LONDON – President Donald Trump arrived Thursday in Britain on a working visit, days after he said the nation was “in somewhat turmoil" following the resignations of two senior government figures over Brexit.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed Thursday afternoon local time at Stansted Airport, 40 miles northeast of the British capital. The couple took a 16-minute helicopter ride on Marine One to Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park, central London. Beatles music was playing in the background with a large group of people waiting in front of the house for what looked like a garden party to welcome Trump.
Holding hands, the Trumps walked past the pool, together with Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. Trump smiled but did not say a word. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton followed a few meters behind.
Large scale protests are expected here and across Britain, prompting authorities to add extra security to Trump's first visit to the country since becoming president. The U.S. Embassy on Tuesday warned Americans in the capital to keep a low profile.
Tens of thousands of protesters plan to rally against Trump's four-day trip in London and near Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, where Prime Minister Theresa May will host Trump for a black-tie dinner on Thursday evening. Protests are also planned at Windsor, where Trump will meet with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday. Since the president will travel by helicopter to locations, it is unlikely he'll actually see the demonstrations.
A poll by market research firm YouGov published this week said 74% of Britons believed Trump was sexist, 63% thought he was racist, and 38% thought he was a strong leader.
Trump said at a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels shortly before he left for Britain that he had no problem with the protests.
“I think it’s fine, I think they like me a lot in the U.K., I think they agree with me on immigration,” he told reporters. “That’s why you have Brexit in the first place, because of immigration.”
High levels of immigration and a desire for sovereignty were some of the reasons that Britons voted 52% to 48% to leave the 28-member European Union in a historic referendum in 2016.
When asked for his views on Brexit, which he has previously backed, Trump said “it’s not for me to say what they should be doing in the UK. I would say Brexit is Brexit. The people vote to break it up so I would imagine that’s what they’d do. I just want the people to be happy. They’re great people.”
May published a white paper of her Brexit plan Thursday, days after the resignations of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and David Davis as Brexit secretary. The pair quit over May’s proposals to retain close trade ties with the EU after the U.K. leaves the alliance in March 2019 . Trump told reporters ahead of his Europe trip that he got along "very well" with May and that Johnson is a "friend of mine."
Johnson and Davis' resignations have added pressure for May to step down over her handling of Brexit as prime minister. May is eager to secure a trade deal with the U.S. after the divorce from the EU.
Amnesty International hung a 50 foot-long banner at 1.30 p.m. local time emblazoned with the words “Human Rights Nightmare” and a large image of Trump on a bridge close to the new U.S. embassy.
The Bow Group, a conservative British think tank, said it would host a rally in parliament to back Trump. The organization said speakers will include pro-Brexit politician Nigel Farage — an associate of Trump’s.
Trump on Friday holds talks on foreign policy with May at Chequers, the prime minister’s country home in Buckinghamshire – 47 miles outside London – before meeting the queen at Windsor Castle – 26 miles from the capital.
Trump and the first lady then spend the weekend in Scotland, where Trump said he will visit his Turnberry golf course.