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The Globe and Mail

Cameron defends Britain’s accomplishments after G20 indignities

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a media conference after a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. World leaders discussed Syria's civil war at the summit but looked no closer to agreeing on international military intervention to stop it.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

It has sure been a rough week for British sensibilities.

First the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that France was America's "oldest ally", a clear snub of Britain for failing to back military action against Syria. Then U.S. President Barack Obama held a private meeting at the G20 in St. Petersburg with French President Francois Hollande, who is backing military action in Syria, but did not have one with British Prime Minister David Cameron, something remarked on at length by the British media. The final indignity also came at the G20 when a Russian official allegedly referred to Britain as "a small island no one pays any attention to."

That prompted Mr. Cameron to respond at length during a press conference in St. Petersburg, by listing just about every British accomplishment in the last 1,000 years.

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He cited the Second World War and Britain's role in wiping out fascism in Europe. He invoked Shakespeare, The Beatles and even pop sensation One Direction. He said Britain had "helped abolish slavery" and "invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world" (that last part might be news to hockey fans in Canada). Among his inventions were the television, the Internet and the industrial revolution, which historians might quibble with.

And he didn't stop there.

"We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilization," he told reporters.

"If I go on too long about our literature, our art, our philosophy, our contribution, including of course the world's language... if I start talking about this 'blessed plot, this sceptred isle, this England I might have to put it to music, so I think I'll leave it there."

Mr. Cameron wasn't the only one to respond to the alleged Russian slight which was initially attributed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and later denied by his officials.

Conservative MP Henry Smith said on Twitter: "Putin really is a tosser."

Mr. Smith later went further on the BBC: "I would say in other forums he's an absurd character. I think it's appalling and shameful what he did in protecting the Assad regime," he said.

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Others took to Twitter as well and rushed to Britain's defence.

"Yes Mr Putin, we may well be a small island but I dont believe the word Great is in front of Russia," wrote one person.

President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no idea where the comment had come from.

"I simply can't explain the source of that claim. Definitely it is nothing to do with reality. It is definitely not something I have said. I don't know whose views it reflects - it's nothing to do with us," he told reporters at the G20.

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