May 31, 2019
By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to wade into Britain’s Brexit turmoil during a visit to London next week in which he will also tell outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May that her successor should ban Huawei from building 5G networks.
Trump and his wife, Melania, will be treated to a display of British royal pageantry during the June 3-5 visit: lunch with Queen Elizabeth, tea with heir Prince Charles, a banquet at Buckingham Palace and a tour of Westminster Abbey, coronation church of English monarchs for 1,000 years.
Beyond the pomp, though, the proudly unpredictable 45th U.S. president also brings demands: He will show support for a more radical Brexit-supporting successor to May and demand a tougher British stance on China and telecoms giant Huawei.
Trump lauded Britain’s most high-profile Brexit supporters – Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – as his friends on Thursday.
“Nigel Farage is a friend of mine. Boris is a friend of mine,” Trump, 72, said. “I think they are big powers over there – I think they have done a good job.”
“I like them,” Trump said. “I mean they are friends of mine but I haven’t thought about supporting them. Maybe it’s not my business to support people, but I have a lot of respect for both of those men.”
A meeting with either Johnson, the favorite to be the next British prime minister, or Farage, a bombastic anti-establishment campaigner, would be seen as a snub for May who is bowing out after failing to negotiate a Brexit deal that parliament could ratify.
British officials are privately concerned that Trump could humiliate May, who battled in vain to unify her ruling Conservatives behind a deal and broke down in tears while announcing the end of her premiership on Downing Street a week ago.
During his last visit to the United Kingdom, in July last year, Trump shocked Britain’s political establishment by hammering May’s Brexit negotiation for being too weak with the EU and by praising rival Johnson as a “great” potential prime minister.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said the United States did not want to “get in the middle” of Brexit or a discussion of the next government’s policies.
“The United States remains Britain’s staunchest ally in the world and the president is prepared to help out in any way he can,” Bolton told reporters in London.
Bolton dismissed concerns about Brexit: “You know, America declared its independence once – we made out okay,” he quipped.
Brexit is the most significant geopolitical move for the United Kingdom since World War Two and if it ever happens then London will be more reliant on the United States as ties loosen with the other 27 members of the EU.
At a meeting with May, Trump will warn Britain that security cooperation could be hurt London it allows China’s Huawei a role in building parts of the 5G network, the next generation of cellular technology.
The Trump administration has told allies not to use its 5G technology and equipment because of fears it would allow China to spy on sensitive communications and data. Huawei denies it is, or could be, a vehicle for Chinese intelligence.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Britain earlier this month that it needed to change its attitude toward China and Huawei, casting the world’s second largest economy as a threat to the West similar to that once posed by the Soviet Union.
Britain’s so-called special relationship with the United States is one of the enduring alliances of the past century, but some British voters see Trump as crude, volatile and opposed to their values on issues ranging from global warming to his treatment of women.
A blimp depicting Donald Trump as a snarling, nappy-wearing orange baby will fly outside Britain’s parliament during the visit while protesters plan a “carnival of resistance” in central London, a reprise of protests last year.
“The blimp will get in the air when Donald Trump is on these shores,” Matt Bonner, its designer – who casts himself as a “Trump babysitter” – told Reuters. “The point of this is to mock Donald Trump, to give him a taste of his medicine.”
The first day of the visit, Monday, culminates in a formal state banquet at Buckingham Palace – where men traditionally wear formal white tie coats with tails and women formal evening gowns. The queen and Trump will make speeches.
Jeremy Corbyn, the socialist leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, will not attend the banquet. There is no plan for a traditional horse-drawn carriage trip with the queen.
The second day will focus on politics, including a breakfast with business leaders, talks with May in 10 Downing Street, a news conference and a dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.
On Wednesday, Trump joins the queen and veterans to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in the southern English city of Portsmouth, and also makes a trip to Ireland. He will attend official D-Day ceremonies in France on Thursday.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry)