The former prime minister was speaking with his former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland when he made the remark in response to the suggestion that the UK’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was seeking to work out issues with the Northern Ireland protocol in order to smooth relations with the White House.
According to a witness, Mr Johnson uttered the phrase “f*** the Americans” in response to that idea.
“Robert and Boris were discussing the protocol and Robert said, ‘It’s vital you back it Boris, it’s a good outcome and with the US state visit coming up and the need to get a trade deal with them it will help keep us onside with the Americans.’ Boris said ‘f*** the Americans!’” said the witness to the exchange.
The Independent reached out to the White House for comment on Sunday morning but did not receive an immediate response regarding the remark itself or the idea that US-UK relations needed smoothing over.
The special relationship between the two powers showed signs of strain during the tenure of Mr Sunak’s short-lived predecessor, Liz Truss, who resigned from office after just 44 days in the PM’s chair. Ms Truss’s plan to cut taxes was sharply criticised as a “mistake” in a rare blunt assessment of UK policy by President Joe Biden last year; her economic chief would go on to be sacked and the plan largely rolled back.
Mr Biden has not embarked on a state visit to the UK since taking office in 2021; plans for that to change, however, are reportedly in the works as some news reports have indicated that the Irish-American US president may make a journey to the UK and Ireland to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday agreement later this year.
The president has made no secret of his love of his Irish ancestry over the years, and even famously snubbed a BBC reporter (as a joke) in 2020 when asked for a comment, responding instead: “The BBC? I’m Irish!”
Reporting of Mr Johnson’s comments has already caused great consternation within the Conservative Party, even absent a response from the White House, State Department or US lawmakers. One senior Tory figure, a former minister, told The Independent: “Once you’ve said f*** business and f*** the Americans you might as well stop being a Conservative and just f*** off yourself.”
“The Americans will obviously be offended by that. This will put his reputation in the US in freefall the same it is in the UK,” added the source.
Some have speculated that Mr Johnson has hopes of embarking on a speaking tour among conservative audiences in the US, a future prospect that would clearly be endangered by remarks like this.
A former Tory foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, told The Independent that he hopes both sides ignore the former PM’s outburst.
“As Johnson was the significant degree the cause of the problem by signing the [Northern Ireland] protocol, I think he’s the last person who should be trying to damage what appears to be the pretty impressive efforts to get an alternative. It’s unfortunate that he appears to be behaving in a negative way about the efforts of Rishi Sunak,” he said.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill did not immediately offer reactions to the former PM’s comments on Sunday. A number of prominent members of Congress have Irish ancestry and have been active in supporting the Good Friday agreement. As recently as 2021 a resolution in support of the agreement and continued peace process passed via unanimous consent in the bitterly-divided US Senate.
Mr Johnson resigned from office as wave after wave of resignations rocked his Cabinet last year; the former PM was engulfed in a number of scandals in his final days, including the appointment of Chris Pincher to deputy chief whip despite his knowledge that Mr Pincher faced allegations of sexual assault.
Some reports in December indicated that Mr Biden’s plans to visit the UK may be put on hold if issues surrounding the border with Ireland are not worked out in the coming days; the UK’s decision to leave the European Union has left lawmakers in Parliament scrambling to decide how the transportation of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland will persist now that the two countries adhere to different regulatory standards, and amid fears of upsetting the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the region after 30 years of The Troubles. The initial trade agreement, dubbed the Northern Ireland protocol, is now up for debate as UK lawmakers seek to streamline the flow of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland.
In September, the White House warned that any efforts to undo the Northern Ireland protocol altogether could hamper efforts between the US and UK to reach a trade deal.
“There’s no formal linkage on trade talks between the US and the UK and the Northern Ireland protocol, as we have said, but efforts to undo the Northern Ireland protocol would not create a conducive environment, and that’s basically where we are in the dialogue,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time.