Downing St hits back at Donald Trump after Theresa May criticism

0
Have your say

Downing Street has hit back at Donald Trump, after the US President told Theresa May to spend more time focusing on terrorism.

• READ MORE: Number 10 condemns Donald Trump for spreading Britain First videos

Asked about Mr Trump’s Twitter rebuke to Mrs May, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “Over her time as home secretary and as Prime Minister - and obviously in the wake of the tragic events over the summer - the Prime Minister is fully focused on dealing with extremism.”

The president’s late-night tweet prompted widespread calls for the cancellation of his planned state visit to the UK.

It came after Number 10 said he was “wrong” to circulate videos by the far right Britain First group among his millions of followers on Twitter.

A string of MPs demanded the cancellation of Mr Trump’s visit in an urgent debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, with some saying the Government should demand that the president apologise or delete his Twitter account.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded toTheresa May's criticism of his retweeting of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

U.S. President Donald Trump responded toTheresa May's criticism of his retweeting of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Home Secretary Amber Rudd made clear that Mr Trump’s trip had not been cancelled, telling MPs: “The invitation for the visit has been extended and accepted but the dates and precise arrangements have yet to be agreed.”

And Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was very clear that it was wrong to tweet these videos.

“But, as we have also said, the United States is one of our longest, closest, most special allies.

“The offer of a state visit has been extended. It has been accepted. We will set out the details in due course.”

Ms Rudd repeated Number 10’s statement that the president’s decision to retweet the videos was “wrong” in the House of Commons, and denounced Britain First as “an extremist organisation which seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which spread lies and stoke tensions”.

But she urged MPs to bear in mind the importance of the UK’s special relationship with the US when voicing their concerns.

“The importance of the relationship between our countries and the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries is vital,” said the Home Secretary.

“It has undoubtedly saved British lives. That is the big picture here, and I would urge people to remember that.”

Mrs May is likely face questions about Mr Trump’s tweet when she talks to journalists after a speech in Jordan on Thursday afternoon.

Asked whether the Government had contacted Washington to raise concerns directly with the Trump administration, her spokesman said: “Government officials speak with White House counterparts regularly, including over the last couple of days.”

Mr Trump caused outrage on Wednesday by retweeting three posts by Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen to his 43.6 million followers, including footage from the Netherlands purporting to show a Muslim migrant attacking a man on crutches.

• READ MORE: Anger after Donald Trump account retweets far right videos

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said Mr Trump had “endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me”, adding: “He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.”

The criticisms from London appear to have sparked a virtually-unprecedented social media rebuke by a head of state to the leader of a close ally, as Mr Trump used a late-night tweet to address Mrs May directly.

The president wrote: “@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!”

His comments sparked widespread demands for the cancellation of the state visit, which was offered by Mrs May during her visit to Washington in January and is expected to take place next year.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Mrs May should withdraw the invitation and demand an apology on behalf of the British people, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable branded Mr Trump an “evil racist” who should not be given the honour of a state visit.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Trump’s tweets were designed to “humiliate and belittle” the Prime Minister and had put the Queen in a “very difficult and invidious position” as his host for the planned state visit.

“If he comes next year, a year which is supposed to be a really happy year for the royal family, what on earth are people supposed to make of it?” asked Ms Thornberry.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mrs May was “absolutely right” to criticise Mr Trump’s initial tweet, adding: “There are Americans who are our friends, we share many values with America. But we don’t share values with this man.”

Fransen, 31, who was convicted last November of religiously aggravated harassment for hurling abuse at a Muslim woman in a hijab, welcomed Mr Trump’s rebuke to the PM, tweeting: “Well said Mr President! If Theresa May expressed as much outrage at the content of my videos as she has that Donald Trump retweeted them, we’d be a lot safer.”

Right-wing US commentator Ann Coulter, thought to have been the source through which Mr Trump came across the Britain First posts, said the president was right to hit back at Mrs May.

“I think he has only given as good as he gets,” Ms Coulter told the Today programme.

• READ MORE: Donald Trump criticised over ‘racist’ Pocahontas remark

“I think he has been verbally attacked from the mother country for a lot longer than he has been attacking Britain.”

Ms Coulter, who is one of only 45 people Mr Trump follows on Twitter, admitted she did not know who Britain First were and made no attempt to check the veracity of their videos, even by clicking on Fransen’s social media biography, before retweeting them.

The Britain First posts included unverified videos titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” and “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!”

The Dutch authorities said on Wednesday that the attacker in the first video was born and raised in the Netherlands.

Responding to Mr Trump’s latest tweet, Brendan Cox, whose MP wife Jo was murdered by a man shouting “Britain first”, told the president: “You have a mass shooting every single day in your country, your murder rate is many times that of the UK, your healthcare system is a disgrace, you can’t pass anything through a Congress that you control. I would focus on that.”

Commons Speaker John Bercow, who granted a debate on Mr Trump’s tweets, made clear his disapproval of the content of the videos shared by the president, telling MPs: “I thought the House would want urgently to express support for the victims of racism and bigotry and to denounce their purveyors.”

Mr Khan said Mr Trump’s promotion of “a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country” would be seen by many Britons as “a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries”.

The London mayor said: “It is increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed.

“The Prime Minister of our country should be using any influence she and her Government claim to have with the president and his administration to ask him to delete these tweets and to apologise to the British people.”

• READ MORE: Andy Murray mocks US President Donald Trump on Twitter

And Sir Vince Cable said: “Many of us warned when Theresa May walked hand in hand with Donald Trump that any relationship with such a racist was bound to end badly.

“Britain is now paying the price for her bad misjudgement. Theresa May’s extreme Brexit has alienated our European allies and now she has lost her last remaining friend on the world stage, leaving Britain isolated and alone.

“The solution is clear: an exit from Brexit and a divorce from Trump.”

Mrs May’s spokesman said: “The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are law-abiding people who abhor extremism in all its forms.

“The Prime Minister has been clear over a number of years that where Islamist extremism does exist it should be tackled head on. We are working hard to do that at home and internationally, including with our US partners.”