President Donald Trump Begins U.K. State Visit
Donald Trump called on the U.K. to throw off the “shackles” of European Union membership and strike a free-trade deal with the U.S., as the president again weighed into domestic politics during his state visit to Britain.
In the lead-up to his trip to London, Trump said the U.K. should walk away from tortured talks with the EU if Brussels refuses to negotiate better terms for the divorce, and suggested Nigel Farage -- who’s campaigning for a no-deal Brexit -- should be put in charge of the process.
“Big Trade Deal is possible once U.K. gets rid of the shackles,” Trump tweeted. “Already starting to talk!”
Trump’s comments are another signal of his desire to get on with a bilateral trade agreement with the U.K. and for the British government to secure a clean break from EU rules. A hard split would give maximum scope for a new accord, but if the U.K. remained bound to the bloc’s regulations, it would narrow the options for a future deal.
The White House issued a statement earlier Monday saying Trump “supports Brexit being accomplished in a way that maintains global economic stability while securing voters’ wishes for U.K. independence.”
It’s a sensitive issue in the U.K.. Theresa May has failed to get the agreement she negotiated with Brussels ratified in Parliament and will step down as prime minister. Rivals jockeying to replace her are putting forward their own Brexit plans, with the favorite, Boris Johnson, pledging to take Britain out of the EU -- with no deal, if necessary -- at the end of October.
Trump criticized May’s compromise agreement with the EU in November last year, saying Britain “may not be able to trade with us” as a result. His comments dashed hopes stoked during his visit to the U.K. in July 2017, when he said “a very big deal, a very powerful deal” would be completed between the two countries “very very quickly.”
Brexit critics say a trade deal with the U.S. risks imperiling the National Health Service, by increasing the involvement of private U.S. companies in the U.K. public sector. May’s office was forced to reiterate Monday that the state-funded health-care system would not be up for discussion in trade talks.
The statement put her government on a collision course with Trump after his envoy in London, Woody Johnson, told the BBC the “entire” U.K. economy would be on the table.
Trump will meet U.S. and U.K. business leaders on Tuesday at the start of the second day of his visit, which is expected to throw up more controversy than Monday’s schedule of royal visits and pageantry.
May, who will co-host the talks at St James’s Palace in London, will call for governments on both sides of the Atlantic to embrace the opportunity of Brexit to seal a bilateral free-trade deal, and work together to keep global markets “free, fair and open.”
Ahead of the business talks, May’s office called for greater cooperation in a statement that appeared to acknowledge the potential differences of opinion.
The partnership between the countries “can be greater still” if they continue “to work together to underpin, shape and influence the global economy and its rules and institutions,” May will say, according to extracts of her remarks released by her office.
Trump has clashed with global economic institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and his use of tariffs in trade wars with China, Europe and Mexico has alarmed markets, adding to uncertainty around Brexit for companies investing in the U.K.
The talks will include executives from BAE Systems Plc, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, National Grid Plc, Barclays Bank Plc, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, Goldman Sachs International, Bechtel Corp and Splunk Inc.
Small and elite by design, the event is timed to put Trump in control of the message at the start of the day, before he heads for talks with May’s team at 10 Downing Street.
He is expected to pressure the U.K. over Huawei Technologies Co., which the U.S. wants to see shut out of 5G broadband networks across Europe.
A joint news conference with the prime minister will then give Trump -- if he chooses -- the chance to intervene in British politics on everything from the contest to succeed May to Brexit.
The president is all but certain to be asked about his views on Boris Johnson, who resigned from May’s government over her Brexit plan and is the favorite to succeed her; and Farage, whose Brexit Party inflicted a heavy defeat on May’s ruling Conservative Party in European elections last month.
While Trump had held out the possibility that he could meet with the two men, no plans had been announced by Monday evening. If the meetings are to take place, the most likely timing is Tuesday afternoon.
Trump’s first day in London was largely free from controversy -- once he’d actually landed. Minutes before Air Force One touched down at Stansted Airport, he renewed his long-running spat with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, calling him a “stone cold loser.”
It was an apparent response to a newspaper editorial by Khan -- the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital -- in which he called Trump “one of the most egregious examples” of the global rise of the far right.
At a Buckingham Palace banquet Monday evening hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, the president and the monarch exchanged toasts.
The queen toasted the “assembly of international institutions” created after World War Two “to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.”
“While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace,” she said.
Trump has frequently questioned the continued utility of such institutions, including the United Nations and NATO.
For his part, the president toasted “the common values that will unite us long into the future: freedom, sovereignty, self-determination, the rule of law, and reverence for the rights given to us by almighty God.”
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters are expected to take to the streets Tuesday, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn planning to address the crowds about the time Trump is giving his news conference with May.