LONDON — Pressure was growing in Britain on Thursday to withdraw President Trump’s invitation for a state visit, as trans-Atlantic tensions increased over his decision to share far-right videos, and then to rebuke Prime Minister Theresa May after she criticized his actions.
The dispute has become an acute embarrassment for the British government, which Thursday insisted it still enjoys a “special relationship” with the United States, and for May, who has worked hard to cultivate close ties with Trump, only to be drawn into a public argument with him.
Speaking from Jordan, where she is on an official visit, May sought to thread the needle on the issue, criticizing Trump but maintaining that his visit would go ahead.
“I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do,” she said at a news conference, adding: “The invitation for a state visit has been extended and has been accepted. We have yet to set a date.”
Across the political spectrum, British politicians have reacted with incredulity to Trump’s decision to retweet three inflammatory videos posted online by the far-right group Britain First, and they held an urgent debate on the matter in Parliament Thursday.
Opposition politicians demanded that the idea of a state visit should be dropped, with some critics arguing that it would place Queen Elizabeth II, as host, in an invidious position.
One opposition Labour lawmaker, Stephen Doughty, argued that by sharing the videos, Trump showed himself to be “racist, incompetent or unthinking — or all three,” while another, Dennis Skinner, referred to “this fascist president.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan — who was involved in a separate dispute with Trump after a terrorist attack in London — suggested on Twitter that the president should not be invited on any official visit to Britain, not just one with full pomp and ceremony.
Nor was the anger confined to opposition lawmakers. Sajid Javid, a Muslim member of May’s Conservative Cabinet, tweeted a strong condemnation Wednesday of Trump’s decision to share the videos: “So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.”
On Thursday the home secretary, Amber Rudd, appeared to agree with one Conservative lawmaker, Peter Bone, who suggested that Trump delete his Twitter account, saying “many will share his view.” But while condemning the president’s actions, Rudd sought to calm the dispute.
“President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by the far-right group Britain First,” Rudd said in Parliament, while appealing to lawmakers to remember the “wider picture,” and in particular Britain’s close security and intelligence cooperation with the United States.
Pressed for a reaction to the Britain First retweets, May’s spokesman said Wednesday that it was “wrong for the president to have done this,” only for Trump to respond by addressing May directly on Twitter, telling her, “don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
The president initially used an incorrect Twitter handle for May, later correcting his mistake.
On Thursday, May’s spokesman insisted that Britain had a “very long, very deep and very important special relationship with the United States,” and that nothing had changed regarding the state visit, for which a date would be announced in due course.
That invitation to Trump was unusual in that it was extended soon after his inauguration: A state visit is an honor that is normally offered much later in a presidency. More than 1.8 million people signed a petition against a visit, and opponents promised protests if one were to take place.
Even before the latest uproar, there was speculation that the state visit was being pushed into the long grass. Instead, it was said, Trump was likely to make a brief, less formal visit in the New Year, perhaps to coincide with the opening of the new US Embassy building in London. Even this may now be threatened.
The rift is particularly problematic for May because, with Britain scheduled to quit the European Union in 2019, she is hoping to strike an early trade deal with Washington to compensate for a likely reduction in British access to markets in continental Europe.
May’s allies were hoping that she could at least gain some domestic support for standing up to Trump without doing lasting damage to relations between London and Washington.
Instead, an opposition Labour lawmaker, Paul Flynn, argued that Trump “should be arrested for inciting racial hatred” if he came to Britain, and even one of the president’s most loyal British allies deserted him.
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the populist right-wing UK Independence Party, said the episode showed “poor judgment,” which was compounded by the White House’s failure to apologize.
“Do you know what?” Farage said on LBC radio. “Put your hands up, say ‘I got this wrong,’ and, frankly, try to move on.”