David Cameron has become embroiled in an embarrassing row with Nicolas Sarkozy after it emerged that the French have complained about a series of jibes at their leader's lack of height.
French officials have lodged a protest after the Tory leader appeared to make a comment about "hidden dwarfs" in relation to a photo of himself and the 5ft 5in President Sarkozy, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday.
The remark, made in a newspaper interview six months ago, was followed by another slight, when the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne publicly described a box placed at a speaker's lectern as a "Sarkozy box".
Mr Sarkozy, known to be extremely sensitive about his height, was said to be furious about the taunts, which led to an official protest about the senior Tories' failure "to show sufficient respect" to the French leader.
Details of the "dwarf-gate" spat with one of the most important politicians in Europe emerged last week as Mr Sarkozy visited London and praised Gordon Brown as a "great European and a very good friend of mine".
Diplomatic sources in Paris confirmed that the remarks by the two men had caused "a fair amount of consternation to say the least", the MoS reported. One source added: "Yes, it was discussed with the French and, yes, they weren't happy about it."
The row could overshadow Mr Cameron's chances of establishing a working relationship with one of the most senior right-wing leaders in Europe if he wins the general election later this year. Mr Sarkozy has also criticised Mr Cameron's Eurosceptic stance in recent months.
However, the Tories dismissed allegations of a rift as "nonsense" last night and pointed out that the two men had met at the French ambassador's residence in London on Friday. The party also claimed the story had been "planted" by Labour.
The alleged row was sparked by a throwaway remark in an interview with The Daily Telegraph in Mr Cameron's office last September. At the end, during a discussion about a number of framed photos of the Tory leader and world figures including Barack Obama, it was reported that "one with Nicolas Sarkozy... prompts a joke about 'hidden dwarfs' ". Mr Cameron, who is 6ft, then pointed to a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and himself, saying: "I like it because I'm taller than the Terminator." It is not clear who said "hidden dwarfs", but it is implied that it was Mr Cameron, in an attempt to mock the President's stature.
The animosity was further fuelled less than a week later, when Mr Osborne publicly taunted Mr Sarkozy at the start of a speech at a business conference in Church House, Westminster. The Shadow Chancellor called a box that a previous speaker had been standing on a "Sarkozy box" before bursting into a fit of giggles.
It is not the first time Mr Sarkozy and the Tory leader have clashed. Diplomatic sources, the MoS claimed, said Mr Sarkozy gave Mr Cameron "a stern lecture" at a meeting in Paris shortly after he became Tory leader in 2005. Nick Allan, then press secretary at the British embassy in Paris, said: "It was a 30-minute meeting, 28 of which was a monologue from Sarkozy that made No 10's 'forces of hell' look like a teddy bears' picnic."
A spokesman for Mr Sarkozy said: "We have no comment to make."
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