Guess who’s coming to dinner? President Trump, his wife Melanie, and his entourage have arrived (above) in the UK almost 18 months after the British Prime Minister Theresa May hastily invited him on a State visit back in February 2017. She was heavily criticised for her indecent haste in not only visiting Washington so soon after his inauguration but for praising him and then inviting him to the UK – all only weeks after he took office as the 45th President of the United States of America. She had been the first world leader to visit the new President in Washington and clearly was hoping to capitalise on a visit to Washington to boost her popularity and standing at home and abroad. She, however, miscalculated the public mood in the UK. Many people were vehemently opposed to Mrs May cosying up to the new President and even more so to Trump setting foot in the UK and in particular giving him a prestigious State visit. This honour has rarely been granted to American Presidents. Only 11 previous presidents have visited the UK on official trips, the first being Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) in 1918, and only two presidents – George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Barack Obama (2009-2017) – have received State Visits in 2003 and 2011 respectively. Hundreds of thousands signed a petition to cancel the visit and were in particular opposed to him meeting the Queen and speaking before the combined Houses of Parliament.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who as the man responsible for all matters relating to the day-to-day running of the elected Parliamentary chamber declared his opposition to Trump addressing Parliament and effectively vetoed it as his permission is required before anyone can address Parliament. The scale of the public petition provoked a debate in Parliament on Trump’s planned visit, which – although was never going to cancel Trump’s visit – generated a great deal of opposition from Members of Parliament. Eventually, after some dithering, the planned State visit was at first postponed then scaled down to a so-called working visit. It would include a meeting over tea with the Queen and private talks with the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and others at the Prime Minister’s country retreat at Chequers. It would not include a State dinner or other traditional elements of a full State visit including attending a barbecue at Downing Street and addressing Parliament.
Photo: Donald and Melanie Trump and a Royal Air Force (RAF) honour guard at Stansted Airport
Despite claims that the British public love him – a claim that he has repeated again today ahead of his visit – the British public’s opposition to his visit, as well as their planned protests that have been arranged to coincide with his time in the UK, has forced the Government to scale back his visit dramatically. The planned protests have also meant that the President will spend as little time as possible in London and instead will spend most of his time outside the capital and hopefully for him away from the mass protests. This means that he will meet the Queen at Windsor Castle rather than Buckingham Palace, will meet the Prime Minister and other ministers at Chequers instead of at Downing Street in Whitehall, and that he will be transported around by helicopter – again to avoid protests.
The President arrived at Stanstead Airport outside London in Essex today at around 2pm BST (1pm GMT) and will stay at the residence of the US Ambassador at Winfield House which is in London on the edge of The Regent’s Park close to The Lord’s Cricket Ground and the London Central Mosque (aka The Regent’s Park Mosque). Winfield House was originally the home of the Woolworth’s heir Barbara Hutton and was sold to the United States for $1 in the 1950s from which time it has been used as the residence of the US ambassador to the Court of St James (i.e. the US ambassador in the UK). The President will have dinner this evening at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock in Oxfordshire. The Palace is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough and is the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to bear the title Palace. Blenheim Palace was also the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Photos: Winfield House and Blenheim Palace
Tomorrow Trump will meet Theresa May and the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at Chequers and will have tea and an hour-long meeting with the Queen at Windsor Castle. After that he will fly to Scotland to his Turnberry golf course, where he will spend the rest of tomorrow and Saturday on what is being called a private visit.
Photos: Windsor Castle and Turnberry golf resort
The Government’s attempts to keep the President away from the people may mean he sees little of the mass protests that are planned in London, and will see none of those in Devon, Dundee, Edinburgh, Belfast, Norwich, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. The protests in London are being organised by Together Against Trump by an Oxford-based Labour councillor Shaista Aziz who said the protests were “very clearly [a demonstration] that we reject the policies of this administration.” Despite Trump’s claims that the protests are “fine” and that the British people like him, his ego is likely to be bruised by the planned scale of the protests – even if he avoids seeing them he will be aware of them. It has previously been suggested that Trump previously delayed his visit to the UK because of the threat of protests and his friend and US media boss Christopher Ruddy told the BBC’s Today radio programme that the President will be “shocked” by the scale of the demonstrations.
