Donald Trump headed to Finland on Sunday after a UK visit which saw him tramp mud through his red-carpet welcome and leave diplomatic protocol a little tattered in his wake.
After teeing off in Scottish drizzle for a final round at his Turnberry golf course, the US president boarded Air Force One bound for Helsinki and a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
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As he reflected on his trip, an undoubted highlight had been tea with the Queen, Trump told ITV’s Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan. She was a “fantastic woman”, and he thought of his late Hebridean-born mother as he received a ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle on Friday.
“I was walking up, and I was saying [to Melania, the first lady], ‘can you imagine my mother seeing this scene?’ Windsor. Windsor Castle. And it is beautiful, it was really beautiful, but the Queen is terrific,” Trump said.
Asked if he had spoken about Brexit with the monarch, Trump said she thought it was “a very complex problem”, Morgan wrote in the Mail on Sunday before the broadcast on Monday. Pushed to reveal details, the president clammed up. “Well I can’t talk. You know, I’ve heard very strongly from a lot of people, you just don’t talk about conversations with the Queen, right?”
It was one diplomatic convention he seemed prepared to adhere to in an otherwise extraordinary visit.
Theresa May had laid on a welcome of high calibre, shuttered away from the tens of thousands of placard-waving protesters and the Trump baby blimp balloon.
As host, she had delivered a banquet at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, lunch at Chequers, and tea with the Queen at Windsor. There were military busbys and gleaming brasses, and the thoughtful, personal gift of an illustrated ancestral chart of Trump’s Scottish heritage.
As guest, Trump had delivered an incendiary interview in the Sun, published as coffee was served at Blenheim. In it, he not only attacked May’s Brexit strategy, directly intervening in domestic policy and threatening to block a trade deal with the US, but he trashed London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and ruminated on what a fine prime minister May’s opponent Boris Johnson would make.
It was not the best of starts to this non-state, state-like visit.
TV and Twitter feeds swiftly filled with images of protesters marching through London,Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast, waving unflattering placards as the orange Trump baby blimp, complete with tan lines and mobile phone, hovered above Parliament Square. By contrast, Trump’s press secretary tweeted a statesmanlike photo of him sitting in Churchill’s chair.
Meanwhile, on the Chequers lawn, well away from the slogan-chanting demonstrators, a defensive Trump was deploying his “fake news” klaxon. The Sun had not put in the nice things he said about May, he insisted during an uncomfortable press conference. Oh yes it had, the paper retorted.
Trump had apologised to May, he revealed, and she had told him: “Don’t worry, it’s only the press.” Standing next to him, exposed before the assembled media, the prime minister appeared to wince ever so slightly. Then they were off, he again grabbing her by the hand to steady them as they walked.
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By Friday evening, Trump was headed to Scotland for “two days of meetings, calls and hopefully some golf – my primary form of exercise” he tweeted. And again, the protesters were out, with more than 9,000 gathered in Edinburgh on Saturday as he played golf with his son Eric.
One paraglider, his canopy emblazoned with the Greenpeace logo, broke through the strict no-fly zone above Trump’s golf resort, trailing a banner reading: “Trump: well below par #resist” over the Turnberry luxury hotel as the US president arrived. Police confirmed on Sunday morning that a 55-year-old man had been charged in connection with the incident and was expected to appear at Ayr Sheriff court on Monday.
Other protesters took to a nearby hill over looking the green, heckling him: “no Trump, no KKK, no racist USA”. He seemed untroubled, even waving to them, as he drove from hole to hole on his buggy surrounded by security.
“Some of them are protesting in my favour, you know that? There are many, many protests in my favour,” Trump had told Morgan.
Back in London, among many lingering questions raised by this whirlwind visit was the nature of the advice on Brexit Trump gave May, which he said she found “too brutal”. Answer there came on Sunday, as May pulled no punches, revealing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the president had urged her to “sue the EU” rather than negotiate with the bloc.
As Trump took to the skies, flying out of Glasgow’s Prestwick airport, officials would be hoping the UK-US relationship has escaped relatively unscathed. And it was a “special relationship” Trump had stressed. In fact, it was “the highest level of special”.
It may not be his last visit. Asked by Morgan if he would run for a second term in 2020, the president replied: “Well, I fully intend to. It seems like everybody wants me to.”