LONDON – Boris Johnson has today refused to apologise for controversial comments he made about war-torn Libya earlier this month.
The foreign secretary remarked in a fringe event at the Conservative Party annual conference that the Libyan city of Sirte will have a bright future once they “clear the dead bodies away.”
He added: “It’s an incredible country, I mean you’ve never seen anything – bone white sands, beautiful seas, Ceasar’s Palace, obviously, you know, the real one… Incredible place.”
Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen called for Prime Minister Theresa May to sack Johnson for the remarks, as did Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who described them as “crass, callous and cruel.”
Listen to Johnson’s Libya remarks:
— J.N. PAQUET âS (@jnpaquet) October 3, 2017
However, Johnson refused to apologise for his comments when invited to do so by the SNP’s David Linden in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning, claiming his conference remarks illustrated “the reality” of life in Libya.
Here is the exchange between Linden and Johnson:
Linden MP: “The foreign minister has been widely deplored for saying Sirte could be the new Dubai if, I quote, ‘they clear the dead bodies away.’
This is just the latest gaffe from the foreign secretary. Will he do the right thing and apologise, or will he resign?”
Johnson MP: “I think, Mr Speaker, we must all be aware of the reality in Libya and indeed in Sirte, that there is a tragic absence of security, and that the problems of that city have yet to be resolved.
“But when they are resolved, and they will be addressed with the help of this country, then I think the people of Libya do indeed have fantastic economic prospects, and that is the objective of this government.”
Johnson later accused some of his parliamentary colleagues of “trivialising” the issue of Libya and suggested his political opponents were using the comments he made in Manchester for “political point-scoring.”
“I don’t believe that political points scoring of this kind or trivialising or ignoring the reality of the security situation in Sirte does any favours to the people of Libya,” Johnson said.
This prompted Labour MP Thornberry to tweet:
Boris Johnson accuses critics of his Libya remarks of trivialising the issue. Yes, the same Boris Johnson who joked about dead bodies #FCOQs
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) October 17, 2017