Donald Trump breezed into Buckingham Palace onboard Marine One on Monday morning, as Tory leadership contenders braced themselves for presidential interventions in the race.
The US president and the first lady, Melania Trump, landed on the Queen’s lawn in their helicopter for the full British bells and whistles state visit, including two 41-gun salutes, a guard of honour and a banquet.
There was even a wall – the high one which encloses Buckingham Palace gardens – which served to keep Trump well away from the public at the start of his three-day visit, most of which will be conducted behind closed doors and well away from the planned protests.
Security concerns meant the ceremonial welcome was held on the palace lawn instead of nearby Horse Guards Parade. So there was no carriage ride, thus no risk of a repeat of the welcome afforded China’s president, Xi Jinping, who ran the gauntlet of mass protests along the Mall.
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall greeted the presidential couple. The Trumps then walked together to meet the Queen, who was waiting on the palace steps, and the first lady did an excellent job of aerating the lawn with her spiked high heels.
Accompanied by Prince Charles, and to a medley of American service tunes played by the band of the Grenadier Guards, the president then inspected the guard of honour by the Nijmegen Company Grenadier Guards. His daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, watched the ceremony from a palace balcony.
Earlier, Air Force One had touched down at Stansted airport where the president was met by the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Immediately on landing Trump launched into a Twitter attack on the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He tweeted that Khan was a “stone cold loser” in response to Khan’s critical article in Sunday’s Observer. The mayor’s office called Trump’s comments “childish insults” beneath the office of president.
The long-delayed state visit is the 113th hosted by the Queen, and is a meeting between two dynasties, one ancient, one fledgling. In a departure from protocol, Trump is combining the official visit with a family jaunt, reportedly bringing four of his five children: Ivanka, Donald Jr, Eric and Tiffany.
An upgrade on his previous “working visit”, where he had tea with the Queen, he now gets his long-desired white tie and tiara banquet. Around 170 guests who have cultural, diplomatic and economic links with the US will join the Trumps and royals in the grand ballroom at Buckingham Palace, to dine off the silver gilt of the Grand Service made for George IV. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, both declined to attend.
The controversial visit, hastily offered by Theresa May after Trump’s inauguration, brings down the curtain on her troubled premiership.
Both the Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson and the Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, are expected to attend Trump’s return banquet on Tuesday, at the US ambassador’s London residence. In pre-visit interviews Trump made no attempt to hide his admiration for both men. In a further diplomatic gaffe, he also claimed other leadership candidates had sought out his endorsement.
Amid a huge security operation, there is little opportunity for the public to see the president as he is travelling by helicopter to most venues for engagements held behind closed doors.
The royals will undoubtedly have to strain every diplomatic sinew.
The Queen has had some difficult guests during her 67-year reign. She famously hid behind a bush in the palace gardens on spotting the brutal Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu out for a stroll, to avoid spending more time with him than was strictly necessary. But never before has she been required to host a guest whose tactless comments have been so pointedly aimed at members of her family – specifically its female members.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, guests at the state banquet, will have been unimpressed by Trump’s tweet that Kate “only had herself to blame” when she was photographed sunbathing topless at a private villa in France. Prince William is unlikely to forget Trump’s comments, in a radio interview just months after his mother’s death, that Diana, Princess of Wales was “beautiful” but “crazy”. The billionaire once said he would have bedded Diana without hesitation, and bombarded her with bouquets, regarding her as “the ultimate trophy wife”, according to the broadcaster Selina Scott.
And, though Trump gets to glad-hand a monarch and two future kings, it is not quite a royal flush. The Duchess of Sussex, a vocal critic who has previously called him a “misogynist” and “divisive”, is conveniently on maternity leave and not expected to meet him. Trump’s ill-advised retaliation on the eve of the visit, in which he called her remarks “nasty”, however, will cast a pall over his meeting with Prince Harry at the royals’ private lunch at Buckingham Palace.
Tea at Clarence House always has the potential to be testing, given Prince Charles and Trump’s respective views on the climate crisis. The prince has called it “the wolf at the door”, while Trump has called it a “Chinese hoax” and “bullshit”.
The visit to Westminster Abbey, with the Duke of York, to lay a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, may provide easier chat, given both men are huge golf fans.
And there is some respite for the royals. Buckingham Palace refurbishments mean there is no available accommodation for the president and first lady, so they will be staying at the US ambassador’s residence in London’s Regent’s Park.
Downing Street announced fresh details of the itinerary on Monday, including the fact that May will give the US president a private tour of the Churchill War Rooms after lunch on Tuesday, accompanied by historians.
May and her husband, Philip, will welcome the president and first lady to Downing Street on Tuesday.
There will then be a meeting in the cabinet room, at which the president and the prime minister will be accompanied by their delegations. On the UK side, that will include Hunt, a Tory leadership contender.
Asked whether the president had preferred not to hold a one-to-one meeting with the prime minister, May’s spokesman said: “I’m sure the answer to that is no.”
The spokesman also dismissed Trump’s forthright criticism of the way Brexit had been handled, saying May had “worked as hard as she possibly could to get the best deal for the UK”.
He added that whether to take up the president’s suggestion of giving Farage a role in the talks would be a matter for her successor. “The next phase of Brexit negotiations will be conducted by somebody else, not by the PM,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Philip May and Melania Trump will co-host a garden party at Downing Street for staff at the US embassy and No 10.
The visit culminates on Wednesday when Trump joins the Queen for 75th anniversary D-day commemorations in Portsmouth.