Mitt Romney's Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to ObamaUS presidential hopeful backtracks on warning of 'disconcerting' signs for Games after light-hearted rebuke by David Cameron
Mitt Romney handed Barack Obama a priceless gift for the US presidential election campaign when the presumptive Republican nominee blundered on his first diplomatic outing by questioning whether London was capable of staging a successful Olympic Games.
In a move that astonished Downing Street, hours before it laid on a special reception for Romney at No 10 he told NBC there were "disconcerting" signs about the preparations for the Games.
One senior Whitehall source said: "What a total shocker. We are speechless."
David Cameron wasted no time in slapping down Romney hours after his remarks were broadcast. On a visit to the Olympic Park, the prime minister said: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
Cameron's remarks were intended to be a light-hearted rebuke to Romney, who used his famous management skills honed at Bain Capital to rescue the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
Romney frantically rowed back later after a 45-minute meeting in Downing Street where the prime minister expressed his unease about his remarks. "I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organisation and expect the Games to be highly successful," he said.
When asked about the preparations for the Olympics earlier in the day by the NBC anchor Brian Williams, Romney said: "You know, it's hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because there are three parts that makes Games successful.
"Number one, of course, are the athletes. That's what overwhelmingly the Games are about. Number two are the volunteers. And they'll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin."
Boris Johnson also waded in to reject Romney's claim. "London is as ready as any city has ever been in the history of the Olympic Games," the London mayor said.
Romney's remarks are likely to be used by the Obama campaign to highlight his lack of sensitivity and his inexperience on the world stage. There was irritation in No 10 because Cameron had gone out of his way to make Romney as welcome as possible without breaching strict protocol rules.