Washington/London, Jan 12 (PTI) President Donald Trump today cancelled a “working visit” to the UK planned for next month to open a new US embassy, blaming a “bad deal” struck by the previous Obama-administration to relocate the mission from central London to an “off location”.
The US president launched his attack on Twitter against the embassy’s move from Grosvenor Square in the posh Mayfair area of the city to Nine Elms, south of the Thames, in a USD 1.2 billion project.
He wrote: “Reason I cancelled 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!”.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will now step in for the launch of the new embassy site, which will open to staff on January 16.
The short visit by Trump in February was not the full State Visit proposed by British Prime Minister Theresa May on the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II, for which no date has yet been set.
A petition calling for the invitation to be withdrawn was signed by more than 1.8 million people, while the issue was also debated in parliament.
Downing Street said no date has been confirmed for any visit by Trump and that the opening of the US embassy “is a matter for the US”.
The “strong and deep” partnership between Britain and the US “will endure” despite Trump’s cancellation, a spokesman was quoted as saying by the BBC.
However, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – who has clashed with the president in the past – said the US president had “got the message” that many Londoners were staunchly opposed to his policies and actions.
Sections of the UK media claim that the visit was cancelled amid fears of mass protests as the embassy’s plan to move from Mayfair to Nine Elms in London pre-dated the Barack Obama administration and was first reported in October 2008, when George W Bush was still the president.
Citing security and environmental reasons, the US State Department had 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.
On the embassy web page about the project, it said: “The project has been funded entirely by the proceeds of the sale of other US Government properties in London, not through appropriated funds”.
Trump had also been scheduled to hold talks with prime minister May in No 10 Downing Street, with February 26 and 27 marked in the diary for the visit.
Downing Street had hoped to announce the dates this week.
The working visit cancellation follows a strain in UK-US relations, with May criticising Trump’s decision to retweet material posted by the far-right extremist group, Britain First, last November.
Trump had responded by tweeting directly to the British PM that she should focus on tackling domestic terrorism.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.