Donald Trump, Theresa May talk free trade deals and whether the NHS is ‘on the table’ as protesters gather

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US President Donald Trump claimed reports of large protests in London over his state visit were “fake news”, despite his motorcade driving past the inflatable ‘Trump Baby’ blimp.

Key points:

  • Mr Trump and Mrs May met with American and British business leaders
  • Thousands of anti-Trump protesters gathered in London
  • Mr Trump first said the NHS should be part of free trade talks, then apparently backflipped 

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square in London, but numbers were down on the 250,000 people expected to appear.

Speaking during a joint press conference with departing British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Foreign Office, Mr Trump said he saw “thousands of people cheering”.

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Anti-Trump protesters gather in LondonABC NEWS

Man holds poster of Putin holding up a baby Trump.

“And then I heard there were protests, I said ‘where are the protests? I don’t see any protests’.

“I did see a small protest today when I came, very small, so a lot of it is fake news I hate to say.”

During the press conference Mr Trump backed former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to succeed Mrs May, but also backed current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was seated in the first row of attendees.

“So I know Boris, I like him, I’ve known him a very long time, I’d think he’d do a very good job,” Mr Trump said as he stood beside Mrs May.

“I know Jeremy [Hunt], I think he’d do a very good job.”

Many had anticipated Mr Trump could cause an awkward moment with Mrs May over her failed Brexit negotiations, but instead he praised her and promised a “phenomenal” trade deal once Britain had left the European Union.

Woman in headscarf speaks in megaphone as people carry signs and send yellow and pink flares in the air

“I would think that it will happen and it probably should happen,” Mr Trump said of Brexit, which has been pushed back to October 31 from its original March 31 exit date.

“This is a great, great country and it wants its own identity, it wants to have its own borders, it wants to run its own affairs.”

Trump says NHS up for grabs, then apparently backflips

Mr Trump also sent shockwaves through both sides of the political divide by saying the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), which provides free health care, should be “on the table” when it came to a free trade agreement.

People inflate a giant balloon, shaped and designed to resemble Donald Trump in a nappy and with an angry look on his face.

“We are going to have a great and very comprehensive trade deal … I think everything with a trade deal is on the table, when you are dealing on trade everything is on the table, so NHS or anything else, a lot more than that but everything will be on the table, absolutely,” he said.

The comment quickly drew condemnation from both Conservative and Labour MPs, including current Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks — and never will be. Not on my watch,” he tweeted.

Former Brexit minister and Conservative leadership contender Dominic Raab also chimed in, saying the NHS was “not for sale”.

“I want to see the UK get fair deals on trade with the US and many other countries when we leave the EU,” he tweeted.

“But the NHS is not for sale to any country and never would be if I was prime minister.”

Later in the day, Mr Trump appeared to reverse his original stance, with journalist Piers Morgan saying the President had told him the NHS would not be part of a free trade deal.

“I don’t see it being on the table. Somebody asked me a question today and I say everything is up for negotiation, because everything is but I don’t see that being — that’s something that I would not consider part of trade,” Morgan quoted Mr Trump as saying.

“That’s not trade.”

Opening up the NHS in a free trade deal would allow US companies to bid for NHS contracts, and potentially force it to raise the price it sets for drug purchases to those in line with the US, which are generally far higher.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said he had a “good meeting” with Mr Trump after he was photographed arriving at the US ambassador’s residence to meet the President.

Outside, protesters took to the streets with banners and flares, and unveiled a statue of Mr Trump tweeting while sitting on the toilet.

Corbyn addresses protest but won’t get meeting with Trump

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the protest, calling on Mr Trump to oppose racism and misogyny.

Mr Corbyn proposed a meeting with Mr Trump, with a spokesperson saying he was “ready to engage with the President on a range of issues, including the climate emergency, threats to peace and the refugee crisis”. 

But Mr Trump turned down the offer, describing Mr Corbyn as a “negative force”.

“We’re trying to remind the President how unwelcome he is in this country,” said Leo Murray, the co-creator of the blimp.

A person takes a photo of a cartoonish statue of Donald Trump, pictured sitting with pants around his ankles looking at a phone.

“We’re also, in a light-hearted way, trying to articulate the strength of feeling against Donald Trump and his politics of hate.”

Organisers had permission from police to fly the blimp for two hours.

The balloon made its debut last July during the President’s working visit to the UK. It has since featured at anti-Trump protests around the world.

Donald Trump, seated next to other well-dressed people, looks down the length of a table. British and US flags sit on the table.