Downing Street has declined to criticise US President Joe Biden for removing a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office – despite Boris Johnson having previously criticised “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama for not displaying it.
As is customary for new presidents, Mr Biden has put his own stamp on the presidential office in the White House.
He has included a bust of trade union leader Cesar Chavez, as well as sculptures of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks.
However, according to reports, there is no longer space in Mr Biden‘s Oval Office for a Churchill bust. This is despite one having been reintroduced to the room by his predecessor Donald Trump.
During her visit to the White House in 2017, former prime minister Theresa May thanked Mr Trump for reintroducing a Churchill bust after it was previously displayed in another part of the White House by Mr Obama.
In 2016, Mr Johnson used a newspaper article to criticise Mr Obama’s actions and suggested some viewed it as 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,” Mr Johnson wrote in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum.
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“Some said that perhaps Churchill was seen as less important than he once was. Perhaps his ideas were old-fashioned and out of date.
“Well, if that’s why Churchill was banished from the Oval Office, they could not have been more wrong.”
Number 10 offered little comment on the apparent decision by Mr Biden – who served as Mr Obama’s vice president – to once again remove a Churchill bust from the Oval Office.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The Oval Office is the president’s private office and it’s up to the president to decorate it as he wishes.
“I would point you back to what the prime minister has said previously about looking forward to working closely with Joe Biden.
“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.”
Pressed on Mr Johnson’s past criticism of Mr Obama for removing a bust, the spokesman said: “It’s for the president to decorate the Oval Office as he sees fit but we have a continuing close special relationship with the US and the prime minister looks forward to continuing that.”
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There are thought to be a number of Churchill busts by sculptor Jacob Epstein – two of which have been displayed in the White House.
According to one of Mr Obama’s former aides, one of the busts was lent by the UK government to George W Bush during his presidency, while another has been the possession of the White House since the 1960s.