Theresa May has joined politicians from the main parties in the UK in criticising Donald Trump for suggesting there was a moral equivalence between the Charlottesville racist protesters and those campaigning against them.
But the prime minister has not agreed to requests to cancel Trump’s planned state visit to the UK in the light of his latest comments, despite renewed calls for the honour to be withdrawn.
Asked about Trump’s claim that some of those taking part in the Charlottesville demonstration deemed as neo-Nazi were “very fine people”, May said they should have been condemned.
Speaking in Portsmouth at a ceremony to mark the arrival of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, May said: “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”
Jeremy Corbyn also stressed there could be no equivalence between supporters of the Nazis and those protesting against fascist views.
The Labour leader, who has previously called for Trump’s proposed state visit to be cancelled, said: “What happened was a group of the far right turned up in Charlottesville – KKK supporters, Nazis, white supremacists – in order to cause trouble. A group of people objected to their presence and there is no equivalence between both sides. I can find nothing decent about anything the KKK or Nazis say or have ever said.
“Surely for goodness sake have we not learnt the lessons of what happened in the earlier part of the 20th century, surely we have learned the lessons of the brave people that marched from Selma to Montgomery, there can be no return to those days.
“I hope President Trump will recognise he is the president of the United States. And that includes all of the people of the United States.”
Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, renewed his call for the invitation of a state visit to be rescinded in the light of Trump’s remarks. But No 10 said May’s position had not changed, and that the offer of a state visit had been “extended and accepted”.
Cable said: “Donald Trump has shown he is unable to detach himself from the extreme right and racial supremacists. The fact he remains highly dependent on White House advisers from the extreme right shows he is firmly anchored in this detestable worldview.
“It would be completely wrong to have this man visit the UK on a state visit.”
Some Conservative politicians went further than the prime minister in explicitly denouncing Trump’s response to Charlottesville.
The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, tweeted:
Sam Gyimah, the Conservative prisons minister, posted: “Words matter. Silence matters. We must call out hate – unambiguously – to preserve the free & tolerant society many have fought & die for.”
He added: “The ‘leader of the free world’ loses moral authority when he cannot call fascism by its name.”
Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, also used Twitter to condemn the US president.
Referring to the former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, who welcomed Trump’s remarks, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said: “When the likes of David Duke praise you, you are on the wrong side. There are no ‘fine’ Nazis. We must all stand firm against far right.”
The SNP leader added: “Some issues are just too fundamental for diplomatic silence. This is one of them.”
Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary, said: “A state visit by Donald Trump would shame this country and betray all we stand for. Theresa May should revoke the invitation immediately.”
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, wrote: “Millions of Americans died fighting the Nazis in WW2, my husband’s dad fought alongside them with so many others, POTUS has brought such shame.”
The Labour MP Lilian Greenwood said Trump’s comments were “sickening” and a “new low”.
Referring to a visa questionnaire given to tourists visiting the US, the Labour MP Chris Bryant wrote: “May cd rescue smidgen of moral authority now by rescinding Trump invite. After all US immigration ask ‘are u or have u ever been a Nazi?’”
At the press conference in New York, Trump said: “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. You had a group on one side and group on the other and they came at each other with clubs – there is another side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
May invited Trump to the UK on a state visit – an honour normally not extended to presidents until they have been in office some years – when she first met him in the White House days after his inauguration, and he accepted.
At the time it was thought the state visit would take place in the autumn. But Trump has told May privately that he does not want to come if there will be big protests against him and no timetable has been announced for the visit.