Jeremy Hunt has been criticised by senior Tories including a rival for the leadership after defending Donald Trump’s latest attack on London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The foreign secretary told journalists he “150%” agreed with Trump’s “sentiment” after the US president retweeted a “racist” post by Katie Hopkins, in which she referred to the capital as “Khan’s Londonistan”.
At a Tory leadership hustings, Hunt said: “President Trump has his own style and I wouldn’t use those words myself but the sentiment is enormously supported, that we have a mayor of London who is completely failing to tackle knife crime and has spent more time on politics than the business of making London safer, in that I 150% agree with the president.”
After the hustings, Rory Stewart demanded Hunt clarify that he did not agree with the “sentiment” of Hopkins’ “Londonistan” comment.
And Nicky Morgan, who supports rival candidate Michael Gove, suggested Hunt was too in thrall to Trump.
She said: “Jeremy said something after the one nation hustings and I think last week he also said something about we should learn from Donald Trump’s communication style.
“I suppose my reflection would be I think there are probably other world leaders we could learn from first.”
Other leadership rivals criticised Trump’s post, with Sajid Javid branding it “unbecoming” and urging Trump to “stick to domestic politics”.
It was also criticised by candidates Michael Gove and Dominic Raab, while Khan himself said Trump was “amplifying a racist tweet”.
The Muslim Council of Britain said it was yet further evidence that Islamophobia is given a “free pass” in the Tory party.
During the hustings, Stewart did not condemn Trump, saying only that world leaders should be “firm” in talking about national interests, but do it “politely, “very clearly” and also “privately”.
But he later made clear he disagreed with Hopkins’ language and urged Hunt to do the same.
Raab said of Trump’s retweet: “I don’t think it’s particularly helpful or constructive...I’m proud to have grown up in the suburbs in London, which is a multi-identity city. I’m proud this country is a melting pot.
“I’m proud to have a Muslim mayor of London and I’m proud to have a Muslim home secretary.”
And Gove told the hustings: “It’s always a mistake to retweet anything Katie Hopkins tweets.”
Speaking in central London, Khan said: “It’s for Donald Trump to explain his tweets, not for me, but it’s remarkable that you’ve got the president of the USA amplifying the tweets of a far-right activist, amplifying a racist tweet.
“That’s one of my concerns about Donald Trump - he’s now seen as a poster boy for racists around the world, whether you’re a racist in this country, whether you’re a racist in Hungary, a racist in Italy, or a racist in France.
“He’s now a poster boy for the far-right movement and that should cause us huge concern.”
But Hunt received backing from key supporter Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, and Tory peer Baroness Warsi.
Speaking to reporters, Rudd said: “I think he has clarified on that he absolutely doesn’t take that position.
“He’s corrected the fact that that has been misunderstood and he’s absolutely committed to his existing position which is much more liberal.”
Lady Warsi said Hunt had made clear to her that he “believes the term Londonistan is offensive and would never endorse sentiments that try and frame Londons knife crime challenge as a racial or religious phenomenon”.
The PM’s official spokesman has said Theresa May would not have retweeted Hopkins’ comments, “not use that language”.
But a Muslim Council of Britain spokesperson said: “When facing Islamophobia, many Muslims are most hurt when others stand by and do nothing.
“Trump’s endorsement of a bigot has nothing to do with the rising knife crime that we all are concerned about and everything to do with his divisive agenda.
“For Downing Street to refuse to comment and our foreign secretary and potentially future Prime Minister to agree with the ‘sentiment’ of this known Islamophobe without condemning the clear bigoted intent behind it, is shocking.
“It is still further proof that Islamophobia is given a free pass at the highest echelons of the Conservative party.”
Hunt previously defended Trump in his long-running spat with Khan when the president arrived in the UK for a state visit earlier this month.
The foreign secretary was rewarded with one-to-one talks with Trump, who said he would make a “very good” PM.
In contrast, Javid was excluded from the state banquet held in Trump’s honour, a decision he described as “odd” and which was criticised by Muslim community groups.
Leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson, who refused to attend the hustings, also received an endorsement from the US president during the visit.
But a HuffPost UK-Edelman focus group of ex-Tory voters last week suggested that Trump’s blessing could prove counterproductive for the leadership candidates.
One of the voters present in Slough, Leave-voting grandmother and social housing officer Jill, said of Trump endorsing Hunt: “Is that a reason to actually not vote for him (Hunt?)”