A day of planned mass protests against President Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom has kicked off in dramatic fashion, as Trump made a series of explosive comments about Britain’s leaders to a tabloid newspaper.
Trump attacked British Prime Minister Theresa May’s recently released plan for the U.K.’s departure from the European Union, saying the plan—which keeps Britain closely aligned with the E.U. on certain regulatory matters—would “probably kill” the chance of a trade deal with the U.S.
The President went on to say former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who resigned over May’s plan on Sunday, would “make a great Prime Minister.”
The comments, made in an interview with tabloid newspaper The Sun, were published Thursday night, just as Trump and May were wrapping up dinner after a red-carpet reception at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. Plans for Trump’s two-day visit largely avoid London, where he spent just a few hours overnight at the American ambassador’s residence in central Regent’s Park. On Friday he travels to Windsor Castle, about 22 miles west of London, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II.
But that has not deterred protesters from organizing mass demonstrations in the capital on Friday afternoon. Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend, while dozens of similar events are planned in cities and towns around the country.
In the Sun interview, which was conducted during Wednesday’s NATO summit in Brussels, Trump renewed attacks on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, with whom he has a long-running feud. Trump said Khan had done “a terrible job” on terrorism and crime in the capital.
Khan has given the okay for a 20ft “Trump Baby” blimp to fly over London during the visit. The President told the newspaper he was aware of the blimp, saying, “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London. […] I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”
Speaking to TIME about Trump’s comments at the launch of the blimp on Friday morning, one of the activists responsible said: “Great. That means we’ve already won. This balloon was successful even before going up.”
Khan has urged protesters to remain peaceful and said the demonstrations are “not anti-American”. “The U.S. has always stood by our side as a beacon for tolerance, openness and respect,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “Most of those marching on Friday will love the United States, just as I do. But having a special relationship means that we expect the highest standards from each other, and it also means speaking out when we think the values we hold dear are under threat.”
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