US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at Blenheim Palace to the strains of a military band Friday morning for a formal dinner hosted by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
But amid the pageantry of the welcome, Mr Trump’s first visit to Britain since becoming President comes as he cast doubt on Ms May’s plans for leaving the EU and with protests forming across a country where he says people “like him a lot”.
As Mr Trump’s helicopter, Marine One, took off from London’s Regent’s Park en rout to Blenheim Palace, protesters massed outside in opposition to the trip, which is not the full state visit he was originally promised.
Security has been dramatically ramped up in London, with UK media reporting that SAS troops are on standby to counter any attack or incident, while some 10,000 police officers will be on duty throughout the visit.
A YouGov poll on Wednesday local time showed 77 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of the US President and just 50 per cent thought his visit should go ahead.
“I think they like me a lot in the UK,” Mr Trump said in Brussels, where he attended a NATO summit.
“I think they agree with me on immigration. I’m very strong on immigration.”
More than 60,000 people have signed up to demonstrate in London later Friday when protesters intend to fly a large balloon over parliament portraying Mr Trump as an orange, snarling baby.
London mayor Sadiq Khan called for all gatherings to be “peaceful and good-spirited”.
Mr Khan said ‘trouble makers are not welcome’ and the protests were “not anti-American”, more a demonstration of the UK’s expectation of the “highest standards”.
A campaign is also under way to get Green Day’s 2004 hit American Idiot to the top of the UK Singles Chart.
After the banquet at Blenheim Palace, Mr Trump and Ms May will hold talks the following day at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence.
Mr Trump’s trip coincides with a tumultuous week for May after two senior ministers resigned in protest at her plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves next March.
Ms May hopes the President will help to accelerate a future free trade deal with the US, although his public comments on Brexit cast a shadow over the meetings.
“I’m going to a pretty hot spot right now, right? With a lot of resignations,” Trump told a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday night.
Ms May’s “business-friendly” Brexit proposal was agreed by her cabinet only last Friday after two years of wrangling, though some leave supporters consider it a betrayal.
“The people voted to break it up, so I imagine that’s what they’ll do. But maybe they’re taking a little bit of a different route, so I don’t know if that’s what they voted for,” Mr Trump said.
Asked about Mr Trump’s comments at a hastily-arranged meeting with journalists, Ms May said she was delivering the wishes of the British people.
Mr Trump, who has repeatedly praised Brexit, has expressed enthusiasm for a wide-ranging trade deal with Britain after its EU departure in March next year.
The President’s visit will also include a trip to Windsor Castle for tea with 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth.