Trump in London: Lampooned in the Streets, Embraced by Tories

A woman takes a selfie as the ‘Trump Baby’ blimp is inflated in Parliament Square in central London as people gather to protest the state visit of President Donald Trump on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

(CN) – In Trafalgar Square, a 16-foot-tall robot of Donald Trump sits on a golden toilet, pants down, and tweets. A blimp of a baby Trump wearing diapers floats over protesters’ heads. Thousands of people crowded into central London on Tuesday to express their dislike of the American president.

The real Trump, meanwhile, was taken by helicopter and motorcade across London on the second day of a three-day state visit to the United Kingdom – and saw a very different reality.

“Tremendous crowds of well wishers and people that love our Country,” he tweeted Tuesday morning. “Haven’t seen any protests yet, but I’m sure the Fake News will be working hard to find them. Great love all around.”

In fact, as The Guardian newspaper pointed, the “tremendous crowds” Trump saw hailing him was a fiction and instead the colorful carnival-like protests commanded much of the attention, though the numbers of protesters appeared dampened by rain. Large numbers of police were on hand to keep protesters away from Trump.

(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

“The White House has not tweeted any pictures of these huge crowds of Trump fans – probably for the obvious reason that they don’t exist,” The Guardian wrote.

Later, at a news conference, Trump insisted there were “thousands of people” cheering for him on the streets and that the protests were small.

This state visit by Trump appeared to divide an already divided Britain even more. The visit highlighted differences within British society over Brexit and differences of opinion about the role the United States plays in the world and Britain’s relationship with the U.S., which is considered the country’s closest ally.

The American president spent much of Tuesday involved in diplomatic matters after a day of pomp and pageantry at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II.

In the morning, he met business leaders and later held talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet of Conservatives, who are friendly to Trump.

He again got involved in Britain’s domestic politics by announcing a private meeting with Michael Gove, Britain’s environment minister and a leading contender to replace outgoing May as prime minister. His meeting with Gove was viewed by pundits a bad sign for another contender: Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets President Donald Trump on Tuesday outside 10 Downing Street in central London. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Trump caused controversy last week when he said he would like to see Johnson become the next prime minister. Later Tuesday, it was reported that Johnson turned down an offer to meet Trump due to a scheduling conflict and that the two spoke by telephone. At the news conference, Trump also praised a third contender for the premiership, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Gove is considered less hawkish on Brexit and has argued against leaving the European Union without a deal. Johnson, meanwhile, has said the U.K. should leave the EU with or without a deal by Oct. 31. Leaving without a deal is considered risky because it could cause major economic turmoil.

Trump is pushing for a trade agreement with the U.K. should it leave the EU. In a news conference with May, he talked about how the U.S. and U.K. could do a “very substantial trade deal.”

Earlier, he had said the U.K. should leave the “shackles” of the EU – a phrase highlighted on the front-page of the Daily Express, a conservative newspaper pushing for Brexit, accompanied by a picture of Trump and the queen clinking glasses in a toast.

While many in the Conservative Party were eager to praise Trump and win his support, the opposition Labour Party went out of its way to criticize the president. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke to protesters and boycotted a banquet hosted by the queen on Monday. His boycott was regarded as an insult to Trump, the queen and the U.S.-U.K. “special relationship.” 

Corbyn blasted Trump for criticizing London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, and rejected suggestions by the Trump administration that Britain’s government-run health care system should be made part of any future deal. Corbyn said he would never accept putting it up for sale.

Corbyn is viewed as a democratic socialist – and characterized as a dangerous far-left figure by those on the right. He is a divisive figure in Britain and his critics say Corbyn as prime minister would endanger Britain’s close ties to the United States, especially if Trump were the president. The chance of Corbyn winning a general election has grown since Brexit. The Tories have seen their support dwindle and are embroiled in bitter party disputes over Brexit.  

Another Labour leader, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, said Britain should not be honoring Trump and called him a “sexual predator” and a “racist.” She criticized the Conservative government for “fawning all over Trump.”

“He is a sexual predator, he is a racist, and it’s right to say that,” she said in a BBC radio interview. “And I think we need to think about when is it that our country got so scared. Why can’t we start saying things as they are?”

Despite having only recently taken over the White House, Trump was invited for a state visit by May in 2017 shortly after she became prime minister. At the time, May was eager to win Trump’s support for a trade deal and planning to take Britain out of the EU quickly. Two years later, she is on her way out after she was forced to resign due to her inability to get Brexit through the Parliament.   

At the news conference, Trump revealed that he refused to meet Corbyn during the visit and he called him a “somewhat negative force.”

Trump’s visit was to continue Wednesday for commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a pivotal moment in the Allies’ victory in World War II.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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