London mayor criticizes Obama over Kenyan roots
23 April 2016, 09:26
London - London Mayor Boris Johnson on Friday claimed that Barack Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office because of anti-British sentiment, earning a rebuke from Downing Street.
The controversy emerged as Obama used a visit to London to spell out why his country wants Britain to remain in the European Union in a referendum on June 23.
Johnson - the most prominent figure campaigning for Britain to leave - wrote an article in response and repeated allegations about the bust of Churchill, Britain's World War II leader.
"On day one of Obama's administration it was returned, without ceremony, to the British embassy in Washington," Johnson, who has penned a biography of Churchill, wrote in The Sun newspaper.
"Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British empire, of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender," he said.
The official spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the "Remain" campaign in the referendum, hit back at Johnson, urging a "focus on facts".
"They [the White House] have been clear that this kind of suggestion that he [Obama] asked for it to be moved, that it's a failure of the president's appreciation of the special relationship, is false," she told reporters.
"That decision had already been taken before President Obama took up office. So let's focus on facts."
The White House has dismissed previous claims that Obama ordered the removal of the bust out of anti-British sentiment as "completely false".
It said in a 2012 post on its website that former prime minister Tony Blair had loaned George W Bush a Churchill bust for the Oval Office which was removed on the day of Obama's inauguration.
However, it added that there was still another Churchill bust on display in the White House Residence.
"The idea... that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day," it said.
Churchill's grandson Nicholas Soames, an MP from Cameron's Conservative party who supports EU membership, also took to Twitter to dismiss Johnson's claim.
"@BorisJohnson it is not compulsory to have head of WSC (Churchill's initials) in President's office. Stupid irrelevant empty point to make #growupgetreal," Soames wrote.
He added it was "inconceivable" that his grandfather would not have welcomed Obama's views.