It’s ‘just a bust’: US embassy in London wades into controversy over Winston Churchill statue in White House

·2 min read
 George W Bush received the bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the British Ambassador in 2001 (AFP via Getty Images)
George W Bush received the bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the British Ambassador in 2001 (AFP via Getty Images)

The American embassy in London tweeted a video saying that the sculpture of Winston Churchill was "just a bust", after it disappeared from the Oval Office as President Biden moved in and the White House went through a makeover.

The video played down the removal of the bust by pointing out the benefits of the "Special relationship" between the US and the UK, including being the "largest investors in each other's countries" and showcasing the relationships between presidents and prime ministers from FDR and Churchill to Barack Obama and David Cameron.

When reporters visited the re-styled Oval Office, several changes were noted like the replacement of a portrait of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, with founding father Benjamin Franklin and the addition of a picture of World War II-era president Franklin D Roosevelt and a bust of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks.

Several British papers expressed dismay at the removal of the Churchill bust. A Sun headline read "CHURCHILL SNUB" and the Daily Mail wrote, "Fury as Joe Biden REMOVES bust of Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill from the Oval Office".

The bust first appeared in the White House in 2001 after George W Bush received it from the British Ambassador. Boris Johnson wrote in The Sun in 2016 that "some said it was a snub to Britain," referring to the removal of the bust from the Oval Office upon the moving-in of President Barack Obama in 2009.

"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.

The bust had been at the British ambassador’s residence in Washington when it was loaned to Mr Bush as another Churchill bust in the White House was being repaired, The Washington Post reported.

The Independent wrote earlier that Mr Obama said that he had moved the head-and-shoulders statue to replace it with one of Martin Luther King and had instead put the Churchill bust outside the Treaty Room in his private quarters.

Read more: Follow live updates on the beginning of the Biden presidency

Mr Obama said it was “appropriate” that as the first African American president he would have a bust of Martin Luther King in his office.

Mr Biden's Oval Office also house statues of civil rights champions Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez, as well as former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mr Biden has further decorated the office with paintings of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

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