STANDHURST, England (AP) — Bringing chaos with him as he moves across Europe, President Donald Trump’s pomp-filled welcome to Britain was overshadowed on Friday by an explosive interview in which the president blasted Prime Minister Theresa May, blamed London’s mayor for terror attacks against the city and argued that Europe was “losing its culture” because of immigration.
Trump told The Sun newspaper on Thursday — in an interview that was published as he was being feted by May at an opulent dinner at a country palace — that he felt unwelcome in London because of protests, including plans to fly a giant balloon over Parliament on Friday that depicts him as an angry baby in a diaper.
“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he said.
Trump, in the interview given before he left Brussels for the UK, accused May of ruining what her country stands to gain from the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. He said her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, would make an “excellent” prime minister, speaking just days after Johnson resigned his position in protest over May’s Brexit plans.
Trump added that May’s “soft” blueprint for the UK’s future dealings with the EU would probably “kill” any future trade deals with the United States.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the paper.
Trump, who has linked his own election to the June 2016 referendum in which a majority of British voters supported leaving the EU, complained, “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on.”
He also told the tabloid that he’d shared advice with May during Britain’s negotiations with the EU and she ignored it.
The controversy will shadow the president across Britain on Friday much like the 20-foot (6-meter) tall balloon depicting Trump as an angry baby that was inflated in London early Friday and will be airborne for his visit. The president began his day reviewing a military exercise alongside May at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
From there, using a helicopter to remain above the protests while largely avoiding central London, Trump will meet with May and hold a press conference with the prime minister sure to be dominated by the fallout from the interview before he visits Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
The interview was the latest breach of diplomatic protocol from Trump, whose predecessors tended to avoid criticizing their foreign hosts. Details from Trump’s interview with the paper became public as Trump was attending a black-tie dinner with May to welcome him to Britain with pomp and pageantry.
As for Johnson, Trump said: “I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.” He added, “I think he is a great representative for your country.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement after the tabloid interview was published, saying Trump “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much.”
“As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person,” Sanders wrote.
On Thursday night, hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the US ambassador’s residence where Trump was staying, providing a preview of the forceful protests expected on Friday.
Trump acknowledged he didn’t feel welcome in the city, and blamed that in part on Mayor Sadiq Khan, who gave protesters permission to fly the 20-foot-tall balloon depicting Trump as an angry baby.
Trump also blamed recent terrorist attacks there on Khan, who is a Muslim. The president claimed Europe is “losing its culture” because of immigration from the Middle East and Africa.
“Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a sham,” he said. “I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way.”
In contrast to the president’s sharp words, Trump’s first event in England was an oasis of warm greetings at an evening reception at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, the larger-than-life British leader cited by the president as a model of leadership. That was just one of several helicopter rides on the agenda for Trump, whose staff opted to keep him largely out of central London and the swarms of demonstrators who are likely to provide some of the defining images of his first official trip to the UK.
Trump’s Marine One departure from the ambassador’s residence was met by jeers from demonstrators banging pots and pans, and another pack of protesters lined roads near the palace. Some of their signs read “Dump Trump,” ”Lock Him Up” and “There Will Be Hell Toupee.” Police worked overtime, their days off canceled.
Trump was greeted at the palace by May, whose government has been rocked by resignations from ongoing tumult over Brexit.
The outdoor arrival ceremony at Blenheim — Trump wore a tuxedo and first lady Melania Trump a butter-yellow, chiffon, off-the-shoulder gown — was a grand affair marked by a military band in bearskin hats, hundreds of business leaders in black tie and gorgeous setting sunlight.
The mood was far less jovial in Belgium earlier in the day.
During his 28 hours there, Trump had disparaged longtime NATO allies, cast doubt on his commitment to the mutual-defense organization and sent the 29-member pact into a frenzied emergency session.
Then, in a head-snapping pivot at the end, he declared the alliance a “fine-tuned machine” that had acceded to his demands to speed up increases in military spending to relieve pressure on the US budget. But there was little evidence other leaders had bowed to his wishes on that front.
Trump claimed member nations had agreed to boost their defense budgets significantly and reaffirmed — after days of griping that the US was being taken advantage of by its allies — that the US remains faithful to the accord.
“The United States’ commitment to NATO remains very strong,” Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following the emergency session of NATO members.
Neither Trump nor NATO offered specifics on what Trump said he had achieved. French President Emmanuel Macron quickly disputed Trump’s claim that NATO allies had agreed to boost defense spending beyond their existing goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.