For two hours on Tuesday, President Donald Trump took questions from reporters in London without once being asked if he thinks that British lawmakers, including the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, “meddled” in the 2016 election by denouncing him as stupid and insane for proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
The question is newly relevant since congressional Republicans formally accused Ukraine this week of election interference in 2016, based on the fact that three Ukrainian officials criticized Trump for endorsing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and two others revealed evidence of financial crimes by his campaign chair, Paul Manafort.
Johnson, who was London’s mayor when Trump demanded “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” was one of the first British officials to publicly express his disgust.
“Donald Trump is clearly out of his mind,” Johnson told a television crew two days later. “You can’t ban people going to the United States in that way, or indeed to any country.”
Referring to Trump’s subsequent claim that his ban was justified because Muslim immigrants to Britain had made parts of London off-limits to non-Muslims, Johnson went on to say that Trump was possessed of “a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”
“I would invite him to come and see the whole of London and take him round the city,” Johnson added, “except that I wouldn’t want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
Johnson’s intervention was followed by an avalanche of condemnation for Trump from across the British political spectrum. David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister at the time, denounced Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric as “divisive, stupid, and wrong.”
Still, Cameron opposed a proposal to add Trump’s name to a list of foreign extremists banned from entering the United Kingdom on the grounds that they might incite hatred against members of an ethnic or religious group. “I think if he came to visit our country,” Cameron argued, “I think he’d unite us all against him.”
The British official responsible for maintaining the list of excluded foreign agitators is the home secretary, an office held at the time by Theresa May, who went on to succeed Cameron as prime minister. The week after Trump called for a Muslim ban at a campaign rally, May told a parliamentary committee, “I think we all agree that the comments Donald Trump made in relation to Muslims were divisive, unhelpful, and wrong.” She added that “it was nonsense” for him to have claimed that there were “no-go zones” in Britain that even the police were unable to enter.
The following month, British lawmakers spent three hours debating the proposal to ban Trump from the U.K. under legislation that has been used to exclude other Americans engaged in anti-Muslim hate speech, including the bloggers Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Brittany Pettibone.
According to highlight reels, and the official Hansard record of Parliamentary proceedings for January 18, 2016, Trump was denounced by lawmakers from all parties as “an idiot,” “a racist,” “a poisonous, corrosive man,” and “a wazzock.”
Even lawmakers who defended Trump’s right to visit Britain, like then-Conservative parliamentarian Victoria Atkins, called his policy to close U.S. borders to foreign Muslims “bonkers.”
“Donald Trump is a fool. He is free to be a fool; he is not free to be a dangerous fool on our shores,” Jack Dromey, at the time of the opposition Labour Party, argued.
“Donald Trump is a buffoon, not a criminal,” Conservative lawmaker Alberto Costa replied.
“We do not need a crystal ball to recognize that the person you are dealing with may be a successful businessman, [but] is also a buffoon, and he has the dangerous capability of saying the most obscene or insensitive things to attract attention,” Gavin Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party observed. But, he added, “my party, and I as an individual, cannot support the exclusion of Donald Trump from this country. Bring him here, let us have the opportunity to challenge him, and let him go home with his tail between his legs, recognizing that the principles that he espouses no longer reflect this country, the United States of America, or the aspirations that we should all seek to promote internationally.”
Earlier in the 2016 campaign, the member of Parliament who represents the Scottish island Trump’s mother was born on had also denounced his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Trump’s defenders in Congress prefer not to talk about the conspiracy theory to which he constantly alludes — the fictional narrative that Ukraine framed Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Instead, they hyperventilate about what they call evidence of “Ukrainian election meddling” — which amounts to not much more than two officials who revealed evidence of his campaign chair’s actual crimes and the complaints of Ukraine’s former prime minister, its interior minister, and its ambassador to the U.S. at his apparent willingness to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
On the other hand, Trump seems curiously willing to overlook the invective leveled at him by senior British officials and lawmakers during the 2016 campaign, which, in range and intensity, far exceeded anything said about him by Ukrainian officials.
Given the contrast, it might be worth asking Trump and his Republican defenders why the president is still obsessed with criticism from former Ukrainian officials, but now heaps praise on a British prime minister who savaged him as unfit to hold office just four years ago.