Boris to sue for slander (and libel)?

Avatar photo

By Alex Wade on

The new Foreign Secretary might just have the law on his side


Spare a thought for Boris Johnson. Love him or loathe him (and there seems to be nothing in between), surely a man who has just been appointed Foreign Secretary deserves at least a modicum of respect?

Instead, not only did wannabe Labour Party leader Angela Eagle turn her back in bewilderment when she heard of Boris’s elevation to one of great offices of state, but US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner (video below) laughed outright. Toner’s attempt to coerce his features back into seriousness wouldn’t look out of place in a comedy by the king of gurning himself, Jim Carrey.

But hold on. In the face of such treatment, could Boris take legal action? It has long been settled law that physical gestures are actionable as slander — see the well-known cases of Gutsole v Mathers, Gregory v Duke of Brunswick and Vallance and, more recently, Mason v William Hill Organisation Ltd.

Eagle turning her back, Toner all but bursting into laughter — gestures, both, and highly defamatory of the new Foreign Secretary, suggesting that he is but a buffoon, ill-suited to such a prestigious and important role.

And, by way of a technical point, Boris could, in theory, sue not just Eagle and Toner but the media carrying the videos of these scurrilous gestures. Here he would be bringing an action for libel, given that publication has occurred in permanent form.

Will it happen? Is Boris even now consulting m’learned friends? The idea may not be as fanciful as it seems. After all, look at what’s happened in British politics in the past few weeks.