Boris Johnson has been accused of making "wild exaggerations and outright lies" at a highly awkward press conference with US secretary of state John Kerry.
The new foreign secretary was asked by US journalists on Tuesday to explain his past comments about president Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton – but he refused to apologise.
The joint event at the Foreign Office in London was Johnson's first press conference since being handed the high-powered role by new prime minister Theresa May last week.
Johnson, a journalist and author who has long penned comment pieces in newspapers, wrote in April that Obama has an "ancestral dislike" of the British empire because he’s a "part-Kenyan president".
Back in 2007 he also wrote of Clinton: "She's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital."
Bradley Klapper from AP reminded Johnson of both these comments and said he had also compared Clinton to Lady Macbeth. "Do you take these comments back or do you want to take them with you into your new job as some kind of indicator of the type of diplomacy you will practise?" he asked.
Johnson looked increasingly embarrassed as his own words were read back to him.
He replied: "I'm afraid there is such a rich thesaurus of things that I have said that have been – one way or another, through what alchemy I do not know – somehow misconstrued, that it would really take me too long to engage in a full global itinerary of apology to all concerned.
"And I think most people who read these things in their proper context can see exactly what was intended. Indeed I find that virtually everybody I've met in the course of this job understands that very well, particularly on the international scene."
He added: "We have some very serious issues before us today... Those to my mind are far more important than any obiter dicta that you may disinter from 30 years of journalism."
But it didn't end there. Gardiner Harris from the New York Times then told Johnson: "You have an unusually long history of..."
Johnson rolled his eyes and attempted to laugh it off. "Not this one again!"
Harris continued: "... wild exaggerations and frankly outright lies that I think few foreign secretaries have prior to this job. I'm just wondering how Mr Kerry and others should believe what you say considering this very, very long history."
This was Kerry's face when Johnson was accused of "outright lies".
Johnson hit back: "I appreciate the first amendment and your right to free speech but I think we need chapter and verse on this stuff...
"I think people are more than welcome to rake over stuff I've written over many many years but I think the most important things is to get on with the very heavy agenda we have today."
Klapper also bluntly asked Kerry whether he could trust Johnson given his leading role in the campaign that led Britain out of the EU.
"What confidence do you have that Mr Johnson will represent the interests of anyone but himself?" he asked. "Is the Mr Johnson you saw campaigning the type of man you think the UK, EU and US needs right now at a time of so many challenges?"
Kerry said he was "absolutely confident" that Johnson was "deeply committed" on behalf of the British people to working together in world organisations such as Nato, the G7 and G20.
He told how Johnson had been described to him as a "very smart and capable man", adding: "That's the Boris Johnson I intend to work with."
Johnson said: "Phew. Stop there, that's great."
Kerry leaned over and said: "It's called diplomacy, Boris."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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