Trump makes state visit amid UK political turmoil

President Trump arrived in London on Monday for a long-awaited visit to the United Kingdom amid a turbulent time in British politics.

The president will take part in the pageantry of a state visit with one of America’s closest allies — dining with the queen, meeting with other members of the royal family and attending a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

But there’s potential for tumult on the political side as the British government is in flux and Trump has been unafraid to weigh in on the state of affairs across the pond.

{mosads}Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May just days before she steps down over her inability to secure a Brexit deal, something the president criticized her for when he visited the country last year.

“President Trump is in Britain at a time when the leadership of the government is unclear. The only thing we know about it is it’s going to change,” said Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The timing of the trip is largely based around the D-Day anniversary, senior administration officials said. Trump will participate in a ceremony in Portsmouth on Wednesday to commemorate the Allied invasion. He will attend a larger event in France the following day.

“We’ve been planning this for many months, and it’s a very important event to commemorate,” one official said, adding there will be “many things” for Trump to talk about with May.

Among the topics for discussion is the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. The U.S. has warned that the company’s technology is a national security threat and urged allies not to use it. British officials have said they plan to block the company’s access to core parts of the country’s 5G network while giving it limited access elsewhere.

They are also likely to talk about trade. Both countries have sought to work out a bilateral deal upon the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

{mossecondads}But it’s unclear how much the two can accomplish: May is set to resign as party leader within days of Trump’s visit, and the future of Brexit remains uncertain.

The deadline for Brexit has been pushed back until October, and much of Britain’s trade policies going forward will be dependent on the conditions of its EU departure.

May’s tenure was defined by repeated failures to get a Brexit deal through Parliament after voters said in a 2016 referendum that they wanted to break away from the political and economic bloc.

She announced in a tearful statement last month that she would step down as leader of the Conservative Party effective June 7, and as prime minister once a successor is chosen.

“I feel badly for Theresa,” Trump told reporters after May announced her resignation. “I like her very much. She’s a good woman. She worked very hard. She’s very strong. She decided to do something that some people were surprised at, some people weren’t. It’s for the good of her country.”

Trump stoked controversy during his previous U.K. visit when he gave an interview to a British tabloid criticizing the prime minister’s Brexit plan.

“I think in general it’s wise for foreign leaders to stay out of domestic politics because you’re just going to irritate a large number of people who disagree with whatever you say, and you probably won’t move the needle in the argument,” Mallaby said.

But in the days leading up to his arrival, Trump offered his take on members of the royal family, the next prime minister and Brexit negotiations.

In an interview with the British tabloid The Sun, Trump was complimentary toward Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. But much of the focus was dedicated to his comment that he was unaware she made “nasty” comments about him during the 2016 campaign.

In the same interview, he offered support for Boris Johnson as a potential replacement for May.

“I like him. I have always liked him,” Trump told The Sun. “I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person.”

Johnson is among the front-runners to replace May as prime minister, though he was summoned last week to appear in court over allegations he lied during the Brexit campaign.

In a separate interview with The Sunday Times, Trump suggested the next prime minister should “walk away” from Brexit negotiations if the EU doesn’t cater to its demands. He further recommended Nigel Farage lead negotiations. 

Trump has expressed fondness for Farage, a vocal advocate of the Brexit movement and a Trump supporter during the 2016 presidential campaign. His Brexit Party earned roughly 31 percent of the popular vote during the most recent European Parliament elections.

Trump told reporters Thursday that he “may” meet with Johnson and Farage while in the country, but a senior administration official later told reporters they were unaware of any communication about setting up a private meeting.

The president and first lady will arrive on Monday, and are expected to be joined by Trump’s adult children. Queen Elizabeth II will host an arrival ceremony at Buckingham Palace and a state dinner.

The next day, Trump will hold a bilateral meeting with May, followed by a dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

After the D-Day ceremony in Portsmouth, Trump will travel to Ireland to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He will conclude the trip in France, where he will attend a D-Day event in Normandy and meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump’s trips abroad have had a tendency to be sidetracked by extraneous storylines. His previous trip to the U.K. was overshadowed by the interview with The Sun, and last week’s state visit to Japan was dominated by Trump’s criticisms of former Vice President Joe Biden.

The president will be met this week with widespread protests, as thousands of demonstrators are expected to turn out in London and elsewhere in the U.K. A blimp depicting Trump as a baby, which first appeared during last year’s visit, will again fly over London while he is in town.

A senior administration official told reporters that the White House hasn’t discussed the expected protests, adding that Trump has not shown any concern about them.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he didn’t expect Trump’s comments ahead of his visit to disrupt the trip.

“I think the other thing we’ve learned from the president is that you know regularly we have to agree to disagree, and there’s a whole list of things that we don’t agree with the administration on,” he said. “But it doesn’t affect the fact that we have the most important partnership that there is in the world for freedom, democracy, the rule of law the things, that really matter, and that’s what we’re celebrating.”

Tags Brexit Council on Foreign Relations D-Day Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron France Huawei Ireland Joe Biden Meghan Markle State visit Theresa May UK
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