14/02/2017 19:27 GMT | Updated 14/02/2017 20:33 GMT

Theresa May Tells Donald Trump She's 'Looking Forward' To His UK Visit

He rang on Valentine's Day

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Theresa May has told Donald Trump she is “looking forward” to seeing him in the UK later this year, despite the growing row over his planned State Visit.

The Prime Minister defied critics of her invitation to the US President as he rang her personally on Tuesday to discuss a range of issues from security to trade.

Their phone call came after No.10 formally rejected an online petition signed by 1.8m people to halt the visit, insisting Trump should be extended “the full courtesy” of a trip to meet the Queen.

The controversy was fuelled this month when Commons Speaker John Bercow hit out at the White House’s planned ban on travellers from ‘Muslim-majority’ states and vowed not to host his “racism and sexism” in the UK Parliament.

PA/PA Wire
Speaker Bercow

With mass protests expected, there had even been speculation that the trip could be delayed until next year.

But No.10 revealed that in their phone call May had assured the President that she would be welcoming him to Britain “later this year”.

The PM and President discussed his prospective visit, which was first announced by May when she visited the White House last month.

Trump was formally invited by the Queen, and is expected to receive all the pomp and ceremony of a full State Visit, including a banquet at Buckingham Palace and talks at No.10 Downing Street.

Evan Vucci/AP
The two leaders at the White House in January

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump this afternoon, as part of their regular engagement.

“They discussed a range of issues, including trade and security and also discussed the President’s upcoming State Visit to the UK.

“The Prime Minister said she looks forward to welcoming him later this year”.

In a break with convention, No.10 did not reveal how long the phone call lasted. 

The US President was reeling overnight from the resignation of his National Security Adviser General Mike Flynn over his contacts with Russia, and has seen the US courts block his travel ban plans.

May had urged Trump in the White House in January not to relax sanctions on Moscow until it had signed up to a plan to restore Ukraine’s control of its eastern border.

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
Donald Trump holds Theresa May's hand

During her Washington trip, Trump was photographed holding the PM’s hand as he escorted her to lunch, a brief encounter that has since been used as a defining image of their new close links.

MPs will next week debate the online petition, which objected Trump’s visit on the grounds that it cancelling it would spare “embarrassment” for the Queen.

Bercow has faced a backlash against his own outspoken remarks about Trump, with Tory MP James Duddridge tabling a motion of no confidence in the Speaker’s decision to break the usual convention of impartiality.

Downing Street has defended May’s decision to forge close links with the new US President, insisting that it is in the UK’s national interest to renew the “special relationship” between the two countries.

But the fact that Trump rang the PM on Valentine’s Day did not go unnoticed on social media.

No.10 had already been tricked by a prankster into thinking the billionaire former reality TV star wanted to send May a bouquet of flowers.

Comedian Heydon Prowse called Downing Street claiming to be a White House staffer asking what Theresa May’s favourite flowers were.

An aide told him: “Fantastic. OK, my hunch is hydrangeas.”

In the US, others were more focused on the Valentine’s Day fall-out of the resignation of Gen. Flynn, who had lasted just 24 days in office.