Downing Street has accused Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan of jeopardising relations with America for telling Donald Trump he is not welcome in Britain, after the US president called off a planned visit to London in the face of likely mass protests.
In a move that reinforces Theresa May’s determination to remain publicly close to Trump, despite accusations of racism and his liaisons with the far right, Downing Street backed an accusation from the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, that Labour was risking transatlantic ties.
After Trump confirmed in the early hours of Friday that he would not come to officially open the new US embassy, Khan, the London mayor, said the president was not welcome in the city and had “finally got that message”.
Corbyn previously called for people to protest when Trump attended the embassy opening to send the president “a clear message” on actions such as his retweets of the far-right Britain First group.
Johnson tweeted : “The US is the biggest single investor in the UK – yet Khan & Corbyn seem determined to put this crucial relationship at risk. We will not allow US-UK relations to be endangered by some puffed up pompous popinjay in City Hall.”
The comment initially seemed to take No 10 by surprise and a spokesman initially dismissed the idea that Khan had damaged relations: “No, the US and the UK are natural resilient strong partners and allies and we do more together than any two countries in the world.”
But soon afterwards, Johnson’s comments were endorsed. A Downing Street source said: “Boris expresses himself in his own inimitable way – but we agree that any risk to the crucial US-UK relationship is not in our country’s best interests.”
Trump tweeted that he would not visit to open the embassy, saying the decision was because Barack Obama had sold the previous building in Grosvenor Square “for peanuts” and built an expensive replacement in a poor location in south London. In fact, the move was first planned when George W Bush was president.
Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
Trump is still due to make a state visit to the UK, following an invitation made by May when she visited him shortly after his inauguration. This has been placed on hold, again seemingly due to the threat of protests.
Khan said: “It appears that President Trump got the message from the many Londoners who love and admire America and Americans but find his policies and actions the polar opposite of our city’s values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.
“His visit next month would, without doubt, have been met by mass peaceful protests. This just reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place.”
The London mayor, who has previously criticised Trump over his comments on terror attacks and immigration policy targeting Muslims, will reiterate his opposition in a speech on Saturday.
Populist movements are “playing on people’s worst fears and creating space for extreme views on immigration, diversity and equality”, Khan is due to tell the Fabian Society’s annual conference. “We’ve seen the impact of this in the US and we cannot allow this narrative to take hold in Britain.”
A Downing Street spokesman said there had never been a confirmation that Trump would open the embassy: “As we’ve said a number of times, a state visit invitation has been extended and accepted, and we will confirm the details in due course.”
He said May and Trump enjoyed a good relationship, adding: “The US is one of our oldest and most valued allies, and our strong and deep partnership will endure.”
The president’s complaints about the new embassy building were contradicted by the US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, who was appointed by Trump.
Writing in London’s Evening Standard newspaper, Johnson said the move from central London to Nine Elms, next to Battersea, was forced by security concerns after 11 September. The new building was the most advanced US embassy in the world and “did not cost the US taxpayer a cent”, he said, being financed by the sale of the old site and other London properties.
It had been expected that Trump would use the embassy visit to hold meetings with May. Officials had been examining plans for him to meet the Queen without a full-blown state banquet.