Senior figures in the Conservative Party have backed Donald Trump in his row with Sadiq Khan after the US president branded the London mayor a “stone cold loser”.
Barely minutes before Air Force One landed at Stansted Airport for a three-day state visit, Mr Trump launched a shocking Twitter tirade on Mr Khan, with whom he has sparred publicly several times in the past.
The US president said Mr Khan has “done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly “nasty” to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom”.
Mr Trump added: “He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me.”
In a follow-up tweet, Mr Trump said: “Kahn reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, [Bill] de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job - only half his height.”
Mr Trump’s tweets followed comments by Mr Khan on Sunday, in which he described the president as "just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat" and compared the language he has used to that of the "fascists of the 20th century".
On Monday, a spokesman for Mr Khan said: "This is much more serious than childish insults which should be beneath the President of the United States.
"Sadiq is representing the progressive values of London and our country, warning that Donald Trump is the most egregious example of a growing far-right threat around the globe, which is putting at risk the basic values that have defined our liberal democracies for more than 70 years."
But Mr Trump’s controversial comments were backed by a number of senior Tories, including two leadership candidates eager to fill the void that will be left by prime minister Theresa May when she officially steps down at the end of this week.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who welcomed Mr Trump at Stansted Airport, said: "The president does what the president does but let's ask why he was so angry when he did that tweet and I think the very simple reason is he's been shown great discourtesy."
"What I would say is for Sadiq Khan and the Labour Party to be boycotting the state visit of the president of the United States, who has been invited here not by Theresa May but by Her Majesty the Queen, to celebrate a relationship that goes back centuries but just 75 years ago saw a million American servicemen on our soil land ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for our liberty, is I'm afraid, virtue-signalling of the worst kind."
Mr Hunt tweeted that he was “proud to be at Stansted this morning” to greet Mr Trump.
Tory leadership Esther McVey told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “Sadiq Khan… is showing himself to be very sort of churlish, childish, and when you’ve got such an important big visitor to the country it’s disrespectful as well.
“I think Sadiq really is virtue signalling, maybe distracting from what he’s not getting right and I think Donald Trump did hit possibly a raw nerve.”
And prominent Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told talkRADIO: “I’m backing Mr Trump in this row.
“I think what the mayor of London said was deeply disgraceful. I think Mr Khan demeans his office, demeans the nation, what he has said is quite wrong and deeply improper.”
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed Mr Khan and protesters who plan to demonstrate on Tuesday against Mr Trump’s state visit.
Mr Corbyn tweeted: "Tomorrow's protest against Donald Trump's state visit is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with those he's attacked in America, around the world and in our own country - including, just this morning, @SadiqKhan."