David Cameron has publicly clashed with the new Pope over the Argentine pontiff’s claim that Britain “usurped” the Falkland Islands.
Pope Francis, who is a former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has previously described the disputed territory as belonging to “the homeland” of Argentina.
However, the Prime Minister told him he should “respect” the islanders’ referendum vote for the Falklands to remain British.
Mr Cameron even dared to make a joke at the expense of the Vatican’s ancient election processes.
“The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear,” he said.
His comments, at a press conference at the European Council summit in Brussels, follow the islanders’ referendum that delivered an overwhelming majority in favour of the Falklands remaining a UK overseas territory.
Pope Francis, who is the first to be chosen from South America to lead Roman Catholics around the world, has already placed on record his belief that “Las Malvinas” are Argentine.
Last year, at a Mass at Buenos Aires for the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War, the future Pope told worshippers: “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the homeland who went out to defend their mother, the homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs, that is of the homeland, and it was usurped.”
Asked at a press conference in Brussels whether he agreed with Pope Francis on the issue of the Falklands, Mr Cameron said: “I don't agree with him - respectfully, obviously.
“There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands and I think that is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone.
“As it were, the white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear.”
The world first learnt that the conclave of cardinals had chosen a new Pope this week through the traditional signal of white smoke rising from a stovepipe chimney in the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
British sources insisted that Mr Cameron was not intending to be disrespectful to the Pope or the Vatican.
Argentina has used the election of the new Pope to renew international pressure for talks over the future of the disputed territory.
Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina, has already attempted to recruit the new Pope in her campaign to take control of the Falklands.
In a thinly-veiled reference to the long-running dispute, she called on the pontiff to persuade “major world powers” to engage in “dialogue”.
The islands in the South Atlantic have been British territory since 1833 but are also claimed by Argentina, which calls them the Malvinas.
In the referendum last week, only three votes were opposed to the Falklands remaining a British overseas territory, against 1,513 who voted in favour.
After the vote, Britain urged “all countries” to accept the result and respect the islanders’ views.
President Kirchner maintains that the wishes of the islanders are not relevant.
By Tim Ross, Daily Telegraph