London — US President Donald Trump arrived in "hot spot" Britain on Thursday after casting doubt on Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU and with protests planned across the country where he says the people like him a lot.
After a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit where he provoked a crisis session to force allies to raise their defence spending, Trump landed in Britain for his first visit as president, having described the closest US ally in Europe as being in turmoil over Brexit.
May hopes Trump, who landed at Stansted Airport before flying by helicopter to the US ambassador’s London residence, will help to accelerate a future free-trade deal, though his public comments on Brexit cast a shadow over the visit.
"I’m going to a pretty hot spot right now, right? With a lot of resignations," Trump told a news conference at the Nato summit in Brussels.
Trump’s trip coincides with a tumultuous week for May after two senior ministers resigned in protest at her plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves in March 2019.
"The people voted to break it [the EU] up, so I imagine that’s what they’ll do. But maybe they’re taking a little bit of a different route, so I don’t know if that’s what they voted for," Trump said.
Asked about Trump’s comments at a meeting with journalists, May said she was delivering the wishes of the British people.
Trump, who has repeatedly praised Brexit, has expressed enthusiasm for a wide-ranging trade deal with Britain after its EU departure in March 2019.
Supporters of Brexit say such a trade deal with the world’s biggest economy would be one of the great benefits of exiting the bloc.
Just hours after May’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, resigned and complained that the Brexit dream was being suffocated, Trump said he might speak to him on the trip.
May is trying to unify her deeply divided Conservative Party behind her Brexit plans with some of her own parliamentarians openly speaking of a leadership challenge. While she hopes the Trump visit will focus on trade and strengthening security ties, it is likely to be heavy on rhetoric about the transatlantic "special relationship" and short on specifics such as any details of a post-Brexit trade deal.
Many Britons are opposed to Trump’s trip, which is not the full state visit he was originally promised with the pomp and ceremony that entails.
A YouGov poll showed on Wednesday 77% of respondents had an unfavourable opinion of the president and 50% thought his visit should go ahead.
"I think they like me a lot in the UK," Trump said in Brussels. "I think they agree with me on immigration. I’m very strong on immigration," he said.
Nick Hurd, Britain’s Policing Minister, told parliament police expected more than 100 protests across the country, including two large demonstrations in London on Friday, and robust and proportionate plans were in place.
A fence has been erected around the US ambassador’s central London residence where Trump was due to spend Thursday night.
The embassy has sent out an alert warning Americans in London to keep a low profile in case protests turn violent.
More than 60,000 people have signed up to demonstrate in London on Friday when protesters intend to fly a large balloon over parliament portraying Trump as an orange snarling baby.
The two leaders will hold talks on Friday at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence. These will focus on relations with Russia, trade, Brexit and the Middle East.
Later, Trump will go to Windsor Castle for tea with Queen Elizabeth.