President Donald Trump began a working visit to Britain on Thursday with the government on alert for attempts by the US leader to intervene in the country’s rolling domestic political crisis.
The US leader landed at the residence of the American ambassador ahead of a series of meetings with political leaders and businesses. The Marine One helicopter will ferry Mr Trump from there to a series of engagements at secluded stately palaces, including Blenheim, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and Windsor Castle, where he will have tea with Queen Elizabeth.
Theresa May invoked wartime leader Mr Churchill and strong transatlantic ties as she welcomed the American president and First Lady Melania Trump to the black-tie dinner with business leaders at Blenheim. She said the two countries’ “most special of relationships has a long and proud history.”
“Mr President, Sir Winston Churchill once said that 'to have the United States at our side was, to me, the greatest joy,’” Mrs May said.
“Now, for the benefit of all our people, let us work together to build a more prosperous future,” Mrs May added after calling for a free trade agreement with the US after Britain leaves the European Union next March.
The president's itinerary skirts the protests that are expected across the UK during his four-day trip, with tens of thousands ready to take to the barricades to show their anger over his views on divisive issues such as migration.
Mr Trump is expected to spend much of the time outside of the capital and will meet with Queen Elizabeth and under-fire Prime Minister Theresa May. Leaving Brussels following Nato talks, Mr Trump said: "I think they like me a lot in the UK.”
Yet, amid the outcry and uproar, a hard core of British supporters have rallied behind the visit of Mr Trump, welcoming the support of the leader of the free world for their views. As Britain begins the steps towards leaving the European Union, right-wing politicians and activists, who support Mr Trump, have become increasingly vocal.
In the halls of Westminster, on a day where politicians began to hammer out the details of the country’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe, the Bow Group think tank gathered together a number of prominent voices who support Mr Trump and condemn the protests against him.
There is no British figure who enjoys a closer relationship with the US president than Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party. The audience was filled with men, many with identical slicked-back hairstyles and double-breasted suits, who applauded appreciatively at the Brexit kingpin.
“The US spilt blood for us before and has always been one of our closest allies,” he said. “Bravo to Trump for restoring faith in the nation state.”
In a reference to former US president Barack Obama, Mr Farage said: “For eight years we had a man who didn’t respect us. Trump is different,” Mr Farage said to the nodding heads.
At the discussion the media and the left were attacked for their anti-Trump views, and the election of a populist government in Italy was also referred to. “Brexit, Trump, Italy – times are changing but some on the liberal left are doing anything to denigrate these being democratic elections. Our schools and universities are, quite frankly, teaching a doctrine of hate. There’s a ‘correct’ view but anything else is ‘hate,’” said Mr Farage.
In the room was a mood of positivity towards Mr Trump, with those present insisting he remained very welcome in the UK. To many, protesters who have grabbed the headlines “simply had nothing better to do”. An invited Republican representative, Erica Miller added her disgust. “I feel embarrassed for London,” she said in reference to the marches organised for Saturday.
As news filtered in that Mr Trump wanted Nato members to commit to spending at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence, Bow Group attendees stood up, cheered and applauded.
Pro-Brexit Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski said: “We will celebrate President Trump’s visit. The relationship must remain important, especially in trade and defence.”
But for Mr Farage there were fears the special relationship was not in a good place, accusing Prime Minister May of pursuing a soft Brexit and endangering future US trade deals. “It’s going to be a tense and difficult time,” he said. “To my American friends, you need to stay patient. It is only a matter of time – the forces that caused Brexit remain.”
The American leader was greeted at Stansted airport on arrival by Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary and a noted follower of American politics, in a signal of the British interest in striking a new trade partnership with the US alongside the continuing European relationship. Speaking in Brussels, Mr Trump hinted that he saw Britain’s most recent offer to the EU as a step in the wrong direction.
“I would say Brexit is Brexit,” said Mr Trump. “The people voted to break it up so I imagine that is what they would do, but maybe they’re taking a different route. I’m not sure that’s what they voted for.”