Controversial Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn has made a surprising reference to former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in an editorial about patriotism.

He began his column by writing: “The famous story goes that when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, he was woken one freezing February morning by a Downing Street aide bearing the shocking news that a male Tory MP had been caught having sex with a naked guardsman in St James’s Park.

“Noting that it had been the coldest night of the winter, Churchill is said to have remarked: ‘Makes you proud to be British.’

“Even if this wonderful anecdote isn’t true, it ought to be. Churchill’s reported reaction epitomised the ironic essence of Britishness: an amused tolerance, admiration for the determined triumph of perseverance over adversity, and a celebration of the fabled stiff upper lip.

“As a definition of old-fashioned, understated British values, Churchill’s quip is right up there with: ‘I am just going outside and I may be some time’ — the last words of polar explorer Captain Oates.

“While Churchill, like Mrs Thatcher, was privately relaxed about individual foibles, he was intensely patriotic, a quality which sustained the nation during World War II and ensured our survival. Today, patriotism is sneered at.”

However, in the same article, Littlejohn strikes a more familiar critical tone towards the LGBT community in a line about the Union Jack.

He said: “Labour-run town halls, police stations even, proudly fly the gay rights ‘rainbow’ flag, the EU flag and the flag of the ANC, but recoil in horror at displaying the Union Jack.”

More than 200,000 people called for The Daily Mail to sack Richard Littlejohn in March last year. 

In December 2013, Littlejohn wrote an offensive article about a transgender teacher whose gender transition was made public by a local paper.

Lucy Meadows had the support of her school, who informed parents of the transition, but Littlejohn accused the teacher of being “selfish” in wanting to return to her job after the Christmas break.

The 32-year-old took her own life in March last year, having been subjected to a sustained period of intrusive media coverage.