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White House GCHQ comments will not harm special relationship, says Johnson

Accusations that British intelligence was asked by the Obama administration to spy on Donald Trump will not make any difference to the special relationship between the US and UK, Boris Johnson has said.

The Foreign Secretary said the damage done by the allegations, described by GCHQ as "nonsense", would be like that inflicted by a "gnat against a rhinoceros or an elephant".

But Tory MP Keith Simpson criticised Mr Johnson's characterisation of the fallout from the remarks as he said the accusations repeated by the White House were "deeply damaging".

The issue was raised by Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw, who asked during Foreign Office questions: "What damage is done by fantastical and ridiculous outbursts like those of President Trump levelled at GCHQ?

"Can the Foreign Secretary assure this House that the invaluable intelligence relationship between us and the United States is not compromised by the current incumbent of the White House?"

Mr Johnson replied: "The damage done by such remarks I think can be likened to that of a gnat against a rhinoceros or an elephant.

"It is not something that will make any difference to a fundamental relationship that, as I say, is of great international importance.

"As for the assertion that there was some sort of collusion by GCHQ to bug the presidential candidate, I think that has been accurately described as absurd and ridiculous."

But Mr Simpson, the MP for Broadland, suggested Mr Johnson was wrong to play down the significance of the comments.

He said: "Can I just bring the Foreign Secretary down to earth. The core elements of the Anglo-American relationship are based upon Five Eyes and intelligence.

"President Trump's allegation repeated from Fox News was not a gnat at a rhinoceros, it was deeply damaging and I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary would tell the House exactly what comments he made to refute that with the president or senior members of the White House."

A diplomatic incident was sparked when White House press secretary Sean Spicer mentioned claims that British security agency GCHQ had spied on Mr Trump when he was a presidential candidate at Barack Obama's request.

In a rare intervention, GCHQ said the claims were "nonsense" and should be ignored.

Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry asked Mr Johnson if he had sought to argue against a presidential executive order on lifting curbs on power plant emissions and its potential impact on the Paris Agreement on climate change when he visited Washington for talks last week.

She said the order would make it "practically impossible" for the US to hit the targets agreed in Paris.

"One wonders whether you raised the issue in Washington or were just ignored or didn't raise the issue at all," she said, before adding: "The only way you will get listened to by Trump is if you are prepared to stand up and challenge him."

Mr Johnson insisted he did raise the issue, and said: "You are once again being too pessimistic. Let's wait and see."

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