'We Need To Take A Stand': U.K. Protesters Mobilize For Trump's Visit

Jul 11, 2018
Originally published on July 12, 2018 7:19 am

The bond between the United States and the United Kingdom runs deep. The phrase "special relationship" was made famous by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a speech in Missouri in 1946, after the two countries fought shoulder to shoulder in World War II.

Security is still a cornerstone of the relationship, as are trade and less tangible things like shared language and the fact that many Americans are proud of their British roots.

But as President Trump arrives in Britain on Thursday, he will find plenty of people who think it is more important to oppose him than it is to nurture U.S.-U.K. ties.

"It is in the interests of the U.K. to stand up and take a firm moral stance," said Zoe Gardner, a researcher and spokesperson of the Stop Trump Coalition, which is organizing protests this week in cities across the country. "We are at a very key point in history right now, and we need to take a stand."

Gardner, who works with refugees as part of her doctoral research at the London School of Economics, said Trump's speeches about refugees and immigrants are "a very dangerous line of rhetoric to be normalized."

The demonstrations are expected to attract large crowds. A giant inflatable depiction of Trump as a nearly naked baby will hover above Parliament Square. Permission for the float was issued by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has exchanged back-and-forth criticism with Trump.

The U.S. Embassy in London alerted American citizens there to "exercise caution" and "keep a low profile."

Trump heads to the U.K. after this week's NATO summit in Brussels, at which he slammed allies for not spending more on defense.

He arrives about a year and a half after Prime Minister Theresa May invited him for a visit, an invitation that was met intense opposition in the U.K. — almost 2 million people signed a petition to rescind the invite.

Some British citizens are even more distressed about Trump than they are about the U.K.'s own feverish political turmoil. That includes this week's resignations of members of the Cabinet and Parliament over May's proposals to keep some agreements intact after leaving the European Union next year.

In the busy south London neighborhood of Brixton, Victor Greetham, who runs a jazz bar, said he hasn't been to a demonstration since he protested against the Iraq War in 2003, but he planned to attend one of the protests against Trump's visit.

"It's a disastrous and divisive time, and Trump is very much part of that," he said. "You need to be a part of saying no to some of these people. I'm 54 years old, we lived through pretty good times. We seem to be going into a cycle of rather regressive thinking."

May has had to defend Trump's visit in the face of fiery criticism from opposition lawmakers. She pointed out there are many issues that legislators have urged her to raise with her American counterpart.

Last month, Labour member of Parliament Gavin Shuker ran down a list of objections to Trump: the separation of migrant families and detention of children; the U.S. departure from the United Nations' Human Rights Council; the U.S. president's praise for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The prime minister will host a gala dinner and a meeting with Trump, giving them time to talk. She said they will discuss security and defense, an aspect of the relationship that is causing anxiety for some British politicians.

In June, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote to his British counterpart Gavin Williamson warning that if the U.K. wants "to remain the U.S. partner of choice," it should spend more on defense and noted that France is increasing military spending.

It would be a blow for Britain to lose that special status, said Shashank Joshi, a British security analyst. "They trust us with stuff on intelligence," he said. "They trust us on issues to do with nuclear missiles in a way that they don't trust any other country."

But that could change. Joshi added that the defense community's worry "is that Trump will wake up one day and say, 'Hey, why are we giving all this stuff to the Brits?' "

The economic and trade relationship with the U.S. is also vital: The U.S. is the U.K.'s single largest trading partner. The future of its ties is uncertain, muddied by confusion over Brexit.

"There is definitely a sense that Britain needs America more because of Brexit," said Bronwen Maddox, head of the Institute for Government, a think tank. "Britain is going to have to look right around the world for allies with which to do trade deals."

Yet according to David Wemer of the Atlantic Council, a new U.S.-U.K. trade deal isn't a high priority for the Trump administration.

Trump is not expected to spend time in central London. The prime minister will host him for dinner at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of Churchill near Oxford, and then for the meeting at the prime ministerial country retreat Chequers, north of London.

The president is then set to take tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, before heading to Scotland and the rolling green landscape of his golf course.

Then on Monday, he will be off to Helsinki to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she's looking forward to hosting President Trump in the United Kingdom tomorrow after the NATO summit concludes. She said the two leaders have much to discuss. Trump, for his part, has sounded less diplomatic. He noted the other day that May's government was somewhat in turmoil over Brexit, and he predicted that he'd find it easier to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. runs deep, but NPR's Alice Fordham suggests the allies may need some relationship counseling.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Before we get on to the politics, we could just remember for a moment how strong cultural bonds are between Britain and America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BRIAN PETERS: (Singing) The first of the men was a bumblebee, jow-lee, jow-wee (ph). The first of the men was...

FORDHAM: This is an Appalachian version of an old English folk song being sung by Brian Peters, who studies how British ballads made their way into the American countryside and formed the roots of bluegrass and other genres. And it's not just the songs. Many American people have British roots. The countries share a language, and it was Winston Churchill who made this phrase famous in a speech in Missouri.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINSTON CHURCHILL: A special relationship between the British commonwealth and empire and the United States of America.

FORDHAM: That was after the two countries fought shoulder to shoulder in the Second World War. And security cooperation is still a cornerstone.

SHASHANK JOSHI: You know, they trust us with stuff on intelligence. They trust us on issues to do with nuclear missiles in a way that they don't trust any other country.

FORDHAM: This is Shashank Joshi, a security analyst who adds the Brits these days are anxious about how long these close security ties will last.

JOSHI: What they worry about is that Trump will wake up one day and say, hey, why do we give all this stuff to the Brits?

FORDHAM: Which is why Prime Minister Theresa May says she'll make it a priority to talk about defense cooperation with Trump. Another aspect of the relationship that's really important to Britain is trade. Britain's trading future with Europe is unclear, muddied by Brexit. The U.K. is looking to the U.S. market, as Bronwen Maddox from the Institute of Government (ph) tells me.

BRONWEN MADDOX: There is definitely a sense that Britain needs America more because of Brexit, that Britain is going to have to look right round the world for allies, you know, with which to do trade deals.

FORDHAM: For example, the American market for British gin has exploded in the last decade and is now worth more than $200 million a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CLATTERING)

FORDHAM: And to British business owners, that's a big deal, as distiller Jake Tuckey tells me over a gin and tonic.

JAKE TUCKEY: They've been drinking a lot more of our stuff over there. People like the whole image of gin being this very kind of traditional London spirit. So, yeah, it's a market we're obviously hoping to get into.

FORDHAM: But despite all these good reasons to nurture the special relationship, Britons will greet the president with vociferous protests. Organizer Zoe Gardner says she sees no reason to cultivate ties with a man whose policies she considers unconscionable.

ZOE GARDNER: It is in the interest of the U.K. to stand up and take a firm moral stance. We are at a very key point in history right now, and we need to take a stand.

FORDHAM: It's not just protest organizers. Members of Parliament have called out Trump for separation of migrant families and detention of children, for praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Mrs. May justifies receiving him by saying that once Trump is here, she can raise all those issues with him. She will host him for a gala dinner and a meeting outside the capital. Then he plans to take afternoon tea with the queen before heading to Scotland and his golf course. Alice Fordham, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONOBODY'S "LIFEGUARD OF A HELPLESS BODY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.