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Thu, 16 July 2020

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By Sarah Champion MP and Pauline Latham MP
Press releases

Tory minister breaks ranks to condemn Boris Johnson over Libya ‘dead bodies’ gaffe

Tory minister breaks ranks to condemn Boris Johnson over Libya ‘dead bodies’ gaffe

Liz Bates

2 min read

A Tory minister has become the first to criticise Boris Johnson’s controversial remarks about the war-torn Libyan city of Sirte.  

Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee tweeted that “anyone decent would” condemn the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that the city could be like Dubai "once they clear the dead bodies away".

The remark, made at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, prompted calls for his sacking from furious backbenchers and was branded “inappropriate” by Downing Street.

But no ministers were willing to publicly condemn the Foreign Secretary, instead repeating his claim that he had been making a point about the tactics employed by Islamist fighters.

Libya was plunged into a bitter civil war, resulting in the deaths of thousands, after Colonel Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The city of Sirte was finally captured from Isil militants last year, but the country is still largely ungovernable.

Mr Johnson said business bosses had “a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, to turn it into the next Dubai”.

And he added: "The only thing they've got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then we'll be there."

But while Downing Street responded to the comments, Cabinet ministers remained silent, with only de-facto deputy Prime Minister Damian Green saying Mr Johnson should be “careful” in his use of language.

A Downing Street spokesperson added: “The First Secretary of State said this morning that politicians should be careful with their choice of words and the PM would echo that sentiment.

“We did not feel it was an appropriate choice of words."

The spokesman said the matter was now closed, and asked if he should apologise, he said: "That's a matter for him."

However - in a move which could also be interpreted as a swipe at the Prime Minister - Dr Lee: “Why is anyone having a problem condemning these comments? I do. Anyone decent would”

The intervention came after backbenchers Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry both said Mr Johnson should be sacked as Foreign Secretary, while Sarah Wollaston said he should "consider his position".

Exclusive footage shot by PoliticsHome shows some Conservatives at a party conference fringe event laughing at the Foreign Secretary's off-the-cuff remarks. 


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Foreign affairs