British PM says comments are ‘completely unacceptable’ as president is accused of racism
Theresa May has criticised Donald Trump’s “completely unacceptable” language towards four Democratic congresswomen, which has been condemned as racist, putting pressure on her likely successor, Boris Johnson, to speak out as well, The Guardian reports.
May took the unusual step of commenting on US domestic politics after Trump made reference to the outspoken women, only one of whom is foreign-born, saying on Twitter that they should “go back and help fix” their “broken and crime-infested” countries.
The president’s remarks were attacked as explicitly racist towards Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia.
The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, denounced Trump’s “xenophobic comments meant to divide our nation”, while the four congresswomen accused him of trying to appeal to white nationalists.
Downing Street criticised Trump’s comments but stopped short of branding him a racist.
“Her view is that the language which was used to refer to the women was completely unacceptable,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
Trump was highly critical of May last week, saying she had made a “mess” of Brexit, following leaked diplomatic cables from the UK ambassador to Washington that described him as inept and insecure.
Johnson, who Conservative members are expected to choose to succeed May, is keen to rebuild the relationship with the US after the serious diplomatic row.
But Johnson and the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt – his leadership rival – are both facing calls to explicitly criticise Trump for racism and back up May’s comments.
By late morning on Monday, each campaign remained silent on the issue, despite the outcry on both sides of the Atlantic, including claims that Trump had revealed himself to be a racist.
Hunt was at a high-level meeting in Brussels to discuss the Iran crisis. He warned time was running out to save the nuclear deal, remarks that will be welcomed in the White House.
Johnson’s team said nothing, but had briefed the day before that one of his first acts as prime minister would be to go to Washington to try to secure an outline free-trade deal with Trump.
Johnson has already drawn criticism for failing to defend Sir Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador to Washington who resigned last week.
Johnson has claimed he said nothing that should have been a factor in the ambassador’s decision to quit, but that is not an assessmentshared in Whitehall or by Darroch.
Trump had condemned Darroch and sought to ostracise him in an attempt to punish the envoy and apparently to drive him from his job.
The latest row about Trump’s remarks is a test case of how far the next prime minister will put what they regard as the national economic interest and the pursuit of the special relationship ahead of defending essential British values and principles.
There is a fear that with Brexit imminent, an increasingly isolated UK will have to turn more towards a Trump-led administration in its search for key allies.
May’s condemnation of Trump is a further sign the prime minister is willing to loosen the shackles in the final days of her premiership and say what she thinks.
It is likely both leadership candidates will be forced to express a view on Trump’s remarks when they speak at a leadership hustings on Monday night.
The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, said May was right and “both men vying to be her successor should say so”.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the president’s comments were “not OK and diplomatic politeness should not stop us saying so, loudly and clearly”.