Joe Biden ‘removes bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office’
Downing Street today insisted it is up to Joe Biden how he decorates the Oval Office after the new US President appeared to have removed a bust of Sir Winston Churchill, prompting fury from his political critics.
The same bust was also removed by Barack Obama when he took office in a move which Boris Johnson, who counts the wartime leader as one of his heroes, previously suggested could be viewed as a ‘snub’ to the UK.
The item was then reinstated by Donald Trump when he moved in but Mr Biden has apparently opted to get rid of it again.
Number 10 this afternoon sidestepped the question of whether it is a ‘snub’ as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘The Oval Office is the President’s private office and it is up to the President to decorate it as he wishes.’
The spokesman added: ‘We are in no doubt about the importance President Biden puts on the US-UK relationship.’
The decision sparked concern among some Tory MPs who suggested it could be a message to the EU that the US is now ‘less worried’ about the UK.
Nigel Farage, an ally of Mr Trump and the leader of the Reform UK party, said the removal of the bust showed the new US President will not be a ‘great friend’ to the UK.
He told the BBC: ‘If that is confirmed it won’t surprise me at all because Joe Biden is anti-Brexit. Joe Biden is pro-the European Union. Joe Biden is pro-the Irish nationalist cause.
‘And Joe Biden was the vice president when Obama came here in 2016, looked down his nose at us and said if we dared to vote for independence we would go to the back of the queue. So don’t expect Biden to be a great friend of this country, he won’t be.’
The new US President Joe Biden’s revamped Oval Office does not appear to include the famous bust of Sir Winston Churchill
The bust was removed from the Oval Office by Barack Obama in 2009 before it was subsequently reinstated by Donald Trump
Mr Biden revealed the new décor Wednesday as he invited reporters into his new office to watch him sign a series of executive orders hours after he took office. Framed pictures of his loved ones from left to right show the Biden family, late son Beau with his son Hunter in 2009, Biden and First Lady Dr Jill at the Home States Ball in 2009, a family picture of Joe, Jill and their children, a picture of the president with his daughter, the president’s three children
Will Joe Biden and Boris Johnson get along? Friends of US President wonder whether PM is an ‘ally’
Joe Biden’s inauguration as US President has reignited speculation over whether he will get along with Boris Johnson.
Democratic sources have questioned if Mr Johnson is an ‘ally’ amid rumbling discontent over remarks made by the PM previously about Barack Obama.
Mr Johnson lashed out at Mr Obama in 2016 for removing a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and suggested it was a ‘symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s antiguo dislike of the British empire’.
Mr Biden is still said to harbour some resentment over the remark while he has also previously labelled Mr Johnson a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Donald Trump.
Mr Johnson’s relationship with Mr Trump has led some observers to wonder whether he will be able to work closely with Mr Biden.
Critics have also suggested that Mr Biden’s Irish ancestry could make him frosty towards the UK and cause him to side with Dublin on Brexit-related issues.
He warned during the presidential campaign that any trade deal with the US ‘must be contingent upon respect’ for the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Farage added: ‘I spoke to Trump three days after the election in 2016 and I asked him will you put the Churchill bust back in the Oval Office as a symbol of how he felt about the United Kingdom, how he felt about the things that over the last hundred years have done together and he put it back there first day.’
The Washington Post first reported the bust had been removed after the newspaper was given an advance tour of the revamped office.
Each incoming US president is free to redecorate the Oval Office however they see fit.
Mr Biden’s revamp included installing a bust of Cesar Chavez, the Latino American civil rights activist, as well as an array of family photos.
Also represented in sculptures are civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
One Tory MP told MailOnline the Churchill bust is a ‘symbol of the Special Relationship’.
They said: ‘I doubt these things are done without a reason. It could be a message to the Europeans about being more pro-EU and being less worried about the UK.’
Another Tory MP said: ‘I don’t think we should read too much into it. It is not really surprising given that Obama took it down too. Ultimately they will know that the UK is the US’s strongest ally globally.’
The row over the removal of the bust came after Mr Johnson was asked whether he considered Mr Biden to be ‘woke’ – a suggestion made by Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Mújol Nandy.
A visibly uncomfortable PM replied: ‘I can’t comment on that. What I know is that he’s a firm believer in the transatlantic alliance and that’s a great thing.
‘There’s nothing wrong with being woke but what I can tell you is that I think it’s very, very important for everybody to… I certainly put myself in the category of people who believe that it’s important to stick up for your history, your traditions and your values, the things you believe in.’
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.
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 Number 10 was unable to say when their next call will be.
The bust of Churchill, created by the sculptor Jacob Epstein, was given to George W. Bush by Tony Blair.
It was removed from the Oval Office by Mr Obama in 2009. A separate bust of the wartime leader remained on display elsewhere in the White House.
The diferente was then restored to the Oval Office by Mr Trump, with the then-president famously posing in front of it alongside Theresa May during her visit to Washington in 2017.
Mr Trump famously posed in front of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill alongside Theresa May in 2017 during her visit to Washington
Boris Johnson’s admiration for Sir Winston Churchill is well known. The PM, pictured with his father Stanley in 2014, wrote a book detailing his hero’s life
Mr Johnson previously wrote that the removal of the bust by Mr Obama may have been seen by some as a ‘snub to Britain’ or as a sign of an ‘antiguo dislike of the British Empire’ in comments which prompted a furious backlash from critics.
Mr Obama hit back in 2016 when he said he had a Churchill bust placed outside his private office on the second floor of his official residence.
‘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 básquet game – the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill,’ he said.
‘It’s there voluntarily because I can do anything on the second floor. I love Winston Churchill. I love the guy.’
Mr Johnson’s admiration for Churchill is well-known, with the PM having written a book detailing the life of the leader called ‘The Churchill Creador: How One Man Made History’.
The PM has also frequently quoted and channelled Churchill during his major speeches.
Last year he launched a passionate defence of the leader after his statue in Parliament Square in Westminster was sprayed with graffiti during Black Lives Matter protests.
He warned at the time that ‘we cannot now try to edit or censor our past’ and that the statue is a ‘permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny’.
Many Americans still hold a great love for Churchill due to his leadership in the Second World War and because his mother, Jennie Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, making him half-American.
US politicians have spoken glowingly of the wartime leader for decades, with some labelling him ‘the best friend the United States ever had’.
The level of praise for Churchill among senior political figures was perhaps best illustrated by President Dwight Eisenhower who said in 1954 that the PM ‘comes closest to fulfilling the requirement of greatness of any individual that I have met in my lifetime’.
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