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Theresa May under growing pressure to cancel Trump's state visit after he promotes Britain First

Theresa May has called the President 'wrong' for promoting posts from the far-right group

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 29 November 2017 23:10 GMT
Donald Trump criticised for Britain First retweets

Theresa May’s ties with Donald Trump are under intense pressure after the Prime Minister openly attacked the President for promoting a British far-right extremist organisation to his 44 million social media followers.

Ms May branded Mr Trump “wrong” for posting anti-Muslim propaganda videos previously published by a leading figure in the Britain First group.

The White House brushed aside the Downing Street criticism and defended the President’s actions, despite one of the films allegedly showing an act of violence by a Muslim having been proved false.

As the firestorm grew, furious MPs demanded Ms May withdraw an outstanding invitation for a state visit that was made early in her premiership because Mr Trump is “not welcome”.

Their anger was echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who called the President’s posts “deeply disturbing”, by anti-racism campaigners and also the husband of Jo Cox MP who was murdered by a right-wing extremist who screamed “Britain first”.

In the wake of the row, deputy Britain First leader Jayda Fransen, who originally posted the videos, capitalised on the publicity with television interviews and uploaded new footage of herself calling on Mr Trump to intervene in a court case against her.

The incident is the latest and most alarming intervention by the American leader that has caused Ms May embarrassment, following her decision to pursue a close relationship with the right-wing President.

Within hours of the anti-Muslim films going up, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman tried to distance Number 10 from Mr Trump’s posts, saying: “It is wrong for the President to have done this.”

The spokesman was unable to say whether she would confront Mr Trump directly over Twitter messages, if she would demand he delete them or if her criticism would be raised with the US Government in any way.

But, he did say: “Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people

“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.”

He also indicated that the state visit invitation extended to Mr Trump still stood regardless of the incident.

The President retweeted three videos from Britain First on Wednesday morning with one carrying the caption “Muslim migrants beating up a Dutch boy on crutches”, another claimed to show an “Islamist mob” pushing a teenager off a roof and beating him to death while a third allegedly showed a Muslim man destroying a Virgin Mary statue.

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The videos have not been independently verified, but at least one has been discredited by the site that first posted it, which wrote that the attacker in the film was not a migrant or a Muslim. All three are more than six months old and two date back as early as 2013.

With the fallout spreading across the Atlantic, Mr Trump’s officials scrambled to defend his actions and said they were legitimate regardless of whether one of the videos were real or not.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: “Whether it's a real video, the threat is real.”

Theresa May was the first world leader to visit Donald Trump's White House, where she was pictured holding hands with him

“His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”

Ms Sanders maintained the videos did not need to be verified, claiming the media was focusing on “the wrong thing”.

She added: “I'm not talking about the nature of the video...the threat is real, what the President is talking about – the need for national security and military spending – those are very real things, there’s nothing fake about that.”

Asked to respond to Ms May’s denunciation, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said: “The President has the greatest respect for the British people and for Prime Minister May.”

A question was raised by Labour MP Stephen Doughty over the tweets in the House of Commons, where MPs could be heard calling them “absolutely disgraceful”.

Yvette Cooper, the former shadow Home Secretary, urged Amber Rudd or Boris Johnson to condemn the “significant and serious” posts.

“The woman in question has already been convicted of hate crime in this country,” she added, warning that Mr Trump had given her a “huge platform”.

Chuka Umunna MP was among those calling for Mr Trump's state visit invitation to be withdrawn immediately, accusing the President of “normalising hatred”.

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“At some point you've got to draw a line, or you're going down a very dangerous road,” he added.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, said he had gone “beyond the pale...promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group”, adding: “He is no ally or friend of ours. Donald Trump, you are not welcome in my country and my city.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: "I hope our Government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump. They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society."

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, accused the President of sowing division and hatred, saying: “The mask has yet again slipped, revealing the atrocious views of President Trump.

Jeremy Corbyn called Mr Trump's tweets 'abhorrent' (Getty Images)

“Mr Trump needs to do the world a favour and delete his account.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged the President to remove the posts from his timeline, saying: “It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists.”

Brendan Cox, the husband deceased MP Jo Cox, said Mr Trump had “legitimised the far-right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours”.

“Spreading hatred has consequences and the President should be ashamed of himself,” he added.

Brendan Cox gives his statement after the sentencing of Thomas Mair, who murdered his wife (Getty)

Ms Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist who repeatedly shouted “Britain first” during his brutal attack, although it was unclear whether he was referring to the group and he was also supported by the neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action.

In the US, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the President was ”clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims”, following repeated attempts at a controversial immigration ban targeting Muslim-majority countries.

Fransen, from Penge, south-east London, seized the platform afforded her by the world leader to ask for his help ahead of a court case she faces in December.

Jayda Fransen appeals to Donald Trump to intervene in her criminal court case

She will appear charged with using threatening and abusive language in connection with a speech she made at an anti-terrorism demonstration in Belfast on August 6.

Fransen is also currently on bail facing trial over four charges of causing religiously aggravated harassment as part of a Kent Police investigation into the distribution of leaflets and the posting of online videos during a trial held at Canterbury Crown Court in May.

She said in her newly posted film that she was delighted the “leader of the free world” had retweeted her videos and added: “You’ve shed light on my plight here in Britain, in that I am facing prison for giving a speech in which I criticised Islam. This is evidence that Britain has become Sharia compliant.”

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