US President Barack Obama told Britons on Friday he loved Winston Churchill, rebuffing suggestions that he had disrespected the wartime leader because of a grudge against Britain linked to his Kenyan ancestry.
Obama was visiting London to press Britons to vote to stay in the European Union, and the Churchill issue arose after London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for an "Out" vote, brought it up in an article criticizing Obama.
"I love Winston Churchill, I love the guy," Obama said when asked at a news conference about Johnson's article.
"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," said Obama, referring to his private office on the second floor of the White House.
"It's there voluntarily because I can do anything on the second floor," he said, standing alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the "In" campaign.
Obama did not name Johnson, but his remarks were a humiliating put-down for a man who is widely touted as a potential successor to Cameron, especially if voters do opt to leave the EU in a June referendum.
Johnson was accused of racist undertones by an opposition Labor politician over the opening paragraphs of an article he wrote in the Sun newspaper criticizing Obama's stance on the EU.
In the passage, Johnson speculated about the reasons for the removal of a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office in 2009, during the early days of Obama's presidency.
"Some said it was 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," Johnson wrote in the mass-market Sun tabloid.