Barack Obama hits back at Boris Johnson and explains why he moved Winston Churchill bust in the Oval Office

The US president has warned Britain against leaving the European Union

Jon Stone@joncstone
Friday 22 April 2016 18:20
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President Barack Obama arrives at Downing Street to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron
President Barack Obama arrives at Downing Street to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron

Barack Obama has hit back after suggestions by Boris Johnson that he harboured an “ancestral dislike of the British empire” because of his Kenyan heritage.

The Mayor of London had recounted a story in which he suggested Mr Obama had moved a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office when he became president.

But Mr Obama explained that he still had a second bust of the former prime minister in his private quarters – and revealed why he had moved the one in the Oval Office.

“My private office is called the Treaty Room. Right outside the door of the Treaty Room so that I see it every day, including on weekends when I’m going into that office to watch a basketball game, the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill,” he told a press conference.

“It’s there voluntarily ‘cause I can do anything on the second floor. I love Winston Churchill, I love the guy. “

Mr Johnson, who is backing Brexit, had written in a column for The Sun newspaper that moving the Oval Office bust could have been a “snub to Britain”, but Mr Obama said there were deeper reasons behind moving one of the busts.

“When I was elected as president of the United States my predecessor had kept a Churchill Bust on the Oval Office. There are only so many tables where you can put busts otherwise it starts looking a little cluttered," he said.

“I thought it was appropriate and I suspect most people here in the UK might agree, that as the first African American president it might be appropriate to have a bust of Martin Luther King in my office to remind me of all the hard work of a lot of people who had somehow allowed me to have the privilege of holding this office.”

The US president also defended the special relationship, telling the press conference: “We are so bound together that nothing is going to impact the emotional and cultural and intellectual affinities between our two countries.”

Mr Obama was in London to offer his advice on whether Britain should vote to leave the European Union.

He said the US would rather the UK remained in the bloc, and said a unilateral free-trade deal between the two countries would not be a high priority for America.

He added that he was merely offering advice to a “friend” and that it was up to the British public which way they voted. Britain on 23 June on whether to stay or leave the bloc.

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