LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced calls to resign on Wednesday after he said that a Libyan city could become the next Dubai once they “clear the dead bodies away”.
Speaking at an evening fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Britain’s top diplomat said that British businesses wanted to invest in Sirte, the coastal Libyan city where Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed.
British investors “have a got brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, turn it into the next Dubai,” he said.
“The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies,” he added, drawing nervous laughter from the audience.
Heidi Allen, a Conservative Party lawmaker, tweeted that the comments were “100 per cent unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party”.
Sarah Wollaston, another Conservative Party lawmaker, told BBC on Wednesday that Johnson should “consider his position.”
“I think these remarks were crass, poorly judged, grossly insensitive and this is from the person who is representing us on the world stage,” she said.
Johnson’s Cabinet colleague Damian Green rebuked Johnson, telling the BBC: “Boris, and every politician, should, at all times, be very sensitive in their use of language.”
Johnson has already taken up a lot of oxygen during the Conservative Party conference. In the days leading up to the annual event, Johnson has made several interventions over Brexit where he appeared to be undermining the British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Some have questioned whether he was deliberately trying to get himself fired.
Johnson was under pressure during his keynote speech on Tuesday afternoon to toe the party line, and he largely did with an upbeat speech that heaped praise on May (even if it didn’t quell suspicions that he still covets the crown).
But a few hours after his main speech, Johnson was speaking a fringe event where he made the remarks that many found offensive and his boss was once again facing calls to remove Johnson from his post.
Emily Thornberry, Johnson’s counterpart in the opposition Labour Party, tweeted that the comments were “beyond buffoonery” and asked: “What will the PM do about this?”
Johnson defended his remarks on Twitter, saying that it was a “shame people with no knowledge or understanding of Libya want to play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte.”
In two more tweets, he continued: “The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps,” Johnson wrote. “That’s why Britain is playing a key role in reconstruction and why I have visited Libya twice this year in support.”