LONDON—In front of a bank of cameras beaming live pictures across the world a single, huge banner greeted Trump outside Buckingham Palace. “Welcome President Trump,” it read.
The globe, and the president, would be forgiven for thinking Donald Trump had been warmly received in London.
In truth, police officers had weeded out anti-Trump voices, and placards from the crowd and forced them behind a 25-meter high memorial to Queen Victoria which shielded them from the broadcasters who were set up beneath awnings on the north side of the Mall.
One of the women kept out of Trump’s eye-line was Brenda Moreno, 45, who was born in Mexico but now lives in West London. She was carrying a 5ft anti-Trump banner, which included a small Mexican flag, and a pink vuvuzela—a plastic South African horn.
“Are you putting her behind a wall because she’s Mexican?” shouted another protester who was also forced to leave an area outside Buckingham Palace where campaigners have protested against visiting dignitaries for generations.
“This is a farce. Trump is just bullying everyone” said Moreno. “We were chased back and they put everyone behind a wall—one of the police broke my vuvuzela and pulled me. I wasn’t breaking any law. Why are the British doing this?”
When George W. Bush came to London on a state visit in November 2003—eight months after the start of the Iraq war—thousands of protesters stood on this very spot at the foot of the Mall and welcomed the president with a wall of noise. Bodies were pressed up against the metal barriers as people expressed their displeasure at the Middle Eastern intervention but police officers never intervened.
This time, the dissent was silenced.
A group of four women couldn’t help but giggle as they were escorted away from the cameras with banners that read ‘Dump Trump.’ “The police were actually radioing each other about this group of middle aged ladies!” said Sonja Campbell, 52, who works in the education sector. “We were stopped from speaking to other anti-Trump people. It’s disgusting—now I wish my sign was a lot ruder.”
Trump entered the palace from the north, safely away from hundreds of protesters who were banging drums, wooden spoons and pot lids and whistling as he approached. In truth there were very few people there either pro- or anti-Trump, hundreds of yards of protective barriers stood empty. Inside the gates, Trump was dressed in white tie as he was received by the queen and Prince Charles for a lavish State Banquet.
Tuesday will see far more widespread protests as the president visits Downing Street for a meeting and press conference with the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May. Less than 100 yards from where they are speaking, up to a quarter of a million demonstrators will be marching.
The demonstration has been banned from the traditional marching route that runs down from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square along Whitehall. Police have blocked off the usual route where it approaches No. 10. “Protesters will not be marching past Downing Street at any point,” a spokesman said.
Protest organizers say they believe U.S. security officials intervened to keep Trump further away from the opprobrium.
“It’s a total affront to the idea of freedom of assembly that as soon as a right-wing American president shows up in town we’re no longer allowed where we’ve been marching for hundreds of years in protest against all kinds of awful despots and dictators,” Michael Chessum, of the Stop Trump Coalition, told The Daily Beast. “There are finally no-go zones in London.”
It emerged last year that Trump had believed propaganda pushed by the likes of Fox News that there were Islamic “no-go zones” in London where non-Muslims were afraid to tread—an aide to May said he mentioned the scare-story to her. No such places exist, but the unparalleled security operation has now barred Londoners from sections of their own city.
Over half of London residents oppose Trump visiting the city, according to a recent poll, which had 24 percent in favor of the trip.
The London mayor was keen to team up with protesters to ensure that Trump faced what is becoming a ritual humiliation while he’s in Britain with a 20-foot orange baby blimp flying to mark his presence.
The inflatable effigy was granted permission Friday to fly in the face of Trump’s state visit by London’s first Muslim mayor after crowdfunders raised more than $50,000. Sadiq Khan wasn’t satisfied with approving the visual gag: He also directed a withering tirade at Trump, welcoming him to the city by comparing him to “the fascists of the 20th century.”
Trump’s thin skin inevitably resulted in him firing back at the mayor before the wheels of Air Force One had even touched down at London’s worst airport. As the plane came in to land at Stansted, he was already tweeting about the “nasty” mayor hurting his feelings.
“He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me. Kahn reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job—only half his height,” he wrote.
During his last trip to Britain, Trump avoided the capital city in the certain knowledge that he would be berated by large crowds at every turn. He relied on helicopter journeys well above the fray. That was more difficult for this formal visit, during which a rotating cast of royals—but not Meghan Markle—hosted the president as he inspected the Guard of Honour and visited Westminster Abbey and Clarence House.
London-born historian Simon Schama was on Sky News on Monday morning expressing his displeasure at the courtesy offered to the current incumbent of the White House. The debate over whether Trump should be granted a state visit has raged since his election in 2016, with those in favor arguing that the Queen has previously hosted Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Gangsters” and “buffoons” have indeed been given such honors before, Schama said, but “there is no need to add another one.”
“There is a bad smell over London today,” he said.
There is also a giant orange baby clutching a smartphone. Organizers pledged to relaunch the cartoon Trump if they could raise $50,000 for six charities including a Muslim youth group in the U.K., Planned Parenthood and climate change groups.
The child-like character the blimp is based on was also clutching his phone early this morning lashing out at London’s mayor for being short on Twitter
The mayor of London’s spokesman responded dismissively. “This is much more serious than childish insults, which should be beneath the president of the United States,” he said.
Khan, a member of the Labour Party, had written an article in the local Observer newspaper on Sunday comparing Trump to Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, and Nigel Farage in Britain. “President Donald Trump is just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat,” he wrote. “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.”
If Khan is a natural adversary for Trump, the president has offered his admiration for Boris Johnson, the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race to succeed May. Trump annoyed traditionalists by offering his support to Johnson on the eve of his trip, despite the longstanding convention of not interfering in an ally’s internal politics.
Johnson, who was London mayor before Khan, has been conspicuously quiet. He launched his formal bid to be the next prime minister on Monday but has not mentioned Trump at all this week.
He was not always so reticent. After Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Johnson said he was “clearly out of his mind” and “unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”
Just in case the president had forgotten about these past remarks, campaign group Led by Donkeys projected video onto Big Ben on the eve of his arrival in London.