London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who has has more than one run-in with the President over their conflicting policies and the President’s seemingly hostility to the fact that Mr Khan is a Muslim, has previously said that the President is not welcome in the UK and has authorised the use of a giant inflatable “baby Trump” which will fly over Westminster for a couple of hours tomorrow. Mr Khan had initially been wary of allowing it to be used but changed his mind in the face of tens of thousands of petition signatures. Whether Mr Trump will even see the blimp is debatable, but it will no doubt get plenty of media coverage here, in the USA and possibly worldwide. British right-wing nutter and former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) called the blimp the biggest insult to a sitting US President ever.
On a political level, the President arrives in the UK having suggested that the UK is in “turmoil” following recent resignations from Theresa May’s Cabinet over divisions relating to Brexit, including by the ‘Brexit Secretary’ David Davis (who was responsible to leading the Brexit negotiations with the European Union)and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (the British equivalent of the US Secretary of State). He further involved himself in the resignations by saying that he had always liked Boris Johnson and that it was up to the people of the UK whether Theresa May remains Prime Minister or not. This not doubt concerned Theresa May. The last thing she will want to hear from Trump is him supporting Boris Johnson or, even worse, meeting with him when he’s in the UK. Trump was already, by praising Johnson, showing tacit support to Boris Johnson, who could be a possible leadership contender against Theresa May. His comment about the people deciding on Mrs May’s future, however, shows his ignorance that at this stage it really isn’t the decision of the public whether Mrs May remains Prime Minister. They can only make that decision at a General Election. Theresa May may indeed face a challenge to her leadership but it will come from – and will be decided by – members of her own Conservative Party. If she is challenged and loses, or decides to resign, her replacement as leader of the Conservatives and therefore the next Prime Minister will be decided by the Conservative Party alone.
In fact, Mrs May only became Prime Minister in 2016 following the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister following the Brexit referendum. She was one of several candidates in the Conservative Party who contended for the leadership to replace Cameron. As the winner of that leadership election she automatically became Prime Minister. She was an unelected Prime Minister until 2017 when she called a snap General Election hoping to increase her party’s majority and give her “strength and stability” to force through Brexit on her terms. She again miscalculated the mood of the people. Her party did win the General Election but lost seats and their majority instead following the surge of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, who ran on a popular socialist agenda. Mrs May only remained Prime Minister because of the deeply controversial support of an extreme right-wing party in Northern Ireland – the Democratic Unionist Party – which she secured with the use of rash promises and vast amounts of taxpayers’ money.
Photos: Theresa May, David Davis and Boris Johnson
The President also involved himself in the ongoing Brexit process in the UK. Brexit is the popular name given to the UK public’s decision in a referendum in June 2016 to withdraw from the European Union. We have been a member since the early 1970s but will now leave the Union in March 2019. The recent resignations were over the differences on the implementation of Brexit among Theresa May’s Cabinet. The President suggested that the UK was a “pretty hot spot right now” as a consequences of the resignations. This is somewhat exaggerated as most people in the UK couldn’t care less about the resignations and most are deeply turned off by the whole Brexit process that has been dragging on for two years without any clear understanding of what is going to happen when we leave the EU.
One of the primary reasons that so many of those who voted to Leave the Union did so was over the issue of immigration. Sadly many people were deluded or fear-driven into making this their reason for voting Leave. Although of course their are many genuine concerns and issues over immigration to the UK, many right-wing politicians played the immigration card through misinformation, lies and distortions. As part of being a member of the European Union we accepted the concept of open borders within the EU, which meant that all people in 26 EU countries have the right to travel, live and work in any of those EU states. Brexit has partly focused on the future rights of Europeans and others to visit, live and work in the UK and on the rights of EU citizens already in the UK. The Government’s line on Brexit was inexorably heading towards ending the UK’s participation in the open borders scheme – which is known as Schengan Area. This is crucial for our future relationship with the EU once we are no longer a member. Any hopes of getting a favourable deal with the EU over trade and other matters will partly depend on the UK accepting some compromise on maintaining – at least in some degree – the concept of Schengan. Millions of people in the UK regularly visit the EU, whether on holiday or more permanently to live and work, and withdrawing from Schengan will at best make this process much more complicated.
