Live Briefing: Trump’s in the U.K.: Pomp, Protests and a Bombshell Interview


Right now: President Trump has arrived at Chequers, Prime Minister Theresa May’s country residence. A news conference is expected soon.

The tension and uncertainty surrounding President Trump’s trip to Britain reached new heights after the publication Thursday night of a bombshell interview in which he said Prime Minister Theresa May was taking the wrong approach to Brexit, praised her political rival and former foreign secretary, and renewed his feud with the mayor of London.

The president has never shown much affection for diplomatic norms and multilateral institutions, and that was on full display earlier Thursday at the NATO summit meeting in Brussels, where he forced an emergency budget meeting after castigating other members over their military spending.

Here’s the latest:

• Mr. Trump is holding talks and will have a working lunch on Friday with Mrs. May — followed by tea with the queen — but his interview with The Sun could put a chill on the encounter.

Mrs. May has worked to maintain cordial relations with Mr. Trump, mindful of her country’s desire to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States, but he told The Sun that her current approach “would probably end a major trade relationship with the United States.”

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• Mr. Trump said at a news conference that “they like me a lot in the U.K.,” but he was greeted with protests on Thursday that continued into Friday, including a giant balloon depicting him as a snarling baby in a diaper. He is largely avoiding London, telling The Sun, “When they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there.”

• The NATO meeting ended with Mr. Trump reaffirming his support for the alliance, but only after a confrontation in which he said leaders had agreed to increase spending — a claim that at least two European leaders disputed.

• The New York Times has live coverage of his seven-day, three-nation trip, from our White House reporters and European correspondents. Photographs from Mr. Trump’s weeklong trip are here.

How will May, as host, react to her guest’s provocations?

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Blindsided by President Trump’s explosive criticism of her policy toward Britain’s exit from the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May was left on Friday with a deepening political crisis and a diplomatic embarrassment as she prepared for talks with her guest.

Just as Mrs. May was rolling out the red carpet for a visit that she hoped would illustrate the strength of the “special relationship” between London and Washington, Mr. Trump threw that relationship into doubt.

The two are scheduled to hold a news conference after private talks on Friday at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, and Mrs. May will have to decide whether to confront Mr. Trump verbally and publicly, or to bite her tongue at the risk of looking weak.

The two leaders posed for photographs after Mr. Trump arrived at Chequers on Friday morning — he in a blue suit, Mrs. May in a red jacket and dark trousers — and answered a few questions before going behind closed doors. But he didn’t answer one question: Asked whether he regretted his comments, Mr. Trump rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“We had a dinner where I think we’ve never had a better relationship,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he and Mrs. May had spoken for an hour and a half on Thursday, discussing trade, defense and counterterrorism.

On Friday, Mrs. May’s hard-line opponents used Mr. Trump’s comments to bolster their argument that the government’s plans for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit, should be torn up in favor of a cleaner break with the bloc.

Speaking to the BBC, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative lawmaker and one of Mrs. May’s pro-Brexit critics, argued that Mr. Trump had been “perfectly reasonable,” simply reflecting the reality of the government’s proposals.

Alan Duncan, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, played down the president’s intervention, insisting that the visit was going well. He suggested that Mr. Trump had spoken to The Sun before reading the details of Mrs. May’s latest Brexit plan, which aims to keep some close economic ties to the European Union.

“Donald Trump is a controversialist,” Mr. Duncan told the BBC. “That’s his style.”

Others reacted with anger or dismay at an intervention that, deliberately or otherwise, undermines Mrs. May at a time of speculation about a challenge to her leadership.

Simon Fraser, formerly one of Britain’s most senior diplomats, described the president’s “patronizing put-down” of Mrs. May as “wholly outrageous.”

“Normally I don’t feel sorry for Theresa May,” Emily Thornberry, a foreign affairs spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, told Sky News. “I don’t think that feeling sorry for a prime minister is a very good look, but this morning I feel sorry for her.”

The Trump-Khan feud doubles down

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Mr. Trump breathed new life into his long-distance, long-running feud with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with his harsh comments on the city and its leader, and the mayor struck back on Friday.

“Take a look at the terrorism that’s taking place,” Mr. Trump told The Sun. “Look at what’s going on in London. I think he’s done a terrible job.” He added, “I think he’s done a bad job on crime.”

Speaking to BBC Radio on Friday, Mr. Khan said he thought it “interesting that President Trump is not criticizing the mayors of other cities” that have experienced terrorist attacks.

That appeared to be a reference to Mr. Khan’s faith — he is among few Muslims serving as mayor of a major Western city, and Mr. Trump has sought to restrict travel to the United States from people from predominantly Muslim countries.

London has been struggling with an increase in knife crime, but Mr. Khan said that to blame immigration for the increase was “preposterous.”

Mr. Khan also defended his decision to allow a balloon depicting Mr. Trump as an angry, orange baby to float over Westminister. “Can you imagine if we limited freedom of speech because someone might get hurt?” he told the BBC. As mayor, he said, he “should not be the arbiter of what is in good taste or bad taste.”

Well, this should be an interesting lunch

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The main order of business on Friday for Mr. Trump is a private conversation and working lunch with Mrs. May, who dearly wants to strike a trade deal with the United States as she tries to negotiate Britain’s departure from the European Union.

But Mr. Trump’s interview with The Sun, published Thursday night, overshadowed the meeting and threw some cold water on the prime minister’s hopes. For the president to criticize and politically undercut Mrs. May, one of his closest international allies, on her home turf is an extraordinary breach of protocol, but if anything seems clear at this point, it is that there is no reason to expect the expected.

If Mrs. May persists in seeking a so-called soft exit from the European Union, Mr. Trump reportedly told The Sun, she can forget about a separate pact with the United States.

“If they do that,” the paper quoted him as saying, “then their trade deal with the U.S. will probably not be made.”

Hours before the interview was published, Mr. Trump was asked about Brexit at a news conference and said, “It’s not for me to say about the U.K.”

But speaking to The Sun, he described the prime minister’s approach to Brexit as “very unfortunate,” and said, “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

He had much warmer words for Boris Johnson, the ambitious British politician who just quit as foreign minister in an open break with Mrs. May, and is seen as one of her primary rivals within the Conservative Party. Mr. Johnson, he said, would “make a great prime minister.”

At the very least, the interview gave Mr. Trump and Mrs. May some things to talk about on Friday.

The snarling baby takes flight

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The most anticipated element of Britain’s “Stop Trump” protests, a giant orange balloon of President Trump depicted as a pouting baby in a diaper and carrying a smartphone, took off Friday morning from Parliament Square in London and came back to earth a couple of hours later.

Though the actual protest was hours away, dozens gathered for the takeoff, including activists, tourists, children and bystanders diverted from their commutes. They gathered around the balloon and, as if it were a rocket launch, counted down from 10 before setting it into motion.

“This is a victory,” said Leo Murray, an activist and the creator of the balloon. “People love it, he hates it and it’s driven him out of London.”

Anti-Trump protests have been organized for every stop of the president’s trip in Britain. More than 200 demonstrators gathered outside of Chequers, including two wearing giant papier-mâché heads with unflattering likenesses of the president and the prime minister.

Mr. Murray and others behind the inflatable “Trump Baby” have called the balloon a “symbol of resistance” aimed at giving Mr. Trump a clear message that he is not welcome in Britain.

“The only way to get through to him is to get down to his level and talk in a language he understands, one of personal insults,” Mr. Murray said.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected for a 2 p.m. demonstration against Mr. Trump’s policies.

Adam Cottrell, one of the protest organizers, said, “He mocks and insults anyone who doesn’t support him so now he can see what it feels like.”

But Lucy Lawson, an American who came to see the balloon because it was close to her work, said that while she opposed Mr. Trump’s policies, she considered the protest childish.

“Why are people going down to his level?” she asked. “Why are they being so childish? It’s because of his childlike leadership that we are in this mess.”

Ms. Lawson asked one of the organizers why they still decided to launch the balloon, knowing that Mr. Trump would not be in London.

“It’s going to swamp his Twitter feed,” Mr. Cottrell said. “There’s no way he doesn’t see this.”

Obama weighed in on British politics, too, if a bit more gently

Mr. Trump is not the first American president to wade publicly into another country’s politics. In fact, he is not even the first to step into Britain’s.

In London in 2016, President Barack Obama called on Britons to reject the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.

An unwritten rule of international diplomacy states that the leader of one country should not try to influence the internal politics of another. The rule is broken often, but usually with an element of deniability — not out in the open.

Mr. Obama intervened with a different tone than Mr. Trump did. Mr. Obama even acknowledged that he might be crossing a line, explaining at a news conference with David Cameron, then the prime minister, why he had “the temerity to weigh in.”

Ben Rhodes, a former Obama aide, wrote in his recent book, “The World As It Is,” that Mr. Cameron, who opposed Brexit, had asked Mr. Obama to make a statement against withdrawing from the bloc.

Mr. Obama stood beside Mr. Cameron, who opposed Brexit, and tried to help him politically. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has undercut Mrs. May.

Some pro-Brexit politicians castigated Mr. Obama for trying to sway the vote, but it is not clear what difference it made, if any. The referendum succeeded, with 52 percent of the vote.

And Mr. Obama was more popular in Britain than Mr. Trump is.

The Sun finds itself at the center of the journalism universe


The front page of The Sun on Friday.

British newspapers, especially the tabloids, know a good story when they see one, and the release of President Trump’s interview with The Sun dominated the front pages. A sampling of the headlines:

The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., proclaimed under a banner trumpeting the interview, “May has wrecked Brexit … deal is off!”

The Times of London, which is also owned by News Corp. but generally takes a more restrained approach, said, “Trump: May’s soft Brexit will kill chance of US trade deal.”

The Daily Mail described it as the “President’s Brexit Attack on May,” while another tabloid, the Daily Mirror, took a briefer approach that nonetheless managed to make its point: “Donald Thump.”

The Guardian has compiled a roundup of the British front pages.

Trump says he is committed to NATO

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Mr. Trump recommitted the United States to support for NATO, a bedrock of Western security policy for generations, on Thursday, comments that at least temporarily calmed fears that he might move toward dismantling the alliance.

“The United States commitment to NATO is very strong, remains very strong,” he said at a news conference in Brussels. “I believe in NATO.”

But if Mr. Trump’s public remarks were friendly, the tone behind closed doors was much harsher. Officials from other countries voiced fears that even if he had not broken an alliance that was first formed in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union, he had thrown some sand in its gears.

According to a person briefed on Mr. Trump’s meeting with other NATO leaders, Mr. Trump said that if the other countries did not increase military spending to 2 percent of their economic output by January, the United States “would go it alone.”

But within a few hours, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, said the allies had simply agreed to keep a 2014 commitment to increase military spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.

“A communiqué was issued yesterday,” Mr. Macron told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. “This communiqué is clear. It reaffirms the 2 percent by 2024 commitments. That’s all.”

Mr. Conte said: “Italy inherited spending commitments to NATO, commitments that we did not change, so no increase in spending. As far as we’re concerned, today we did not decide to offer extra contributions with respect to what was decided some time ago.”

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that her country would consider more spending, but she said nothing about any new commitments. And she undercut the notion that reconsideration of Germany’s defense budget was due simply to American pressure.

Katie Rogers, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Steven Erlanger

Wrapping up the trip: One on one with Putin

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Mr. Trump’s first summit meeting with the Russian president will be parsed for countless layers of meaning.

The West’s stance toward Russia is, as always, a central topic at the NATO meeting, and the United States’ European allies are worried that Mr. Trump aims to reduce the American security role in dealing with Moscow.

Russia is waging a proxy war against Ukraine, has forcibly annexed part of that country, has meddled in other nations’ elections, gives crucial support to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and stands accused of using a chemical weapon on British soil.

Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign is under investigation for links to Russia, and Mr. Trump, who is quick to aim a barb at almost anyone else, has been reluctant to criticize Mr. Putin. Yet he and his aides bristle at accusations that he is not tough enough with the Kremlin.

The meeting with Mr. Putin will be closely analyzed for signs that Mr. Trump is friendlier to his Russian counterpart than to the leaders he is meeting in Brussels.

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