Trump says he cancelled visit to Britain because he is unhappy with location and price tag of new embassy

British Prime Minister Theresa May invited US President Donald Trump for a state visit in 2017.
British Prime Minister Theresa May invited US President Donald Trump for a state visit in 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump cancelled a visit to London scheduled for early this year, saying he was disappointed with the “Obama administration having sold” the US embassy in the British capital.

“(The) reason I canceled my trip to London is that 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 dollars,” Trump said in a tweet late on Thursday (Jan 11).

However, the embassy website showed that the decision to move the location was taken months before Mr Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

The US Embassy & Consulates in the UK said in October 2008 the embassy would be relocated for security reasons. “Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.

British media reports earlier reported that the cancellation was over concerns that there would be mass protests in Britain. Mr Trump is understood to be sending US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson instead, according to the Independent.

British Prime Minister Theresa May invited Mr Trump for a state visit when she became the first world leader to visit the President in the White House a year ago.

With activists pledging to stage mass protests and MPs determined not to give the President the opportunity to address Parliament, no date for a state visit has been set, The Guardian reported.

Instead, it had been expected that Mr Trump would make a brief, less formal "working visit" next month, to cut the ribbon on the US$1-billion (S$1.33-billion) embassy in Nine Elms, south-west London, and hold meetings with Mrs May.

The White House has yet to respond to the reports, while Downing Street declined to comment on the particular case. However, reports have suggested that the British government was aware the "working visit" had been postponed, according to the Independent.

British MPs have repeatedly called for the offer of a state visit for Mr Trump to be withdrawn, following his crackdown on immigration from majority-Muslim countries and promotion of far-right group Britain First on Twitter. The latter controversy sparked a diplomatic spat between Mrs May and Mr Trump, after the Prime Minister condemned the US President's actions.

This week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson brushed off suggestions that a state visit to Britain by Mr Trump should be scrapped.

It followed claims by Michael Wolff, author of an explosive new book about Mr Trump, that the US President would use a visit to "Trumpalise the Queen and Buckingham Palace", Sky News reported.

The United States is leaving behind its imposing 1960 stone and concrete embassy in London’s upmarket Grosvenor Square – an area known as "Little America" during World War II, when the square also housed the military headquarters of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

The new embassy on the South Bank overlooking the River Thames is a veritable fortress set back at least 30m from surrounding buildings – mostly newly erected high-rise residential blocks - and incorporating living quarters for the US Marines permanently stationed inside.  The cost of construction was wholly funded by the sale of other properties in London.

The State Department agreed to sell the existing embassy building  to Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment in 2009 to fund the relocation. The investors have sought approval to turn the building into a hotel, according to the project’s website.