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A special state visit for Trump sparks outcry in the U.K.

April 18, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
When British Prime Minister Theresa May met with President Trump in January, she extended a special honor: an invitation for a state visit, which only two presidents have received since 1952. But the president's visit to the U.K. has become politically fraught, prompting protests and petitions, and every aspect of the trip is in flux. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports from London.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, from the prime minister’s surprise news of today, to a surprise Theresa May brought to the White House in January, and the debate it’s sparked across Great Britain.

From London, special correspondent Ryan Chilcote has this look.

RYAN CHILCOTE: It was supposed to be a diplomatic coup, the British prime minister beating the world’s leaders to the Oval Office.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am honored to have Prime Minister Theresa May here for our first official visit.

RYAN CHILCOTE: May didn’t just return the favor. She upped the ante, extending an honor only two U.S. presidents have received since 1952.

THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: I have today been able to convey Her Majesty the Queen’s hope that President Trump and the first lady would pay a state visit to the United Kingdom later this year, and I’m delighted the president has accepted that invitation.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Then, things got awkward. Three days later, 20,000 protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office to denounce the travel ban President Trump imposed just hours after May left, then, another day of demonstrations, then another — 1.8 million Brits signed a petition demanding the prime minister cancel the state visit.

If 10 of the last 12 American presidents who’d come weren’t given the honor, why should President Trump?

Parliament gathered for a debate.

PAULA SHERRIFF, Member of Parliament: Does he agree that to use the expression grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) describes a sexual assault, and therefore suggests that he shouldn’t be afforded a visit to our queen?

RYAN CHILCOTE: At 82, Paul Flynn is the senior member of the House of Commons.

The debate in this country isn’t about whether Donald Trump comes here. It’s been about whether he is treated to a state visit. What’s the big deal?

PAUL FLYNN, Member of Parliament: The big deal is that only two American presidents since 1952 have been given this special honor of a state visit. And we’re giving this unique privilege to Donald Trump after being in office for seven days.

It was an act of desperation by a prime minister that’s in deep trouble. We’re losing our markets in Europe because of Brexit, and she’s desperate to ingratiate herself with America in order to try to win new markets. We don’t want to give him privileged treatment. We want to show him our contempt and disdain.

RYAN CHILCOTE: President Trump’s visit to the U.K. has become politically fraught. Every aspect of the trip, from the timing to the itinerary, is in flux.

MAN: Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

RYAN CHILCOTE: Six years ago, President Trump’s predecessor was granted the highest of honors the opportunity to address Parliament during his state visit.

That was ruled out this time around before it could even be debated.

John Bercow is the speaker of the House of Commons.

JOHN BERCOW, Speaker, House of Commons: Before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed.

RYAN CHILCOTE: The state banquet is a staple of state visits, so that’s in. Protests are also a regular feature. A foray into the countryside kept London’s protesters away from President Bush in 2003 during his state visit.

This time, the planners are looking at going even further, to the north. Scotland’s an option. Rural and remote, it’s not a likely place for tens of thousands of protesters to gather, and yet, even here, not everyone’s a fan.

President Trump owns two golf courses in Scotland, including this one built on a pristine patch of 4,000-year-old sand dunes.

David Milne’s house overlooks the course and the sea, or at least it did, until he refused to sell his property to President Trump.

So, you used have a completely unimpeded view here.

DAVID MILNE, Scotland: Yes, we had 40 miles of uninterrupted coastline.

RYAN CHILCOTE: And now you have got the fence.

DAVID MILNE: Yes, and Trump provided the trees, which, as you can see, are dying slowly.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Milne has flown two flags ever since Trump visited Scotland last year. The one on top is Scotland’s.

And what possessed you to put up a Mexican flag?

DAVID MILNE: Donald Trump had recently made the announcement that he was going to build a border wall and send the bill to Mexico. Well, he did basically the same thing here with a small fence, and he sent me the bill.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Michael Forbes wouldn’t sell either.

MICHAEL FORBES, Quarryman: The first thing he said is was, what’s this land worth? Twenty-five dollars an acre. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I said in your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dreams.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL FORBES: Yes, there will be protesters, all right.

RYAN CHILCOTE: If there’s one place in all of the United Kingdom that can provide security and privacy during President Trump’s visit, it’s here at the queen’s holiday home in Scotland.

President Trump has reportedly asked to play golf on the queen’s private course at her Scottish castle, Balmoral. That would be a real honor. The last president Queen Elizabeth II met at her private home was Dwight Eisenhower in 1959.

NARRATOR: He went to Balmoral to stay with the royal family, remember?

RYAN CHILCOTE: According to one poll, close to half of the British public supports the idea of a state visit. There is also support for the president, himself, though in all of the parliamentary debate, this was the closest anyone got to it.

NIGEL EVANS, Member of Parliament: I would like to respect the fact that he stood on a platform which is he is now delivering. He’s going to go down in history as being roundly condemned for being the only politician to deliver on his promises.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Most who back the visit, though, do so despite the president’s policies.

That’s a selfie that Hillary took up in Derry, New Hampshire, in January last year.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Sir Simon Burns traveled to the U.S. to campaign on behalf of Hillary Clinton. He is a conservative member of Parliament who supports the state visit.

SIR SIMON BURNS, Member of Parliament: We stand by America. America stands by us. It’s in our national interest. And regardless of who’s president, we have got to get on with the United States.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Fellow member of Parliament Bob Neill says the visit should be looked at in perspective.

BOB NEILL, Member of Parliament: We have had out-and-out dictators like Nicolae Ceausescu and Robert Mugabe come over in the past. And, whatever my personal distaste for Mr. Trump’s style and policies in some areas, he’s a democratically elected politician.

RYAN CHILCOTE: President Trump and Prime Minister May have agreed to postpone the visit until October to give British protesters a chance to cool off.

Reporting for the PBS NewsHour, I’m Ryan Chilcote in London.

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