Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 12:47 UK

Cameron Olympic 'dithering' claim

Gordon Brown, Tessa Jowell and Denise Lewis
Mr Brown received the Olympic torch at Downing Street on Sunday

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has come under fire after apparent confusion over his plans to attend the Olympics.

Conservative leader David Cameron said: "If dithering was an Olympic sport he would have a gold medal".

Mr Brown will not be at the opening ceremony in Beijing in August but will attend the closing ceremony.

Number 10 says China knew Mr Brown would not attend the opening ceremony - but the official Chinese state media had reported Mr Brown would be there.

It appears the Chinese believed Mr Brown - who has talked of Britain attending "ceremonies" - would be at the set piece event in Beijing.

The Olympics minister Tessa Jowell will in fact be representing the UK at the opening ceremony.

Gordon Brown has not performed an Olympic U-turn but, thanks to his and his team's cack handedness, it looks to the world as if he has
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

Mr Brown has been under pressure to boycott the Olympics over China's human rights record.

But Downing Street said his decision not to attend the opening ceremony did not represent a boycott and that he had always planned to go to the closing ceremony instead.

Mr Brown's official spokesman has told reporters in recent weeks, when asked if there would be a boycott, that the prime minister would attend the closing ceremony.

'Extraordinary'

And reporters due to travel with Mr Brown were said to have booked summer holidays on the basis the PM would be going only to the closing ceremony.

But there has been confusion, including in China, over Mr Brown's plans after he told a Downing Street news conference on 1 April: "I think (French) President Sarkozy said himself that he expected Britain, because we are going to host the next Olympics, to be present at the Olympic ceremonies and I will certainly be there."

The issue has been seized on by the opposition parties, with David Cameron comparing it to Mr Brown's decision to miss the official photo call with other EU leaders at the signing of the Lisbon reform treaty.

Mr Cameron told BBC News: "The way he has handled this decision is extraordinary. He has the Olympic torch in Downing Street but won't touch it.

"He goes to the Lisbon summit, turns up late but does sign the treaty.

"If dithering was an Olympic sport he would have a gold medal."

'Incompetence'

Mr Cameron said he did not think Mr Brown should boycott the Beijing Olympics.

But he added: "Whether he goes to the opening or closing doesn't matter much to me. It's the manner in which all this is done.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The Olympics have always been politically motivated so protests should be accepted
Thomas, Guilford

"People around the world must be scratching their heads, thinking 'what on earth does the British prime minister think?'"

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said Number 10 should have made the situation clear in the first place.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight: "Chancellor Merkel in Germany and President Sarkozy in France saying quite specifically that they might not go to the opening ceremony shows that the debate has always been about the opening ceremony.

"So now suddenly to be asked to believe by Number 10 that they never really intended to go in the first place either smacks of a rather odd way of going about things or just downright incompetence."

The UK needs to be represented at the closing ceremony because London takes over from Beijing as the next Olympic city.




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Gordon Brown with the Olympic torch at Downing Street



SEE ALSO
Brown denies avoiding China row
08 Apr 08 |  UK Politics
China vows to keep torch on track
08 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Jowell defends torch parade role
07 Apr 08 |  UK Politics

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