Senior politicians from all of the main parties have warned Donald Trump against “distasteful interference” in British politics during an already controversial state visit this week, with the Tory leadership race and future Brexit policy hanging in the balance.
Mr Trump was accused by party leaders and MPs past and present of breaking a longstanding convention by praising Boris Johnson, claiming he would make an “excellent” prime minister, ahead of a three-day trip to the UK which begins on Monday.
Speaking to The Independent, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Tory former foreign secretary, said the comments by the “narcissistic and egocentric” Mr Trump were “unprecedented for a president of the United States”.
Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Vince Cable also condemned the remarks, and one MP suggested the Queen should rescind Mr Trump’s invitation to a state banquet on Tuesday night.
It is highly unusual for a sitting US president to comment on a UK political election, although Mr Trump has previously drawn fire over his vocal support for Brexit and his criticism of Theresa May.
The Independent has learnt that MPs will be among thousands of people taking part in protests against Mr Trump this week, with Labour frontbencher Clive Lewis one of those having vowed to join demonstrations in London.
Anger over the visit is likely to have deepened following the US president’s latest comments.
Criticising the intervention, Sir Malcolm said: “No other prime minister or president would dream of doing it. He knows perfectly well that that applies to American presidents as well, but the man is so narcissistic and egocentric that he likes believing that he sways the future of the world.
“There’s nothing illegal about it, there’s nothing unconstitutional about it, it’s just distasteful interference in other people’s business.”
He added: “It’s unprecedented for a president of the United States but it’s not unprecedented for Trump. Trump has been making remarks of this kind about other people’s democratic choices since day one. If he had the slightest bit of sensitivity he would not be doing so.”
“If Theresa May were to recommend the virtues of Joe Biden as a potential president of the United States, most people in America, not just Trump, would say mind your own business.
“These are sensitive issues and the only people who will decide the next prime minister of the United Kingdom or president of the United States will be the citizens of the countries concerned.
He suggested that the comments could harm Mr Johnson’s chances of becoming prime minister, ”because nobody likes other people interfering in their election campaigns”. Tory MPs worried about losing their seats to the Liberal Democrats may be concerned if the party leader was backed by Mr Trump, he added.
Joining the growing backlash, Mr Corbyn said: “President Trump’s attempt to decide who will be Britain’s next prime minister is an entirely unacceptable interference in our country’s democracy.
“The next prime minister should be chosen not by the US president, nor by 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative Party members, but by the British people in a general election.”
And Sir Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Eurosceptic Tories who expressed anger at Barack Obama warning against Brexit in 2016 should also condemn Mr Trump’s comments.
He said: “Brexiteers expressed outrage at Obama telling a few truths during the referendum campaign.
“I look forward to hearing them pour the same opprobrium on bully boy Trump for intervening in the contest to become Tory leader.
“If ever a reason were needed to keep Boris Johnson out of Downing Street, it is Trump’s endorsement of him and of Brexit – both of which are bad for Britain.”
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey, who is vying with Jo Swinson to succeed Sir Vince this summer, added: “The Queen would be perfectly entitled to cancel Trump’s dinner given he’s insulted the Duchess of Sussex and interfered in the selection of our next prime minister at a time of national crisis. We don’t need friends like that.”
Mr Trump stopped short of fully endorsing Mr Johnson, the current frontrunner in the race, but said of the former foreign secretary: “I think Boris would do a very good job ... I think he would be excellent.”
Speaking to The Sun, he added: “I like him. I have always liked him. I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person.”
He also said he was a fan of Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, but had harsher words for Michael Gove, the environment secretary, who recently criticised his stance on Iran.
The Republican claimed that other Conservative leadership candidates had asked for his support, although all of the leadership campaigns contacted by The Independent denied having asked for his backing.
The comments risk sparking a diplomatic row on the eve of the state visit, although some senior Tories questioned whether the remarks would help or hinder Mr Johnson given the US president’s reputation in the UK.
Andrew Mitchell, a former cabinet minister and Conservative chief whip, said: “It is certainly unusual but then Trump is a most unusual president. The electorate at Westminster is a sophisticated if serpentine one and so I doubt it will move many votes.
“It is certainly unprecedented and could indeed backfire.”
Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, who is backing Michael Gove for leader, said the comments were “not appropriate” but added: “It’s Donald Trump and he’s probably always going to do it.”
During his visit, Mr Trump will hold talks with Theresa May in Downing Street on Tuesday before attending a state banquet hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
On Wednesday he will join Ms May for talks with business leaders, and on Thursday he will travel to Portsmouth to take part in events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies