London held by the foreign policy think tank Chatham House, reiterated his thoughts on Trump’s sabre-rattling during a Q&A following his speech, saying “it is the duty of the [US] President to at least explore these military options and keep them on the table”, in response to missile testing on the Korean peninsula.

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Apparently comfortable with entertaining the prospect of nuclear war on this drizzly Monday morning – musing at the start of his speech whether “the nuclear sword of Damocles is once again held over the head of a trembling human race” – Johnson was far less comfortable with contemplating the government’s Brexit negotiations.

Despite focusing on UK diplomacy in his speech – in which he also urged Trump to “think of the nightmare” the Iran nuclear deal has avoided, and lamented “how we lost Russia” – Johnson neglected to mention Britain’s relationship with Europe.

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When asked various questions by the press on how the UK is bungling Brexit talks (failing to settle the divorce bill, and cabinet ministers like himself weakening May), Johnson admitted that he had been “studiously” attempting “to avoid” the subject, merely calling on European leaders to “get on with it” and proceeding to quote some Hamlet and Macbeth:

“Let’s not let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, or let the native hue of resolution be sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought – or whatever.”

But the government will need more than Shakespearean deflection if the Brexit talks are so disastrous that ministers are happier contemplating nuclear war.