LONDON -- President Donald Trump will begin his first state visit to the United Kingdom today, more than two years after he was first invited.
The president visited the U.K. last year, though that was considered a working visit, with fewer ceremonies than a state visit. Trump's stop came after a NATO conference in Belgium and before a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, and he spent the weekend between the two events at his golf resort in Scotland.
The invitation for a state visit was extended by British Prime Minister Theresa May during the first week of Trump's administration. May made the offer in the Oval Office on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, who is Britain's head of state.
The 93-year-old queen is hosting a full day of ceremony and toasts for the 72-year-old president, his wife and his adult children, topped by a banquet at Buckingham Palace.
There will be a formal tea this afternoon hosted by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, for Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
On the political front, Trump meets Tuesday with May, only days before she steps down Friday as Conservative Party leader, kicking off a race to succeed her as prime minister.
Trump professes friendship with May, but he has been critical of her handling of Britain's negotiations to exit the European Union. He also has warm relations with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a May critic who hopes to follow her into power, and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who accuses May of incompetence and betrayal.
Trump told the Sunday Times that Britain should "walk away" from Brexit talks and refuse to pay a $49 billion divorce bill if it doesn't get better terms from the EU. He also said Farage, an outspoken advocate of leaving the EU without a deal, should be given a role in the Brexit negotiations.
Trump told the newspaper that Farage "is a very smart person. They won't bring him in. Think how well they would do if they did. They just haven't figured that out yet."
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31 unless both sides agree to an extension. Britain's position is in flux because of May's imminent departure.
Officials on both sides of the Atlantic say the long-delayed state visit will celebrate the vaunted "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. It was timed to coincide with solemn ceremonies in Britain on Wednesday and in France on Thursday marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
Still, Britain has been deeply divided on the very topic of giving Trump a state visit to Britain. The BBC reports that the queen only has one or two state visits each year.
The move prompted street protests in Britain, as well as an online petition signed by more than 1 million people opposed to the idea. Even last year's working visit drew protests in the streets of London. Parliament debated over whether Trump deserved the highest honor that Britain can bestow on a foreign leader.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote in The Observer on Sunday that Trump should not get red-carpet treatment during his visit.
"President Donald Trump is just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat," said Khan, a frequent Trump target. "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 70 years."
Much of Trump's visit will be given over to social events and to the D-Day commemorations, but some serious topics are to be discussed, including the Trump administration's determined effort to prevent Britain from relying on Chinese tech giant Huawei to build parts of its 5G communications network.
National security adviser John Bolton told reporters before Trump's arrival that allowing this could give China's government a "back door" into western telecommunications systems.
A state visit is a relatively rare honor for a U.S. president: Only Barack Obama in 2011 and George W. Bush in 2003 have received the coveted invitations, which are offered based on advice from British Foreign Office officials, not the whim of the queen.
The queen has, however, met 12 of the 13 U.S. presidents who served during her 67-year reign, which is now the longest in British history. The only exception was Lyndon Johnson.
The president and first lady are not going to stay at Buckingham Palace, where state visitors usually lodge, apparently because of renovations underway at the queen's 775-room official residence. They are expected to stay at Winfield House, the home of the U.S. ambassador to Britain.
Security guards set up Sunday near the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London ahead of the state visit by President Donald Trump.
A Section on 06/03/2019
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