Donald Trump is entitled to fair treatment during his UK visit – but protesters must still take a stand

If the US president is any doubt as to the strength of disapproval that exists here over his manner and his outlook, he will have had matters clarified by the end of his three-day visit

Sunday 02 June 2019 15:33
Emily Thornberry will take part of the protest against Trump in Trafalga Square

A day after indicating that he thought Boris Johnson would make a very good prime minister, Donald Trump has once again given his two penn’orth by suggesting that Nigel Farage should be involved in renegotiating Brexit.

Over the next three days, it is perfectly possible that the American president will have more to say about British politics. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable that he will be able to stop himself: he is, after all, not a man who adheres to diplomatic convention, for better or worse.

Such is Mr Trump’s success at mobilising his support base, there will be plenty of politicians here – primarily on the right – who will want to be associated with him. Mr Farage, a friend of the president, is his British equivalent – both in terms of their shared “anti-establishment” outlook, and their nationalistic policy agenda. But there are others, including in the Conservative Party, who will wish to cultivate positive relations (albeit less unambiguously than Mr Farage).

There are many other people in this country, however, whose view of Mr Trump is almost entirely negative. His peculiar mix of isolationism and bombastic diplomacy have caused considerable unease among politicians of all stripes, while his antagonism towards long-established liberal values makes him a bete noire of almost everyone who might regard themselves as on the political left, or even in the centre ground.

Even putting his politics to one side, his misogynistic outbursts and attacks on journalists, minorities and anyone else perceived as an enemy drive a good number of people to conclude that he is a dangerous man to hold so much power. That we may see another five years of him in the White House is a challenging thought.

In protest against his state visit, some of Britain’s most prominent political figures have declined to meet him, or to attend a banquet being held in his honour at Buckingham Palace. This amounts to a significant snub by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable: if the former ends up in No 10 in the next few years, it might come back to cause him a problem.

Indeed, whatever we might think about Mr Trump, his policy programme and his personality, it is important to remember – and for all British politicians to be cognisant of – the importance of the broader relationship between the UK and the US. Our country should not, and in fact cannot, avoid engagement with America. That is true whether or not we ultimately leave the European Union.

What’s more, for every prominent, left-leaning MP who decides – for perfectly understandable reasons – not to meet Mr Trump, there is a Nigel Farage waiting in the wings.

As to public protests, it is inevitable that the president will face considerable opposition to his presence in Britain this week. That, in a democracy, is how it should be – much as it may pain Mr Trump, who is an authoritarian at heart and who believes he is owed respect as a right.

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When he came here last year for a less formal visit, central London was brought to a near standstill by crowds making their anger heard. Many protesters will be back – their numbers buoyed perhaps, given the greater pomp and ceremony on offer to the president this time. Anti-Trump blimps will fly high, posters (both the inspired and the merely profane) will be held aloft, and chants will ring out.

If Mr Trump is any doubt as to the strength of disapproval that exists here over his manner and his outlook, he will have had matters clarified by Wednesday. It is vital that demonstrators remain peaceful if they are to make their point without being cast – by both the president and his fans here – as some sort of mob whose views can be disregarded.

In the end, Mr Trump is entitled to be treated here just like any other head of state. Likewise, those who despair of his nationalism, his regressive cultural and social outlook, and his aggressive character, have the right to make their protest heard.

Britain remains a friend of America, irrespective of Mr Trump, and friends can – indeed should – be able to offer and receive criticism. There may be a good deal of that this week.

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