Brown must wait his turn to meet the new President Obama

Britain's "special relationship" with the US faced fresh scrutiny today after Downing Street hinted that Gordon Brown will not be the first European leader to visit President Obama.

Amid fears that French president Nicolas Sarkozy will beat Mr Brown to the White House, the Prime Minister's spokesman pointed out that "shared values" mattered more than meetings.

The spokesman pointed out that in 2000, then-president Jacques Chirac had been the first European to visit President Bush. "We would not attach too much importance to who meets whom when," the spokesman added.

Barack Obama

Shared values: Brown and Obama at 10 Downing Street. Their relationship will be very different to the one between blair and bush

But his remarks will be seized on by critics who believe that London's relations with Washington will be overshadowed by other nations with Mr Obama in office.

Others underline the dearth of new Labour figures attending today's inauguration, with junior minister David Lammy the most senior government politician in attendance.

Mr Brown was a strong supporter of Mr Obama's rival Hillary Clinton, and Britain's ambassador to Washington Sir Nigel Sheinwald faced embarrassment over a memo in which he criticised the former Illinois senator as "aloof".

The Prime Minister today led a Cabinet discussion on the inauguration. He emphasised the importance of working "very closely" with the incoming US administration.

His spokesman stressed that Mr Brown "may" watch today's inauguration speech but was focusing on "doing his job as British Prime Minister".

He added he was unsure whether Mr Brown would watch the speech live. "He may be able to find an opportunity during the day to keep on top of what is happening," he added.

Mr Brown was writing to President elect Obama to congratulate him on his appointment.

The spokesman added that the Government and Mr Obama shared a very similar approach to the big issues such as the global economy, the environment and the need for a fiscal stimulus.

"The Government shares many of the same values as president-elect Obama and his team and is adopting a similar approach as the incoming President has been setting out on big global challenges," the spokesman said.

He also pointed out that Mr Obama was coming to the G20 summit in London in April. But there are rumours that a planned trip by Mr Brown to Washington before the summit has been delayed.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now