31/01/2014 08:00 GMT | Updated 31/01/2014 10:59 GMT

Francois Hollande Asked: 'Do You Think Your Private Life Has Made France An International Joke?'

Leon Neal/WPA-Rota
French President Francois Hollande gestures as he speaks during a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron during a one day summit at RAF Brize Norton.

British journalists poured scorn on French reporters earlier this month when Hollande gave his first press conference following allegations of an affair were made public - accusing them of being too afraid to ask probing questions.

And during a joint press conference between David Cameron and Hollande at an RAF airbase today, The Daily Telegraph's senior political correspondent, Christopher Hope, went for the jugular with this question.

"Monsieur le Président. I know this is a very sensitive subject for you. Do you think your private life has made France an international joke? Are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet? And do you wish she was here?"

Hollande, who scrunched up his face at the personal question, told Hope: "I'm afraid I would decline to answer."

The question was controversial with some. Axelle Lemaire, a French Socialist politician, said it was "disrespectful and discourteous for a UK journalist to ask President Hollande about his private life in such a way". She added: "Is that journalist a joke?"

Lemaire, who represents French citizens living in London, dismissed the argument that the grilling was justified on the basis of a free press.

She told the Daily Mail's political editor on Twitter: "Nothing to do with free press. You were scandalized when Closer showed photos of the Duchess of Cambridge. Double standard?"

Hollande ended a seven-year relationship with former first lady Valerie Trierweiler after a media report exposed the affair. Trierweiler told Paris-Match, where she worked for a long time as a journalist, that she did not believe rumours about the affair until a gossip magazine report earlier this month. "When I found out, it was like I had fallen from a skyscraper," she said.

Discussing on Sky News whether he was right to ask the question or not, Hope insisted he was "not a joke" and said it was important to frame it in the international context.

"If she calls me discourteous or disrespectful I fully plead guilty to the last. I don't have to respect our leaders, I respect our readers and ask questions on their behalf and I will defend that right to the hilt," he said. "It's not childish, I'm too old to be a child."

Hope also said France was "lagging behind" Britain in journalistic ethics as French journalists were "far to deferential too their political masters".