Johnson, who was in Riyadh on Sunday for a pre-arranged series of talks with Saudi officials, departed from longstanding government policy when he told a conference in Rome that the UK ally fought proxy wars and abused Islam.
His comments brought a rebuke from Downing Street, with Theresa May’s spokeswoman saying this was Johnson’s opinion, and “not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region”.
The dressing-down in turn prompted annoyance from some fellow Conservative MPs, who said Johnson was merely saying what was true and should not be so publicly chastised.
But asked about the matter on BBC1’s Andrew Marr show, Fallon changed tack and appeared to blame the media for confecting an artificial row, when in fact Johnson and Downing Street were in full agreement.
He said: “Let’s be very clear about this. The way some of his remarks were reported seemed to imply that we didn’t support the right of Saudi Arabia to defend itself ... and didn’t support what Saudi Arabia is doing in leading the campaign to restore the legitimate government of Yemen.
“Some of the reporting led people to think that,” he said. “The way it was interpreted left people with the impression that we didn’t support Saudi Arabia and we do.”
Asked repeatedly by the host, Nick Robinson, who was standing in for Marr, who is having medical treatment, about whether No 10 did or did not disagree with the foreign secretary, Fallon avoided the question.
“The government’s view is absolutely clear – that what Saudi Arabia is entitled to do is defend itself from these attacks across its own border,” he said.
“You’ve got a very big personality, like Boris, who makes speeches all around the world, and I think there’s a danger all this gets slightly over-textualised. Downing Street was asked what the policy is so far as Saudi Arabia’s right to defend itself, and they were very clear on that.”
Speaking at a conference in Rome last week, Johnson blamed both Saudi Arabia and said Iran for fighting proxy wars across the region.
“There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”
Asked whether the foreign secretary would raise such concerns in Riyadh, Fallon said: “He will be reminding Saudi Arabia that we support Saudi Arabia.”
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 11th December 2016 11.47 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010