UK Brexiteer Boris bounds back to Brussels

London (AFP) - Britain's Brexiteering new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson heads back to Brussels on Sunday, his old stomping ground as an EU correspondent, where he crafted stories that whipped up euroscepticism at home.

New Prime Minister Theresa May's surprising choice Wednesday to make the figurehead of the victorious Brexit campaign the new head of British diplomacy triggered uproar in European capitals.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini will welcome the former mayor of London on Sunday "for an initial contact."

Johnson will then set about building bridges with European peers angry at his role in taking Britain out of the bloc.

French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault on Thursday said Johnson had "lied a lot" during the referendum campaign.

Johnson's first engagement as foreign secretary was of limited success, meeting with some boos as he addressed the French ambassador to Britain's Bastille Day party on Thursday.

A planned dinner for him and his 27 counterparts to discuss Brexit would have been a starting point, but the event was cancelled, without official explanation.

Several countries opposed the dinner, saying that it amounted to "informal talks" with London before it had triggered the formal procedure for leaving the EU, according to an anonymous diplomat.

EU leaders are adamant they will not be drawn into negotiations until London has sounded the official starting gun.

Ministers and visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry will instead meet formally on Monday to discuss the conflicts in Syria and Libya as well as the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

They are also likely to discuss terrorism in the wake of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice and relations with Turkey after a failed attempt to remove its government from power.

But the ministers will also be sizing up Johnson's diplomatic credentials, which at the moment amount to a series of gaffes and off-colour jokes.

- Square strawberries -

Charming, scruffy and with his unruly mop of blond hair, former London mayor Johnson's first foreign mission is back to where he made a name as a journalist, winning powerful friends in the process.

Johnson, 51, worked in Brussels between 1989 and 1994 -- a time when Britain's difficult relationship with the EU was deeply strained by the Maastricht Treaty.

He was hired by the conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph and rose to become then prime minister Margaret Thatcher's favourite writer, partly thanks to punchy articles that mocked Europe's institutions.

Some of the more absurd stories have been mantras for British eurosceptics for years and featured prominently in Johnson's campaign speeches before the June 23 referendum.

Martin Fletcher, former foreign editor of The Times, said Johnson's Brexit crusade had been "not against the EU, but against the ridiculous cartoon caricature he created" as a Brussels correspondent.

Writing in the left-leaning newspaper The Guardian, former Brussels correspondent Sarah Helm complained she had been tasked to look for the kind of stories written by Johnson when she was first posted there in the mid-1990s.

"At that time learning about Euro-myths -- smaller condoms, square strawberries, fishermen forced to wear hairnets -- took up more time than explaining treaty changes," she wrote.

"The myths were usually funny, often absurd, sometimes traceable to a grain of truth, nearly always grossly distorted, or totally untrue.

"Very often they had first appeared in The Daily Telegraph. Usually, their creator was Boris Johnson," she wrote.

Some of his articles were influential, such as one in 1992 under the headline "Delors Plan to Rule Europe" about proposals by then European Commission president Jacques Delors to centralise power in Brussels.

Johnson, whose father Stanley worked at the European Commission, said the story was seized on by the "No" campaign in the Danish referendum which went against the Maastricht Treaty, signed earlier that year, which had also caused deep political rifts in Britain.

But journalists who worked alongside Johnson when he was in his late 20s remember him more for his skilled networking, provocative questions and party-loving manner than EU nous.