By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's interior minister Sajid Javid, one of the candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister, said on Thursday it was odd that he was blocked from attending a royal banquet with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month.
In his first comments on being excluded, Javid said he had written to the prime minister's office asking why he was not invited to the banquet and was unconvinced by the answer.
Javid, who is of Pakistani heritage, was the only senior cabinet minister not invited to the event during Trump's state visit at which guests dined in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth.
The prime minister, the foreign minister, the finance minister, the cabinet office minister, the environment minister, the defense minister and the trade minister all attended.
"I don't like it. It is odd," Javid told BBC radio when asked why other senior ministers attended but not him.
Javid condemned Trump on Twitter after the president shared videos of the far-right group Britain First in 2017. He said the president had endorsed a "vile hate-filled organization that hates me and people like me."
Earlier this month, the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May asking her if Javid was not invited to the banquet because of his heritage.
The council cited Trump’s Muslim travel ban, his retweeting of posts from Britain First and his criticism of the London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
A spokesman for May said it was "categorically" untrue that Javid did not attend the banquet because of his criticism of Trump.
"A large number of ministers who expressed a wish to attend were not able to do so," he said.
Javid said he asked May's office why he was not invited, but was told that interior ministers were not always invited to such events.
"My office did ask Number 10 (Downing Street) and they said no," he said.
When asked whether he thought it was because of his Muslim background he said: "No. I am not saying that at all. I really don't know."
During the two state banquets held during his predecessor Amber Rudd's tenure as interior minister - with the president of Colombia in November 2016 and the King of Spain in July 2017 - she did receive an invitation and attended.
Jacqui Smith, a former interior minister under a Labour government, said the decision to exclude Javid was strange because she attended every state banquet for visiting leaders.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by William Schomberg and Stephen Addison)