Trump cancels UK trip, blames Obama for ‘peanuts’ deal on London embassy

US President Donald Trump cancelled a trip to London scheduled for next month to open a new embassy, blaming Barack Obama for selling off the old one for “peanuts” in a bad deal.

world Updated: Jan 12, 2018 20:17 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Donald Trump,Britain,Obama
U.S. President Donald Trump answers a question during a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

President Donald Trump on Friday cancelled a trip to the UK to open the new US embassy on the grounds that it was a “bad deal” concluded by the Obama administration, but Labour leaders contended he had got the message that nobody in Britain wanted him to come.

The visit scheduled for next month was not the state visit for which Prime Minister Theresa May had extended an invitation last year, raising hackles in Britain. Downing Street reiterated the state visit was on though no date had been finalised.

A twitter war erupted after Trump tweeted: “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. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

This triggered a prompt rebuke from former Labour leader Ed Miliband on Twitter: “Nope it’s because nobody wanted you to come. And you got the message.”

‘He’s got the message’

This was followed by another from Sadiq Khan, London’s Labour mayor, who has sparred with Trump in the past.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Khan said: “It appears that President Trump got the message from the many Londoners who love and admire America and Americans but find his policies and actions the polar opposite of our city’s values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.

“His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests. This just reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place.”

However, Labour’s rebukes to Trump did not go down well with foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who tweeted: “The US is the biggest single investor in the UK – yet Khan & Corbyn seem determined to put this crucial relationship at risk. We will not allow US-UK relations to be endangered by some puffed up pompous popinjay in City Hall.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “As we’ve said a number of times, a state visit invitation has been extended and accepted, and we will confirm the details in due course. No date was confirmed for any visit.

“The one you’re referring to now, the opening of the US embassy, is a matter for the US. The US is one of our oldest and most valued allies, and our strong and deep partnership will endure.”

More than a year into his presidency, Trump has yet to visit London, with many Britons vowing to protest against a man they see as crude, volatile and opposed to their values on a range of issues.

Shifting of US embassy was approved under George W Bush

The decision to acquire a new site for the US embassy on the south bank of the Thames was announced in 2008 under George W Bush, along with the plans to put the Grosvenor Square site in upscale Mayfair up for sale.

The American flag was removed this month from Grosvenor Square, where the US embassy has been based since 1938 with the area known as “Little America” during World War 2.

In October 2008, the embassy was put up for sale and it was sold to Gulf investor Qatari Diar the following year.

There had long been security concerns about the Grosvenor Square site, dating back to the late 1990s after attacks on US embassies in Africa. Some local residents opposed measures that they felt would detract from one of London’s plushest neighbourhoods while others feared not enough was being done to ensure they would not be caught up in any attack.

The new US embassy is a veritable fortress set back at least 100 feet from surrounding buildings such as high-rise residential blocks and incorporating living quarters for US Marines permanently stationed inside. The $1 billion construction was funded by the sale of other properties in London.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 17:06 IST