Theresa May has taken the gamble of inviting Donald Trump to make his controversial visit to Britain later this year after a meeting between the prime minister and the US president at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The move followed a 15-minute meeting between the two leaders in which the president promised the US would always “be there” for Britain, assured May “we love your country” and said that they “like each other a lot”.
A senior UK government source said the visit was expected to take place in the second half of this year, after the pair meet again at the Nato summit in Brussels in July.
A Downing Street source said both the UK and US were planning for a working visit. This pushes the prospect of Trump’s state visit ever further into the future, and raises the possibility that it might never happen.
Either way, the detailed planning that must now get under way will include calculating the scale of the security operation that will be needed. There has been speculation that Trump’s visit will lead to the biggest protests since the anti-war demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003.
May invited Trump to a state visit within days of him being sworn in as president, but Downing Street had appeared to want to postpone the invitation after Trump responded angrily to May’s criticism of him in November for re-tweeting anti-Muslim videos posted by the far-right group Britain First.
US presidents usually have to wait several years at least before being invited to make a state visit, which includes a ceremonial welcome by the Queen on Horse Guards Parade, the inspection of a guard of honour, a drive down the Mall in a carriage and a Buckingham Palace banquet.
Earlier this month, Trump called off a planned trip to London in February to open the new US embassy. The decision was believed to have been made because of the prospect of protests, but Trump claimed on Twitter that he had cancelled the visit because of his displeasure at Barack Obama for selling the old embassy in Grosvenor Square for “peanuts” and building a replacement “in an off location “ in Nine Elms, south London. “Bad deal” he tweeted. In fact, the planned move began when George W Bush was president.
At Davos, the US president put May at the top of the list for his bilateral talks after flying in from the US overnight and rejected the idea that relations between Washington and London had been soured.
Sitting next to the prime minister, Trump said it was “a false rumour” that there was tension in the US-UK relationship. “We’re on the same wavelength in, I think, every respect,” he said.
Looking directly at the prime minister, Trump said there was nothing that would happen where the US would not be there for Britain.
He said that the pair had “a really great relationship”, adding: “I have tremendous respect for the prime minister and the job she’s doing. And I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot.”
After the meeting, Trump tweeted that the talks had been “great”.
It is understood that May did not raise the issue of Trump’s retweets of the Britain First propaganda, which she condemned at the time.
Britain’s departure from the European Union has made May keen to negotiate a new deal with the US, something seen as possible despite Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and the protectionist measures he announced this week against China.
Trade between the US and the UK was going to increase “many times”, Trump said after meeting May. “The discussions … that will be taking place are going to lead to tremendous increase in trade between our countries, which is great for both in terms of jobs.”
In a sign that the trade talks could prove to be long and difficult, May used the meeting to raise the US decision to put punitive tariffs on Bombardier aircraft that are part-made in Belfast.
“The two leaders began by discussing Bombardier, with the prime minister reiterating the importance of the company’s jobs in Northern Ireland,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Foreign policy also featured in the meeting, with No 10 saying there had been agreement on the need for joint action against Iran, including continuing efforts to ensure it did not develop nuclear weapons, and agreement on the importance of standing “side-by-side” in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere.
Earlier, May had used her speech at the WEF to call for international cooperation to develop ethical rules that will govern the use of technology in areas such as artificial intelligence.
The prime minister said new norms and regulations must be developed to allay public concerns over issues such as the control of private data, the disappearance of traditional jobs and the abuse of social media.
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