President Trump’s working visit to the United Kingdom has been canceled after a spat with British Prime Minister about some of the President’s recent tweets.
The President has long been known as a fast and loose tweeter, a habit which has garnered criticism from opponents and supporters alike. Two nights ago, the President retweeted three anti-Islamic videos posted by minor far-right political party Britain First, sparking a controversy that has rekindled debate among the UK public as to whether he is, in fact, welcome in the country.
Trump was scheduled to travel to Britain in January of 2018 to open a new London embassy, but it now appears that the trip has been postponed with no new date announced. According to The Daily Telegraph, a senior US Diplomat said that “The idea of a visit has obviously been floated, but not December and not January. I would not expect a Trump visit in January.”
THE BACKGROUND: BRITAIN FIRST
It is not necessarily the actual content of the tweets that has so outraged the British public, but rather the source of the material. The President retweeted videos posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the Britain First political party, until now a relatively small force. Widely accepted as a far right, anti-Islamic party, Britain First describes itself as a “patriotic resistance” and campaigns to “restore Christianity as the bedrock and foundation of our national life as it has been for the last one thousand years.”
Party activities have included uniformed “Christian patrols,” and mosque “invasions,” with Fransen herself having been recently convicted of religiously motivated verbal abuse and has another court case pending on a similar offense.
The party is a particularly sore spot for British politicos following the 2016 murder of left-wing parliamentarian Jo Cox by a mentally ill man who witnesses say shouted “put Britain first” or something similar before shooting and stabbing her to death. Britain First themselves insist that they are not a racist party, but rather a resistance to the growing Islamification of their local communities.
The fact is that it’s highly unlikely President Trump had ever heard of Britain First before making his tweets, which appear to have reached his attention via Ann Coulter whom he follows on Twitter. While the President may not have intentionally aligned himself with a far-right party, it’s questionable whether he should be sending out tweets without making himself fully aware of the facts involved.
UK RESPONSE: GENUINE PROTEST OR VIRTUE SIGNALLING?
The British response to Trump’s tweets has been one of almost universal condemnation. A flurry of repudiations came from politicians and social commentators, with many calling for him to be banned from the country. Member of Parliament David Lammy was among those openly stating that President Trump was unwelcome in the UK:
Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) November 29, 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May said that “The fact we work together does not mean we’re afraid to say when we think the US has got it wrong. I’m very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do,” although she didn’t move to cancel the President’s upcoming visit to Britain, as many Trump critics urged her to do.
Others have questioned why the public debate has focused almost exclusively on the source of the videos, rather than the content of the videos themselves. While one has so far been debunked as false, the remaining two appear to depict an Islamic radical breaking a Virgin Mary statue, while the other shows a teenage boy being killed by Islamists in Egypt, 2013.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE “SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP”?
While these tweets have triggered a furor of outrage among the British political class, has it changed much? It appears that Trump has played into the hands of his opponents, who have been campaigning to ban him from entering the UK since he was elected. A petition to stop the President from visiting the UK achieved almost two million signatures earlier this year and the President’s state visit was downgraded to a “working visit” in October, amid fears of widespread protests.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, possibly best known for his Twitter feud with Trump last June, used the Britain First tweets to urge the Prime Minister to, “cancel her ill-judged offer of a state visit to President Trump,” a mere continuation of a campaign Khan has been waging to stop the President from visiting the UK for months.
Other members of the British public have questioned the wisdom of banning the democratically elected leader of Britain’s closest ally, but it seems the matter may well be moot, with Trump himself canceling the visit. Theresa May called the President’s tweets “wrong,” and it appears Trump has taken the matter personally.