President Trump said he has called off a planned ceremonial visit to Britain because he didn’t want to be associated with what he called a bad real estate deal in which the U.S. Embassy is being relocated from central London to “an off location.”
In a Twitter message shortly before midnight Thursday, Trump implicitly rejected reports that the trip — never announced but widely assumed to be in February — was being scrapped over concerns that the U.S. leader would be met with widespread protests.
“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. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO,” Trump wrote.
In fact, it was never certain that Trump would make the visit to Britain, historically America’s closest ally. The last word from the U.S. ambassador there, Woody Johnson, was that while he hoped Trump would come to dedicate the new embassy, no date had been set for such a journey.
U.S. diplomats are expected to move in to the new quarters this month. The embassy’s website has a large banner reading, "1 week until we move.”
Trump had been expected to combine a ceremonial opening for the new building — a distinctive glassy cube — with an official visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Theresa May.
May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after his inauguration a year ago, and extended a return invitation that was put on hold in part because British lawmakers and others vowed to protest and boycott Trump over policies seen as anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant.
Trump told May in a phone call last month that he planned to visit early in 2018. The Daily Mail reported that Trump had backed out because he was unhappy about arrangements for the visit, which was billed as a “working” visit rather than a full state visit that could include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth.
The George W. Bush administration had decided more than a decade ago to relocate the embassy from offices on prime land in the tony neighborhood of Mayfair in central London to a plot on the banks of the Thames in the south of the city. Security concerns drove the move, in line with a worldwide upgrade and redesign of embassy facilities to better protect them from vehicle bombs and other terrorism.
The old embassy was sold to the real estate division of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund in November 2009.
May rebuked Trump in November after he retweeted unverified anti-Muslim videos from the far-right Britain First political group. She said Trump was “wrong” to do it and called the British group “hateful.”
British members of Parliament had called on May to rescind the invitation to Trump over the video incident and earlier actions, including his attempt to temporarily block immigration from several Muslim-majority nations.
“I am deeply uncomfortable because he is deliberately divisive, and this would be divisive at a time when we are trying to unite our country,” Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said in November.
Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had rejected suggestions that now was not the time for a state visit.
“I think Her Majesty the Queen is well capable of taking this American president — or indeed any American president — in her stride, as she has done over six remarkable decades,” Johnson said. “She has seen them come and she has seen them go.”