Theresa May rebuked Donald Trump’s state visit on Thursday over his sharing of propaganda videos from far-right group Britain First while the UK’s ambassador to Washington confirmed he had formally complained to the White House about the president’s offending tweets.
Choosing her words carefully, the prime minister said: “I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do,” while British diplomats waited in vain for the president to delete the tweets or offer any kind of apology.
May and other ministers tried to limit the damage by stressing the importance of Britain’s historic links with the US.
But on one of the darkest days for the transatlantic “special relationship”, an emergency debate in parliament heard MPs from all parties criticise the president as questions continued about whether he should be accorded a state visit as planned in 2018.
The justice minister, Sam Gyimah, said on BBC Question Time that he was “deeply uncomfortable” about the prospect of Trump visiting Britain but that it was “above his pay grade” as to what happened.
“I am deeply uncomfortable because he is deliberately divisive, and this would be divisive at a time when we are trying to unite our country,” he said.
Speaking in Amman, Jordan, May said: “The fact that we work together does not mean that we are afraid to say when we think that the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them. I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.
“Britain First is a hateful organisation. It seeks to spread division and mistrust in our communities. It stands in fundamental opposition to the values that we share as a nation – values of respect, tolerance and, dare I say it, common decency.”
Trump retweeted three videos from the account of Britain First’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen – and later stoked the furore by sending another, late-night tweet urging May to focus on combating terrorism instead of criticising him.
Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, confirmed on Thursday that he had personally raised the issue of the tweets with the White House on Wednesday. He tweeted: “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which seek to divide communities & erode decency, tolerance & respect.”