No 10 says Biden removing Churchill bust ‘up to president’ despite Obama attack

PA

Downing Street has declined to criticise Joe Biden for removing a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, despite Boris Johnson's previous attack on Barack Obama for the same move.

The Prime Minister said in much-criticised comments in 2016 that Mr Obama removing the sculpture "was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British Empire".

But Mr Johnson's official spokesman on Thursday said a similar alteration by Mr Biden was "up to the president" after the Democrat took over the White House from Donald Trump.

Winston Churchill (PA)
Winston Churchill (PA)

The spokesman said: "The Oval Office is the president's private office and it's up to the president to decorate it as he wishes.

"We're in no doubt of the importance that president Biden places on the UK and US relationship and the Prime Minister looks forward to having a close relationship with him."

Mr Johnson was London mayor, during the EU referendum, when he criticised Mr Obama's move as the then-president gave his support to the Remain campaign.

Mr Obama said he moved the bust of Britain's wartime leader to a prominent spot outside his private office of his official residence, adding: "I love Winston Churchill."

The statue loaned from the UK was reinstalled in the Oval Office by Mr Trump, but it is no longer on display after Mr Biden, who is of Irish heritage, was inaugurated on Wednesday.

Busts of civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, as well as labour leader Cesar Chevez, are now among those situated in the room, a symbol of US power.

Mr Johnson is keen to forge a close relationship with the new president, with some concerns his support for Brexit and Mr Trump may create friction.

Then prime minister Theresa May meeting then US president Donald Trump by a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the Oval Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Then prime minister Theresa May meeting then US president Donald Trump by a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the Oval Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He will hope he secures an early phone call with Mr Biden following his inauguration, but conversations are expected to start with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.

Mr Johnson was early among the list of leaders to speak to the Democrat after his electoral triumph over Mr Trump, but No 10 was unable to say when their next call will be.

The Prime Minister declared "there's nothing wrong with being woke" after shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy described Mr Biden as a "woke guy" who defends trans rights and the Black Lives Matter movement as she eyed the Democrat as a potential model for Labour's campaigning.

But Mr Johnson's official spokesman said he was unsure what the term, defined as being alert to societal injustices, means when asked if the Prime Minister considers himself woke.

"You've got the Prime Minister's views on what he believes specifically on his agenda to level up across the country and ensure that everybody has the opportunity to succeed," the spokesman said.

He added: "I'm not sure what you mean specifically by being 'woke' but, as I say, you've got what the Prime Minister said on issues like this previously."

Protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour (Ben Birchall/PA)
Protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Johnson's apparent support for wokeness runs counter to recent words from Cabinet colleagues such as Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The minister decried "town hall militants and woke worthies" as he announced laws to protect monuments after the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

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