Jeremy Hunt has vigorously defended Donald Trump for quoting the far-right commentator Katie Hopkins in an attack on the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, as Downing Street declined to condemn the US president’s words.
The foreign secretary said he would not have used the same words as Trump, but that he would “150% agree” with the overall sentiment.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said the US president should “stick to domestic politics”.
The Hopkins post referred to the capital as “Khan’s Londonistan”, as well as “stab-city” following the deaths of three men in separate attacks on Friday and Saturday.
Trump then sent a tweet of his own a few hours later, saying Khan “is a national disgrace who is destroying the City of London”.
Hunt later partly reversed his position, re-tweeting a message from the former Tory party chair Sayeeda Warsi in which she said Hunt had privately assured her that he “abhors Katie Hopkins, her disgusting views and everything she stands for”.
In a second tweet, Warsi said of Hunt: “He believes the term Londonistan is offensive and would never endorse sentiments that try and frame London’s knife crime challenge as a racial or religious phenomenon.”
There was no direct comment from Hunt, or criticism of Trump for re-tweeting Hopkins’ message.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said the stance of Hunt and No 10 was shocking and showed the Conservative party had a serious problem with Islamophobia.
Theresa May swiftly criticised Trump in 2017 after he forwarded videos from the far-right group Britain First. She has made no comment on Trump’s endorsement of Hopkins’ tweet .
Asked about the tweets during a media hustings event for Conservative leadership candidates in parliament, Hunt said: “President Trump has his own style. I wouldn’t use those words myself, but the sentiment is enormous disappointment that we have a mayor of London who has completely failed to tackle knife crime, and spent more time on politics than the actual business of making London safer, and in that I 150% agree with the president.”
Asked whether No 10 had any views on Trump’s tweets, May’s spokesman said: “The mayor of London has issued his own response in relation to that. As the mayor rightly said this morning, violent crime has no place in London or anywhere else in this country.”
Pressed on whether there was any response to the content of Trump’s tweets, he said: “It’s a matter for the US in terms of what events they comment upon. Politicians in the UK comment upon events in the US.”
Asked whether May had previously challenged Trump over his seemingly misconceived views on London’s crime rates, the spokesman said he was unable to say: “Obviously, there have been a number of occasions where the prime minister has discussed points with the US on which we disagree,” he said
An MCB spokesman said: “When facing Islamophobia, many Muslims are most hurt when others stand by and do nothing. Trump’s endorsement of a bigot has nothing to do with the rising knife crime that we all are concerned about and everything to do with his divisive agenda.
“For Downing Street to refuse to comment and our foreign secretary and potentially future prime minister to agree with the ‘sentiment’ of this known Islamophobe, without condemning the clear bigoted intent behind it, is shocking. It is still further proof that Islamophobia is given a free pass at the highest echelons of the Conservative party.”
During the media hustings, Javid criticised the president. He said: “I think that President Trump should stick to domestic politics. I think it’s unbecoming for a leader of such a great state to keep trying to interfere in other countries’ domestic policies.
“The president is right to be concerned about serious violence. He should be concerned about the serious violence in his own country, which is more than 10 times higher than it is in the UK.”
Michael Gove mildly criticised Trump, saying: “I think it always a mistake to retweet anything that Katie Hopkins tweets.”
Rory Stewart, the international development secretary and another leadership hopeful, also declined to criticise Trump, saying such actions should take place in private. “You should be firm, you should talk about your national interests, you should talk about it politely, you should talk about it very clearly and you should do it privately,” he said.
Stewart later changed his stance, tweeting: “I 100% disagree with both the language and the sentiment of the last sentence of this tweet. Can all candidates please confirm the same.”
Trump’s post followed the stabbing to death of a man in Wandsworth, south-west London, shortly before 4.45pm on Friday, while another man was shot dead in Greenwich, in the south-east of the city, at about 5pm the same day. On Saturday afternoon, a man in his 30s was stabbed to death in Tower Hamlets, east London.