Boris Johnson called Emmanuel Macron “Putin’s lickspittle” and demanded an “orgy of frog-bashing”, his former No 10 director of communications has claimed.
Guto Harri said Mr Johnson launched into a foul-mouthed tirade about the French president after he criticised his handling of the Ukrainian refugee crisis following the Russian invasion.
Mr Harri told the second episode of Unprecedented, his new LBC podcast, that the former prime minister “really flipped” as soon as he saw Mr Macron’s remarks leading national news coverage.
The Telegraph understands Mr Johnson does not recognise the account given by his former colleague.
The reported outburst came in the wake of Mr Macron using an EU summit held three weeks into the war to accuse Britain of failing to live up to its “grand statements” on asylum, saying he hoped that Ukrainians who made the journey to their families in Britain would be “better treated”.
‘He really flipped out’
Mr Harri said: “When the British press was giving the British Government a hard time over our response to the refugee crisis, Macron turbocharged it by criticising Boris pretty directly and his words were all over the front page of The Guardian.
“Much as Boris is not prone to getting really cross, nor using particularly strong language, this was one [time] where he really flipped. At our morning meeting, with a small gang of us, he just launched into a violent attack on Emmanuel Macron.
“And basically saying: ‘He’s a four-letter word that begins with ‘c’, he’s a weirdo, he’s Putin’s lickspittle, we need to go studs up on this one’ – a rugby term that basically means gloves off – ‘we need an orgy of frog-bashing, I’m going to have to punch his lights out’… Pretty strong stuff.”
Mr Macron has previously faced a backlash from Mr Zelensky after talking down the prospect of a “total defeat of Russia” and suggesting Putin should not be humiliated for his invasion.
Elsewhere in the podcast, Mr Harri gave more details of the 4am call between Downing Street and Kyiv on February 24, 2022, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“Zelensky was breathless, he was breathless but very calm considering what was on the way,” he recalled. “It was harrowing, it was haunting, he brought it alive to all of us. It was massively sobering, we really could not believe that this was underway…
“Boris could not have been clear that we were there to help Ukraine in whichever way we possibly could. Using whatever we could possibly deploy within reason.
“But that moment in time, I think it was a man to man thing where he was basically imagining himself in that bunker in his own capital city, with foreign troops advancing on that city and his life at risk. And so I remember very clearly him saying: ‘But are you okay, but you are you, Volodymyr, okay. Do you have good people around? Are you safe? Is there anything we can do to protect you’?”
Mr Harri said Mr Johnson was both “honest and frank” in his decision to hold firm over Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone.
Despite No 10 being publicly challenged on this on a number of occasions, including by an emotional Ukrainian activist at a press conference, ministers argued the move would effectively mean ordering the downing of Russian aircraft and risk wider escalation.
‘You’re a hero’
Details were also revealed by Mr Harri of one of the final exchanges that took place between Mr Zelensky and Mr Johnson just before the latter left office in September 2022.
“Basically Zelensky said ‘we’re so sad that you resigned, we’re all disappointed Boris, I’m personally disappointed, everybody loves you in Ukraine, it’s true’.
“And Boris interrupted him: ‘No you’re a hero, everyone loves you in my country, Volodymyr, to which he was interrupted: ‘No, no, you’re a hero in my country Boris and everybody loves you’.
“And that, without any doubt I think, is the best and most sincere tribute that he could ever hope for. Even his critics give Boris some credit for his handling of the war in Ukraine.”
Mr Johnson, who had no part in Mr Harri’s podcast or in its contents, is said to “deplore” attempts to comment on the matters discussed in the newest episode.