Today’s gatherings in London, which organizers say should number between 50,000 and 100,000 people, will count among more than 60 official protests scheduled for the American leader’s four-day working visit.
Their aim, organizers say, is to voice opposition to Trump’s policies and show that he is not welcome. British animosity to Trump has been fairly prominent since his election in 2016, and these protests would not be the first — thousands gathered in central London in January of 2017 to protest his travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries.
In the months that followed, 1.8 million Brits signed a petition to Parliament against a state visit by the president. This week’s sojourn is a working visit rather than a state one, despite Trump’s planned meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.
CNBC spoke with Asad Rehman, a local activist and member of the recently-formed Stop Trump Coalition. He described the demonstrations as a “carnival of resistance,” representing a broad range of interests with one core message.
“People are coming out to reject the politics of bigotry and hatred, the Muslim ban, (Trump’s) war on migrants, normalization of violence against women, but they’re also coming out because they disagree with his attacks on the poor, on his economic policies, on his pulling back from human rights, on his planet-wrecking policies,” Rehman said.
“But at its heart it’s a rejection of the kind of politics he represents, which unfortunately we’re seeing an echo of around the world.”
Rehman stressed that while their message was anti-Trump, the U.K.’s “special relationship” remained with the American people.
“I think it’s fine. I like a lot of people in the U.K. I think they agree with me on immigration,” he told media from Brussels on Thursday. But in a U.K. media interview with later in the day, he said that they made him feel unwelcome.
“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?" he told British tabloid The Sun.
The president, a longtime supporter of Brexit, awkwardly prefaced his visit by warning that Prime Minister Theresa May’s “soft” Brexit plan could kill a potential U.S.-U.K. trade deal and suggesting that recently-resigned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would make a "great" prime minister. Tensions between the age-old allies are already high following Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on the EU, which May called “unjustified.”
Security around London during Trump’s visit has amounted to a massive bill for the U.K. taxpayer, estimated at more than £12 million ($15.8 million). At least 4,000 police officers will be deployed around the city, with many from other regions of the country forced to cut their leave to work overtime in London. Organizers, meanwhile, promise peaceful and family-friendly protests. The U.K.’s terror threat level remains at “severe.”
The U.K. Police Federation has described Trump’s visit as putting “unquestionable pressure” on the country’s police forces.
Protests began Thursday but in underwhelming numbers, as just a few hundred lined up near Winfield House with signs and placards. London’s Metropolitan Police will have officials figures from Friday’s demonstrations later in the day, and it’s yet to be seen whether the 50,000-plus estimate will be met.
Flying over London will be the now-famous “Trump Baby” blimp, a giant inflated caricature of Trump as a diaper-donning toddler, now trending as #TrumpBaby. Organizers raised more than £30,000 ($40,000) to pay for its manufacture and inflation, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan controversially has allowed for it to be flown up to 30 feet over the parliament gardens. Khan and Trump have had a number of public spats over differences on immigration, gun laws and counter-terrorism.
Those angry at Trump are gathering outside the BBC’s offices in Portland Place, before marching down to Trafalgar Square for a rally at 5 p.m. local time (midday ET).
A further 10,000 people are expected to take part in a separate women’s march along exactly the same protest route, earlier on the same day. That demonstration will end with its own rally in Parliament Square between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m London time.
Popular opposition among Brits to an American president is not without precedent. The presidency of George W. Bush was marked with numerous protests in the U.K. in opposition to the Iraq War, and a mass protest in London in February of 2003 attracted more than 750,000 people, according to police estimates.
Despite today’s high-profile gatherings, many in the U.K. still remain supportive of Trump, particularly members of right-wing political parties. Trump’s higher profile friends in the country include former UKIP (U.K. Independence Party) leader Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and controversial businessman and political donor Arron Banks.
A recent YouGov poll revealed that while only 16 percent of Brits would have voted for Trump given the chance and 77 percent view him unfavorably, half of all respondents felt the visit should take place compared to 37 percent who wanted it cancelled, and 44 percent think the government should still try to work with him.
— CNBC’s David Reid contributed to this article.