Conservative MP Mark Francois and author Will Self locked themselves in a staring contest on the BBC’s Politics Live programme on Friday following a tense exchange over Brexit.
Mr Francois, vice-chairman of the Tories’ vehemently pro-Brexit European Research Group, was outraged after Mr Self suggested most “racists and anti-Semites” in the UK had voted to leave the European Union.
The author and academic said: “Your problem really, Mark, is not that you have to be a racist or an anti-Semite to vote for Brexit, it’s just that every racist and anti-Semite in the country did.”
“I think that’s a slur on 17.4 million people and I think you should apologise on national television,” Mr Francois said as Self protested.
“I think that’s an outrageous thing to say.”
“Ah well you seem to find a lot of things outrageous, don’t you,” replied Self.
“Are you saying that 17.4 million people are… are racists and bigots because they voted to leave the European Union?” asked Francois.
“No, that’s not what I said,” came the reply.
The pair talked over each other as host Jo Coburn tried to introduce the show’s other guests, with Francois exclaiming “utterly ridiculous” and “madness”.
Coburn continued regardless and Self stared, unblinking, for close to 15 seconds at Francois as he drank from a cup.
The Conservative MP placed his drink down and retorted “you’re the bigot, mate”.
One Twitter user characterised the exchange with an analogy about birds and penguins.
He wrote: “WS ‘I’m not saying that every bird is a penguin. I’m just saying that every penguin is a bird’.
“MF ‘How dare you say that every bird is a penguin!’
“WS ‘I didn’t say that’.
“MF ‘You need to apologise to every bird for saying they are a penguin’.”
His tweet had been liked by more than 500 people in less than an hour.
Another popular response lamented Mr Francois’s comments as “the saddest thing about modern life”.
They wrote: “Mark Francois demonstrating the saddest thing about modern life there. Not listening to what the other person is saying, making up what he thinks the other person is saying, getting offended and angry by the thing he made up, looking like a prize idiot as a result.”
But Conservative MP Michael Fabricant leapt to his colleague’s defence, tweeting: “No-one can call ME an anti-semite [sic].
“I voted for #Brexit. @wself just espousing narrow north London ‘metropolitan elite’ view.”
In January, Mr Francois became embroiled in controversy after accusing the German chief executive of aeroplane manufacturer Airbus of “Teutonic arrogance” over comments he made about the company’s business decisions on Brexit.
Mr Francois added: “My father, Reginald Francois, was a D Day veteran. He never submitted to bullying by any German and neither will his son”.