The MI6 career of Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, was short-lived but his memoirs did reveal one insight into the secret world that has long been believed – that MI6 officers were given legal immunity to commit crimes.
In his autobiography ‘Stanley I Presume’, the Prime Minister’s father chronicles how he was interviewed to join MI6 in 1965 by a certain “Sir Ian Murray” at Carlton House Terrace in St. James’s. Wearing a pinstriped suit with a bowler hat and umbrella draped over the chair, Sir Ian, whose official position was not clear, told the young Johnson; “We will offer you the most intensive training in clandestine techniques known to man”. Sir Ian, whose name does not appear in any public records, then added:
“You may have to do things in the course of your duty that you would not normally do. You may, for, example, have to break the law for the greater good, of course. How would you feel about that?”
“I would be fine about that, as long as a greater good was indeed involved”, replied Johnson.
This episode has become topical because of new disclosures about MI6’s relationship with their agents operating overseas. ‘The Guardian’ reported that MI6 recently failed to make clear to the Foreign Secretary that a “high risk agent” operating overseas had probably engaged in “serious criminality” until it was pointed out by an independent regulator last year.
The spy agency asked the Foreign Office for authorisation to renew its approval of the secret agent’s activities despite the apparent criminality, and MI6 was not “expressly clear” as to what had happened.
This incident occurred in the past four years and it shows that MI6’s special legal status has not changed. As for Boris Johnson’s father? He joined the MI6 training course and was told to visit Gieves, the tailors in Savile Row, where he was fitted out with a suit with room for a shoulder holster for a gun. The tailor made it clear that he looked after new MI6 recruits.
During his MI6 training, Stanley Johnson was given the memorable advice by a Colonel who declared: “Never try and blackmail an Egyptian”. And when he struggled with how to describe his new occupation as a spy to friends and family, his Foreign Office liaison officer told him: “Just say you work at the Foreign Office and if pressed, that you are the desk office in Sudan”
In his memoirs, Stanley Johnson does not mention whether he was actually accepted by MI6 as an officer but at least his book confirms what many historians long believed – that MI6 officers were a law unto themselves.