Reported comments by Emmanuel Macron branding Boris Johnson a “clown” and a “knucklehead” were “unhelpful”, a British minister has said.
he French president’s scathing assessment of the British prime minister threatened to fuel the already bitter diplomatic row between London and Paris, which has been simmering for weeks.
British business minister George Freeman suggested the remarks belonged in the “pantomime season” and linked them to the impending French elections.
“Of course, the prime minister isn’t a clown, he is the elected prime minister of this country with a very big mandate, leading this country through the pandemic,” he told Sky News.
The comments attributed to Mr Macron were made privately to a small group of his advisers during a visit last week to Croatia, according to French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.
Mr Macron had already lashed out publicly at Mr Johnson, accusing him of not being “serious” in his response to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the channel with the loss of 27 lives.
But in private he went further, according to Le Canard Enchaine, attacking the prime minister for seeking to make France a “scapegoat” for Brexit, which had proved “catastrophic” for the UK.
“Bojo talks to me, he’s down to earth, everything’s fine, we’re having grown-up discussions, and then he sticks it to us either beforehand or afterwards in an inelegant manner,” the president is quoted as saying.
“It is very sad to see a great country, with which we could do so much, led by a clown.
“Johnson has the attitude of a knucklehead.”
Mr Freeman said the use of the word “clown” was “pretty unhelpful”, but insisted the two governments are working “very closely” on the migrant issue.
The latest flare-up comes after London and Paris have been at odds for weeks over post-Brexit fishing rights and the Northern Ireland Protocol in the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
Downing Street said it was important to use “measured and appropriate language” after Mr Macron reportedly suggested resolving the current deadlock was a matter of “war and peace”.
The president was reported to have told the European Committee of the Regions, an EU advisory body: “It’s a question of war and peace for Ireland. So we should avoid any temptation to be less than serious.”