'Stunning' gaffe: Appalled ambassador stops Boris Johnson reciting colonial poem in Burma's holiest site

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Will Worley
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The British ambassador to Burma was forced to stop Boris Johnson mid-sentence as he recited a colonial poem in the country’s most sacred temple, it has been revealed.

The blunder came on an official visit to the country earlier this year.

Rudyard Kipling’s Mandalay is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma and also references kissing a local girl.

But the country, also known as Myanmar, is deeply affected by its colonial past, and the gaffe was described as “stunning”.

Mr Johnson began quoting the opening lines of the poem during a January visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, in Yangon, the country’s largest city.

In footage captured by Channel 4 and due to be aired on Sunday, Mr Johnson referred to a golden statue in the temple as “a very big guinea pig” and soon after burst into verse.

As he recited the poem, the British Ambassador to the country, Andrew Patrick, grew visibly tense.

When the Foreign Secretary said the poem's third line – “the wind is in the palm trees ... the temple bells they say” – Mr Patrick decided to interject.

"You're on mic,” he said. “Probably not a good idea."

Mr Johnson replied: "What, The Road to Mandalay?"

“No,” the ambassador said, “not appropriate.”

The footage was shot as part of a documentary by Channel 4, examining his fitness for the office of Prime Minister.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined a request from The Independent for comment.

Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, told the Guardian: “It is stunning he would do this there.

“There is a sensitivity about British colonialism and it is something that people in Burma are still resentful about. British colonial times were seen as a humiliation and an insult.

“It shows an incredible lack of understanding especially now we are seeing the impact of Buddhist nationalism, especially in Rakhine state [from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled a military operation].”

Mr Johnson has a history of poetry which has caused offence internationally.

Prior to becoming Foreign Secretary, he composed a rhyme about President Erdogan of Turkey.

It said: There was a young fellow from Ankara / Who was a terrific wankerer / Till he sowed his wild oats / With the help of a goat / But he didn’t even stop to thankera.

On visiting Turkey as Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson said official questions over the poem did not come up.

Boris Johnson: Blond Ambition is on Channel 4 on Sunday at 10.05pm.