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Roads Closed, Giant Baby Inflated: Britain Braces for T...

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Roads Closed, Giant Baby Inflated: Britain Braces for Trump

The 'Trump Baby' blimp flies over Parliament Square. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
By Bloomberg
02 Jun 2019 0

The roads in central London are being closed, the extra police are on patrol, and the giant inflatable baby is being prepared. Britain is ready to welcome Donald Trump. But in characteristic style, the president fired two salvos at his hosts even before leaving Washington.

On successive days, Trump led British headlines with his views on the country’s political crises. Saturday saw his observation to the Sun newspaper that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would make an “excellent” prime minister. The next day the Sunday Times reported his advice to Britain that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage be appointed to negotiate Britain’s departure from the European Union.

But Britain is now accustomed to Trump’s approach to diplomacy. The calculations that the country’s Conservatives are making about who should succeed Theresa May are complicated, and unlikely to be much swayed by a presidential endorsement. And neither May nor any of her successors are likely to let Farage, a man who could pose an existential threat to their party, anywhere near a position of influence.

“We’re quite used to the fact that he does the unexpected thing, and it’s not going to affect the warmth of the welcome that we give him because Britain and America are two of the greatest friends you find anywhere on the planet,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We’ve got to know the president a bit over the last few years.”

Boris Friendship

Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, also played down the significance of Trump’s praise for Johnson, telling the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show”: “He has known Boris for a long time, so I think what he’s commenting on is just his knowledge of Boris as a person and all the meetings he’s had with Boris. He said it’s not an endorsement.”

But for all the efforts that diplomats on both sides will make to insist that the visit is going smoothly, the coming days will see them on high alert.

“You never know what you’re going to get with Trump,” said Charles Kupchan, a Europe expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University professor who advised Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton on the National Security Council. “Look what happened in Japan.”

Trump’s visit last month also was built around ceremony — the ascension of a new Japanese emperor — but while in the country the U.S. president managed to threaten Japan on trade, and side with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in criticizing Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Pomp, Circumstance

In the U.K., most of Trump’s White House advisers are seeking to keep him focused on the pomp and circumstance of meeting Queen Elizabeth, and on honoring the role of the U.S. and its allies in World War II, rather than trying to achieve any policy changes with May as she prepares to leave office or on inserting himself into the contest to replace her.

Yet in the days leading up to the trip, Trump hasn’t simply offered support for Johnson and Farage. He’s also told reporters that he might meet with the two men during his visit — it’s still unclear whether this will happen — and repeated criticism of May’s handling of Brexit negotiations. He also suggested that multiple candidates in the U.K. were angling for his support and that he could play a significant role in shaping who comes next if he chose to.

Diplomatic Protocol

“If the president meets with one or two candidates and not others it is interference of a sort in British politics, and normally a president would avoid that, or make sure to meet them all,” Kupchan said. “Trump is not known for observing diplomatic protocol and tradition.”

While Trump weighs if and how much to insert himself into the contest to replace May, he continues to deal at home with the consequences of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and mounting calls to impeach him that stemmed from those probes.

Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that neither he nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi favor initiating impeachment because it remains destined to fail in the Senate, but “that calculus may change if the president continues to stonewall, if the president continues to demonstrate his unfitness for office.” For now, “I think if it is a close call, close calls go against putting the country through that.”

Tea, Art

Trump lands in London Monday morning for a three-day visit. He’ll travel to Buckingham Palace, where he’ll be greeted by the Queen and her son, Prince Charles. After a private lunch with the monarch, he’ll look at some of her artworks, and then travel to Westminster Abbey, where he’ll lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, after tea with Prince Charles and his wife, he’ll return to the Palace for a state dinner.

Tuesday will see Trump and May hold talks and give a joint press conference in her Downing Street office, and then Trump will host a dinner at U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson’s residence. On Wednesday, the president will join the Queen and May in Portsmouth for a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The visit has triggered calls for mass protests in London, set for Tuesday. As well as demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, there will be the second outing on the 20-foot inflatable “Trump Baby” — a cartoonish depiction of the president wearing a diaper. DM

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