Trump's Reason for Skipping U.K. Questioned, Even by EmbassyTim Ross and Nafeesa Syeed
President ‘not a big fan’ of embassy’s new south London home
May’s office hits back, praises ‘vibrant’ district of Vauxhall
President Donald Trump’s decision to forgo a visit to London to open a new U.S. embassy kindled doubts about his justification for staying away -- even from his own nation’s diplomats.
Trump asserted late Thursday on Twitter that he “canceled” his trip to the U.K. next month because he didn’t like the deal under which the embassy was moved. He blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for selling the old site for “peanuts” and building the new embassy in an “off location.” In short, the real estate mogul pegged it as a lousy deal.
Yet on Friday the U.S. embassy in London joined British officials in rebutting his claims. The old building had “aged beyond its ability” to be improved to meet security and safety standards without a major infrastructure investment, the embassy said in a statement. Teams surveyed more than 50 sites before settling on the area of Vauxhall, south of the river Thames, for the new location, according to the statement.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s office took issue with Trump’s unflattering portrait of the new site as an “off location.”
“Vauxhall is a vibrant and important part of London and home to many businesses,” May’s spokesman Max Blain told reporters on Friday. May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy suggested the president should try visiting a famous gay bar in the area.
Relations between the U.S. and its closest ally have been tested repeatedly since Trump took office almost a year ago.
An invitation from May for Trump to visit Queen Elizabeth II has encountered growing opposition, fueled in part by the president’s Twitter criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his retweets of propaganda from a far-right British anti-Muslim group.
Londoners “have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here,” Khan said. “His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests.”
Still, British officials said their government had been working on the basis that Trump would arrive in late February, though no firm date had been set.
The president, however, had become fed up with all the criticism and considered it an affront not only to his administration, but to his country, a White House official said on Friday. The official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter, said Trump’s decision reflected his belief that there was nothing to gain by going to Britain now.
One prominent British Trump fan suggested he may have been looking for a good excuse to call off a visit.
“It’s disappointing,” Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party told BBC Radio’s Today program on Friday. It’s possible that plans for “mass protests, those optics he didn’t like the look of.”
While the embassy statement emphasized that the U.S. was able to erect a new building project through a property swap, without using taxpayer funds, Trump might have a point on the economics of selling the old embassy in London’s tony Mayfair district.
The transaction took place at the bottom of the last real estate downturn, data compiled by broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. for Bloomberg News shows. Values for the best offices in the West End, which includes Mayfair, have doubled since then.
The State Department agreed to sell the Mayfair building to Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co. in 2009 to finance the relocation. The investors have sought approval to turn it into a hotel, according to the project’s website.
The president’s decision to stay away also may have averted a potential royal snub.
There’s been speculation that Trump isn’t happy that he may not be invited to the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and his American fiancee Meghan Markle. The prince is on friendly terms with Obama, who U.K. media have suggested will be invited.
“Who his Royal Highness Prince Harry and Miss Markle invite to their wedding is really a matter for them,” said senior Conservative Party lawmaker Tom Tugendhat.
The British government said Trump is welcome to visit some other time.
“The U.S. is one of our oldest and most valued allies, and our strong partnership will endure,” May’s spokesman Blain said.
— With assistance by Andy Sharp, Alex Morales, Jack Sidders, and Jennifer Jacobs