Trump toasts to alliance with U.K., insults London mayor as visit to Britain begins
Ceremonial visit comes at a time of remembrance and turmoil
Donald Trump and the Queen toasted to their shared alliance on Monday during an elaborate state dinner at Buckingham Palace in honour of the U.S. president and his wife.
"Tonight we celebrate an alliance that has helped to ensure the safety and prosperity of both our peoples for decades, and which I believe will endure for many years to come," the Queen said, speaking in front of about 170 guests in London.
She told Trump security and a shared heritage link the U.S. and U.K. On his first state visit to the U.K., the president acknowledged the common values he said will unite the two countries long into the future, including freedom, sovereignty and self-determination.
It was one of many moments marking the president's largely ceremonial visit to Britain, which also included tea with Prince Charles and a royal gun salute from Green Park and the Tower of London, one of the highest honours Britain can bestow on a foreign leader.
The ceremony took place under clear blue skies on the spacious garden next to the 775-room palace that is the official residence of the Queen. Trump and Charles inspected the Guard of Honour formed by the Grenadier Guards wearing the traditional bearskin hats.
Trump and his wife paid their respects at the grave of an unknown British warrior, at Westminster Abbey. They were greeted inside the abbey by Prince Andrew and clergy.
They stood silently at the tomb of the British soldier, whose body was brought from France to be buried at the abbey in November 1920. The grave contains soil from France and is covered by a slab of black marble.
The president and his wife prayed and bent down to touch a colourful wreath, which had red and white roses, and bright blue and pink flowers.
Their trip, meant to strengthen ties between the two nations, was immediately at risk of being overshadowed by Brexit turmoil and a political feud with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Even before Air Force One touched down north of London, Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade against Khan in the city, where Trump will stay for two nights while partaking in a state visit full of pomp and circumstance.
The move came after a newspaper column that reported Khan said Trump did not deserve red-carpet treatment in Britain and was "one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat" from the far-right to liberal democracy.
"[Sadiq Khan], who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly 'nasty' to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom," Trump tweeted just before landing. "He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me."
The president said Khan reminded him of the "terrible" mayor of his hometown, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, though "only half his height." De Blasio, a Democrat, is a longshot candidate in the 2020 presidential race. Khan supporters have previously accused Trump of being racist against London's first Muslim mayor.
The president then added a few warm words for his hosts, tweeting he was looking forward "to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit."
No formal meeting scheduled with May
The agenda for Trump's week-long journey is largely ceremonial:
- A state visit and an audience with Queen Elizabeth in London.
- D-Day commemoration ceremonies on both sides of the English Channel.
- His first presidential visit to Ireland, which will include a stay at his coastal golf club.
Soon-to-depart Prime Minister Theresa May is not scheduled to have a formal one-on-one private meeting with Trump.
May's office says the two leaders will meet Tuesday at 10 Downing Street, accompanied by senior officials, and will also tour the Churchill War Rooms, then-prime minister Winston Churchill's underground Second World War headquarters.
Downing Street says there is "nothing unusual" about the arrangements.
A year ago, Trump was an ungracious guest, blasting May in an interview just hours before Air Force One touched down in England. This time, he spared May but praised her rival, prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson, just before she steps down as Conservative leader Friday for failing to secure a Brexit deal.
Precarious time for visit
The U.S. president arrived at a precarious moment, as he faces a fresh round of impeachment fervour back home and uncertainty on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the 75th anniversary of the Second World War battle that turned the tide on the Western Front to call for strengthening the multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.
"My greatest hope is this: the president and all the leaders stay focused on the extraordinary heroism of that of D-Day and focusing on what brought allies to that position," said Heather Conley, senior vice-president of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "Dark clouds are forming once again in Europe, and rather than encourage those forces, we need to find much better tools to defeat them."