K E Y P O I N T S
Donald Trump has hit back at Theresa May after she criticised him for retweeting video propaganda produced by the UK’s far-right fringe ‘Britain First’ group.
In signs of huge strain on the “special relationship”, the US President told the British Prime Minister to “focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place” within the UK.
Trump shared three inflammatory anti-Islam videos spread by Britain First’s Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen, and has faced cross-party criticism from the UK for spreading hate.
But Trump appears unapologetic, tweeting: “Theresa May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
P A U L W A U G H V E R D I C T
Trump’s retweets confirm his determination to both excuse and deploy far-right, white supremacist lies to exploit his own voters’ fears about migration. What’s truly shocking perhaps is that anyone, particularly in No.10, should still be shocked by that.
Those of us who travelled with the prime minister in January were struck by just how determined she was to swallow any political difficulties over getting close to Trump.
But what was most extraordinary was the way a State Visit (playing on Trump’s vanity of meeting the Queen) was used as a bargaining chip, without any serious consideration of the reputational risk to Her Majesty and her government.
That’s because of one thing: Brexit. With the trading partnerships in Europe at risk, the trading relationship with the US is all the more critical.
Amid fresh protectionist moves from the White House, the Brits are learning that Trump really means it when he says ‘America First’. We may end up relying more on EU trade than many thought.
Number 10 is making it clear that the visit is still on but it has been put on the back-burner and all sorts of ways of downgrading it considered. Forget the snap election, inviting Trump to the UK could turn out to be one of the worst decisions of May’s political life.
W H A T H A P P E N S N E X T?
The big question is what this means for a state visit, which had been mooted for next year. Will it even be possible?
It’s not just the awkwardness of a visit after such a public spat but the fact that there will be huge public demonstrations against the president.
There is an Urgent Question about it due in parliament at 10.30am.
The Government has maintained it will still happen. Theresa May rushed to Washington in January to be the first foreign leader Trump met as president and immediately offered the state visit.
The boldness of the gesture reflected her power at the time – a Conservative prime minister who was destined, most thought, to crush Jeremy Corbyn at the next election.
Now, the prime minister is a weak leader of a minority government who lacks the political capital it would cost to revoke what she offered so grandly just ten months ago.