Britons React To Trump Visit

Jul 13, 2018
Originally published on July 13, 2018 10:16 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If British Prime Minister Theresa May is feeling the effects of some diplomatic whiplash, you might understand. Before touching his plane down in the U.K., President Trump gave an interview to The Sun newspaper, where he took direct aim at May. Trump said that he had told Theresa May how to handle the U.K.'s exit from the European Union but that she, quote, "didn't listen" to him and that her handling of Brexit has been "very unfortunate" - his words. He also said one of her political rivals, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, would make a great prime minister. And he criticized the U.K.'s handling of immigration and terrorism.

This has set high expectations for the meeting between these two leaders. Here's London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, talking to Mary Louise Kelly of All Things Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SADIQ KHAN: I would expect Prime Minister May to have the confidence to say to President Trump today when they meet that actually he's wrong, not that just he's wrong in relation to terrorism, he's wrong in relation to linking the rise of immigration from Africa to Europe with the link in crime but also he's wrong in relation to his views on Brexit.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following all of this from London and joins us now. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So first, this slam against Theresa May on several fronts by President Trump - and then right before their meeting today, the American president came out and said actually, things are great. We've never had a closer relationship. How are Brits taking all of this in?

LANGFITT: Well, I think people were pretty outraged after what they saw last night. And this is seen as duplicitous. I was talking to someone who was at the dinner last night at Blenheim Palace, which Prime Minister May hosted the president. And she talked very eloquently about the special relationship between the two countries and trade. And they even seemed to have a nice chemistry. Then the story breaks around 11 o'clock as Trump is leaving, people reading it on their phones. And people here are just really unhappy. Our producer - NPR's producer Sam Alwyine-Mosely, he was out talking to people on the street today. He spoke to a guy named Renz Lowery (ph), who's a marketing manager here in London. And he said some people - he's kind of rethinking the relationship with America and its president.

RENZ LOWERY: He needs to, like, do one.

(LAUGHTER)

LANGFITT: What do you mean?

LOWERY: Mind his own business. You know, in the same way that he's, like, America first, well, maybe it's about time we think, well, maybe Europe first. You know, we're a big enough group of people that if we actually worked together, we could stand up to bullies like him.

MARTIN: But I mean, this has clearly put Theresa May in a difficult spot because she actually is politically vulnerable in this moment. Isn't she?

LANGFITT: Yeah, this is one of her weakest points of her premiership. This is the second anniversary of her time in office here today. And earlier this week, you remember, she lost a couple of top Cabinet secretaries over her plan for Brexit. She has rebels in her party. They've been threatening a no-confidence vote. And remember, you know, she rushed to D.C. after President Trump took office to focus on a trade deal. She was heavily criticized for that. Now she seems to have gotten nothing out of it. One good thing for her, perhaps, is Trump is very unpopular here. So it's not like a lot of people - like he holds a lot of sway, certainly with the British people.

MARTIN: And of course, this comes on the heels of the NATO summit where President Trump was antagonistic, I think we could say, towards longtime...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...U.S. allies. Do Brits see any rationale here?

LANGFITT: I've been talking to some people today and even last night. And they see some consistency in the behavior. And that is, you know, kind of seeming deliberately to damage the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Western Europe. As you were saying, he attacked NATO members over the last couple of days, saying not spending enough on defense even though they'd been increasing it. And now he's undermining the leader of, traditionally, the biggest ally the U.S. has. And some people think that he's - part of this is about the European Union. He doesn't want - he doesn't like those relationships with large trading groups. He thinks it's unfair to America.

Some people I talked to today also felt like the biggest beneficiary of the last couple of days - three days would have been Russian President Vladimir Putin. I was talking to Tony Travers. He's a professor of government at the London School of Economics. And he said, you know, after attacking President Trump's and America's allies, it's going to be really interesting to see how he is in a few days when he meets Putin in Helsinki. He says it's going to be revealing, and here's what he said.

TONY TRAVERS: Well, I think it would reveal that Donald Trump does want, in the longer term, to reorient global politics in some way. So those powerful, often autocratic leaderships are seen as somehow the right way forward, whereas traditional, liberal, Democratic ones - less so. And that, you know, would have been unthinkable, I think, hitherto.

MARTIN: We should note, Frank, you are obviously out on the streets...

LANGFITT: I am.

MARTIN: ...Of London because there are all these protests that have been anticipated. A baby blimp - like, a blimp that looks like a baby Donald Trump...

LANGFITT: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Is generating a lot of controversy because the mayor of London actually had to approve it. Right?

LANGFITT: He did. He did. He did approve it. I'm sure he's glad he did now.

MARTIN: Actually, our All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly spoke with the London mayor. Here's what he had to say about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KHAN: It's not for me to be a censor to decide what's in good taste.

MARTIN: So how are people there responding to this?

LANGFITT: Well, there are a few thousand people out here to see it. And it actually has just deflated. And it was really a weird image. Watching it deflate, it looked as though it was being consumed by the crowds. I'm sure that wasn't intended, but it was just a really kind of weird image.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt on the streets of London, covering the protests of President Trump's visit there. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.