US President Donald Trump made a rare apology on Friday over his decision to retweet anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right group, a move which strained tensions with London.
“If you’re telling me they’re horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain, referring to the group Britain First.
Trump sparked outrage in Britain in November with the retweet and drew a public rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May, to which he replied angrily, souring trans-Atlantic ties.
However, the two leaders met in Davos on Thursday where they agreed to press ahead with Trump’s long-planned visit to Britain later this year, and the president was keen to downplay talk of a rift.
“The real me is someone who loves Britain, loves the UK, I love Scotland; very special people and a very special place,” he said.
“I don’t want to cause any difficulty for your country.”
‘Wasn’t endorsing anybody’
Trump retweeted, in quick succession, three videos characterised as showing Islamist violence, at least one of which was found to be misleading.
They were posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First who was in 2016 convicted of religiously aggravated harassment of a Muslim woman.
In the interview, presenter Piers Morgan said the president caused “huge anxiety and anger in my country, because Britain First is basically a bunch of racists, fascists”.
“Of course I didn’t know that,” Trump responded in excerpts of the interview filmed on Thursday and aired on Friday.
He said: “I know nothing about them, I know nothing about them today, other than I read a little bit… Certainly I wasn’t endorsing anybody.”
“I don’t want to be involved with people (like that),” he said, adding: “I am the least racist person that anybody is going to meet.”
The president, known for his voracious use of Twitter, admitted: “When you do those retweets they can cause problems because you never know who’s doing it to start off with.”
But he was less apologetic about tweeting the content of the videos, saying he believed they depicted “radical Islamic terror”.
“Radical Islamic terror, whether you like talking about it or not, you look at what’s going on in the UK, you look at what’s going on all over the world,” he said.
“It was done because I am a big believer in fighting radical Islamic terror.”
May said at the time that Trump was “wrong” to send out the tweets, further straining ties after a series of spats between the president and London mayor Sadiq Khan over terrorism.
Trump hit back at May on Twitter, saying: “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!”
‘Very good relationship’
During their meeting on Thursday, their first since the row, Trump turned to May, saying: “We actually have a very good relationship although a lot of people think we don’t.
He said in the interview: “I support her, I support a lot of what she does and I support you militarily very much. We will come to your defence should anything happen.”
May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump following his inauguration in January last year, where she invited him to make a state visit to Britain, hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Britain has long touted its “special relationship” with the United States, and is also desperate for a trade deal as it leaves the European Union.
The trip has been delayed, however, and in Trump recently pulled out of a plan to open the new US embassy in London, a move British officials blamed on threats of mass protests.
Trump said “I don’t care” about the potential protesters, adding: “I think a lot of the people in your country like what I stand for, I do stand for tough borders.”
Both leaders agreed on Thursday to arrange a visit for later this year, although the White House said it would be a “working visit”, suggesting it may not be the pomp-filled trip initially proposed.
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