President Trump took the opportunity to suggest that people in the UK “like me a lot […] I think they agree with me on immigration,” linking Brexit directly to immigration: “You see what’s going on throughout the world with immigration […] I think that’s why Brexit happened [… the British people] voted to break it up, so I imagine that’s what they’ll do […] Brexit is Brexit.” Theresa May’s Government is due to publish the Cabinet’s White Paper on a blueprint for Brexit – over two years after the referendum and just eight months before we’re due to leave the Union any day now. It was this agreement that the Cabinet supposedly came to unanimous understanding on last week. The subsequent resignations of Cabinet members demonstrate that it wasn’t unanimous and that the implementation of Brexit is still in chaos. Mrs May is gambling her future career on implementing Brexit in time and to her plan. If she doesn’t we could leave the Union without a deal with the remaining EU states. This could be disastrous and is perhaps in the back of Mrs May’s mind when she suggested that post-Brexit “there will be no more alliance more important in the years ahead” than that with the United States.
If we leave the EU without a deal with the EU on our future relations – especially on trade, immigration, movement of EU/UK citizens to and from the EU and UK, and how much the UK would have to reimburse the EU for commitments we have already made – it would mean that the remaining EU would treat the UK as any other country with borders, tariffs and restrictions. Mrs May may also be delusional to believe that a Trump administration – or any US administration – would give us favourable trade deals, for example, over and above those it gives with the European Union as a bloc. The US, like many other countries, needs to trade with the EU much more than it will need to trade with the UK and if we cut ourselves off from the EU in relation to trade agreements by failing to reach a deal before next March, then the UK is going to be left behind despite what Mrs May may say and even believe.
Photo: An Amnesty International banner spread across Vauxhall Bridge in London, which faces the new American embassy
Mrs May is therefore heavily dependent on some positive progress to come out of Trump’s visit to the UK, such as favourable comments on the possibility of a US-UK trade deal. Brian Klaas, a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics (LSE), told The Washington Post: “She’s in a Catch-22 with Trump. Her political base and the broader British public do not like Donald Trump. She also wants to show that in a post-Brexit world, Britain can still be a major player and Trump is central to that narrative. [But] If she comes out of this with another photo of her holding Donald Trump’s hand, that may not play well with people who find Donald Trump to be politically toxic.”
Others have suggested that Mrs May will be terrified of what the President may say or do while in Britain and, as Robin Niblett – director of the London think tank Chatham House – said, his visit “was something to be survived.” For instance, the President may take to Twitter to comment on the protests, the so-called “carnival of resistance” that will take place in London, Scotland and around the UK. Alternatively, if one protest planned outside Winfield House where he is staying is successful he may be in a foul mood ahead of meeting Theresa May as protesters plan to “Keep Trump Awake” with the use of “pots, drums and vuvuzelas.”
Trump may also take umbrage with London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan, as he has done previously. Of the protests against Trump over the next three days, Mayor Khan wrote in the London Evening Standard that they were “not anti-American – far from it.” He referred to the so-called Special Relationship between our two nations and warned that that relationship means “speaking out when we think one side is not living up to the values we hold dear. The eyes of the world will be on London this week. It’s an opportunity for our city to show our values, twinned with our world-renowned sense of humour.”
