US President Donald Trump promised a “phenomenal” post-Brexit trade deal with Britain as he met outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May Tuesday to boost their frayed alliance against a backdrop of political turmoil.
As protesters angered by his state visit flew a huge balloon of a naked baby Trump and blocked traffic in central London, the US leader heaped praise on May and scorn on opposition Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn.
He dismissed thousands of protesters rallying nearby as “fake news” and said he turned down a meeting with Corbyn — who himself took part in the protest — branding him a “somewhat negative force”.
Trump’s state visit began on Monday with a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and a state banquet, but behind the pageantry, Britain is in political upheaval.
His meeting with May comes just weeks before she is scheduled to quit after failing to get her island nation out of the EU, despite focusing on little else for the past three years.
Trump and May looked stony-faced walking up to their joint press appearance and did not shake hands before going into formal talks at the prime minister’s Downing Street headquarters.
Nearby, noisy activists took to the streets to protest everything from Trump’s dismissive views on climate change to his embrace of anti-abortion groups.
“Everything Trump stands for — misogyny, climate denying — everything about him is wrong,” one demonstrator, marble restorer Steve Gray, told AFP.
‘Everything on table’
The president’s visit is technically centred around Wednesday’s D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations.
But it comes at an especially chaotic time for the UK, with May formally stepping down as leader of her Conservative party on Friday.
She will stay on as prime minister until her successor is chosen out of 12 contenders from her party.
Whoever takes over will have to make some tough choices before the twice-delayed Brexit deadline on October 31.
Trump preceded his visit by urging Britain to walk away from the EU without an agreement.
He also suggested that Brexit-backing former foreign minister Boris Johnson would be an “excellent” leader to get it done.
The two spoke by phone for 20 minutes on Tuesday, according to a source close to Johnson. Trump was also said to have set up a meeting with another candidate, Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
With the US increasingly isolated from its traditional allies, Trump talked up the “special relationship” with Britain during a joint press conference with May.
Trump said he was certain the sides could reach an understanding on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei that could avoid disruption in intelligence-sharing between London and Washington.
“We have an incredible intelligence relationship and we will be able to work out any differences. I see absolutely no limitation,” said Trump, who has effectively banned the Chinese firm at home over fears it could be used to spy for Beijing.
But US-UK relations are also being tested by different approaches to Iran and climate change, besides Trump’s personal politics and antics.
“We can also differ sometimes on how to confront the challenges we face,” May noted, highlighting the climate and Iran.
“I’ve always talked openly with you, Donald when we have taken a different approach and you’ve done the same with me.”
Trump himself touched on the difficulties likely to face May’s successor, stressing that “everything is on the table” in future trade talks.
Britain is particularly concerned that its beloved state-run health service could be opened up to US companies.
Their talks were accompanied by noisy protests from thousands of anti-Trump activists.
One group paraded a life-size doll of Trump — wearing his trademark red “Make America Great Again” cap — sitting on a toilet with a phone in his hands.
“It’s hard to even know where to start with Trump,” said Norwegian college student Helen Thuen.
“It’s about the policies, that’s what really matters. His personality affects his policies, though.”
Trump’s day will be rounded off with a lavish dinner at the US ambassador’s residence.
The heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will attend on behalf of the queen.