In sharp exchanges before a NATO summit, US and French leaders trade barbs over future of the military alliance.
London, United Kingdom – Protesters are taking to the streets in central London again to demonstrate against Donald Trump as the US president participates in a NATO meeting.
As NATO leaders convene in Buckingham Palace to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary at the Heads of State summit on Tuesday evening, crowds voiced their fury over increased defence spending, the development of nuclear weapons and what many see as Trump’s destructive influence on UK politics.
Thousands of protesters marched from Trafalgar Square to the royal residence, where the Queen is hosting a reception for NATO leaders. They came out to protest against host of issues, including the inclusion of the National Health Service in UK-US trade talks, Trump’s policy in the Middle East, an increase in NATO defence spending and what many see as a destructive “special relationship” between the UK and US.
Demonstrators held signs saying “cut war, not healthcare”, “stop Trump’s nuclear arms race”, “stop arming Erdogan”, and “Trump – special relationship? Just say no”.
Bess, a bartender in the capital told Al Jazeera: “I’m protesting Trump being in the UK and everything he stands for: fascism, racism and misogyny.”
On Wednesday, the leaders will meet at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, some 20 miles (30 km) north of the capital.
Trump is expected to meet one-on-one with a handful of his counterparts, including French President Emmanuel Macron, but he is not scheduled to meet privately with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is due for an election on December 12.
Several UK politicians, including opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have accused Trump of interfering in Britain’s upcoming election after Trump called into a radio show hosted by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage on November 1, urging the far-right figure to forge an alliance with Johnson in pursuit of Brexit.
During a 52-minute press conference on Tuesday in London alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said was a “fan of Brexit” but refused to comment on the election in general, despite having previously said Corbyn, a leftist, would be “so bad” for Britain if he won.
On mounting allegations that the US is interested in the NHS, Britain’s public national health service, from a trade perspective, he said: “I don’t even know where that rumour started. We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn’t want to if you handed it to us on a silver platter, we want nothing to do with it.”
It’s not a perspective appreciated by the protesters.
“I don’t trust Trump’s deals with Johnson, especially about the NHS,” said theatre worker Lucy. “We are deeply privileged to have one of the best healthcare services in the world. Trump, his trade deals and his chlorinated chicken aren’t welcome here.”
Many protesters waved the Kurdish flag, in support of the Kurds in north-eastern Syria, who were subjected to a Turkish incursion following the US withdrawal from the region in October.
“Trump gave Turkey the go sign,” says Kani, a recent maths graduate. “I’m here to stand up for the Kurdish people and the Kurdish nation. I stand against [Turkish President Recep Erdogan]. The UK – Boris Johnson – has not said a word since this invasion started.”
Mohammed, a 17-year-old student, added: “Trump’s policies in the Middle East have been disastrous – Iran, Syria, Yemen, Iraq. His main aim to create unrest for the US’ benefit.”
Kate Hudson, secretary-general of the London-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), also spoke out against Trump pressuring member states to plough more funds into defence, describing an “undermining of national sovereignty over public spending decisions”.
At last year’s NATO summit, Trump threatened to walk away from the alliance if members did not pay more.
Ahead of this year’s meeting, he announced plans to reduce US spendingfor NATO.
“It’s a way to punish other states for not meeting their two percent of funding. Trump’s dialling down on US commitment forces member states to fork out themselves. Many member states don’t pay the two percent because they cannot afford to cut funds from their health and social services,” said Hudson.
Stoltenberg, meanwhile, announced that 2019 defence spending across European allies and Canada increased in real terms by 4.6 percent, making this the fifth consecutive year of growth.
Nine allies will meet the two percent guideline this year, up from only three allies just a few years ago. The UK currently gives 2.1 percent of its GDP.
“NATO is a war machine and a forceful arm of US foreign power,” said 26-year-old protester Myer. “Its interference in Libya is one of the biggest foreign policy catastrophes in recent years.”
Linda, a retired teacher also hitting the streets on Tuesday evening, agreed: “Our interference in the Middle East has caused wars. NATO is not the solution.”
CND and Stop the War Coalition also protested against the further development of nuclear weapons.
NATO currently has around 180 US B61 nuclear bombs, stationed in five countries across Europe – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey.
There has been, however, strong opposition from host nations to these weapons. The governments of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all, unsuccessfully, called for the removal of US nuclear weapons from their countries.
In terms of popular attitudes, support for NATO membership has fallen in several European countries over the last two years, according to YouGov.
In 2017, almost 73 percent of Britons approved of membership. That has since dropped to 59 percent. Likewise, in Germany support has fallen to 54 percent from 68 percent, and in France to 39 percent from 54 percent.
Lindsey German, a founding member and convenor for the London-based Stop the War Coalition, called for the end of Britain and the US’s “special relationship”.
“The UK has never acted independently of US foreign policy. We saw this in Iraq and we’re still seeing the consequences of that war,” she said, citing the recent attack on London Bridge as an example.
“It’s not in the UK’s interest to follow the US’s lead. Trump’s foreign policy veers from isolationism to belligerency.”