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Despite Animosity to Trump, Britons Still View US-UK Relationship as 'Special'

People photograph workers putting up U.S. flags along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace in central London ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump state visit to Britain, London, Britain, June 2, 2019.

Roderick James contributed to this report.

LONDON — The so-called special relationship between the United States and Britain comes into focus as Britain gears up for U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit beginning Monday.

Trump is a controversial figure here – a recent YouGov poll show that 67% of the British public have a negative opinion of him.

'He’s very naughty'

Two days before his arrival, VOA spoke to London residents who expressed their disapproval of the president.

“I think everything about him is awful," said Ted Holmes. “And he lies as well. He's very naughty."

Hannah Zlatkavac questioned, “How can a president that behaves in the way he does and says the kind of things that he does be allowed into politics?" She added, it's “ridiculous.”

But more Britons are in favor of Trump’s state visit than oppose it. A YouGov poll said that 46% thought the visit should go ahead while 40% said it should be canceled.

“It's quite important that he does come here for U.S. and U.K. relations,” said James Burke. “But due to the simple fact that America and the U.K. have such a great relationship.”

UK-US Relationship: Is It Still 'Special?'
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Trump drew British rebuke when he retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a British far-right group, and when he accused British intelligence agencies of spying on his election campaign.

Some Brits also took issue with his recent comments praising pro-Brexit Conservative Party politician Boris Johnson. Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind called Trump’s remarks “distasteful interference.”

Relationship intact

Despite these controversies, British officials maintain that the two countries’ “special relationship” remains intact.

The term was coined after World War II by then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to describe the close political, cultural, economic, military and historic bilateral ties between the two countries.

A British Council poll indicates that the underlying cultural closeness between the two countries – based on shared concerns, values and mutual attraction – is strong and shows no signs of weakening.

The view seems to be shared by Britons who spoke to VOA, including Vivienne Tannis, who said, “I'm not sure whether it's as strong. But yes, I do feel that it is still there.”

If the general population wants the relationship to remain special, then it will still be there, said Hannah Zlatkavac, “regardless of who's in power.”

FILE - Protesters rally against U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to London, Britain, July 13, 2018.
FILE - Protesters rally against U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to London, Britain, July 13, 2018.

Londoner James Burke said the relationship is one of the few in modern history that won't really ever go away. “Because we have gone through the dark times and we have gone through the best of times,” he said.

Charles Kupchan, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., said it has been one of the most important successful relationships in history going back to the late 19th century. “The U.S. and the U.K. have, to some extent, been bound at the hip ever since,” he said.

More than just leadership

The closeness is sometimes reflected by the countries’ leaders, including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Barack Obama and David Cameron, at certain times of their terms.

It’s a different story for Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May, especially after he publicly criticized her handling of Britain’s exit from the European Union. May is resigning on Friday, two days after the end of Trump's visit, over failure to reach a Brexit deal.

But, it's not just about the leaders, said Jacob Parakilas, an analyst at Chatham House in London.

“It's more about the deeply buried relationship between the intelligence services, between the security services, the integration of the militaries, the British students studying in American universities, American film studios collaborating with British film studios and actors,” Parakilas said. “Those kinds of things are the core of the special relationship.”

As during Trump’s 2018 visit, massive protests are planned in London Tuesday, with organizers saying they expect tens of thousands to attend.

Trump is not the first American president to meet a rather chilly British reception. After deploying nuclear missiles at military bases in Britain, President Reagan faced protests during his visit in 1982, as did President Bush after the 2003 Iraq invasion.