Perhaps in a somewhat exaggerated reaction, the State Department issued an Alert to Americans living in the UK “to keep a low profile and be aware of your surroundings” because of the planned demonstrations against President Trump. The US Embassy in London warned Americans “to exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings that may become violent.” This over-reaction isn’t helped by our own newspapers, such as The Guardian, who compared the planned protests to the scale of the 2011 riots throughout England, which saw five days of violence, unrest, looting and arson and was met by the deployment of 10,000 police officers. Those riots were the response to domestic issues and in reality the protests over Trump are highly unlikely to result in violence, especially against ordinary Americans who the protesters feel are the victims of Trump’s policies. One of the organisers of the protests, Asad Rehman, pointed out: “It’s important for us to send a powerful signal to those who are resisting and campaigning in America that we are standing in solidarity with them.”
Indeed ordinary Americans in the UK have been invited to join the protests if they so desire. Other Americans have taken to social media in support of the protests and in opposition to Trump and to suggest that the State Department’s Alert was an over-reaction. The State Department suggest that the Alert is simply the routine following of protocol that is followed that states that the American public must be informed if a staff member internally is warned about possible threats. The protests will undoubtedly be loud, vocal and passionate and you may even see some arrests for minor public order offences. However, Americans living in the UK have nothing to fear from these protests. They are aimed at Trump, his administration and policies and not at Americans in general or even America.
Photo: The President’s motorcade at Stansted Airport, where he arrived today in Air Force One before leaving by the Marine One helicopter
The Prime Minister is naturally, but perhaps a little bit naively, being upbeat and optimistic about the visit of the President and the effect it will have on her administration and the country. Theresa May has said that the visit will be an opportunity to boost trade post-Brexit and strengthen co-operation on security. As well as Brexit she also plans to discuss the Middle East. However, potential for conflict will emerge as she may also confront the President over his apparent support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The President joked earlier this week that his visit to Putin in Helsinki in Finland next week will be easier than his visits to the NATO meetings this week and his UK visit, which only increases the belief that Trump prefers Putin and Russia to his closest allies and his inability to work with his allies.
His willingness to alienate his allies in the seeming favour of the Russians didn’t go down well in the UK or Europe. Mrs May has said she will ask the President to confront Putin on Russia’s “malign behaviour” and in particular, concerning the UK in particular, the recent Russian complicity in the use of Soviet-era nerve agents in Salisbury on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. They survived the attack but two more people were contaminated by the nerve agent in recent days and one of these has died and the other is in a critical condition. Whether she will get any support from the President is doubtful and even more doubtful that the President will confront Putin over it.
- Donald Trump ‘fine’ with UK protests ahead of visit – BBC – Thursday 12 July 2018
- Donald Trump arrives in UK for start of contentious visit – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Patrick Wintour and Peter Walker
- Trump claims victory at Nato summit after fresh row over defence spending – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Ewen MacAskill in Brussels
- ‘Not acceptable’: officers policing Trump visit sleeping on mats – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Matthew Waver and Agency
- ‘Unprecedented unpredictability’: UK braces for Trump visit – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic Editor
- Dear EU, please take Britain’s Brexit plan seriously. It may be our best offer – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Henry Newman
- The Guardian view on the Trump visit: not welcome in Britain – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – Editorial
- Donald Trump’s visit could be just the unifying moment Britain needs – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Hadley Freeman
- May’s Brexit plan is here, and it’s a dead duck already – The Guardian – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Polly Toynbee
- ‘I think they like me a lot in the U.K.,’ Trump says, as he faces mass protests in Britain – The Washington Post – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by William Booth and Karla Adam
- Trump says NATO nations make major new defense spending commitments after he upends summit – The Washington Post – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Michael Birnbaum and Philip Rucker
- Keep your heads down, U.S. Embassy warns Americans ahead of Trump visit to London – The Washington Post – Wednesday 11 July 2018 – by William Booth and Karla Adam
- Trump in UK: Pomp and protest as visit stokes culture war – BBC – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by James Cook
- Guess who’s coming to dinner with Donald Trump – BBC – Thursday 12 July 2018 – by Jamie Robertson, Business reporter
- Donald Trump UK visit: What is going to happen during the trip? – BBC – Thursday 12 July 2018
- Donald Trump: Brexit is turning out ‘a little bit differently’ – BBC – Thursday 12 July 2018