President Donald Trump on Friday said he had a very strong relationship with British Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Trump had earlier scorned May’s Brexit strategy which he said had probably killed off hope for a future U.S.-British trade deal.
In an interview published just hours before he was due to have lunch with May and tea with Queen Elizabeth on Friday, Trump chided the “very unfortunate” results of the prime minister’s strategy for negotiating Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper.
“I would have done it much differently,” he told The Sun, which urged its readers to back Brexit before a referendum in June 2016. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”
Trump also heaped praise on Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary this week along with Brexit Secretary, David Davis, in protest at May’s strategy. Johnson, the president said, “would be a great prime minister”.
No sitting U.S. president has ever made such biting public criticism of a British prime minister while visiting, and his comments undermined May in her party, her country and abroad.
But, as the leaders met for talks at May’s official country residence, Chequers, both tried to play down the president’s intervention into the Brexit debate.
“We really have a very good relationship,” Trump said. “Today we are talking trade and we are talking military.”
Asked by a U.S. reporter if he regretted his comments to the Sun, Trump looked away and shook his head.
“We’ve got a lot to discuss,” May said, adding they would talk about the British-U.S. “special relationship” and opportunities for a trade deal.
Sterling fell half a percent to a 1 1/2-week low of $1.3131, partly on Trump’s comments in the newspaper interview.
“Where are your manners, Mr President?” asked Sam Gyimah, a junior minister in May’s government.
As Britain prepares to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, supporters of Brexit have made much of the so-called special relationship with the United States and the benefits of forging closer trade ties with the world’s biggest economy.
Many have cast May’s plan as a betrayal, including lawmakers in her deeply divided Conservative Party, who have warned that she might face a leadership challenge.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – a leading Conservative Brexiteer and considered a potential alternative party leader by some – said it was perfectly reasonable for Trump to make such comments, adding that May now had an opportunity to change her mind on her Brexit plan.
White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said the president “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much,” adding that he said in the interview she “is a very good person” and that he “never said anything bad about her”.