Theresa May says Johnson's comments on Saudi Arabia's 'proxy wars' were a personal view and not policy

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Boris Johnson has accused British ally Saudi Arabia of "playing proxy wars" in the Middle East. Footage has emerged of the Foreign Secretary lumping the state in with Iran when he raised concerns about "puppeteering" in the region.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street over his claim that British ally Saudi Arabia has been "playing proxy wars" in the Middle East.

Theresa May's official spokeswoman said the Prime Minister had "full confidence" in Johnson but told reporters that his comments at a conference in Italy were his own personal view and did not reflect Government policy.

She pointedly noted that Johnson will have the opportunity to set out official policy when he travels there for talks on Sunday. He will affirm Britain's desire to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia and support for its military involvement in Yemen.

The Guardian published footage of Johnson's comments to the Med2 conference in Rome last week, in which he lumped Saudi Arabia in with Iran when he raised concerns about "puppeteering" in the region.

Johnson said: "There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That's one of the biggest political problems in the whole region.

"And the tragedy for me - and that's why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area - is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves."

Theresa May and King Salman
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It's timing was particularly awkward as May had just returned from a trip to the Gulf where she spoke with King Salman.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As the Foreign Secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong and misinterpreting the facts."

May's spokeswoman said: "Those are the Foreign Secretary's views. They are not the Government's position on Saudi and its role in the region."

Boris Johnson

(Petros Karadjias/AP)

The spokeswoman confirmed that May speaks "regularly" to Johnson, but declined to confirm whether they had talked since his comments became public.

It is unclear whether Johnson will apologise to the Saudi regime on Sunday.