The veteran Radio 4 host asked Torbjörn Sohlström live on air during the Today programme whether Sweden’s second language could become German after the UK exits the bloc.
“Just a final quick thought, and we were chatting about this earlier, what’s the danger that you’re going to end up speaking German?” he asked, laughing, during Wednesday’s Today programme.
Mr Sohlström gave a diplomatic reply, saying Sweden speaking German as a second language was “very far away”.
“We are very much an English-speaking nation, we have a fantastically close relationship with the UK that we value, we want to stay really, really close friends with the UK, also in the future, regardless of how these negotiations go,” he said.
“Of course there is a small, small ‘but’. Britain has been a key partner for us in the EU…if Britain is no longer around the table…we will have to work more closely than before perhaps with the other bigger countries inside the EU, one being Germany, one being France.
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“We will have to find our place in Europe where one of our absolutely closest and most important friends will no longer be in the room and that’s very very sad for us.”
Listeners reacted with astonishment, praising Mr Sohlström’s ”diplomatic” response and calling the question “ignorant” and “embarrassing”.
German is in practice a second-tier language in Brussels, with English by far the most common working lingua franca in the EU institutions, followed far behind by occasional French.
There are no plans to drop English as an official language after Brexit, and English remains an official language of Ireland, meaning it will have a legal foothold in the bloc after Brexit.
The BBC has been contacted for comment.