2010-2019 | Assassinations

Boris Johnson admits UK not opposed to illegal drone strikes

 A Reaper MQ-9 drone prepares for take-off in Afghanistan.
RAF Images – CC BY 2.0 – via Flickr
A Reaper MQ-9 drone prepares for take-off in Afghanistan.
RAF Images – CC BY 2.0 – via Flickr

25 July 2018

Writing for The Spectator on 25 July 2018, the recently resigned Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, implied that the government would not hesitate in authorizing intelligence sharing to enable a drone strike assassination of targets suspected of terror crimes, even if they were not necessarily posing any imminent threat to life. Referring to Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who are alleged to have kidnapped and executed Westerners in Syria, he argued that there would be no question of according them the right of a fair trial if this meant loosing the opportunity to assassinate them.

‘Suppose,’ he reasoned, ‘the grisly pair had been located a couple of years ago in Raqqa. And let’s suppose there was a reaper drone overhead,’ Mr Johnson wrote. ‘would we provide the details knowing that they would be killed without a chance for their lawyers to offer pleas of mitigation on account of their tough childhoods in west London ? Too damn right we would.’ He then admitted that ‘we legally justify these drone strike assassinations as a preventative, to stop future acts of terror in Syria. But that scarcely masks the reality that killing them is also retributive,’ he commented, ‘pay back for the filmed executions of innocent people.’1

Johnson conveniently overlooked the obvious consequence that such extrajudicial killings, without any proper legal process, would only turn these men into martyrs and provide evidence to support the claims of terror groups that the United Kingdom and the United States seek to control the Middle East through the use of illegal force.  Prior to Johnson’s statement, British ministers had always maintained that Britain’s involvement in drone strikes was always based on careful legal considerations.


  1. Boris Johnson cited in Oliver Wright, ‘Drone Strikes are retribution for atrocities, Johnson suggests,’ The Times, 26 July 2018, p. 5.

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