Controversy overshadows Trump’s visit to Britain

US president faces ‘a carnival of protest’ and wrath of British politicians

Britain’s fortunes are inextricably entwined with those of the mighty United States. They will be even more so after the UK leaves the European Union in respect to a coveted US-UK trade deal as well as heightened diplomatic and military cooperation.

There is genuine warmth and cultural ties between most Britons and Americans. Nevertheless, President Trump’s three-day state visit that kicked off on Monday has elicited a storm of protest with hundreds of thousands set on marching past Downing Street towards Parliament dubbed by activists ‘A Carnival of Resistance.’

More than 10,000 police officers have been tasked with the president’s protection; they will attempt to keep a projected 100,000 demonstrators at bay during his visit to Number 10 to meet with the outgoing prime minister who has come under fire for bestowing Trump with the honour of a state visit reserved for the few. Only 12 US presidents have ever made the cut, among them Barack Obama.

Unless he keeps his eyes lowered he won’t be able to miss the offensive giant baby blimp due to float in the breeze above Parliament Square with the approval of London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, described by Khan as “a symbol of peaceful protest.”

The mayor is no fan of Trump. “This is a man who also tried to exploit Londoner’s fears following a horrific attack on our city, amplified the tweets of a British far-right racist group, denounced as fake new the robust scientific evidence warning of the dangers of climate change, and is now trying to interfere shamelessly in the Conservative Party leadership race by backing Boris Johnson,” he wrote in the Observer.

Trump holds to the belief that he is beloved by Britons, however, last year his approval rating among British people polled by YouGov was at an all-time low for any American president standing at a mere 11 per cent. I fear that percentage is set to dive in light of comments he recently made to the Sun newspaper.

Bromance with Boris Johnson

In an interview, he criticised the PM for her handing of Brexit. “She didn’t give the European Union anything to lose,” he said before anointing arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson for her job and boasting of his bromance with Johnson and Nigel Farage. The irony is while Congress is consumed with Russia’s alleged interference in America’s politics, Trump doesn’t shirk from meddling in Britain’s.

He has made it clear that he has no love for the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn whom he would need “to know” before agreeing to share US intelligence. The feeling is mutual. Corbyn has been fiercely critical of the US president’s policies and has declined an invitation to attend a lavish state dinner in Trump’s honour.

Corbyn is far from being the lone anti-Trump British lawmaker. Although it is customary for foreign heads of state on a state visit to address Parliament no such invitation has been afforded to this US president.

The outspoken Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow says President Trump is not welcome and has registered his refusal on the grounds that such an invitation is “not an automatic right, it is an earned honour.” Judging by the loud and prolonged applause his statement received most lawmakers agree.

Arguably Trump’s greatest gaffe of all was his reference to Prince Harry’s adored wife, a new mother, as being “nasty” particularly when the newborn’s great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth is his host. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex who is no fan of America’s Commander-in-Chief, will not be attending the glittering banquet at Buckingham Palace to be attended by all senior royals including her husband, ostensibly because she is on maternity leave.

Pomp and ceremony

It will be interesting to see whether Harry will suddenly discover he has a compelling previous engagement. I would suspect the queen is secretly relieved that the government has not included a palace stay in Trump’s itinerary. However, she never lets personal feelings trump her duties as Head of State. He and the First Lady will be treated with the utmost courtesy and can look forward to being showered with the kind of pomp and ceremony for which Britain excels.

Whether the visit will enhance the historic Special Relationship between Washington and London or turns out to be a damaging mistake is yet to be seen. Whatever the case, the ties between Britain and America are too strong to be broken on a fit of pique. They will endure.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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