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UK ambassador conveys concerns over Trump retweet to White House

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK ambassador conveys concerns over Trump retweet to White House” was written by Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th November 2017 12.37 UTC

Britain’s ambassador to the US has conveyed to the White House the government’s concerns about Donald Trump’s promotion on Twitter of material created by the far-right group Britain First, the Guardian understands.

Theresa May condemned the president’s decision on Wednesday to share propaganda videos tweeted by the deputy leader of Britain First and is expected to address the issue again in a speech in the Middle East on Thursday.

But government sources revealed that Sir Kim Darroch, the ambassador to Washington, had already raised the issue formally.

In Westminster, MPs lined up to condemn the president’s behaviour, and urge the government to formally cancel the state visit invitation made by May when she became the first world leader to visit the Trump White House last year.

At an urgent debate on the issue in the House of Commons, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs Trump was wrong to retweet propaganda from Britain First, but told his critics to remember the “bigger picture” of the UK’s close relationship with the US.

The home secretary was giving a statement in response to a question in the House of Commons tabled by Labour backbencher Stephen Doughty, about “the activities of Britain First, online hate speech and the sharing of inflammatory content online by the president of the United States, Donald Trump”.

Rudd reiterated Wednesday’s comments from Downing Street, saying: “We have been clear: President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by far-right group Britain First.”

But she refused to agree with several MPs’ demands that the planned state visit be formally cancelled.

Rudd said: “As home secretary I can tell the house that the importance of the relationship between our countries, the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries, it has undoubtedly saved British lives. That is the bigger picture here and I would urge people to remember that,” she said.

On Wednesday, Trump retweeted three Britain First videos, which May’s spokesman described as “the antithesis of the values this country respects”.

Overnight Trump responded: “[email protected], 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!”

Even Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader and an ally of Trump, said: “I do think these videos are very bad taste and he showed poor judgment. Of that I have no doubt at all.”

Speaking of the White House’s defence, he added: “I think that was a mistake. There are times when perhaps it’s better to put your hands up and say: ‘I got this wrong’ and frankly try to move on.”

When asked about the possibility of a state visit from Trump in parliament, Rudd restated the government’s long-held position that an invitation had been extended, and accepted – but no date had been set.

Privately, government ministers do not expect such a visit to take place in the foreseeable future, amid concerns about the possibility of widespread protests.

Chris Bryant, a senior Labour backbencher, has written to May urging her to go further, and officially ban Trump from entering the UK on the grounds he is condoning fascism and his presence is “not conducive to the public good”.

Bryant, a former Foreign Office minister, said the prime minister should issue a prohibition order against the president like those that apply to other far-right figures from the US.

He cited the cases of two US far-right bloggers, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who were banned by May in 2013 from entering the UK to take part in English Defence League rallies, as precedents for taking action against Trump.

In his letter to May, he said: “I am writing to you to ask you and the home secretary to take immediate action to ban the president of the United States, Donald Trump, from entering the United Kingdom, due to his apparent support for far-right groups in this country.

“In retweeting Jayda Fransen’s posts, it is absolutely clear to me that President Trump is supporting and condoning fascism and far-right activity. This activity has frequently taken the form of violence on our streets. Ms Fransen herself has a long history of racism and Islamophobia, some of it criminal. Many of the people you have rightly banned from entering the UK were guilty of less than this.”

In parliament, Doughty said the president’s decision to share Britain First material showed he was “racist, unthinking or incompetent – or all three”. He asked whether the prime minister had spoken to Trump about his tweets, and whether the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, would summon the US ambassador to discuss the issue.

The US president’s visit to the UK has been delayed over US fears about the potential scale of anti-Trump protests but No 10 has confirmed that the invitation still stands.

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said Labour would “bow to no one in our affection and respect for the American people”. But she added: “The fact that the 45th president chose to retweet material from Britain First is not just offensive to British people of Muslim heritage, it is not just offensive to British people of BME heritage, it is offensive to all British people, and it is also an attack on the values of this country.”

Briefing journalists on Thursday morning, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Firstly I should say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are law-abiding people who abhor extremism. The PM has been clear where Islamist extremism takes place it should be tackled head-on and we are working hard to do that both at home and internationally, including with our US partners.”

“For an example of that I would point you to the work the PM is doing with the US president and [the French leader] President [Emmanuel] Macron and others to get terrorist content removed from the internet as quickly as possible.”

David Lammy, a Labour MP, said Trump was “not welcome in my country and in my city”.

But Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP, wrote to Trump urging him to make time to visit diverse areas of the UK such as Manchester, Birmingham and Coventry, saying it would show him how Muslim communities are living peaceably in the UK.

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