U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Britain on Monday for a state visit laden with diplomatic peril, after humiliating outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May over Brexit and demanding she be tougher in dealing with China’s Huawei.
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 has praised a more radical Brexit-supporting potential successor to May and his envoys have urged a tougher British stance towards Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
“So we will be going to the UK, I think it will be very important, it certainly will be very interesting, there’s lot going on in the UK, and I am sure it is going to work out very well for them,” Trump told reporters before departing.
“As you know they want to do trade with the United States, and I think there is an opportunity for a very big trade deal at some point in the near future. And we will see how that works out.”
Trump was asked about reports that he had cast Meghan Markle, wife of Prince Harry, as “nasty” for criticising him.
“No, I made no bad comment,” Trump told reporters. On Twitter he said: “I never called Meghan Markle “nasty.” Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!”
But in what is likely to be the most unconventional state visit in recent memory, Trump has already waded far into British domestic politics.
In an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, Trump said the next British leader should send arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage to conduct talks with the EU.
“If they don’t get what they want, I would walk away. If you don’t get a fair deal, you walk away.”
Trump repeated his backing for those candidates to succeed May who have said Britain must leave on the due date of Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
Those candidates include former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, whom Trump praised in an interview with the Sun newspaper on Friday, along with former Brexit minister Dominic Raab and interior minister Sajid Javid.
Trump said it was a mistake for the Conservatives not to involve Farage, the Brexit Party leader, in talks with Brussels after his success in European Parliament elections last month.
A meeting with either Johnson, favourite to succeed May, or Farage, a populist 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.
On 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.
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 if London 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.
Britain’s so-called special relationship with the United States is an enduring alliance, 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.