Brickbats for Boris over his cancelled visit to Moscow

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Is the Foreign Secretary a poodle, a puppet or a principled man? Boris Johnson has received plenty of brickbats and no bouquets over his controversial decision to cancel his visit to Moscow as the war of words over Syria rages on unabated.

The decision was taken after a telephone call between Johnson and Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, only hours before the Foreign Secretary was due to fly out.

Tillerson is himself going to Moscow, but it was agreed that Johnson should stay at home and campaign for a tough G7 statement condemning Russia’s standing and its siding with President Assad over the chemical missile which killed so many people in agonising circumstances.

Johnson has been accused of meekly submitting to the dictates of President Trump that he should not go to Moscow, with all kinds of insults hurled at him.

This row is escalating, and it certainly came as a salutary shock to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, that Trump used cruise missiles to attack the airfield from which these chemical weapons apparently originated.

Putin is not used to being treated in this way, and it is therefore important for the UK, the USA and other allies to keep up the pressure. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has already said that Russia is responsible for all those deaths.

And this will not be helped by internal, and indeed petty, squabbling in the west.

• I trust the Prime Minister will heed the plea of Brexiteers that ending payments to the EU is more important than the free movement of people, and should be treated as a priority. It would be monstrous, although not surprising, if the EU continues to demand lorry-loads of cash from the UK, especially as we are following the rules about leaving with absolute precision.

There are plenty of bigwigs in Brussels who would like to see Britain punished over the decision to quit - a decision freely taken by a majority of voters at last year’s referendum.

We should tell these grasping Eurocrats to take a running jump if this happens, as some have insisted it should. And Theresa May should tell them so.

Meanwhile, one Brussels grandee, Donald Tusk has said they are missing the UK already. I don’t want to sound cynical, but I suspect he is talking about the money, rather than losing an old friend.

• If ever anyone qualified for the title of ‘Political Chameleon of the Year’, I can think of no one more worthy of the “honour” than Mark Reckless, the former MP at Westminster, who now sits in the Welsh Assembly.

He seems to change his political colour with the frequency with which some people change their socks. That may be a slight exaggeration, but there is little doubt that he is something of a unique character in this respect.

He enters the revolving door for the first time as a fully-fledged Tory and comes out the other side as Ukip. He then turns round and goes through the doors again as Ukip and re-emerges where he started, this time as an Independent with Tory leanings.

That may be all very convenient - even amusing - for Reckless, but quite frankly it is playing fast and loose with the voters who elected him, on the list system, as a Ukip man and nothing else. His conscience should tell him he should quit.

• Confidential information about some MPs, including their payments to staff, have, by a mischance, suddenly appeared publicly on computer screens. How very embarrassing. They show that some are employing relatives as their aides - a practice deplored by the authorities.

But this embarrassment serves to show that not everything in the Westminster garden is coming up roses after the expenses scandal of some years ago.

Meanwhile, even more outrageous is the fact that some peers are abusing the allowance system in the House of Lords. They are paid £300 a day just for being there - they don’t have to contribute anything.

It seems a simple enough matter to end this flagrant abuse. I hope something is done about it.

• Somewhere in the depths of the Palace of Westminster there is a room with a door in the wall that is at least eight foot from the ground. I trust it is kept locked because anyone on the other side who opened it would get a nasty shock - and probably a broken leg at the very least.

I have asked numerous people to explain this strange phenomenon. But nobody seems to have an answer. It has been bugging me for years.