Mitt Romney’s big international tour got off to a rocky start Thursday morning, as British officials including Prime Minister David Cameron took offense at the Republican candidate’s criticisms over London’s preparedness for the Olympics.
Romney expressed wariness over England’s ability to pull off the Olympics without a hitch, as well as reservations over security.
“You know, it’s hard to know just how well it were turn out — will turn out,” said Romney, who ran the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. “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.”
The comments did not go over well in Britain. Cameron rebuffed Romney’s criticism during a visit to the Olympic Park in Stratford Thursday morning, according to The Telegraph. “You’re going to see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver,” Cameron said.
Romney told NBC that Britons would have to unite in order to make the Olympic Games successful. “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?” Romney said. “And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”
Cameron addressed that critique head on. “In terms of people coming together, the torch relay demonstrated that this is not a London Games, this is not an England Games but this is a United Kingdom Games,” Cameron said. “We’ll show the world we’ve not only come together as a United Kingdom but are extremely good at welcoming people from across the world.”
Cameron also fired back at Romney’s concerns over security, and suggested British officials were dealing with more complex issues than Romney faced when he ran the show. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Nor did the British press seem to appreciate Romney’s advice. “Mitt Romney questions London’s readiness for Olympic Games,” blared The Guardian, in a story that dwelt on Romney’s criticisms of the Games. The Telegraph couldn’t conceal its opinion of Romney’s remarks, writing, “if Mitt Romney doesn’t like us, we shouldn’t care,” and accusing Romney of launching a “charm offensive” that is “devoid of charm and mildly offensive.”
Romney was in damage-control mode Thursday, walking back his critiques and expressing confidence in the Games in a short statement after his meeting with Cameron.
“I also applaud the work of the Organizing Committee in bringing the Olympic experience right into the heart of London,” Romney said. “I’m very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I’ve seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization and [I] expect the games to be highly successful.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.