Winston Churchill's grandson weighs into National-Greens portrait controversy

Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill's grandson has criticised the New Zealand Parliament for choosing to "take down a picture" of the famous leader.

National's Judith Collins was furious on Wednesday when it emerged a portrait of Churchill, who led the United Kingdom during most of World War II, was being removed from a corridor in Parliament.

She said the portrait was being taken down "because the Greens don't like him", but Green Party MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, chair of the cross-party Parliamentary Art Committee, said it was to accommodate a new piece of art by a Tangata Whenua artist.

Churchill's grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, has now caught wind of the controversy.

The former Conservative UK Government minister who left Parliament at the 2019 election after revolting against Boris Johnson and his Brexit plan, told UK media outlet "It’s rather a pity that a Commonwealth country and an ally of the United Kingdom would choose to take down a picture of my grandfather."

Dr Julian Lewis, a current Conservative MP who chairs the UK's Intelligence and Security Committee and formerly chaired the Defence Select Committee, said New Zealand's armed forces had a "heroic record" fighting alongside Brits against "Naziism and Japanese imperialism". 

"Those veterans would undoubtedly be disgusted at the perversity, historical illiteracy and total inappropriateness of the decision."

But they shouldn't fear. Dr Kerekere told Newshub on Wednesday that Churchill's painting was a "significant work that will remain on permanent display in a public area of Parliament". It's unclear where the painting will be located, but Collins said it would be finding a home in National's offices.

National MP Simon O'Connor's launched a petition calling for the portrait to be returned to the "halls of Parliament". 

"A remarkable leader, Churchill was responsible for leading the fight against fascism and authoritarianism during the 20th century, and standing up for the freedoms we enjoy today.  While he was by no means perfect, it is important that his history is preserved, and what he signified during his lifetime is remembered."

Churchill, who was Prime Minister of the UK between 1940 and 1945, and then again from 1951 to 1955, is best known for his leadership during World War II and is regarded by many as one of the UK's greatest leaders. However, he has also received scrutiny for his imperialist views, racist comments, and for policies of his contributing to a famine in India in 1943. Britain's bombing of Germany's Dresden in 1945, under Churchill's leadership, is also controversial as some assert its high death toll was not proportionate to its need.

While National fumed over the portrait being shifted, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had better things to focus on

"I personally do not care where portraits hang in Parliament - I care about what we do in this place. We've got a responsibility to look after New Zealanders in a massive crisis we're facing."