There are the protests, the official snubs, the hostile petitions, the social media campaigns, the infamous orange diaper-draped baby blimp. Britons are expected to rain invective on President Trump when he arrives in the United Kingdom Thursday.
But some are ready to welcome Mr. Trump, and the dramatic meltdown over the future of Brexit this week gives a sense that the U.S. may be the only good alternative the U.K. has in the coming years.
Specifically, people express hope that Mr. Trump and embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May will propose a trade pact to help make up for potential consequences of the United Kingdom’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. Mr. Peters said he felt it was time to renew the special relationship. “I hope he sees that Britain is a better partner in Europe than Brussels.”
Commentator Piers Morgan is openly feuding with London Mayor Sadiq Khan — a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s Twitter barbs — for allowing the blimp to be flown during the president’s stay. Mr. Morgan called it “a pathetically puerile stunt that makes Britain look woefully petty, small-minded and gratuitously offensive.”
“Whether you love or loathe Trump, for Britain to be greeting the leader of the United States of America, its greatest ally, in this way is appallingly disrespectful,” Mr. Morgan said in a fiery television debate with the mayor.
As many as 50,000 protesters are expected to hit the streets to denounce the U.S. president, who will arrive after a NATO meeting in Brussels and is slated to visit one of his golf resorts in Scotland and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki during his weeklong trip to Europe. Leaving the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Trump joked that his meeting with Mr. Putin, head of America’s longtime Cold War rival, may be smoother than his visit to Britain, which has long boasted of a “special relationship” with Washington.
Critics say Mr. Trump’s British visit has been severely curtailed to shield the president from the protesters. Workers have put up a high metal fence around the U.S. ambassador’s central London residence where Mr. Trump will spend Thursday night, and the State Department has issued an alert warning Americans in London to keep a low profile while the president is in town.
“At first I thought [Mr. Trump] was a joke,” said Karrie Fransman, 36, a comic book artist who lives in North London. “Now I find I’m running out of things to laugh about.
“I find his policies deplorable,” she said. “I feel like we are watching a democratic country, not so dissimilar to ours, crumble at the hands of a government who spreads hate.”
Ms. Fransman’s comments reflected the sentiments of many others in the British capital. The 20-foot-high orange blimp portrays the president as an angry baby wearing a diaper and clutching a smartphone. It will be hovering over Westminster near the Houses of Parliament.
Boiling over Brexit
The anger also stems from the frustration over Brexit in this cosmopolitan city. The issue has dominated the press and politics in Britain in recent months as Mrs. May has been negotiating the country’s exit from the European bloc. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson quit in protest Monday after saying Mrs. May conceded too much to the EU.
Ms. Fransman said Mr. Trump’s record on immigrants, Islamophobia and racial issues mirrors a worrisome nationalism that has arisen in the U.K.
“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 U.S. and that now is the time to get out of our armchairs and protest.”
But by no means are all here embracing those sentiments. A majority of British voters opted for Brexit two years ago, said Mr. Peters, and many see it as a harbinger of Mr. Trump’s surprise election four months later.
“I think the EU is trying to stop us from making good trade deals with other countries,” said Mr. Peters. “There are some politicians in the British government who get this and want to keep good relations with the U.S. 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 U.S. just like we used to do before we joined the EU, as an equal partner.”
For many Brexiteers, Mr. Trump is a hero, one of the few Western figures to have positive things to say about an EU-U.K. divorce ahead of the momentous June 2016 referendum.
Director Robin Niblett of Chatham House, a London think tank, said the popular protests anticipated for Mr. Trump won’t necessarily be larger than those that greeted some past American presidents. British protesters staged huge demonstrations against Ronald Reagan over the deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles on the continent during the Cold War and against President George W. Bush in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraq War.
“At a popular level, it feels simply like another wave,” said Mr. Niblett. “I’m not convinced that the anti-Trump mood is more intense than those moments.”
And while some 50,000 people — and the blimp — are expected to join Friday’s protest, a counter-gathering is also being organized to welcome Mr. Trump.
Nonetheless, the analysts said many British officials are worried about Mr. Trump’s propensity to upend the status quo.
“Where the U.K.-U.S. 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 Mr. Trump. But he said Mrs. May should listen closely to Mr. 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 Mr. 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.
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