US President Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to London, scheduled for February, during which he was to inaugurate the new US embassy. The president made his announcement on Twitter last night and cited President Obama’s decision to sell “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” as his reason for boycotting the inauguration of the building.
Commentators have been quick to posit the real reason as being due to the embarrassing prospect of his presence in London drawing massive protests.
The decision to relocate the embassy actually dates from the presidency of George W. Bush. The former building in Mayfair will be turned into a hotel by a Qatari group, while the new one, a concrete and glass cube in the booming Nine Elms district, on the south bank of the Thames, is intended as a « a modern, welcoming, timeless, safe and energy efficient embassy for the 21st century, » according to its website.
Donald Trump knows he would have been greeted by large demonstrations against his visit. According to the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, the president has « got the message from Londoners » that « his visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests. »
The invitation has indeed caused diplomatic embarrassment for a year. A state visit, which includes a banquet at Buckingham Palace and a carriage ride alongside the Queen, has been deemed out of place given his US administration’s attempts to ban entry of people from Muslim majority countries to the United States. A petition to cancel it received more than 1.8 million signatures last year.
Oil was thrown on fire by Donald Trump in his tweets, which criticised the Khan for his handling of the terrorist threat and retweeted Islamophobic videos of the far-right organisation Britain First. Theresa May in turn had said that Trump had been « wrong » to do so, to which he responded that she should focus on the « destructive radical terrorism » in her country.
As a result, Downing Street played for time by postponing the controversial visit. Expected before last summer, it was then pushed to autumn, with the president finally deciding to travel to London in February for the inauguration of the embassy, but without the pomp of a state visit. The ribbon-cutting of the new building will be carried out by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson instead.