WASHINGTON — President Trump said he canceled a planned trip to London because he doesn't want to cut the ribbon at the new U.S. embassy there that he described as a "bad deal."
Trump's on-again, off-again visit to the United Kingdom had been in the planning stages but hadn't been officially announced. The latest cancellation is sure to increase tensions with a vital ally that has broken with Trump recently over his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some neighborhoods in London declared themselves off-limits to the president.
Trump confirmed his decision on Twitter late Thursday night after British newspapers reported that fears of mass protests had scuttled the trip. A poll fro
"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," Trump said in a tweet late Thursday. "Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!"
The problem with that explanation is that Trump's tweet misrepresented the history of the U.S. Embassy move. According to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy itself, it was the administration of President George W. Bush — not Obama — that decided to build a new embassy in 2006 and chose the new location in 2008.
And the billion-dollar price tag is typical of an embassy construction of that size. Officials also said that it was financed entirely by the sale of other U.S. property in England — not new taxpayer money. It opens to the public on Jan. 16.
The diplomatic compound moved from Grosvenor Square in the well-heeled Mayfair neighborhood of central London, to Nine Elms, a formerly industrial area of southwest London that has been part of regeneration efforts for more than a decade.
More: New $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Britain: Things to know
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Trump's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson, described the new embassy last month as a "signal to the world" that the “special relationship” between the two nations "is stronger and is going to grow and get better."
The decision to cancel the visit will be an embarrassment to British Prime Minister Theresa May. While the trip was always intended to be a working one, and separate to an official full state visit this year for which a date has not been set, as president Trump has visited more than a dozen countries ahead of Britain. These include: Belgium, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Vietnam. He has even visited Vatican City and the West Bank.
White House officials could not be reached to clarify the reasoning behind the decision. May's office has also not commented. But others who have long clashed with Trump over immigration and other issues, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have.
"Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he’s finally got that message," Khan said Friday in a tweet. "This reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place."
In the wake of the publication of his highly critical book about Trump's administration, Fire and Fury, the journalist Michael Wolff told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper — which also first reported late Thursday on February's canceled visit — that the so-called special relationship could sour unless Trump "gets what he wants."
Part of that "want," according to Wolff, is an invitation to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding in May. An invitation is thought to be unlikely because of Prince Harry's close relationship with Obama. For its part, Britain is hoping to secure favorable terms on a new trade deal with the U.S. after it leaves the European Union in 2019.
"Trump’s foreign policy doctrine is simple," Wolff told the publication. "You Brits suck up to him and enlist in whatever geopolitical fantasy he has going, he’ll give you what you want — though only if it doesn’t hurt him. It is not so much vengeance, rather ‘you flatter me and I’ll flatter you.' If the Brits give him what he wants he will value the Brits."
Trump will visit the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland this month.