Boris Johnson the diplomat storms Brussels

Boris Johnson’s first trip to Brussels as foreign secretary almost ended in Luton airport, with hydraulic fluid pouring on to the runway and firefighters surrounding the plane.

A mechanical fault on the foreign secretary’s plane provided the first bump in the former mayor of London’s new career as Britain’s top diplomat, resulting in a planned dinner with Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, on Sunday night being reduced to a quick drink.

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Even after an attempted coup in Turkey and a horrific attack in Nice, Mr Johnson’s arrival at the headquarters of the EU’s Council on Monday morning still attracted a morbid curiosity from the bloc’s assembled diplomats.

“Boris is generally perceived as a bad joke so everybody waits to see what face will he put on this time: clown, liar, joker, manipulator, master of insult or serious responsible politician,” said one EU diplomat. “Expectations from him are very low based on his track record so far.”

Although gazumped by more serious events, Mr Johnson’s arrival was still the number three topic among his peers. Mr Johnson had rattled his peers in the run-up to the UK’s Brexit referendum, comparing the EU’s ambitions with Hitler’s during the second world war. But on Monday, peace broke out.

Five days after calling him a liar, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was keen to stress the positives of their embryonic relationship. “I always speak with Boris Johnson with the greatest sense of sincerity and frankness,” said Mr Ayrault. “This exchange was frank, but useful,” added the French minister.

Asked whether Mr Johnson would be welcomed by his fellow EU ministers after drawing a link between the bloc and the Nazi dictator, a smirking Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders replied: “We will listen to him today if he still thinks the same.”

Low expectations proved to be an advantage. Upon arrival, an almost straight-faced Mr Johnson launched into a clear message on Turkey — demanding restraint from Ankara — and offered sympathies to Nice.

After ignoring an inquiry from his successor as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent (“Are you going to apologise for your previous statements, sir?”), Mr Johnson strode into the building, marching in the wrong direction before correcting course.

In the meeting, Mr Johnson spoke a mixture of English and French, marking a pleasant change from the steady stream of monoglots sent by the British government to Brussels. Even his appearance was better than some diplomats expected. “But [he] cut his hair for today, no?” asked one EU diplomat.

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