President Trump’s visit to the UK caused important upheavals both in British politics and society, when over 250,000 took to the streets against his visit. Thomas Barlow, of Real Media, talks about the visit’s impact
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert.
Two hundred fifty thousand protesters took to the streets of London on Friday to declare their opposition to President Trump’s visit to Britain this week. They chanted “Donald Trump has got to go,” and carried banners reading “Dump Trump,” and “Keep your tiny hands off women’s rights.” The highlight of the protest was perhaps the 20-foot balloon of a caricature of Trump as a giant snarling baby, which floated outside of Parliament. Before Trump’s first meetings, though, he managed to spark outrage with an interview that he conducted with the tabloid newspaper The Sun in which he commented on Brexit, on Theresa May’s negotiations with the European Union, and whether the recently resigned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would make a good prime minister. Once in London, however, Trump had to backtrack some of his statements, saying that they were fake news and that he has a high appreciation for Theresa May.
Joining me now to discuss Trump’s visit to Britain is Thomas Barlow. Thomas is a journalist and organizer, and senior editor of the UK-based Real Media. Thanks for joining us today, Thomas.
THOMAS BARLOW: Thanks for having me.
GREG WILPERT: Clearly Trump managed to ruffle feathers with this interview that was published just as he was meeting with Theresa May, and in which he questioned her leadership with regard to Brexit and suggested that Boris Johnson would make an excellent prime minister. Here’s a recording of parts of the interview with the tabloid The Sun.
DONALD TRUMP: Well if they do a deal like that it will most likely- because we’ll be dealing with the European Union, instead of dealing with UK. So it will probably kill the deal if they do that. Their trade deal with the U.S. will probably not be made. I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t agree with, she didn’t listen to me. She didn’t listen.
Well, I’m not pitting one against the other. I’m just saying I think he’d be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes, and I think he’s got the right attitude to be a great prime minister.
GREG WILPERT: So Thomas, as I said, this was certainly a kind of a bombshell of an interview, as it’s been called. But how’s it being received within the government, and will this undermine Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations? Or is Trump being laughed off as a buffoon who is not to be taken seriously?
THOMAS BARLOW: Well, Trump is the president of the United States, so he’s not being laughed off. As ridiculous as he’s seen, you know, around the world, he’s also seen as a serious threat. And he’s the, you know, leader of the most important economy in the world, currently. That might not be the case by the end of his tenure. So it is being seen as quite serious both within the government and amongst people. The Sun is the second-most read newspaper.
And it has caused problems, probably, within the government, but also actually it probably shored up Theresa May’s support. Because even amongst conservatives, Donald Trump isn’t that popular. And in fact, you know, got stinging rebukes from across parliament. Even the hard right and the very hard Brexit section of the Conservative Party did not support, or re-tweet, or sort of condone the interview that Donald Trump gave.
So it’s, yeah, it has been taken seriously. But I’m not sure it’s caused that much more trouble for Theresa May than she had already caused herself by inviting Donald Trump to the UK and all the problems she’s already had this week with resignations from her cabinet, and the problems she’s having with the negotiations.
GREG WILPERT: And so what about the impact that Trump is having on organizing in the UK? It is said that 250000 people came out to demonstrate against him on Friday. Will this be a boon for organizing efforts against Theresa May, against the government? And what exactly are the organizers and demonstrators pushing for in this context?
THOMAS BARLOW: I think it’s always good to get people on the streets, and it’s important that we’ve come out against this particular person in such large numbers. And there’s such unity across the country in terms of the way Trump is viewed. However, this is part, I think, of a significant ongoing campaign, probably, or series of street protests. That’s probably not going to happen. And it probably won’t be a boon to any particular movement because, you know, Trump is seen as a danger by people who are both pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit; by liberals and left-wingers alike. You know, for instance, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said I wasn’t going to protest Trump, but then I see what he said about NATO, the EU, and the WTO, and I felt like I had to come out. So he’s managed to ally liberals who are, you know, very much for the current world order, and left-wingers who are very much against that current, sort of, globalized economy and infrastructure.
At the same time it’s just most decent people; most decent people in the UK. You know, there was a poll done this week before he came, and YouGov, the only people who got the election right, and it shows that 16 percent, 1-6 percent, of British people think he’s honest, and 74 percent of British people think he’s a sexist. Only 63 percent think he’s racist, but it’s still a significant majority. So this also comes in the same week that the Financial Times released findings of negative attitudes towards immigration had significantly decreased. So whilst it may not be the beginning of a movement, it is an important moment, and it is actually showing maybe, you know, it’s giving an opportunity for British people to unite around a particularly hateful and nasty figure.
GREG WILPERT: Well actually, speaking of which, I just want to play the clip that we have about Trump making comments on this. He said in the same interview with The Sun, he said that uncontrolled immigration is destroying Europe’s culture. Here’s what he had to say about this.
DONALD TRUMP: I think what’s happened to Europe is a shame. I think the immigration, allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. 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. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come in here is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture.
GREG WILPERT: So this is really an extremely xenophobic statement, I would say, straight out of the playbook of the extreme right in Europe. How is this being received in Britain? And will this kind of thing boost the far right in Britain? Or will there be a backlash against Trump for this type of xenophobia?
THOMAS BARLOW: Both things are true. It sort of hardens attitudes against him, and against America in some respects, for having picked a president such as this. But it also hardens attitudes amongst the right. First off, the hard right, the very hard right in the UK, honestly feel like they have a figurehead now, and they have someone with significant power that they can look up to. And they sort of protect him at all costs. They’re actually disgusted by the protests, for instance. You know, whereas they said nothing about protests against Cameron, or Obama, or Bush, or Blair. They had no problems with any of those. You know, left or right, they didn’t mind those protests. But they’re very upset about these protests against Trump.
Also, there’s the Ukip. Ukip party is definitely far right. It’s further right than the conservative parties, and has dragged the Conservative Party very rightwards. But specifically, Nigel Farage, who is the former leader of Ukip, his close connections to Trump and his very heavy support of Trump has brought a lot of Ukip supporters who are maybe, you know, anti-immigration, but didn’t feel comfortable being openly that racist and that xenophobic, it’s hardened their rhetoric as well. And it’s made people feel a lot more comfortable on that. I’ve been on forums and discussions all week in the weeks leading up to this, and you can see the rhetoric from people who would be far right, but like, not extremely far right, has hardened because of Trump.
I mean, he’s an extraordinarily hard-right figure. It’s amazing that this person is a president of the United States, because we’d expect these from demagogues, you know, of peripheral countries. But of the most important economy in the world, that’s something new, and one that also, it’s a country that Britain has close cultural ties with. Often we’re quite dismissive of the U.S., but also we’re very influenced by it, a lot more so than continental Europe, because of the language and the common culture.
So yes, you know, the majority of people are absolutely disgusted, and it’s just deepened their disgust with him. But for those who have sympathy for him, they’re even more sympathetic. And now they are further more xenophobic more racist because of his visit.
GREG WILPERT: Well, unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Thomas Barlow, senior editor of the U.K.-based Real Media. Thanks again for having joined us today, Thomas.
THOMAS BARLOW: Thank you.
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