Plan for Obama to visit Portsmouth is given boost by senators

KEY VISIT American senators, their staff, members of the US Air Force ' and members of their families ' and British MPs at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Malcolm Wells (132464-0962)
KEY VISIT American senators, their staff, members of the US Air Force ' and members of their families ' and British MPs at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Malcolm Wells (132464-0962)

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PORTSMOUTH’S bid to attract US president Barack Obama to the city next year has been given a boost by his own government.

A select group of American senators, their staff, members of the US Air Force and British MPs and dignitaries visited Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Saturday.

The visit was kept very much under the radar due to its political sensitivity and for security issues.

The delegations are all members of the British-American Parliamentary Group, which meets annually to discuss ‘areas of mutual interest’, either in the US or in the UK.

Portsmouth City Council has invited President Obama to come to the city on June 5 next year for the 70th anniversary commemorations for D-Day, which heralded the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

And it is hoped the fact that the American delegation – which included the third in line to the US presidency, Senator Patrick J Leahy – chose Portsmouth for this year’s meeting will enhance the chances of President Obama coming to the city.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt joined the senators at a dinner in Winchester on Friday night, as well as for their visit to the dockyard on Saturday.

She said she felt confident the senators would return to Portsmouth and be ‘evangelical’ about their visit, and hopefully boost the bid to get the American president to follow suit.

‘This has been great timing for them to come and see Portsmouth for themselves,’ said Ms Mordaunt, who sits on the House of Commons’ Defence Select Committee.

‘I feel confident that will go back and be pretty evangelical about what they have seen here.’

She also said the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US is as strong as ever.

As part of the delegation’s visit, they wanted to see the home of the Royal Navy and our country’s naval heritage.

Included in the group was Andrew Mitchell MP, former Secretary of State for International Development, who led the visit.

He said: ‘We’re very proud to have welcomed Senator Leahy, the presidential pro tem, who is one of the most senior senators in America.

‘I think I can safely say on behalf of the whole delegation that we have been extremely impressed by the way naval heritage has been maintained and presented.’

The council has also invited the Queen to join the D-Day commemorations on June 5 next year.