The shadow chancellor has accused Boris Johnson of dog-whistle racism for writing an article in which the London mayor quoted claims that Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage had driven him towards anti-British sentiment.
John McDonnell joined fellow Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna in questioning Johnson’s judgment in referring to the president’s ancestry in an article for the Sun newspaper.
“Mask slips again. Boris part-Kenyan Obama comment is yet another example of dog-whistle racism from senior Tories. He should withdraw it,” McDonnell tweeted.
Johnson, a high-profile figure in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, wrote about the decision of the Obama administration to remove a bust of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.
“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,” said Johnson in an article designed to hit back at Obama after the US president waded into the EU referendum debate on Friday.
The mayor and Tory MP said Obama’s country would “not dream of embroiling itself” in anything similar to the EU, which he said was inching towards a federal superstate.
Cooper told the Guardian: “As ever, it’s more bad judgment from Boris Johnson. Is this really how a man who wants to be prime minister should be talking about the president of the United States?”
Umunna tweeted: “These Tory mayoral types are beyond the pale.” He said the Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith had played on his opponent Sadiq Khan’s Muslim heritage, repeatedly attacking Khan for having shared a platform with a man who has been accused of extremist views.
Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames, a Conservative MP backing the remain campaign, called Johnson’s article “appalling” and said it was “inconceivable” that the wartime leader would not have welcomed Obama’s views.
He said Johnson was “unreliable and idle about the facts”, claiming there was still a Churchill bust inside the White House.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman said the decision to remove the Churchill bust was taken before Obama took office.
Bust story debunked
Ted Cruz, the Republican senator who is locked in a battle with Donald Trump to become their party’s nominee for the presidential election, made a similar claim last year, saying Obama was responsible for removing the bust. The claim was debunked by the Washington Post, which concluded after a detailed investigation that the bust had been returned to the British embassy in Washington before Obama took office.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told the US president to “butt” out of intervening in the UK’s referendum on EU membership.
Attacking the president’s intervention in support of the ‘Remain’ side at the outset of a visit to the UK, Farage said said that he took Obama’s description of himself as a friend of the UK “with a pretty large pinch of salt.”
“Look, I know his family’s background. Kenya. Colonialism. There is clearly something going on there,” he added. “It’s just that you know people emerge from colonialism with different views of the Britsh. Some thought that they were really rather benign and rather good, and others saw them as foreign invaders. Obama’s family come from that second school of thought and it hasn’t quite left him yet.”
Obama made an emotional plea to the British public to “stick together” with the rest of the European Union as he arrived in the UK to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Obama argued that Britain’s influence in the world was magnified by its membership of the EU.
“As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery,” he wrote.
This article was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor and Ben Quinn, for theguardian.com on Friday 22nd April 2016 12.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010