GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney traveled to London to demonstrate his foreign policy skill. If the first day of his trip is any indication, Romney is demonstrating anything but.
Romney, who was already dealing with the fallout from his questioning of Britain’s preparedness for the Olympics, committed a couple minor gaffes and a major faux pas, and was pilloried by Tory leaders from Prime Minister David Cameron to London Mayor Boris Johnson.
This has definitely not been the feel-good photo-op that Romney and his supporters hoped for.
Romney tried again to do damage control, saying after a meeting with Cameron that he expects the Olympics to be a “great success.” But Romney committed a serious breach of protocol moments later, noting that he had met with the head of the British intelligence agency MI6, Sir John Sawers. While Britain finally admitted to MI6′s existence in 1994, the government generally maintains an aura of secrecy around the organization.
“I can only say that I appreciated the insights and perspectives of the leaders of the government here and opposition here as well as the head of MI6 as we discussed Syria and the hope for a more peaceful future for that country,” Romney said.
The British government tersely refused to comment on the meeting, telling CBS, “Sir John Sawers meets many people, but we don’t give a running commentary on any of these private meetings.”
Romney was also pipped for referring to Opposition Leader Ed Miliband, Labour-Doncaster North, as “Mr. Leader” during a meeting. While not improper based on American political conventions, in British politics, Miliband should have been referred to as “Mr. Miliband.”
Romney even managed, somehow, to screw up the name of the country he was visiting, which he referred to as “The Nation of Great Britain.” Romney, of course, was in the nation of England, which is one of four nations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Some of the slip-ups may be unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it suggested that Romney either didn’t know or didn’t care what the proper etiquette for meeting with British politicians was, or little details like the name of the country he was visiting. Considering that the point of the trip was to demonstrate that Romney was adroit at working with foreign leaders, and indeed more capable than President Barack Obama, the minor mistakes led to major questions about Romney’s competence.
As the gaffes piled up, Brits began openly mocking Romney. Johnson used Romney’s doubts about the Olympics to whip up an enthusiastic crowd that had come out to witness the end of the torch relay.
“People are coming from around the world and they’re seeing us,” said Johnson to the crowd, which was estimated at 80,000 people. “There are some people who are coming from around the world who don’t yet know about all the preprations we’ve done to get London ready in the last seven years. I heard there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!”
As if to end the day on an exclamation point, Foreign Policy unearthed a quote from Romney’s book, “No Apologies,” in which he says “England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.” Romney did not comment on the height of England’s trees.
Unsurprisingly, the series of gaffes did not impress British leaders. Romney was lambasted by unnamed British officials, who said his performance was “a total car crash,” “apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity,” and incredibly, “worse than Sarah Palin.”
The media got in on the mockery as well. Daily Telegraph writer Lucy Jones called Romney a “wazzock,” and wrote, “there’s one thing Romney could learn while he’s in Britain this week: some manners.”
Romney at least could find some support from back home. Salt Lake City, which Cameron had derided as the “middle of nowhere,” invited Cameron to come and visit.
“[Cameron] can stop by any time. We’d love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn’t run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere,” said Art Raymond, a spokesperson for Mayor Ralph Becker, said in a statement given to Buzzfeed. “We’d welcome the opportunity to share all that we enjoy here with the PM, including a great number of assets that you’d be hard-pressed to find in London-world-class outdoor recreation, an economy that has prospered even through the recent economic recession, one of the best-educated populations in the world and a rare sense of community and commitment to progressive evolution.”
While it remains to be seen if the prime minister will take Salt Lake City up on the offer, it has to sound good to Romney right about now.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore