When Boris Johnson compared burka-wearing women to bank robbers it was seen as a bid to win right-wing support for a Downing Street coup.
The man inspiring BoJo? New ally Steve Bannon, the cynical political pupeteer who helped Donald Trump to power.
He is most famous for being Trump’s right-hand man.
But before Steve Bannon turned his attention to getting The Donald into the White House he had a spell in Hollywood making films.
Described by many who knew him in Tinseltown as a “bitter wannabe”, Bannon produced titles like Generation Zero, The Undefeated, In the Face of Evil and Battle for America.
They all failed to deliver the acclaim he craved. Yet each had a common theme.
“There was always a search for leadership,” explains a propaganda expert who has studied his methods.
“There is a need for leaders who can carry the message of white Christian, free-market nationalism.
“Bannon builds a narrative around these characters.
“Trump may be an imperfect version of the warrior he would ideally have liked, but the ideology is there. The battle between good and evil. The clash of civilisations.”
Now, experts believe Bannon has found the perfect “warrior” he was looking for.
Enter Boris Johnson.
At first glance the two make an unlikely pair. Bannon’s working class roots are in direct contrast to the Old Etonian’s privileged upbringing.
The 64-year-old American was raised in Virginia in a “blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Democrat family.”
He was an officer in the US Navy for seven years, then an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.
After his less than glorious stint in Hollywood, he headed up the right-wing Breitbart News operation.
There he worked as chief executive officer on the Trump campaign and in the White House – until their monumental fall out earlier this year.
However, it was during his time in the Trump administration that Bannon and BoJo became friends.
And the two grow ever closer.
Johnson was an early visitor to the White House and he and Bannon warmed to each other straight away.
Naturally it has led to claims that Bannon is trying to pull Boris in the same direction he did Trump.
A source with knowledge of the relationship said: “They have been in touch since the first days of the White House, when the Government reaches out and the White House responds.
“Then Boris went over there and met Bannon. It’s not like they got in touch a couple of weeks ago when it was first reported.
“Since they met they’ve exchanged texts and messages.
“Boris is his own man and he would say the idea someone is pulling his strings is laughable.
“What is clear, however, is he is starting to realise populism in the way Bannon knows it is inherently appealing to the British public.”
Bannon used a visit to Europe last month to confirm his support for Johnson and has confirmed they were in touch. He lauds the former Foreign Secretary as “one of the most important persons on the world stage today.”
Those close to both men are not surprised they hit it off.
“Bannon is a brilliant strategist so of course Boris would want to meet him,” one source told me.
“And there is a huge intellectual upside to the two getting together.”
The source added that Johnson was the ideal figure for Bannon to advance his project.
“Boris has similar characteristics to Trump,” they added. “Probably the most important – and the one Steve is most interested in – is that nothing sticks to either man.
“Look at some of the scandals around Trump – the sexism and racism. Nothing sticks. You can’t lay a glove on him.
“It’s the same with Boris. He does what he wants and the Tory membership – and beyond – love him. I think where he differs from Trump is his intellect. Trump is smart – don’t get me wrong – but Boris has the background.
“Coupled to that is his ambition. I’m sure he’d go along with Steve’s plans if it got him right to the top.”
Rumours abound in Westminster that Boris’s latest intervention – when he compared Muslim women who wear the burka to bank robbers and letterboxes – is part of his latest manouevring to become PM.
It attracted widespread criticism, and evidence – ancedotally so far – of an increase in hate crimes.
The source who knows them both explained: “Boris won’t mind that he’s caused upset.
“I don’t think he’s going to apologise. And unfortunately it will do his popularity no harm. When you look at what Bannon said in France it’s obvious to see the links.”
During his European visit in March Bannon addressed a meeting of the far-right National Front, telling them: “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour. History is on our side.”
Bannon’s alt-right agenda is showing signs of growing in the UK with its commentators beginning to appear on mainstream programmes.
And the publicity surrounding far-right activist Tommy Robinson’s recent release from jail is increasing fears that a new movement is stirring.
When asked, Bannon said he believed the time was right for Boris to lead the UK.
He said: “I believe moments come. It is like Donald Trump – people dismissed him.
“Now is the moment, if Boris Johnson looks at this. There comes an inflection point – the Chequers deal was an inflection point. We’ll see what happens.”
Many believe Theresa May can see off a leadership
challenge – but not for ever. And that would leave the door open for Johnson – a wily opponent.
A Labour source said: “I can see circumstances where we have to take on Boris. And it is going to be difficult.
“You can see from the polling that what he said chimed with the majority of the population.
“And that’s something that’s going to be tough to go up against. Boris has excellent name recognition and likeability, and is positioning himself as a man of the people.
“He could quite easily pick up the collapsed UKIP vote and that’s going to cause problems in the marginals.”
Labour’s David Lammy – who famously dubbed Johnson “a pound-shop Donald Trump” warns: “He is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”
However grubby Johnson and Bannon’s aims are, one thing is certain. They are on the move.