Some Brits welcome Trump's visit as Brexit drama continues

GBR221217BP003LONDON – Brits are expected to rain invective down on President Donald Trump when he visits the United Kingdom on Friday.

At the same time, some are welcoming the U.S. president's visit as a chance to strengthen ties.

Specifically, people expressed hope that Trump and British Prime Minister Teresa May would propose a trade pact that would help make up for the potential consequences of Brexit, or the UK’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union next year, which will likely cause at least short-term pain in the British economy.

"The trip is important to us getting a deal,” said Matthew Peters, 36, a schoolteacher in Stirling, Scotland. Peters felt it was time to renew the special relationship. “I hope he sees that Britain is a better partner in Europe than Brussels."

As many as 50,000 protesters are expected to hit the streets to denounce the Republican president, who is also slated to visit one of his golf resorts in Scotland, attend a NATO meeting in Brussels and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland during his weeklong trip.

“At first I thought he was a joke,” said Karrie Fransman, 36, a comic book artist who lives in north London, referring to the president. “Now I find I'm running out of things to laugh about."

"I find his policies deplorable," she added. "I feel like we are watching a democratic country, not so dissimilar to ours, crumble at the hands of a government who spreads hate.”

Fransman’s comments reflected the sentiments of many in the British capital, where the mayor recently approved protesters’ request to fly a 20-foot-high orange blimp that portrays the president as an angry baby wearing a diaper and clutching a smartphone over Westminster near the Houses of Parliament.

Fransman and others’ anger also stemmed from their frustration over Brexit, which she opposes. The issue has dominated the press and politics in Britain in recent months as Prime Minister May has been negotiating the country’s exit from the bloc. On Monday, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson quit in protest after he and others claimed May had conceded too much in those talks.

Fransman said Trump’s mistreatment of immigrants, Islamophobia and racist comments mirrored a worrisome nationalism that has arisen in the UK.

“I want to send a clear message to Theresa May and Boris Johnson,” she said. “We refuse to stand quietly by as Trump spreads hate speech for the benefit of profit and our 'special relationship.' I fear our country might follow the US and that now is the time to get out of our armchairs and protest.”


But some Brits pushed back against those sentiments. A majority of British voters opted for Brexit two years ago, said Peters.

“I think the EU is trying to stop us from making good trade deals with other countries,” said Peters. “There are some politicians in the British government who get this and want to keep good relations with the US and Canada and other English-speaking allies but too many are scared of the EU. We need to show the EU that we can go and make a deal with the US just like we used to do before we joined the EU, as an equal partner.”

Director Robin Niblett of Chatham House, a London think tank, said the popular protests expected to greet Trump won’t necessarily be larger than those that erupted during the visits of American presidents in the past, like when Brits demonstrated against Ronald Reagan and the deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles during the Cold War and President George W. Bush during the Iraq War.

“At a popular level, it feels simply like another wave,” said Niblett. “I’m not convinced that the anti-Trump mood is more intense than those moments.”

But Niblett said many British officials are nonetheless worried about Trump’s propensity to upend the status quo.

“Where the UK–US split is emerging is not so much at the popular level,” he said. “Rather, it is that America is increasingly not trusted by those who develop policy in the United Kingdom. And that is profound and new.”

Sean Duffy, 30, a Labor Party supporter from Glasgow, Scotland, is no fan of Trump’s. But he said May should listen closely to Trump because the American president won office for many of the same reasons British voters supported Brexit.

“I grew up with the people who drove Brexit to victory – they’re sick of being patronized, and any government which dismisses them will be destroyed at the next election,” said Duffy. “Brexit was a revolt against a complacent establishment that felt it was best placed to dictate to ordinary working people what was right for their communities.”

John Dyer reported from Boston. 


Photo: Peter Bennett, 64, a retired middle manager from Northallerton, said in 2017 it's time the UK got tougher with Europe in negotiations.
Credit: Benjamin Plackett / ARA Network Inc. (12/22/17)

Story/photo published date: 07/11/18

A version of this story was published in The Washington Times.
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