Trump’s barbed comments upset British hosts
LONDON — There’s a character called Don Logan, played by Ben Kingsley in the British film “Sexy Beast” — a bullying and mercurial individual who wreaks havoc on the life of a retired former underworld cohort when he visits him in exile in Spain. He intimidates, humiliates, taunts and worse. He is a most unwelcome house guest.
Many Britons who awoke to the visiting U.S. President Donald Trump’s fusillade against the country, its prime minister’s EU exit strategy, its immigration policy and personal attacks on London’s mayor Sadiq Khan — effectively blaming him directly for terror attacks in the capital city — may feel they are in a similar situation as they roll out the red carpet to a world leader seemingly intent on denigrating their nation.
The red carpet officially, at least.
Tens of thousands will protest Trump’s visit in London Friday, and their numbers could well be swelled by Trump’s interview to The Sun newspaper which emerged as British Prime Minister Theresa May was hosting him at an opulent black-tie dinner in the leafy splendor of Blenheim Palace — the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill, whom Trump is said to admire greatly.
He doesn’t seem to admire the current British leader a great deal based on the interview he gave in Brussels at the end of a chaotic NATO summit, to Britain’s biggest selling tabloid.
Trump accused May of ruining what her country stands to gain from the Brexit vote to leave the European Union and said her “soft” blueprint for the U.K.’s future dealings with the EU would probably “kill” any future trade deals with the United States.
Though White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick to issue a statement saying Trump “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much, the prime minister, already on a back foot, will have needed his intervention as much as losing a vote of confidence in parliament.
The president came down firmly on the side of the Brexiteers, those seeking a hard split from the European Union. He said Boris Johnson, May’s now ex-foreign secretary, “would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”
To Britons this will smack of direct interference in their internal affairs — something a proud island nation that often harks back to the World War II Dunkirk spirit, building victory out of defeat as it struggled to keep Nazi Germany at bay, is loath to tolerate.
Despite their daily differences, even the British opposition party stepped up to defend May against Trump’s comments.
Labour Party foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Friday that it was “extraordinarily rude of Donald Trump to behave like this.”
“She is his host. What did his mother teach him? This is not the way you behave,” she said.
Britain, not unlike the United States, is a country with a strong immigrant presence built over the last century where multi-culturalism is praised but has also in recent years been used by those on the right as a divisive dynamic. Trump’s immigrations views may be applauded in some quarters in Britain, but they have appalled many others.
It was London Mayor Khan himself who gave the go-ahead for the “Trump baby” giant balloon, that portrays him as an angry infant in a diaper with a mobile phone in his hand, to be flown over Parliament Square in London on Friday.
It seems to have infuriated Trump.
“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he said.
Speaking on BBC radio on Friday, Khan defended his decision.
“I shouldn’t be the arbiter, as a politician, of what’s in good taste or bad taste, what’s important is it to be peaceful, and for it to be safe,” he said.
“And, frankly speaking, the idea that we limit the rights to protest, we limit the rights to free speech because it may cause offense to a foreign leader is a very, very slippery slope.”
Two days ago, the country was beside itself with excitement at the prospect of a first World Cup final in football’s showcase tournament in 52 years, celebrating in the sustained sunshine — a rarity for a country often connected with granite skies and rain.
It wasn’t to be. And as the feelgood factor fades away, Trump’s barbed words are likely to provide a focus for British anger toward their house guest.