Boris Johnson has been accused of “dog whistle racism” and “base politics of the worse kind” after remarks about Barack Obama's Kenyan heritage – as Nigel Farage echoed the controversial comments.
The London Mayor - who is backing the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union - criticised the US President for his intervention in the EU referendum debate, adding his attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “dislike of the British Empire”.
In a column for The Sun, Mr Johnson referred to the removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office when Mr Obama became President.
"No one was sure whether the President had himself been involved in the decision," he said.
"Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President's ancestral dislike of the British Empire - of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."
Ukip leader Nigel Farage echoed the Mayor's comments, adding: "His first day in the White House, he had the bust of Winston Churchill removed from the Oval Office.
"Because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonialisation, I think Obama has a bit of a grudge against this country."
But cross-party politicians, diplomats and commentators attacked Mr Johnson over the remarks.
“Mask slips again. Boris part-Kenyan Obama comment is yet another example of dog whistle racism from senior Tories. He should withdraw it,” said the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
Mask slips again. Boris part-Kenyan Obama comment is yet another example of dog whistle racism from senior Tories. He should withdraw it.— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) April 22, 2016
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, said: "Once again we see the ugly face of the Tory party. The nasty party is back. Zac Goldsmith has played on Sadiq Khan's Muslim heritage to try to link him with radical extremists, and today Boris Johnson has played on Barack Obama's Kenyan ancestry to question his motives around the EU referendum debate.
"This is beyond the pale and base politics of the worst kind. We may have come to expect this from Donald Trump – but Goldsmith and Boris should know better, and Londoners deserve better.”
Ten things Boris Johnson doesn't want you to know
Ten things Boris Johnson doesn't want you to know
Boris Johnson in the BBC documentary 'Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise'
His parents’ jobs were surprisingly lefty-liberal. His father was an environmentalist and his mother (Charlotte Johnson Wood, pictured) a painter.
He wasn’t born in Britain. He was born in New York (but seen here on his family farm in Britain).
He has Turkish, German, French, Russian and Jewish heritage. His great grandfather (pictured) was a Turkish journalist and politician assassinated by a nationalist mob.
He flirted with the Social Democratic Party at university to broaden his political appeal, helping him to become elected as president of the Oxford Union.
He has been married twice. First to university sweetheart Allegra Mostyn-Owen, a former model who appeared on the cover of Tatler. Second to current wife Marina Wheeler, a lawyer who specialises in human rights, employment and mental health.
He was a member of the secret elitist all-male Oxford group The Bullingdon Club at the same time as David Cameron. He describes this photograph as “a truly shameful vignette of almost super human undergraduate arrogance”.
He was fired from his first job as a trainee reporter at The Times for making up a quote about the Plantagenet King Edward the II and his gay lover.
Johnson was sacked from the Tory frontbench in 2004 after it emerged he had lied about a four year affair with staff member Petronella Wyatt. He originally dismissed the reports as “an inverted pyramid of piffle”.
He was blamed for causing the break up between art dealer Helen Macintyre and her husband in 2010. It was claimed Johnson had become “too close” to Macintyre, who he had hired as an advisor on urban sculpture for the Olympic park. The Tory party suggested he call a confessional press conference, but he refused. He has since imposed a blanket ban on talking about his private life.
Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, who is the grandson of the late Sir Winston Churchill, was not impressed by the comment piece. “Appalling article by Boris Johnson in [The] Sun, totally wrong on almost everything,” he said.
Richard Newby, the Liberal Democrat chief whip in the Lords, said Johnson’s remarks were despicable. “Boris Johnson suggesting that Obama is anti-British because father was Kenyan. Despicable. Desperate. Demeaning," Mr Newby said.
Two former senior British diplomats also joined those criticising Mr Johnson, over his claims in the Sun newspaper.
Sir Stephen Wall, former British permanent representative to the European Union, said: "Boris Johnson's comment implying the President of the United States is driven by his ancestral dislike of the British Empire is demeaning to the debate. Using that type of language does not reflect Britain's standing in the world or the country we aspire to be.
"As our most important ally, President Obama has the right to offer his view and he has made it clear that being in Europe magnifies British influence and enhances Britain's global leadership."
Appalling article by @BorisJohnson in Sun totally wrong on almost everything. Inconceivable WSC wld not have welcomed Presidents views— Nicholas Soames (@nsoamesmp) April 22, 2016
And former UK ambassador to Washington Lord Kerr said: "The US has an interest in Britain, its closest ally, being stronger, safer and better off in the EU – not weaker, out on its own. To claim that the American president has no right to say what he believes, and speak up for US political, economic and business interests is typical Boris bluff and bluster."
Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott added: "Boris dismissing President Obama as 'half-Kenyan' reflects the worst Tea Party rhetoric".
The claim over removing the bust of Britain’s wartime leader from the Oval office, however, was debunked by the Washington Post in January.
“There is no evidence that Obama personally decided to return the bust; given the economic crisis at the time, one imagines he had bigger issues on his mind,” a journalist at the Post wrote.
Asked how David Cameron viewed Mr Johnson's comments on the president's "half-Kenyan" heritage, the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "It is important to engage with the facts.
"If you look at the issue the mayor of London was talking about, which related to the bust of Churchill in the Oval Office, they have been clear that this suggestion that he asked for it to be moved and that it is a failure of the president's appreciation of the special relationship is false.
"That decision had already been taken before President Obama took office, so let's focus on the facts."