IT MUST have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Get Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to Southampton to talk about radical new reforms to pensions to staff at Carnival UK – one of Southampton’s biggest employers – who were discussing the issue.

But Mr Osborne ended up sailing into stormy waters when he was pictured giving a presentation in front of a backdrop celebrating Southampton’s bitter Cruise Wars rival Liverpool.

He was left red-faced when presenting in front of a Cunard poster promoting its “three Queens” heading to Liverpool next year as part of the firm’s 175th anniversary.

It is the latest chapter in the long-running saga between the rival ports.

There was outrage when the European Commission gave Liverpool Cruise Terminal £17.8m.

The Daily Echo reported how the city had paid back £8.8m of the £9.2m British taxpayers’ cash to fund the project, which was topped up with £8.6m from EU Structural Funds.

Just last month, Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised after supporting plans for new £300m container port facilities in the Merseyside city while his comments suggested trade should switch from Southampton to Liverpool.

In another blow for relations between Southampton and Liverpool, Saints defender Dejan Lovren looks set to seal a move to the Merseyside club, following former club favourites Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham described the poster as a “kick in the teeth”.

He said: “I think it is a calculated insult. A few weeks ago David Cameron went to Liverpool to their container port and said the containers no longer need to go to Southampton.

“It’s inconceivable that George Osborne’s team didn’t know the poster would be in the background.”

Stewart Dunn, chief executive of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said the incident was “regrettable”.

He said: “I cannot believe that someone would not have taken it down, realising the sensitivity of it.”

Cllr Royston Smith, leader of the Southampton Conservative group and the party’s general election candidate for the Itchen seat, said they had no control over what branding was used on the day.

He said: “He came to Southampton to promote pensions. It would have been nicer if it wasn’t there. I think it was a successful visit.”

A Cunard spokesman said: “Southampton is the home port for Cunard and is the base for Carnival House. We have over 1,000 employees here and we are proud of the contribution we make to the city. Between April this year and April 2015 we will have 52 turnaround days in Southampton, with each one contributing in excess of £1m to Southampton.”