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Trump camp denies trip to UK was planned to avoid protests

Visit: US President Donald Trump
Visit: US President Donald Trump

By Andrew Woodcock

America's ambassador in London has denied that Donald Trump's schedule for next week's trip to the UK was designed to keep the US president away from protesters.

Mr Trump is spending little time in the capital during the four-day trip, meeting Theresa May at her country residence Chequers and the Queen at Windsor Castle before heading to Scotland, where he is expected to hit the golf course.

He is expected to move between locations by helicopter, rather than taking motorcades which might attract demonstrations.

Ambassador Woody Johnson said Mr Trump was simply trying to get as much impact as possible from his 24 hours in England on what he described as a "very important" visit which the president would use to strengthen the trans-Atlantic special relationship.

Briefing reporters on a conference call from the US Embassy in London, Mr Johnson played down the influence on the planning of Mr Trump's visit of the expected demonstrations, which will include a giant inflatable effigy of the president in a baby's nappy floating above Parliament.

"I think we are all aware of these things but the president is focused on what his objectives are," said Mr Johnson.

"He appreciates free speech, both in this country and in our country. It is one of the things that bind us together.

"The president is not avoiding anything. The president is merely trying to get as impactful a trip as he can get in a 24-hour period."

Mr Johnson denied that Mr Trump was avoiding London, where the biggest protests are expected to take place, pointing out that he was using the ambassador's residence in Regent's Park as his base for the visit, staying overnight there on Thursday, the day he arrives. He declined to confirm whether Mr Trump would play golf in Scotland - where he owns two courses - stressing that the weekend would be dominated by preparations for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Mr Johnson said trade would be high on the agenda for bilateral talks between Mr Trump and Mrs May at Chequers next Friday.

"The president has been clear right from the beginning of his term," said the ambassador. "He said he would love to do a bilateral trade deal.

"He is really ready to step up on that the minute we get the go-ahead to do it.

"And he will get it done fast, because I know it is a major priority for him."

He said Mr Trump and Mrs May have "a good relationship" and would discuss a wide range of topics at Chequers.

The UK was an "indispensable" ally to the US and the special relationship was "as strong now as it's ever been", he continued.

The black-tie dinner being held for Mr Trump at Blenheim Palace on the first night of his visit was "very symbolic", he added. The Oxfordshire country house was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, who was "passionate" about the bond between the US and UK and coined the phrase "special relationship", he explained. Mr Johnson said: "He knows that he has an opportunity to make this special relationship even stronger."

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