Romney in London for Olympics: Candidate Angers Brits

GOP candidate's comment about Olympic preparation frustrates British

July 26, 2012, 4:50 PM

July 26, 2012 -- Mitt Romney isn't on track to bring home the gold in Diplomacy from London.

He hasn't been in London for two full days and already he's been verbally upbraided by London's mayor and been the subject of a snide comment by the British prime minister. He referred publicly to the head of the British spy agency MI6, which apparently in England is just not done. And he's had an unnamed staffer criticized for comments about a shared "Anglo Saxon heritage."

On Thursday evening on BBC2's "Newsnight," Hugh Robertson, a Conservative member of Parliament and minister for sport and the Olympics, was asked whether Romney might participate in carrying the torch ahead of Friday night's ceremony.

He immediately broke out in laughter. "Certainly not after today," said Robertson.

Mitt Romney isn't the first U.S. politician to cause offense overseas. Click here to see some of the other stumbles.

Stateside, Sen. Harry Reid is not pleased with the presumptive GOP nominee's performance so far in London. "It's not good for us as a country -- it's not good for him -- but as a country to have somebody that's nominated by one of the principal parties to go over and insult everybody," the Nevada Democrat told the Huffington Post.

At London's Hyde Park, the city's always-colorful mayor Boris Johnson sent Romney a personal message in a rip-roaring speech to 60,000 on Thursday evening over the most serious foible, Romney's comment Wednesday that some of London's Olympic preparations were "disconcerting." (Romney's clarified the remark, but Johnson used it to rev up the screaming crowd.)

"There are some people who are coming from around the world who don't yet know about all the preparations we've done to get London ready in the last seven years," Johnson said. "I hear there's a guy, there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. He wants to know whether we're ready? Are we ready?"

The crowd screamed, "Yes!"

"Are we ready?" Johnson asked again. "Yes, we are. The venues are ready, the stadium is ready. The aquatic center is ready, the security is ready, the police are ready, the transport system is ready, and our team GB athletes are ready, aren't they? Team GB is ready."

The video of the Hyde Park rabble-rousing speech was being replayed in its entirely at least once an hour on the BBC in London on Thursday evening.

Watch That Video Here

In an interview with NBC's Brian Williams on Wednesday, Romney expressed some reservations when asked whether London was "ready" for the Games, calling some aspects "disconcerting" in an interview .

Get more pure politics at ABC and a lighter take on the news at

"It's hard to know just how well it will turn out," Romney told NBC. "There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials… that obviously is not something which is encouraging."

That didn't sit well. The quote screamed across the headlines of British papers Thursday morning.

It also doesn't seem to have sat well with Prime Minister David Cameron, who then swiped at both Romney and the home of the 2002 Olympics, Salt Lake City. Romney headed up the 2002 games, coming in when they were scandal-ridden and financially strapped and producing a successful Olympics, something the candidate and his campaign are eager to point out.

"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 said.

Cameron revised his take on Romney's comments at an evening press conference after the two met on Thursday morning at No. 10 Downing: "He ran a successful Olympic Games in his own country and I think he's very much looking forward to seeing some of the events here," he said at a press conference outside the prime minister's office. "So, I felt a vote of confidence from what he said."

For his part, Romney tried to clear up his previous statements at an earlier press conference.

"My experience as an Olympic organizer is that there are always a few very small things that end up going not quite right in the first day," Romney said. "Those get ironed out and then when the games themselves begin, and the athletes take over, all the mistakes the organizing committee – and I made a few – all of those are overwhelmed by the many things that the athletes carry out."

This video was also getting a good amount of play on the BBC, but the titles on the screen read, "Mitt Romney doubts whether London is prepared."

And that's not all.

Upon leaving his meeting at 10 Downing Street on Thursday, Romney announced who he met with, including Sir John Sawyers, the head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service. That was another oops according to the British press.

@nicholaswatt And another Mitt Romney blunder: confirmed outside No 10 he met head of MI6. Aspiring US presidents not meant to say that

But British security expert Mark D. Yates sees it more as a "cultural" difference than a gaffe and said, "From a security perspective, it's not a problem."

"It's not a case of, you don't talk about it," Yates told ABC News. "We are a little more reserved, a little more conservative when we talk about MI5, MI6 and security, even when we talk about special forces, but it's not a gaffe as such."

Yates said that kind of openness on security issues is "something we don't see a lot of in the U.K.," adding, "It's a cultural thing. We make the same mistakes when we go to America."

A senior policy advisor of Romney's wouldn't comment on the British press' reaction, merely saying, "I think we've said all --the governor's said all we're going to say…The governor expressed who he met with today."

See More International Oops Moments Here

And that was all on Day Two of Romney Goes to London.

But things were rough before he even landed in London. The trip is meant to flex Romney's foreign policy credentials, not to mention remind U.S. voters about the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. However, a story in a British newspaper featuring damning quotes from two anonymous advisors to the candidate dominated headlines in both England and the U.S.

"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special," a Romney adviser told The Telegraph. "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have."

Those remarks prompted Telegraph reporter John Swaine to note they could be read as racially insensitive, given the president's mixed African and European heritage.

"Obama is a left-winger. He doesn't value the NATO alliance as much. He's very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don't mean as much to him. He wouldn't like singing [British hymn] 'Land of Hope and Glory,'" another adviser told the paper.

In the interview with NBC, Romney disavowed the comments, saying he doesn't agree with them.

Scrutiny of the candidate won't end once he leaves British soil. Romney is visiting Israel on Sunday, which happens to be the Jewish holiday of Tish B'av, a day of mourning. It's the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and a sensitive day to visit Jerusalem.

A donor traveling with Romney who helped plan the trip to Israel says Romney is "very sensitive" to the day, but after this tough start to his trip both the American and Israeli press will be watching very closely.

Emily Friedman reported from London and Shushannah Walshe wrote from New York

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events