Boris Johnson faced further embarrassment over his ‘part-Kenyan’ attack on Barack Obama after even Nigel Farage distanced himself from the remarks.
The UKIP leader told SkyNews that he didn’t disagree with the Mayor of London, but said it had been a mistake to “be seen to be attacking the man and not the ball” on the issue of Brexit.
The US President gave an unceremonious slapdown to Johnson on Friday over his suggestion that he had an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” because of his Kenyan father.
Today - just days after himself claiming Obama had a ‘grudge’ against Britain thanks to his Kenyan roots - Farage suggested that the Mayor of London had gone too far.
“I’m not saying Boris was wrong, but if you’re seen to be attacking the man and not the ball then that’s not where we need to be,” he told Sky’s Murnaghan programme.
Presenter Dermot Murnaghan instantly challenged him, saying “but you’ve done it”. Farage replied: “I’ve been saying it for some years…I’ve said for some time that Barack Obama is not a pro-British President…”
The reaction on Twitter was swift.
And some couldn't resist pointing out the time when Boris had literally tackled the man not the ball, in a England v Germany charity football match.
Johnson sparked a vociferous backlash on Friday when he used an article in the Sun newspaper to suggest that the US President was opposed to Brexit - and had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House - because he had an ‘ancestral’ loathing of the British Empire.
Yet on the BBC’s World at One programme that same day, the UKIP leader had gone even further, declaring: “I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country”.
Former Tory Cabinet minister and leading Vote Leave campaigner Liam Fox also distanced himself from Boris's reference to Obama's Kenyan roots.
"All through the debate I've said we need to stick to the issues," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, when asked .
"We should not be bothering about what personalities are involved nor personalising it, because that risks diverting away from the main issues."
Chuka Umunna, who also appeared on Sky News, widened out the criticism of Boris to declare that he had now shown that he was ‘unfit’ to ever become Prime Minister.
The former Shadow Business Secretary said that the Mayor’s remarks about Obama’s Kenyan heritage were ‘disgraceful and embarrassing’.
Umunna said: “This [Eu referendum] campaign has exposed Boris Johnson…[he’s] simply not fit to hold the office he aspires to, which is Prime Minister of our country. And of course there’s going to be a change of Prime Minister before the general election.
“This kind of divisive rhetoric is simply indefensible.
“I’m part-Nigerian. Nigeria was a former colony of the UK. I don’t think colonialisation is terribly defensible…[to suggest] somehow to hold that view means you love Britain less… that was essentially the suggestion in what Boris Johnson said.
“Which I think a whole swath of Britain’s diaspora communities, people who have come to settle here, people who have got a background like mine, find deeply offensive.”
Obama refused to name Boris in his response on Friday, simply saying that he had replaced the Churchill bust with one of Martin Luther King because it seemed ‘appropriate’ to do so as the first ever African-American President.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was in no doubt what had motivated the remarks
On Saturday, Johnson appeared to backtrack on his remarks. Asked if he had intended to imply Mr Obama was anti-British, he replied: 'Not at all, not at all….I think obviously people will make of the article what they want.
“I'm a big fan of Barack Obama - I was one of the first people to come out in favour of him ages ago.
'But I think there's a weird paradox when the President of the Unites States, a country that would never dream of sharing its sovereignty over anything, instructs or urges us politely to get more embedded in the EU, which is already making 60% of our laws.”