LONDON - Boris Johnson vowed to stand up for Britain's diplomats around the world and take a robust approach towards U.S. President Donald Trump if he succeeds in becoming the next prime minister.
Johnson, the favourite to be named as Theresa May's successor on July 23, has been criticised for failing to support Britain's ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, before he resigned this week.
Diplomatic memos from Darroch describing the Trump administration as inept were leaked to a British newspaper, infuriating the U.S. president, who launched a Twitter attack on both the envoy and outgoing prime minister Theresa May, who had given Darroch her full support.
Johnson pointedly refused to back Darroch during a televised debate, leading to accusations from fellow Conservative Party lawmakers that he had thrown the ambassador "under the bus" in order to bolster his own ties with Trump.
"I will stand up for our fantastic diplomats across the world," Johnson told a leadership campaign rally on Thursday.
The former London mayor said there were reasons to believe Britain's relationship with the United States was the "single most important strategic fact of our times". But he said he had criticised Trump before and would do so again if needed.
"I criticised him as foreign secretary," he said. "We in the UK do not agree with the position of the United States on global warming ... (or) their approach to the Iran nuclear deal. We were very robust and will continue to be robust with the U.S.."
(Reporting by Kate Holton Editing by Gareth Jones) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; 0044 207 542 8560; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))