LONDON, July 12 (AFP): Donald Trump arrives in Britain on Thursday for his first visit as US president, flying into a whirlwind of protests against him and political turmoil over Brexit.
The four-day trip, which will include talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, tea with Queen Elizabeth II and a private weekend in Scotland, is set to be greeted by a leftist-organised mass protest in London on Friday.
Despite a series of diplomatic spats between Britain and Trump, the British government is hoping for a quick trade deal with the US after it leaves the European Union.
“When we leave the European Union we will begin to chart a new course for Britain in the world and our global alliances will be stronger than ever,” May said ahead of Trump’s visit.
“There is no stronger alliance than that of our special relationship with the US and there will be no alliance more important in the years ahead,” the British leader said.
US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, has said a deal will be “a major priority” for Trump, calling Brexit “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change direction”.
Trump flies in after the NATO summit in Brussels and leaves Britain on Sunday for talks in Helsinki the following day with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Britain “is in somewhat turmoil”, Trump said before departing Washington, remarking that dealing with Putin might surprisingly be the easiest part of the European trip.
“The UK certainly has a lot of things going on,” he said, referring to the resignations of Britain’s Brexit and foreign ministers over the government’s plan for ties with the European Union after it leaves the bloc in March.
Ambassador Johnson sought to explain Trump’s comments.
“There’s always turmoil in every country but no, no, I think the UK is proceeding as it always does,” he told BBC radio.
“We’re extremely confident in the ability of the UK to plough through this issue with Brexit and move on,” he said.
On the planned protests, the ambassador said that Trump appreciated free speech and dismissed as “irrelevant” a giant balloon of Trump depicted as a crying baby in nappies which will fly next to the British parliament on Friday.
The crowdfunded initiative has been dubbed “Trump Baby”.
The US president’s brash style and hardline “America First” policies have caused consternation across Britain’s political spectrum and society.
He was severely criticised last November, including by May, after sharing three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos posted by far-right group Britain First.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump hailed ‘tremendous progress’ on defence spending commitments by NATO members, saying two days of tough talks had left the alliance “much stronger”.
“We made a tremendous amount of progress today,” Trump said after emergency talks with fellow NATO leaders prompted by his demands for allies to boost military budgets immediately.
“Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment they’re going to up it at levels they’ve never thought of before.” The US leader had thrown the summit into crisis by demanding countries meet a spending target of two percent of GDP immediately, instead of by 2024, and to eventually double spending to four per cent.
Trump has long complained that European countries do not spend enough on their own defence, leaving the US to shoulder an unfair burden for protecting the continent.
“I let them know I was extremely unhappy with what was happening and they have substantially upped their commitment and now we’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very strong NATO, much stronger than it was two days ago,” he said.
Trump stated his commitment to NATO, speaking after reports that he had warned leaders that the United States could pull out of the alliance if other members failed to increase their contributions.
“The US were not treated fairly, but now we are. I believe in NATO,” Trump told a press conference after a fraught NATO summit in Brussels.