Boris Johnson has held two secret meetings with Tony Blair about the Middle East since taking office despite calling on voters last week to ignore his views.
The Foreign Secretary – who once described Mr Blair as “unhinged” and needing “professional psychiatric help” – met him October and again in January, it can be revealed.
The conversations are understood to have last between 30 and 45 minutes and focussed on policy towards the Middle East rather than Brexit.
It shows the extent to which Mr Blair is re-engaging in British politics after restructuring his business affairs last year.
The fact that Mr Johnson values Mr Blair’s insights enough to guide his foreign policy jars with his repeated criticism of the former Labour prime minister.
On Friday, Mr Blair called on voters to “rise up” to keep Britain in the European Union in his most significant UK political intervention since the Chiclcot Report.
Within hours Mr Johnson, who campaigned to leave the EU, appeared before cameras to urge voters to ignore Mr Blair and attack his foreign policy record.
“This is the guy who dragooned the United Kingdom into the Iraq War on a completely false prospectus with consequences which foreign ministers here are still trying to deal with,” Mr Johnson said.
“I respectfully say to Tony Blair, those who call on the British people to rise up against Brexit, I urge the British people to rise up and turn off the TV next time Tony Blair comes on with his condescending campaign.”
The comments followed years of criticism from Mr Johnson of Mr Blair’s record in the Middle East, especially over his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
In a 2014 article for this newspaper on Mr Blair defending the Iraq invasion, Mr Johnson wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad.
“He wrote an essay … that struck me as unhinged in its refusal to face facts. In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help.”
However despite the criticisms it has now emerged the pair have met twice since Mr Johnson was promoted to Foreign Secretary last July.
The meetings took place in the Foreign Office and are understood to have included government officials who work on Middle Eastern policy.
Mr Blair was Middle East peace envoy to the Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – after leaving office but stood down from the role in 2015.
Government sources played down the contradiction between Mr Johnson’s previous comments and his meetings, saying Mr Blair has valuable insights into the area.
“It would be stupid not to listen to him [on the Middle East]. There are few people who have being doing this stuff for longer than Blair. You listen and gather information,” a source said.
Mr Blair’s spokesman confirmed the meetings but declined to discuss what was said, saying: “We don’t comment on private conversations.”
Despite their public differences, Mr Blair and Mr Johnson enjoy similarities. Both are Oxford-educated, socially liberal politicians seen as moderates within their parties.
Mr Blair was last month photographed meeting Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission president, as he seeks to shape the Brexit debate.
He is understood not to have held talks yet with David Davis, the Secretary for Exiting the European Union, or Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.
Mr Blair said in a speech on Friday: “I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think.
“But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”