By Jon Swaine
Elevating his tendency for gaffes to the international stage, Mr Romney said that because of concerns about security, it was “hard to know just how well it will turn out”.
He then appeared to breach protocol by disclosing that he had received an unusual briefing from Sir John Sawers, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), on the situation in Syria. An adviser boasted to The Daily Telegraph that Mr Romney had also previously met the head of the Security Service (MI5).
Mr Romney told NBC News he saw “a few things that were disconcerting” about London’s preparations. “The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” he said.
His remark prompted a sharp rejoinder from David Cameron. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” said the Prime Minister. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
This was widely taken in the US to be a reference to Utah, the sparsely populated western state where Mr Romney was chief executive of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. “Romney Olympics comments rile Brits,” CNN told its viewers throughout the afternoon.
The former Massachusetts governor sought to soothe relations following his meeting with Mr Cameron. Outside 10 Downing Street he predicted that any minor problems would be “overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes”.
However his earlier comment had by then travelled around the world. He also raised eyebrows by referring to Ed Miliband with the American-style honorific “Mr Leader” and saying that he had enjoyed viewing Olympic volleyball courts from “the backside of Downing Street”.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, later heaped more misery on Mr Romney’s campaign by dismissing his remarks while onstage at a concert in Hyde Park to mark the end of the Olympic torch relay. “There’s guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready,” Mr Johnson cried, prompting jeers from some of the 60,000-strong crowd. “Are we ready? Yes we are!”
Commentators began referring to the Republican candidate’s day in London as a “Romneyshambles”, a variation on the phrase “Omnishambles” frequently used to describe the crisis-stricken Coalition. It came after a string of faux pas on the US election campaign trail.
Mr Romney also noted outside No 10 that he had spoken to “the head of MI6” about the situation in war-torn Syria, raising suggestions that he had broken with convention by disclosing a secret briefing. It is also extremely rare for Sir John to share details about British intelligence with any politician who is not a head of state.
Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP, said: “It is very unusual. The head of MI6’s time is extremely precious – I wonder if this does not set a strange precedent where other leaders of other oppositions will also want similar briefings which can’t help Britain’s security.”
The unusual briefing prompted speculation that the UK was attempting to win Mr Romney’s backing for a more interventionist role in Syria if he were to win November’s presidential election.
A senior foreign policy adviser to Mr Romney told the Daily Telegraph that he also met Sir John and Jonathan Evans, the director of MI5, during a previous visit to London last year, and that he had given them advice on defending the Olympics against terrorism. He is also understood to have met Sir Peter Ricketts, the-then head of the National Security Council.
“That was really in the governor’s focus given what challenges he faced leading the Utah Olympics after 9/11,” said the adviser, a member of his foreign policy advisory team. The adviser claimed that Mr Romney shared a “psychological connection” with what the intelligence chiefs were “having to struggle with” in their preparations.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “Sir John meets many people, but we don’t give a running commentary on any of these private meetings.” A Home Office spokesman declined to confirm or deny whether the meeting with Mr Evans had taken place.
Source: The Telegraph