Donald Trump attacks May over her criticism of his far-right retweets

Donald Trump has publicly rebuked Theresa May over her criticism of anti-Muslim propaganda, opening an extraordinary diplomatic spat between the transatlantic allies.

“Theresa@theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom,” the US president tweeted on Wednesday evening. “We are doing just fine!”

Trump’s message came in response to criticism from the British prime minister’s spokesman over the president’s retweeting of incendiary videos posted by the deputy leader of a British far-right group.

However, the “@theresamay” Twitter handle that Trump targeted does not belong to the British prime minister, but to a woman called Theresa Scrivener. Minutes later Trump deleted and reposted the tweet, this time with the correct handle: @Theresa_May.

The angry tirade, crowning one of the most wayward days yet of Trump’s presidency, earned a swift putdown from the US senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who met May at Downing Street last week to discuss terrorism threats to both countries. He tweeted: “PM @theresa_may is one of the great world leaders, I have incredible love and respect for her and for the way she leads the United Kingdom, especially in the face of turbulence.”

May, who is in Jordan as part of a tour of the Middle East, did not immediately respond to the personal rebuke from Trump. She is due to deliver a major speech on Thursday outlining her hopes for increasing UK influence in the region after Brexit.

But her trip, during which May also visited Saudi Arabia and Iraq – the first British PM to do so in nearly a decade – is being overshadowed by questions over the behaviour of Trump. May’s officials declined repeated requests on Thursday morning for a response to the new tweet.

It is expected that the prime minister will deal with the issue in questions after her speech, which will address the UK’s involvement in Middle East security, including training for Iraqi forces to clear Mosul and Raqqa of explosive devices left by Isis as it fled, and more security assistance for Jordan.