President will not now open new US embassy next month, with secretary of state Rex Tillerson likely to take his place
Donald Trump and Theresa May pictured in Brussels ahead of a Nato summit meeting in May last year. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to Britain next month to open the new US embassy in London amid fears of mass protests.
The American president claimed on Twitter that his reason for calling off the trip was his displeasure at Barack Obama having sold the current embassy for “peanuts” and built a replacement for $1.2bn. “Bad deal,” he wrote.
But the embassy’s plan to move from Mayfair to Nine Elms in London was first reported in October 2008 - when George W Bush was still president and Obama had not yet been elected.
Theresa May invited 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.
Instead, it had been expected that Trump would make a brief, less formal “working visit” next month, to cut the ribbon on the $1bn (£750m) embassy in Nine Elms, south-west London, and hold meetings with May.
Officials had been examining plans for the president to meet the Queen, without the pomp of a full-blown state banquet, with the attendant risk of disruptive protests.
However, even that more modest plan now appears to have been abandoned for the time being. Government sources suggested that Washington had signalled that secretary of state Rex Tillerson would instead open the multimillion-pound embassy.
Trump confirmed on Twitter late on Thursday night that the trip was off. “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,” he wrote just before midnight local time. “Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”
Citing security and environmental reasons, the US state department agreed to sell the current embassy building in Grosvenor Square to the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co, which intends to turn it into a luxury hotel. Estimates put the site’s value at £500m before it was made a listed building, which would have diminished the value because of restrictions on development.
Relations with the controversial president hit a low late last year when May criticised his decision to retweet material posted by the far right extremist group, Britain First.
Trump responded by tweeting directly to the prime minister that she should focus on tackling domestic terrorism.
The government was so concerned about his decision to share the extremist videos that Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, took the rare step of raising the issue directly with the White House.
Trump’s ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, subsequently insisted: “The president and the prime minister have a very, very good relationship. I know the president admires and respects the prime minister greatly.”
He added: “My job and the president’s job is to protect Americans. He’s doing the best that he can.
“You’re going to have little stumbles along the road. Absolutely. You’re going to have things that happen. But the intent is there and it’s genuine, and it’s going to happen.”
May’s government has been keen to strike up a close working relationship with the Trump administration despite his erratic behaviour, because of Britain’s desire to strike a swift trade deal with the world’s largest economy.
When the PM visited the White House, she was pictured holding hands with the president.
Trump has sparked alarm among diplomats by repeatedly entering into Twitter spats with key public figures, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to whom he recently boasted about the size of the US nuclear arsenal.
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