FACTCHECK: BBC correspondent under fire for promoting a false claim by Donald Trump


BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel has come under fire for validating a false claim made by US President Donald Trump.

The state visit

Owing to widespread opposition, Trump has announced the cancellation of his state visit to the UK.

When Theresa May agreed to the visit despite public outcry, campaigners planned to protest the President’s arrival with the ‘biggest rally in UK history’. This forced May to backtrack. Trump would visit for two days next month to open the new £750m US embassy. The year-long delay and absence of “red carpet treatment” reportedly outraged Trump, who finally cancelled.

In a face-saving measure, the President claimed the move was due to former President Barack Obama’s decision to relocate the US embassy “off location”.

And Jon Sopel seemed to back up Trump’s excuse.

But a simple factcheck proves Trump’s claim false.

The truth

It was the George W Bush administration that decided to move the US embassy, and chose the new site at Nine Elms. Grosvenor Square had housed the US embassy since 1938, and US links to the affluent spot go back two centuries. But security concerns meant the US relocated its embassy to an industrial estate south of the river.

Announcing the decision in 2008, Bush Jr’s ambassador Robert Tuttle said:

This has been a long and careful process…We looked at all our options, including renovation of our current building…

In the end, we realized that the goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable Embassy could best be met by constructing a new facility.

He continued:

As the United Kingdom is our best friend and best ally, we wanted to be as close to parliament and government buildings as the current site and we have achieved that.

This information was widely available. And Sopel’s failure to conduct a basic factcheck was spotted quickly by journalists and public alike.

It also seems that the current US Ambassador to London has no such problem with the new location:

The reaction

News of the cancelled visit is unlikely to do Trump much harm among his supporters. Some took to social media to express relief, wishing to avoid a public spectacle and keen for the President to focus on domestic issues.

But the news has delighted critics from both sides of the Atlantic, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

This was not a good week for Donald Trump. And it was not a good week for the BBC‘s Jon Sopel. But it was far worse for Theresa May. The Prime Minister is desperate to secure a positive trade deal with the US to counter potential losses from Brexit. So she spent political capital she didn’t have to give Trump what he wanted in hopes of securing a deal. And the Prime Minister failed to secure any of it. No trade deal, no state visit, and even worse relations with both the UK public and the White House.

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Featured image via YouTube screengrab/Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

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