Opposition members of parliament call for government response after US president appears to endorse tweets by notorious far-right activist
US President Donald Trump has been condemned by the UK prime minister’s office for retweeting anti-Muslim videos – but his state visit still seems to be going ahead.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday afternoon: "British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents -- decency, tolerance and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”
But there was no mention of Trump’s state visit to the UK, planned for next year - despite cross-party calls for it to be cancelled.
No 10 - Trump is wrong to have posted the messages, but plans for the state visit remain in place
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) November 29, 2017
Trump faced condemnation in the UK and elsewhere after appearing to endorse Islamophobic tweets posted by the deputy leader of a far-right group described by one anti-racism group as a "rampant anti-Muslim activist".
Three tweets originally posted by Jayda Fransen, whose Britain First organisation has been accused of creating a "climate of fear" in Muslim communities, were retweeted overnight by the US President's @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.
Fransen was charged earlier this month in Belfast with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" during a rally in the Northern Irish capital in August and is considered one of Britain First's most high-profile activists.
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Trump's account has more than 43 million followers and the retweets were seized on by Fransen as an endorsement.
"GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA! OCS," the tweet said. "OCS" is an abbreviation used by Britain First meaning "Onward Christian Soldiers", a reference to what anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate has called the organisation's "Christian identity politics".
The retweets, which all contained Islamophobic content, prompted outrage in the UK.
The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group representing many mosques, Muslim charities and organisations, said the tweets represented the "clearest endorsement yet from the US president of the far right and their vile anti-Muslim propaganda".
The Muslim Council of Britain comments on President Trump sharing anti-Muslim videos from the far right pic.twitter.com/rYOlUkLxUj
— MCB (@MuslimCouncil) November 29, 2017
The Jewish Board of Deputies, which represents Jewish communities in the UK, called on Trump to delete the tweets and "make clear his opposition to all sorts of racism and hatred".
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) November 29, 2017
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and the most senior bishop in the Anglican church, also denounced Trump's posts.
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) November 29, 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May is currently on a visit to the Middle East, and Bercow said he did not expect a government minister to respond to the tweets immediately.
Trump taunted May in a tweet that said she should "focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom". In the tweet, Trump tagged incorrectly tagged Theresa May and instead posted a handle that does not belong not the prime minister.
Trump later deleted the tweet and put it back up with the correct tag.
Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Yvette Cooper, a former home affairs spokesperson for the opposition Labour party, called for the government to condemn the tweets and raise the matter directly with Trump.
"Given the significance and seriousness of the president of the United States giving her such a huge platform does he not think it would be appropriate for us to hear some word of condemnation, and raising this from the home secretary or the foreign secretary?" Cooper asked House of Commons speaker John Bercow.
Cooper's words were echoed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who said Trump's retweets were "abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society".
I hope our Government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump. They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 29, 2017
David Lammy, also a Labour MP, pointed out on Twitter that the name of Britain First had been the words shouted by a far-right activist convicted of shooting dead Lammy's parliamentary colleague Jo Cox last year.
"The president of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted," wrote Lammy.
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
Brendan Cox, Jo Cox's widower, said that Trump had "legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours".
Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) November 29, 2017
Sayeeda Warsi, the first British Muslim woman to hold a cabinet post, quit the Conservative-led coalition government in 2014 in protest at its failure to condemn Israel's assault on Gaza. The former Conservative party chair said Trump’s support was condemned by politicians from all sides:
Parliamentarians on the right and left of politics are appalled by @realDonaldTrump and his ongoing relationship with far right bigots.#Trumps unambiguous and unapologetic support for #BritainFirst is not conducive to the public good and a basis for a ban on all future visits https://t.co/dKum5EswDU
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) November 29, 2017
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also called for May to publicly condemn Trump.
The President of the US has just retweeted a convicted British fascist. @theresa_may must publicly condemn him immediately. We cannot stand by and watch @realDonaldTrump spew this hate. https://t.co/IrpUUDnbe8
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) November 29, 2017
Britain First has been described by anti-racism group Hope Not Hate as "the most dangerous group to have emerged on the British far-right scene for several years. Its confrontational tactics are attracting huge publicity and could potentially lead to a violent backlash".
Donald Trump just retweeted Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of hate group Britain first and notorious anti-Muslim activist.
Read more: https://t.co/hN7rRDljY1#BritainFirst #JaydaFransen pic.twitter.com/SiGiGpPd5a
— HOPE not hate (@hopenothate_USA) November 29, 2017
Trump has faced criticism previously in the US over his courting of support among far-right organisations and for cutting funding for counter-extremism rehabilitation projects targeting neo-Nazis.
In June Middle East Eye reported on how Trump had cut a $400,000 programme called Life After Hate which worked with former members of white supremacist groups as government counter-extremism efforts were directed exclusively at Muslims.
That focus has been condemned by civil liberties groups who accused Trump of "legitimising" far-right white extremism.
Concerns have previously been raised by British MPs about Trump's association with far-right extremists, including his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the far-right Breitbart News website.
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In February, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi suggested that the US president should be referred to the UK's controversial Prevent counter-extremism programme during a touted visit to the country.
"We say that Prevent is about British values. I am not making a joke of this, but the President of the USA, through what he has said and his executive orders, has contravened every single fundamental British value,” said Qureshi.
"When he comes to the UK, he should be put in the Prevent programme, along with his adviser, Steve Bannon, who is a right-wing fascist and white supremacist. Both should be put in the Prevent programme when they come to the UK."
Trump was originally invited by May to make a full state visit to the UK, but details of when the trip will take place have yet to be confirmed following a public backlash over the invitation.