Downing Street denies rift with Bush over withdrawal of troops from Iraq
· Brown statement to MPs 'will not include timetable'
· Anti-war protesters clash with police in Whitehall
• Andrew Sparrow
• The Guardian,
• Monday June 16 2008
Downing Street yesterday rejected any suggestion of a rift between Gordon Brown and George Bush over troop withdrawals from Iraq, as the US president arrived in the UK for what is expected to be his final visit to the country before he leaves office.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister said there was "absolutely no disagreement" between the two countries over the approach to troop withdrawal. She also played down the significance of comments in which Bush appeared to disparage a conference in Saudi Arabia next week about oil prices, which Brown is attending.
Bush began his UK tour with tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle and a Downing Street dinner hosted by Brown and attended by Rupert Murdoch. But just as during his previous trips to Britain since 2003, Bush's visit drew large crowds of protesters angry at his foreign policy adventures.
Last night, protests turned violent as a formidable deployment of riot police prevented demonstrators from getting into Whitehall . Officers hit protesters with batons as they surged forward, and 25 people were arrested.
Suzanna Wylie sustained a bloody head wound in the melee. "I'm angry that the police have treated us like we are rioting, and we're not," she said.
"I've been on lots of demonstrations before, and every one of the Stop the War demonstrations have been peaceful; this time because Bush is here, because of his own security arrangements, they won't let us demonstrate.
"If they let us demonstrate, there would have been none of this."
Stop the War Coalition, one of the organisers, added that "this was very predictable. If they had allowed us to deliver our letters of protest to Downing Street , as we had asked, none of this would have happened."
The Metropolitan police said they were "seriously disappointed by the irresponsible and criminal action of those who have challenged police, physically ripping apart security barriers with the sole aim of breaching security in Whitehall ".
Bush himself moved undetected in and out of Downing Street; he has made clear to Brown he is firmly opposed to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. "Our answer is: there should be no definitive timetable," he said in an interview with the Observer yesterday.
The BBC reported last week that an announcement about final withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq could be made before the end of the year, and Brown told a news conference last week that he would be making a statement about troop deployment in Iraq before the summer recess.But government sources said the Commons statement would be a progress report, and would not include any timetable for the withdrawal of all troops.
Downing Street said: "There is absolutely no disagreement between the UK and the US on troop withdrawal. It is not our policy to set an arbitrary timetable and we will not set an arbitrary timetable. The prime minister is very clear that troop withdrawals will be decided by conditions on the ground."
Last night Bush told Sky News that he was "appreciative" of his relationship with Brown "particularly on this issue". "The worst thing allies can do is not communicate about our plan and our desires. We all want to take troops out of Iraq , and we are," he said. He added that if things proceeded successfully "we're gonna pull troops out, and I have absolutely no problem how Gordon Brown is managing the Iraqi effort".
Last night's dinner at Downing Street was described as an informal affair. There were around 25 guests, including the historians Simon Schama, Linda Colley, Martin Gilbert and David Cannadine, and cabinet ministers David Miliband, John Hutton and Alistair Darling.
Earlier, after flying into Heathrow on Air Force One, Bush and his wife, Laura, were taken by helicopter to Windsor . It was the first time a US president had been received there since Ronald Reagan was pictured with the Queen in 1982. In what was billed as a "private and informal" meeting between "old friends", the party was served a traditional English tea with small sandwiches and cakes.
Today Bush will have breakfast with Tony Blair and hold further talks with Brown. He then flies to Belfast where human rights activists plan to confront him over the detention of terror suspects without trial at Guantánamo Bay and the "extraordinary rendition" of prisoners to other countries for interrogation.
Amnesty International has urged the first minister, Peter Robinson, and the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, to raise the matter when they talk to Bush at Stormont.
In an apparent riposte to the London demonstration, Bush said last night that public opinion had never been a guiding principle of his presidency. "I want it to be said about George W Bush that, when he finished his presidency, he looked in the mirror and [saw] a man who did not compromise his core principles for the sake of politics or the Gallup poll," he told Sky. "You can't lead in this world if you chase something as temporary as a popularity poll."
This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday June 16 2008 on p4 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 02:58 on June 16 2008.
• guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs