LONDON — Boris Johnson will try to have as little contact as possible with Donald Trump during his visit to London for the NATO Summit, amid fears that the US President, who is deeply unpopular in the UK, could blow up the prime minister's election campaign.
Trump's previous UK visits have been hugely controversial with large protests on the streets of London against the president. The president's suggestion, during his visit in June this year, that the National Health Service would be “on the table” in trade talks with the UK have been placed front and centre by the opposition Labour party during this campaign. His criticisms of Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU were also embarrassing for the former prime minister.
With opinion polls narrowing in recent weeks, Johnson's team are keen to limit any contact with the president this week in order to avoid a similar gaffe. The White House has confirmed the pair have no formal bilateral meetings planned during the 70th anniversary summit, even though the UK is hosting it.
That reflects a fear among Conservative strategists that a near-inevitable intervention on Trump's part — even one designed to be helpful — could backfire and see their poll lead evaporate ahead of the December 12 election.
One senior official in Johnson's Conservative party told Politico: “If [Trump] leaves without having caused anybody any damage, we'll be pretty happy. But the potential for trouble is greater than the potential for any benefit.”
Even without a major misstep, any association with Trump could be damaging. Recent polling by YouGov found that Trump, who has previously described Johnson as a “friend,” is viewed negatively by more than two-thirds of Brits.
Labour is already attempting to capitalise on Trump's visit by highlighting the risk a UK-US trade deal poses to the NHS.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter on Monday night demanding the US President clarified that “the NHS is genuinely off the table” in future trade talks with Washington.
The Conservatives could face further negative publicity after the family of killed teenager sad they would “make our feelings known” to Donald Trump during his visit.
The teenager was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car outside an RAF base in the UK in August. The driver of the car was allegedly Anne Sacoolas, wife of a US diplomat, who claimed diplomatic immunity and was allowed to return to the US.
The family, who met Donald Trump earlier this year, have publicly criticised the Conservatives for their handling of the case and want Johnson to demand to Trump that Sacoolas be made to return to the UK.
The family's spokesman Radd Seiger said: “Actions speak louder than words. We expect Mr Johnson to demand Anne Sacoolas's return to the UK in his bilateral meeting with President Trump this week, to also call for that publicly, and then to meet with us to confirm that he has done so.”
Trump wouldn't want NHS 'if you handed it to us on a silver platter'
Trump told a press conference on Tuesday morning that he had no intention of including the NHS in trade talks with the UK.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with it, and we wouldn't want to,” he said.
“If you handed it to us on a silver platter, we'd want nothing to do with it.”
Trump said that he thought Trump “is very capable and I think he'll do a great job.”
Trump has previously urged British voters to reject Johnson's Labour opponent Jeremy, saying he would be “so bad” for the country.
However, he resisted any further urge to comment on the election on Tuesday, saying that “I have no thoughts on it. It's going to be a very important election for this great country. I have no thoughts on it.”
The president will later meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Nato Secretary Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday before he attends a reception at Buckingham Palace.
The leaders of the 29 NATO member states have also been invited to a reception at Downing Street on Tuesday.