UK News

British government's spat with Donald Trump over anti-Muslim retweets continues

File photo dated 27/01/17 of Prime Minister Theresa May meeting US President Donald Trump, who has told Mrs May "don't focus on me" after Downing Street said it was wrong for the president to share anti-Muslim videos posted online by the deputy leader of Britain First 

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has repeated Downing Street's condemnation of Donald Trump telling MPs the president was "wrong" to spread the messages of far-right group Britain First on Twitter.

But the home secretary urged critics of the president to remember the importance of the trans-Atlantic alliance to Britain.

The British government is facing demands for Mr Trump's planned state visit to the UK to be cancelled in the wake of his tweet which delivered a direct rebuke to Prime Minister Theresa May.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Mrs May should cancel the visit and demand an apology on behalf of the British people from the president, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable branded Mr Trump an "evil racist" whose invitation should be withdrawn.

Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, Ms Rudd denounced Britain First as "an extremist organisation which seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which spread lies and stoke tensions".

She added: "President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by the far-right group Britain First."

A British Cabinet minister has said she disagrees with Donald Trump's tweeted attack on Theresa May, but does not believe it should be allowed to detract from Britain's relationship with America and the American people.

Education Secretary Justine Greening was the first senior member of the British government to respond to the US President's message on Twitter telling Theresa May "don't focus on me", after Downing Street said it was wrong for him to have shared anti-Muslim videos posted online by far-right group Britain First.

In a virtually unprecedented social media rebuke by a head of state to the leader of a close ally, the US president said the British prime minister should instead "focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom".

Mr Trump caused outrage on Wednesday by retweeting three posts by Britain First's 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.

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 British prime minister's official spokesman said on Wednesday that Britain First was dedicated to causing division among communities and that the president had been "wrong" to share the posts.

Number 10's rebuke appears to have prompted Mr Trump to lash out in a late-night tweet.

The president originally addressed the tweet to @theresamay, who has just six followers, rather than the prime minister's account.

He later re-sent the tweet to tag the prime minister's correct Twitter handle, saying: "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!"

Asked about Mr Trump's comments about the British prime minister, Ms Greening told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In the end, our relationship with the United States has a longevity to it that will succeed long after presidents come and go.

"I don't agree with the tweet President Trump has made, but I have to say I also believe it should not distract from the agenda we have domestically and I don't believe it should detract from the close relationship the UK has had for many, many years and will go on to have with America and the American people.

"This is a president that behaves unlike any other in the nature of the tweets he puts out. I don't believe that should be abe to undermine an overall important relationship with our country."

Responding to Mr Trump's comments about radical Islamism in Britain, Ms Greening said: "The reality of what is happening in the UK is that this is a country united against terrorism and extremism, that has done a huge amount of work to combat that and is broadly a country at ease with itself in relation to being a very diverse place."

In its response to the president's original tweets on Wednesday, the British prime minister's official spokesman said: "Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people.

"British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect.

"It is wrong for the president to have done this."

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."

Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi shared a letter he has written to Mr Trump to register his "strong discontent" at the retweets.

Referencing Mr Trump's planned state visit to the UK, Mr Zahawi said: "You are soon due to visit the United Kingdom. When you are here, I believe you would find enlightening the experience of visiting our beautiful cities like Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester and London."

He added: "They are so far removed from the stereotypes that the videos of Britain First try to portray."

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 in fact born and raised in the Netherlands.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president had been seeking to "promote strong borders and strong national security".

The Prime Minister is currently on a tour of the Middle East.

Hours before Mr Trump's latest tweet, the Prime Minister's spokesman made clear the invitation for the president to make a state visit, made when Theresa May met Mr Trump in Washington in January, still stood.

Responding to Mr Trump's latest tweet, Brendan Cox, whose MP wife Jo was murdered by a man shouting "Britain first", told the president on Twitter: "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."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable described Mr Trump as an "evil racist" and called on Mrs May to cancel his planned visit to Britain.

Writing on Twitter, Sir Vince said: "New Donald Trump insult to Theresa May. She must end humiliating dependence of Brexit Britain on goodwill of evil racist. Cancel visit."

Speaker John Bercow has granted Labour MP Stephen Doughty an urgent question on Britain First and online hate speech.

It will take place in the Commons from approximately 10.30am.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said that Mr Trump's tweets had put Queen Elizabeth in a "very difficult and invidious position" because she would be his host for the planned state visit.

Mrs May had shown "bad judgment" and taken "the wrong approach right from the start" by making the offer of a state visit within weeks of him becoming president, she said.

Ms Thornberry told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The invitation wasn't Theresa May's invitation to make. The invitation technically comes from Queen Elizabeth.

"Now it puts the Queen into a very difficult and invidious position of entering into politics.

"If there is a way that this can be finessed, I would support that.

"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?

"Of course, the whole thing will be a total security nightmare if Donald Trump comes over."

Ms Thornberry said she was "very pleased" to see the PM "stand up to him at last", adding: "The Prime Minister was absolutely right to criticise.

"Isn't it extraordinary that we have got ourselves into a place whereby, despite all the political capital she has expended trying to get a good relationship with this man, he is trying to humiliate and belittle her in the way that he is?"

Ms Thornberry said: "There are Americans who are our friends, we share many values with America. But we don't share values with this man.

"And it isn't just on this issue, it's a series of other ones - the way in which he has this constantly shifting position on Nato, trying to undermine climate change agreements, threatening the deal with Iran, from Syria to North Korea his only response to difficult situations is increasing belligerence.

"This is not someone with whom we share values. Of course we need to work with America, but we need to be clear and stand up to him."

Mrs May will face questions about Mr Trump's tweet when she faces journalists after she makes a speech in Jordan at about 12.45 this afternoon.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was involved in an earlier Twitter spat with Mr Trump after the president criticised his response to the London terror attacks, repeated his call for the state visit to be cancelled and said Mrs May should demand an apology.

Mr Khan said: "President Trump yesterday used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country.

"Many Brits who love America and Americans will see this as a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries.

"It beggars belief that the president of our closest ally doesn't see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that makes Britain so great.

"As the mayor of this great diverse city, I have previously called on Theresa May to cancel her ill-judged offer of a state visit to President Trump.

"After this latest incident, 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."

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