LONDON – A day of stately ceremony and ungenerous feuding behind him, President Donald Trump gets to the business of transatlantic diplomacy on Tuesday with meetings focused on trade, security and Britain’s pained exit from the European Union.
Trump’s royal engagements with Queen Elizabeth II, the centerpiece of his state visit here, are over, and for a short span midday his host will be the beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May, with whom he will sit for group talks alongside other aides before convening a joint news conference.
Trump and May will also jointly host a breakfast of business chiefs at the Tudor-era St. James’s Palace, joined by the President’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump and a dozen or so executives from American and British firms.
The US President will also tour the underground warren of rooms from which Winston Churchill ran his war efforts, a paean to a British leader Trump has long revered and hoped to emulate, at least in photographs.
Trump is visiting Whitehall at a difficult moment. May is stepping down as head of her party at the end of the week, entering a lame duck period as the conservatives select a new leader. In some ways, her talks with Trump will be purely symbolic since she’ll soon hand over her myriad troubles, principally the Brexit matter, to a successor.
But White House and British officials have maintained the talks will be substantive, given the general continuity in UK foreign policy between prime ministers and the long list of shared concerns between the two countries.
That includes Iran, which the UK still hopes will adhere to the Obama-era nuclear deal that Trump scrapped, and the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which the US is working to prevent from establishing 5G networks in Europe and elsewhere.
Trump has also said he may raise an unsubstantiated allegation that Britain helped spy on his presidential campaign, a claim Britain’s intelligence services have deemed “nonsense” but that Trump has refused to abandon.
But the likely top agenda item is the prolonged divorce between the UK and the EU, which has caused deep fractures in British society and precipitated May’s demise as prime minister. Trump hopes to negotiate a “big” new trade agreement with the UK once Brexit is complete, and has suggested the country “walk away” from talks with the EU over the divorce terms.
Trump has been unequivocal in his support for Brexit, and harshly critical of May’s handling of it. His overt positioning on the matter has not been entirely welcomed by the British government, but UK officials insisted ahead of their meeting this week that no awkwardness would exist between the two leaders.
“It’ll be fine. And I can promise you the talks will be important and substantive,” one UK official said, insisting the relationship between Trump, the brash New York developer, and May, the straight-laced vicar’s daughter, “has become really quite easy and quite natural.”
However much Trump has warmed to May, he’s been far warmer toward two of her vocal critics: Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London who once served in May’s cabinet before resigning in protest; and Nigel Farage, a Brexit campaigner who makes semi-regular appearances on Fox News.
Trump even said he would be open to meeting both men during his time in London this week, though a US official said on Monday no firm plans were in place for such an encounter. The official said if Trump asks aides to arrange a meeting, it would likely occur during a period of downtime on Tuesday afternoon before a formal dinner hosted at the US ambassador’s residence, where Trump is staying.
Instead of taking his armored motorcade from point to point in London this week, Trump has relied on his Marine One helicopter — even for short distances — avoiding protests on the city’s streets. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who Trump insulted on Twitter as he was landing at Stansted Airport on Monday, has allowed demonstrators to fly a giant balloon depicting Trump as a baby in a diaper.
Only small gatherings materialized on Monday, but larger protests were expected on Tuesday. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was expected to address one of the demonstrations.