Boris Johnson has been accused of sparking a diplomatic rift with Joe Biden after an extraordinary “f*** the Americans!” outburst in the Commons.
He made the remark after being urged to support moves by Rishi Sunak and the EU to solve Brexit problems in Northern Ireland – which are supported by the US President.
Allies of Mr Johnson have not disputed he made the remarks about the US in a heated exchange with his former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland.
It sparked a backlash from Mr Sunak’s supporters who claim Mr Johnson and his allies are determined to wreck the PM’s Brexit Northern Ireland deal “out of spite”.
There are also claims that his “f*** the Americans!” comment could hit Mr Johnson’s hopes of earning a fortune in America on the lecture circuit.
He was paid £277,000 for a speech to a New York bank in November and is in talks with agents to attend further money-spinning events in the US. Insiders say this could be damaged if he is seen by patriotic Americans as “anti-US”.
The controversy is a repeat of another Brexit rant by Mr Johnson in 2018 when he reportedly said “f*** business!’ in his days as foreign secretary.
He used the words at a Foreign Office reception to mark the Queen’s birthday after being told businesses were opposed to his proposed so-called “hard Brexit”. His response was condemned as “wildly irresponsible” by leading business figures.
His ‘f*** the Americans!’ remark was in response to Sir Robert Buckland, who had told him it was vital to support Mr Sunak’s drive to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol, partly to smooth relations with the White House.
A witness to the exchange, which happened when Mr Johnson and Sir Robert were sitting close to each other in the Commons debating chamber, said: “Robert and Boris were discussing the protocol and Robert said, ‘It’s vital you back it Boris, it’s a good outcome and with the US state visit coming up and the need to get a trade deal with them it will help keep us onside with the Americans.’ Boris said ‘f*** the Americans!’”
A source close to the former prime minister said the jibe was part of “a jocular conversation in the chamber with Robert Buckland that someone evidently misunderstood”, adding: “That is not language we would use.”
Mr Biden’s administration has made it clear it will not sign a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK until key political disputes in Ulster, including the protocol, which covers arrangements for imports and exports, have been defused.
Failure to do so could even stop Mr Biden, who has Irish roots, taking part in a rumoured visit to Northern Ireland in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a senior US envoy suggested recently.
The row comes as Mr Sunak tries to head off a Tory revolt led by Mr Johnson’s supporters against his Northern Ireland deal.
Hardline Brexiteers have warned that up to 100 Tory MPs could oppose the new post-Brexit trading arrangements in a potential vote amid warnings of a potential Tory “civil war”.
While the prime minister is understood to have convinced prominent pro-Brexit MPs of the merits of his deal with Brussels, a rebellion of even 40 Tory MPs would leave him in the embarrassing position of relying on Labour get it through.
The PM is “on the cusp” of securing new Brexit terms with the EU, according to his deputy Dominic Raab. Mr Raab on Sunday said a deal would be announced in “days, not weeks”.
He said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the approach from Brussels, hinting that talks had wielded changes on customs checks, as well as dealing with Unionists’ concerns around Northern Ireland not having a say in EU rules that impact on the region.
Mr Raab, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme whether a deal could be unveiled as soon as Monday, replied: “I think there is real progress.”
But Mark Francois, chairman of the Tory party’s European Research Group (ERG), said parliament should not be rushed on the issue, and made clear group would not back the deal unless EU law is “expunged” in Northern Ireland.
The former minister told the programme: “I mean, if I were advising the prime minister, my honest advice to him would be: don’t try to bounce parliament next week because that is likely to go badly wrong.”
“So, if they’ve got a deal they’re proud of, show us the text. Let us run it by our lawyers. Let us fully understand what it means. Then, at that point, we might be ready to vote on it, but it would be a very bad idea.”
Mr Francois said the government would “have to have a bill”, and warned the prime minister not to try avoiding a vote altogether. “For the government to try and bludgeon this through the House of Commons without a vote of any kind would be incredibly unwise,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak strongly suggested he would ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – the legislation that would hand the UK unilateral power to rip up the protocol despite warnings of a trade war.
Mr Johnson – accused on trying to use the Brexit issue to bring down Mr Sunak by ex-chancellor George Osborne and others – has urged Mr Sunak to push on with the protocol bill, saying it would be a “great mistake” to ditch the legislation introduced during his time at No 10.
But Mr Sunak appeared to offer a pointed message to his predecessor over the intervention – telling the Sunday Times everyone “should recognise that this is not … about me, this is not about third parties or anyone else”.