The French president, Emmanuel Macron, referred to Boris Johnson in a private conversation as a “clown”, according to reports in France.
The political magazine Le Canard enchaîné, often described as the French equivalent of Private Eye, reported Macron as saying the British prime minister has “the attitude of a vulgarian”.
It came as Macron complained about Johnson’s behaviour after the leaders spoke by phone after last Wednesday’s sinking of a refugee boat in the Channel.
The French president was angered after Johnson tweeted a letter outlining a five-point plan to tackle the issue of Channel crossings. “I spoke two days ago with prime minister Johnson in a serious way,” Macron said at a press conference on Friday after the tweet. “For my part I continue to do that, as I do with all countries and all leaders. I am surprised by methods when they are not serious. We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public.”
But according to the magazine, the president was even more damning in private. It quoted him as saying: “BoJo talks to me at full speed, everything is going fine, we have discussions like big people, and then he gives us a hard time before or afterwards in an inelegant way. It’s always the same circus.”
It added that Macron told his advisers that Johnson apologised privately for making France a scapegoat publicly over issues such as the Channel crossings and the “sausage war”.
Macron reportedly said: “It is sad to see a major country with which we could do huge numbers of things being led by a clown.”
It came as former French ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann told Times Radio that relations between France and the UK had “never been as bad since Waterloo”.
The French president is also understood to have blamed Johnson’s attitude towards France on the shortcomings of the Brexit deal.
Macron allegedly said: “Brexit is the starting point of the Johnson circus. Very quickly he realised that the situation was catastrophic for the British. There was no petrol in the pumps, there were shortages of a whole pile of products.
“He is positioning himself as the victim and making France the scapegoat. He tries to turn simple situations into complex problems. We’ve been in this position since March. He’s done it over the ‘sausage war’, over fishing, over the submarine affair.
“In private he says he’s sorry to behave like this, but he says that he has to consider public opinion over everything else.”
Asked after Bermann’s comments if Johnson and Macron were friends, the PM’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister’s been asked about this on a number of occasions and has talked about his close relationship … working relationship with President Macron.”