Shipping threats provide rough introduction to Johnson administration

Published in GSN, 1 August 2019

The drama affecting shipping in the Strait of Hormuz is not quite yet a full-blown crisis – characterised as it is by plausible deniability for Iran on attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and dubious claims on the legality of other vessels seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). It does though represent a serious foreign policy dilemma for the newly-installed government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at a time when the British authorities already have an over-full agenda trying to avoid a chaotic exit from the European Union (EU) on 31 October.

Johnson took office on 24 July and has since appointed a team of ministers who are, in many cases, relatively untested at the highest level. Key to the majority of ministerial appointments have been their (long-standing or new-found) belief in the Johnson team’s “turbocharged” Brexit policy for leaving the European Union and loyalty to the former London mayor and foreign secretary. Setting the tone is key strategist Dominic Cummings, a spikily cerebral controversialist who shaped the 2016 referendum campaign and is loathed by many civil servants following a previous short spell in government.

New foreign secretary Dominic Raab served an unremarkable four months in cabinet as Brexit secretary, before he resigned over his differences with ex-premier Theresa May. Junior minister for the Middle East Andrew Murrison remains in office, but he has been in post only since May, following the resignation of the well-thought-of Alistair Burt, who was in his second spell in the post (GSN 1,081/8).

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