Donald Trump has cancelled a “working visit” to the UK planned for next month to officially launch a new US embassy, blaming a “bad deal” struck by the previous Obama-administration to relocate the base 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 1.2 billion dollar 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. Downing Street has declined to comment on Trump’s cancellation of the working visit to the UK. 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. The new building will open on January 16. 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 Theresa 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.