Nicholas Farrell

The story behind Boris Johnson’s ‘President Erdogan’ poem

The story behind Boris Johnson's 'President Erdogan' poem
Text settings

Boris Johnson is by no means short of a bob or two but when I challenged him to create a limerick for The Spectator’s President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition (prize £1,000) he was unable to resist.

Naturally, during his interview with me and Urs Gehriger, for the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche – which I call the Swiss Spectator – the subject of the migrant crisis - and the EU’s recent German-driven deal with Turkey to stop the migrant tide from the east - cropped up.

And so too did the criminal prosecution in Germany of the comedian Jan Böhmermann, for a poem accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of getting his rocks off with goats. In Germany – as Angela Merkel was swift to remind everyone - it is a criminal offence to insult or ridicule foreign heads of state, no matter how evil they are.

'That is a scandal!' Boris said.

'If somebody wants to make a joke about the love that flowers between the Turkish president and a goat, he should be able to do so, in any European country, including Turkey.'

So I asked the buccaneer captain of the Brexiteers - and Oxford classics scholar - if he himself had entered the poetry competition. 'I haven’t, no. But there is probably quite a good limerick to be done,' he replied and so I said: 'Come on then.'

Though visibly knackered, his mental dexterity remained undimmed and he duly obliged:

There was a young fellow from Ankara

Who was a terrific wankerer

Till he sowed his wild oats

With the help of a goat

But he didn’t even stop to thankera

'That’s pretty good Boris,' I could not help saying.

'Pretty good,' he agreed.

Our interview took place in his office at Portcullis House near the Houses of Parliament where there is a bust of his hero Pericles - the poet-warrior leader of the Athenians during their golden age - on which he had put his bicycle helmet.

The European Union, he told us, is 'starting to run out of road' and 'the euro is a disaster for France'. It is Nato, not the EU, that has guaranteed peace in Europe since 1945, he insisted, adding: 'in fact it is the EU that is now undermining stability and security.' He compared the stream of dire warnings by famous and worthy faces in support of Cameron’s Project Fear as 'like in hostage videos'. As for Obama’s intervention in favour of Remain, all opinion polls showed increased support for Brexit afterwards, so he said: 'Bring back Obama!'

He denied that Brexit would mean Britain turning its back on Europe. 'Absolutely not. I believe in being in bed with our European friends, and partners in fact, literally!' Asked to produce a killer economic fact in favour of Brexit he said: 'Since the single market was created in 1992, the non-EU-members of the OECD have grown faster than the EU members.'

He explained his agonised decision to support Brexit – a decision taken in an Oxfordshire cottage during a cold and rainy Sunday when, despite the weather, he played tennis with his sister the columnist Rachel Johnson – thus:

'I thought, can I in all honour and conscience say that the EU is sufficiently reformed for me to be able to fulfil my pledge which was to campaign for a reformed EU? Well no, it wasn’t. I genuinely think the thing is out of control, and it is getting worse. And if we don’t do something, we’ll be treated with complete contempt forever afterwards.'

Famously educated in several countries, with Turkish and Swiss blood, Boris adores Europe, but he told us: 'I don’t believe in the creation of this European identity. I don’t see it.'

As for London’s first Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan, he refused to accept that it means the triumph of Londonistan: 'Look, I am more worried about the red flag than I am about Sadiq.'

In his September 1946 Zurich Speech, Sir Winston Churchill called for the foundation of a United States of Europe based about France and Germany but with Britain as friend and sponsor. Asked about this Boris replied: 'Churchill could have taken Britain in, but didn’t, and that basically was because, I think, he didn’t think Britain should be part of it.'

Famous for frequently writing or saying comical but outrageous things over the years, he had this to say at the end: 'all sorts of words spill forth in a great tourette’s stream.' Amen.