Donald Trump has performed a climbdown in a row with Theresa May over his sharing of inflammatory videos by the far-right Britain First group.
The US President said he is prepared to apologise after he caused outrage in Britain for retweeting three anti-Muslim clips to his 40 million Twitter followers.
Mrs May rebuked Mr Trump in November for sharing material from a “hateful organisation” that “seeks to spread mistrust and division within our communities”.
But in an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Trump said he had known nothing about Britain First when he made the social media postings.
Challenged on whether he would apologise for the furore, Trump said: “If you are telling me they’re horrible people, horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.”
He told presenter Piers Morgan in a clip released on Friday morning: “I knew nothing about them and I know nothing about them today other than I read a little bit. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain, perhaps it was a big story in the UK, but in the United States it wasn’t a big story.
“I did a retweet. When you do your own tweeting, or you do your own social media, it’s fine. When you do those retweets it can cause problems, because you never know who’s doing it to start off with.”
The president’s sharing of the controversial videos that were posted by Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen sparked a row with Mrs May.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said it was “wrong” to retweet the posts, with Mr Trump telling Mrs May she should focus on “terrorism” in the UK instead.
One of the videos showed a “Muslim migrant” attacking a young Dutch man on crutches, although the claim in the tweet appeared to have little substance.
Mr Trump said he had made the retweets because he was concerned about the threat posed by radical Islamic extremists.
“They had a couple of depictions of radical Islamic terror. It was done because I am a big believer in fighting radical Islamic terror,” he said.
“This was a depiction of radical Islamic terror.”
After the Britain First row, the president subsequently pulled out of an expected visit to Britain to open the new US embassy building in London – leading to speculation of a diplomatic rift.
However, after meeting Mrs May at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, he insisted that relations were in good shape.
“We actually have a very good relationship, although a lot of people think we don’t,” he told Good Morning Britain.
“I support her, I support a lot of what she does and a lot of what she says.”
Following the meeting, officials said Mr Trump would be making his first visit to the UK as US president later this year.
But it appears likely that the trip will not be the full state occasion to which Mr Trump was invited by Mrs May, but a lower-key working visit.
Mr Trump’s appearance in the UK is not expected until the second half of 2018 – and is likely to be met by protests.
Downing Street said: “The PM and president concluded by asking officials to work together on finalising the details of a visit by the president to the UK later this year.”
On his ‘very good relationship’ with Theresa May
On his relationship with Theresa May, who he met for talks in Davosshortly before his interview with Mr Morgan on Thursday, Mr Trump said: “I can tell you I have a very good relationship with your Prime Minister, who I just left.
“She’s been doing a very good job. We actually have a very good relationship, although a lot of people think we don’t.”
Trump added: “I support her, I support a lot of what she does and a lot of what she says and I support you militarily very much.
“We will come to your defence if anything should happen, which hopefully will never happen. I am a tremendous supporter of the UK.”
On calls to ban his visit to Britain: ‘I don’t care’
Responding to suggestions that some figures in the UK would like him to be banned from visiting the country, Mr Trump said: “I hadn’t heard about banning, I think a lot of the people in your country like what I stand for, they respect what I stand for and I do stand for tough borders.”
He added: “The real me is somebody that loves Britain, loves the UK. I love Scotland.
“One of the biggest problems I have in winning (the presidency), I won’t be able to get back there so often. I would love to go there.
“As you know, before this happened, I would be there a lot. Very special people and a very special place. I don’t want to cause any difficulty for your country, that I can tell you.”
Asked what he thought of attacks from his critics, he said: “I don’t care. I don’t care. It’s just one of those things, I don’t say anything. You know why? I don’t care.”
Piers Morgan: Significant climbdown by Trump
Speaking after a clip of the interview was aired on Friday morning, Piers Morgan said: “A lot of the antagonism I think from people in Britain towards Donald Trump was dramatically fuelled by retweeting one of the leaders of Britain First.
“Donald Trump made it clear to me that when he did these retweets he had no idea who this person was, he had no idea who Britain First was. He just thought that the videos, which to him depicted Isis-like behaviour deserved a retweet. I questioned him on that.
“I think it was right and proper that he, now he was made aware – and I made him very clearly aware that these are racist, fascist people – that he should apologise and he said look, if they are these people you tell me they are then I would certainly apologise. I think that is a significant climbdown by the President.”
President Trump – The Piers Morgan Interview will be broadcast on ITV at 10pm on Sunday.
The rise of viral hate: How Britain First became the UK’s largest party on social media
by Mike Wright and Ashley Kirk
When Donald Trump retweeted three videos posted by Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen, he gifted a global platform to the anti-Islamic party.
Despite Mr Trump’s tacit Twitter endorsement, Britain First remains on the fringes of the political debate and has performed poorly in the few elections it has fought.
However, over the last few years Britain First has built a huge following on Facebook that has made it the largest UK political party on social media.
Propelled by a small group of active users and using populist causes such as support for pensioners, the party has managed to disseminate its message of hate to millions. It also enjoys verified status on Facebook – something it has not been granted on Twitter.
Since the party was formed in 2011 by former BNP members, Britain First’s Facebook page has amassed almost 2 million likes – compared to just 27,000 followers on Twitter.
Its Facebook following dwarfs that of the two main parties, with Labour’s page on just over 1 million likes and the Conservatives on 645,000.
By 2014, Britain First’s page had garnered 500,000 likes. Since then it has grown at pace to 1.5 million by November 2016 and is now close to crossing the 2 million like mark.
Its growth is driven by a social media strategy that intersperses populist posts aimed at prompting likes and shares with its virulently Islamophobic and anti-immigrant message. The page frequently posts simple and emotive questions with an exhortation for users to share if they agree with the sentiment. Often these posts latch onto themes such as the Royal Family, the elderly or war veterans.
Analysis of the page’s most engaged posts over the last year showed the third most popular was a photograph of the Queen with the caption: “Share if the Queen makes you proud to be British”. The second was a photo of an elderly couple’s hands with the question: “Share if you think our elderly folk deserve to be put before foreigners”.
The page’s most engaged post over the last 12 months was a call to “ban the burka” in Britain.
One of the subjects touched on most frequently on the page is the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was murdered in 2013 by Islamic extremists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. Many posts relate to the party’s campaign to have a memorial erected to the slain soldier on the spot where he was killed.