Trump visit to UK faces turbulence amid Brexit chaos
LONDON — President Donald Trump prides himself on being the great disrupter, but when he arrives in London on Monday for a state visit, it’s not clear how much more he can shake up a country that is already convulsed, divided and utterly exhausted by the long debate over its departure from the European Union.
Still, Trump’s penchant for uncensored opinions and unsolicited advice is likely to capture as many headlines, if history is any guide, as the visit’s stately rituals: a banquet with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and afternoon tea with the Prince of Wales at his official residence, Clarence House.
Trump got an early start, telling The Sunday Times in an interview published before his arrival that Britain’s next leader should “walk away” from Brexit negotiations with Brussels to extract a better deal, and should make Nigel Farage, the fiery populist who was one of the leaders of the Brexit movement, the country’s chief negotiator.
The president proposed Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former foreign secretary and onetime mayor of London, as a good candidate to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May, who will step down as leader of her party on Friday. Her meeting with Trump on Tuesday will be one of the last acts of her star-crossed residency at 10 Downing Street.
May worked for months to arrange this visit, the first stop of a five-day tour for Trump that will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion with solemn ceremonies in Britain and France. Trump will most likely also squeeze in a round of golf at his club in Doonbeg, Ireland.
British and U.S. officials said the White House had been deferential to 10 Downing Street in planning the trip, letting the British government set the program and avoiding demands, such as a presidential address to Parliament, which the hosts would have found difficult to grant.
“The ‘special relationship’ is in worse shape than either side will admit,” said Thomas Wright, an expert on Europe at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a think tank. “The combination of Brexit, Farage and Huawei makes it particularly fraught,” he added, referring also to the Trump administration’s targeting of the Chinese telecommunications company. “This could be the tipping point where the problems become more public.”
Trump remains unpopular in Britain, not least with the newest member of the royal family, the Duchess of Sussex, formerly known as Meghan Markle. She told a television interviewer in 2016 that if Trump were elected president, she would consider staying in Canada, where her television series was filmed.
Asked about her comments in an Oval Office interview published Friday by The Sun tabloid, Trump said: “What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty.” But he also said she would make “a very good” American princess.
The duchess, who is married to Prince Harry and who is recovering after the birth of their first child, is not expected to meet the president. But the rest of the royal family will be on hand — including Harry’s brother, Prince William, and his wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. All four of Trump’s adult children are expected to accompany the president and the first lady, Melania Trump.
Despite May’s lame-duck status, administration officials said that she and Trump would have a full list of issues to discuss, including Brexit, a trade deal with the United States and the threats posed by China and Iran.