Who's the last visitor Brown needed at a time like this? Step forward George Bush

Colin Brown,Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 07 June 2008 00:00 BST

George Bush will face protests and demands that he be charged as a war criminal over the Iraq conflict when he makes his final visit to Britain as US President next weekend.

Mr Bush and the first lady, Laura Bush, will be entertained by the Queen at Windsor Castle during the state visit and will have dinner at Downing Street with Gordon Brown.

But leading voices in the worlds of the arts and politics, including the novelist Iain Banks, the artist David Gentleman and the human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, have now joined forces to call for Mr Bush to face a war crimes trial in the Hague.

Labour MPs and the cross-party Coalition Against the War in Iraq are preparing a national demonstration against the visit. They will deliver protest letters to Downing Street and carry handcuffs as a symbol of their claims that the President is a war criminal.

Andrew Murray, the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "George Bush should be in The Hague facing war crimes charges over the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq since 2003, not being entertained in Downing Street. Gordon Brown doesn't need a policy brief for this meeting, just a pair of handcuffs."

Clare Short, the former cabinet minister, said the disclosures in The Independent this week that the US is planning permanent bases in Iraq would increase the anger against the Bush visit and put pressure on Mr Brown.

"We always suspected that they were building permanent bases but now it is out in the open," said the former international development secretary.

"Where is Brown on this issue? Has Britain got any bottom line? All that rhetoric about Brown being the change after Blair has been exposed as nonsense."

The visit could become an embarrassment for Mr Brown. He met the President in Washington in April and warmly embraced Mr Bush's foreign policy objectives against global terrorism. The meeting was in stark contrast to his first visit to Washington as Prime Minister in July last year when he appeared to distance himself from the US administration.

Mr Bush and Mr Brown are likely to discuss issues to be raised at the G8 summit in Japan next month, including the need for more co-ordinated action by the world banking system to overcome the credit crunch that is threatening to tip economies around the world into recession. But it will be seen by sceptics as a social visit in a "farewell" tour by Mr Bush before he leaves the White House.

The US embassy has made it clear that the visit is intended "to strengthen the transatlantic partnership and to celebrate the enduring friendship between our nations based on shared democratic values".

The visit by President and Mrs Bush will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift, which the embassy says will, "underscore the historic and continuing US role in supporting a Europe increasingly whole, free, and at peace".

Mr Bush will begin his trip on Monday in Slovenia at the annual US-EU summit. He will then visit Germany, Italy, the Vatican and France before coming to the UK.

* The Labour Against the War group is circulating a motion among constituency parties for the annual conference in the autumn to hear demands for British troops to be pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

All the President's visits

*18-20 July, 2001

High: Bush meets the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Holds talks at Chequers with Tony Blair and appears at a joint press conference. Bush says: "Chequers is a ... it's a great place to get a night's sleep."

Low: There are protests against the visit, in contrast to the euphoria for Bill and Hilary Clinton in May 1997, when the Blairs took the Clintons to the fashionable Le Pont de la Tour restaurant.

7-8 April, 2003

High: Bush visits Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, to support the peace talks just weeks after the invasion of Iraq.

Low: Sinn Fein and SDLP supporters join anti-war protesters near Hillsborough.

18-21 November, 2003

High: Bush visits Buckingham Palace, and then has lunch with Tony Blair at the Dun Cow pub in Sedgefield, the Prime Minister's constituency.

Low: Protest march by an estimated 200,000 against the Iraq war. US request for American fighter planes over London and closure of the Tube system is turned down.

6-8 July, 2005

High: Bush attends annual G8 summit at the world-famous golfing hotel at Gleneagles, Scotland, well away from anti-war protesters.

Low: Bush overheard snubbing Blair by rejecting an offer by the Prime Minister to visit the Middle East as a peacemaker. Says he would rather send the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. End of summit overshadowed by terrorist bombings in London which kill 52 people.

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