Theresa May has to rescue ‘clown’ Boris Johnson

British prime minister Theresa May has had to come to the rescue of her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who has been branded a “clown” by leaders in Europe.

Her need to defend Mr Johnson comes just after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivered a stinging rebuke of Britain’s lack of progress on three major issues, including Ireland, in relation to its exit from the EU.

There is a growing frustration in Dublin and Europe at the failure of London to deliver sufficient details on its plans for how it will operate once outside the EU.

Yesterday, Number 10 Downing Street said Ms May has full confidence in Boris Johnson and has a good relationship with the foreign secretary.

This was in response to anonymous briefings saying he was viewed as a “clown” and a “joke” in capitals around the world.

A German politician described Mr Johnson’s approach to European politics as “not very clever” but said the foreign secretary was beginning to recognise that “big words don’t help”.

A scathing column in The Times said diplomatic sources believe that officials at Donald Trump’s White House “don’t want to go anywhere near Boris because they think he’s a joke”.

An unnamed minister told the newspaper: “It’s worse in Europe. There is not a single foreign minister there who takes him seriously. They think he’s a clown who can never resist a gag.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland should retain the benefits of the European customs union after Brexit, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said this could be achieved through a soft Brexit whereby the UK remains in the single market or the customs union.

He made the remarks in Belfast, where he addressed local business leaders and urged them to lobby for the UK to stay in the single market and protect the cross-border movement of 118,000 vehicles a day.

He said: “There is one clear way in which we can preserve these arrangements — and that is for the UK to remain a member of a customs union, and of the single market.

“Failing that, we need a solution which sees Northern Ireland retain the benefits of the customs union, and the associated responsibilities.

“How can the UK expect to maintain an open border, an objective we all share, while asking Ireland and other EU member states to accept that beef that doesn’t meet European standards can be easily brought into Ireland from Northern Ireland without the necessary controls?

“This simply doesn’t tally with the UK’s other stated objective of not wishing to undermine the integrity of the single market and customs union and doing nothing that damages Ireland and our political, social and economic interests. Continued membership of this customs union and single market — or something very like it — is the answer.”

The number of UK tourists visiting the Republic of Ireland has declined as weaker sterling currency has resulted in increased holiday costs for British travellers, new figures suggest.

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