Britain blames threat of protests as Trump cancels London trip

A Madame Tussauds wax figure of US President Donald Trump outside the new US Embassy in south-west London.
A Madame Tussauds wax figure of US President Donald Trump outside the new US Embassy in south-west London.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The British government has blamed the threat of mass protests for US President Donald Trump's decision to cancel a visit to London to open the new US Embassy, and warned that criticism of the White House risked harming US-British relations.

Mr Trump said on Friday that he was abandoning next month's trip because he did not like the location and cost of the new embassy building.

But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested that the decision was prompted by opposition to Mr Trump in Britain, and warned that such critics "seem determined to put this crucial relationship at risk".

Prime Minister Theresa May offered Mr Trump a state visit to Britain one year ago, when she became the first foreign leader to visit the White House after his inauguration. But the date has yet to be set in the face of deep hostility to the American leader in Britain, prompting speculation it could be turned into a lower-profile trip focused on the opening of the new embassy.

Mr Trump tweeted overnight that he would not attend the ceremony, initially scheduled for next month. "I am not a big fan of the Obama administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts', only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion US dollars (S$1.5 billion)," he wrote. "Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon - NO!"

The embassy move from central London to a regenerated area on the south bank of the River Thames is in fact the result of a decade-long project initiated by the administration of former Republican president George W. Bush.

Mr Trump's decision not to visit was welcomed by critics outraged by the US travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries, and more recently, his decision to re-tweet anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right organisation.

"Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he's finally got that message," tweeted London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Mr Khan, a member of the main opposition Labour Party, said there would have been "mass peaceful protests", and that it was a "mistake" to invite him.

The embassy's new cube-shaped building is designed by American architect KieranTimberlake and will be open for business on Tuesday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'Britain blames threat of protests as Trump cancels London trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe