LONDON – Even before President Donald Trump arrived in London on Monday for three days of planned pomp and circumstance, his state visit had already become dominated by insults and political intrigue.
Hours before he was scheduled to visit Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, the president launched a Twitter attack against London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has publicly objected to the plan to fete Trump with a ceremonial state visit. Trump responded by criticizing Khan’s record as mayor and attacking him over his height.
“@SadiqKhan, 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. He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me,” Trump wrote on Twitter as Air Force One was about to land in Britain. “Kahn [sic] reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job – only half his height. In any event, I look forward to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit. Landing now!”
It was the latest broadside by Trump, who has prefaced his visit with digs at Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and American-born royal Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to attend an official welcome ceremony and private lunch with the queen, followed by a tour of Westminster Abbey, tea with the Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, and an evening banquet at Buckingham Palace with the queen and other members of the British elite.
On Tuesday, Trump plans to hold meetings with May, who is stepping down as Conservative leader later this week after failing to gain support for her Brexit plan.
Despite the standard itinerary, Trump’s visit is shaping up to be unlike any other by an American leader.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of protesters are expected to pack London’s Trafalgar Square. A blimp showing Trump as a diaper-clad baby will take flight and hover above the scene.
London mayor Khan, a Muslim and the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, has become the rhetorical leader of London’s resistance to the president. Writing in the Guardian newspaper Sunday, Khan said the Trump used the language of the “fascists of the 20th century.”
“Donald Trump is just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat,” he wrote. “The far right is on the rise around the world, threatening our hard-won rights and freedoms and the values that have defined our liberal, democratic societies for more than seventy years.”
Khan’s spokesman responded to Trump’s Twitter attack Monday, saying that “childish insults” should be “beneath the president of the United States.”
Khan also criticized Trump for inserting himself into the internal politics of Britain, where a fierce competition is underway between those seeking to replace May as prime minister.
In recent interviews with British newspapers, Trump has criticized May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, offered an endorsement of May’s rival and potential successor Boris Johnson and claimed that Brexit leader Nigel Farage should be the country’s top negotiator with the European Union. Trump also responded to previous criticism from the Duchess of Sussex, formerly known as Meghan Markle, by saying: “I didn’t know that she was nasty.”
Typically, a state visit includes a few nights bunking with the monarch at Buckingham Palace in central London. But Trump will not be staying there, as the palace is undergoing renovations.
Nor will he receive the royal welcome at Horse Guards Parade or a gold carriage procession down the Mall, due to security concerns.
Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador and owner of the New York Jets football team, called the state visit “very significant.”
“He knows the security and prosperity of the U.S. is directly linked to the security and prosperity of the U.K. The special relationship will be a huge focus as we remember D-Day,” Johnson told the BBC.
“When I last spoke to him he was extremely enthusiastic. The president’s mother was born here and this is part of his DNA. Everything he is about revolves around this relationship. It could not be more important,” Johnson said
Johnson said the Trump administration was looking forward to signing a U.S.-British trade deal – though in the past Johnson warned that the exit deal with the E.U. May tried to pass through parliament could threaten an agreement with Washington.
More controversial, Johnson said on Sunday that a future trade deal with the United States would include British health care, specifically the oft-complained-about but much beloved social medicine program called the National Health Service.
Many Britons have expressed fears that the United States has designs on profiting from the NHS.
Asked if British consumers would buy U.S. meat and vegetables, which have less strict regulations over chemicals, Johnson said British consumers would make their own choices.
It’s unclear how much Trump will be able to focus on the British pageantry rather than the political drama back in the United States, where the president faces a burgeoning trade war with Mexico, intensifying congressional investigations and growing calls for impeachment.
Trump’s unprompted attack on New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio – who is one of two dozen Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Trump – offers a signal that the president will continue to engage in domestic politics even while on foreign soil.
While in Japan last month, Trump used the words of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to attack another rival, former vice president Joe Biden – calling him a “low I.Q. individual.”