London: Prime Minister Theresa May repeated today that US President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right group, but stressed that the US-UK’s “special relationship” would endure.
May’s initial condemnation prompted an extraordinary rebuke from the US leader, who told her on Twitter: “Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.”
Speaking to reporters during a trip to Jordan, the prime minister stood her ground, defending her record on tackling extremism — including by the far-right — while emphasising the strength of British-US ties.
“I’m very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do,” May said, describing the group as a “hateful” organisation that “seeks to spread division”.
But she stressed that Britain and the United States have “a long-term special relationship… it is an enduring relationship that is there because its is in both our nations’ interests”.
Trump’s retweets of a group known for its aggressively anti-Muslim stance have drawn condemnation in the United States and in Britain, where there were renewed calls for his planned state visit to be cancelled.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has himself been involved in a string of Trump Twitter spats, said the president’s actions were “a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries”.
May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump following his inauguration in January, where she offered him a prestigious state visit to Britain including a welcome by Queen Elizabeth II.
But opposition to the invitation has only grown, and Khan said today that it was “increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed”.
May said: “An invitation for a state visit has been extended and has been accepted. We have yet to set a date.”
The videos Trump retweeted, purporting to show assaults by Muslims, were posted by Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen, who has been convicted of a hate crime and faces new charges in a trial starting next month.
Local Government Minister Sajid Javid said Trump had “endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me”.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt added that Trump’s tweets were “alarming and despairing”, while angry opposition MPs called interior minister Amber Rudd to make an emergency statement to the House of Commons.
Addressing lawmakers, Rudd asked them to “look at the wider picture”, saying UK-US intelligence sharing had “undoubtedly saved British lives”.
But while she too emphasised the importance of bilateral ties, May rejected Trump’s criticism that she was not focused on tackling extremism, following a string of attacks in Britain this year.