MPs’ ‘fake news’ inquiry barred from UK embassy: Diplomats said ‘offending Trump’ was reason for decision not to host historic session in Washington
The British embassy in Washington backtracked on promises to host a session of the parliamentary inquiry into fake news, because of worries it might offend Donald Trump, the Observer has learned.
Barely a week before MPs from the digital, culture, media and sport committee were due to arrive in Washington for the historic session on 8 February, they were informed in a letter from foreign office minister Alan Duncan that they would have to find a new venue. “We had a report back ... that either the embassy or the UK government felt this would be unhelpful because of the relationship with the US government,” said Ian Lucas, one of the committee members.
The government has sought to bolster ties with Trump since his election, with a view to securing a swift post-Brexit trade deal with the US. But the relationship has deteriorated in recent months, after Trump attacked London mayor Sadiq Khan, retweeted videos posted by the far-right Britain First group, then responded angrily when May criticised him.
Diplomats apparently feared that the committee hearings, which have also touched on possible Russian election meddling, could anger the notoriously thin-skinned president.
“The embassy had been booked for the evidence sessions by staff there, but as the visit got closer it became clear that the ambassador was quite sensitive, because of the president, to the whole issue of ‘fake news’,” said another committee member who asked not to be named.
“There was no intention in the evidence of focusing on Donald Trump, but I personally do understand the ambassador’s sensitivity because he’s got a job to do and there has been quite a bit of friction between Trump and Theresa May,” the committee member said. George Washington University was a better venue, and “not hard to find”, he added.
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