LONDON: President Donald Trump today described the US-UK relationship as “indispensable” and “the highest level of special” as he sought to backtrack on his earlier comments that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy would “kill” chances of a trade deal between the two countries.
Trump also branded ‘The Sun’ as “fake news” when asked about his interview with the tabloid, in which he had criticised May over her handling of Brexit negotiations.
Addressing a joint press conference with the British prime minister, after their talks at her country retreat of Chequers in Buckinghamshire, he said: “The relationship between our two nations is indispensable to the cause of liberty, justice, and peace.
“This incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job, a great job,” Trump said, as he showered May with praises in a clear attempt to distance himself from the brewing row.
“I didn’t criticise the prime minister. I have a lot of respect for her. And unfortunately there was a story that was done, which was generally fine, but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister,” he added.
Describing the Brexit as a “very tough situation”, Trump said: “Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters. The US looks forward to finalising a great bilateral trade agreement with the UK.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries and we will seize it fully.”
May said the US was “keen” to do a “ambitious” deal with the UK, and added: “We will do a trade deal with them and with others around the rest of the world”.
“The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies,” May said in defence of her controversial Brexit strategy.
Earlier, the two leaders had visited the military academy at Sandhurst, where they witnessed a demonstration of joint-working between British and American Special Forces.
Their joint press conference came just hours after Trump had rubbished May’s Brexit plans and warned that it will “kill” chances of a trade deal between the US and Britain.
The Brexit strategy, thrashed out by the Cabinet last week and spelt out in a White Paper yesterday, has proved controversial as it led to the resignation of two senior Cabinet ministers, including Brexit minister David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
In an interview with the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, Trump became the latest critic of May’s Brexit plans, which foresee a closer relationship with the European Union (EU) after Britain leaves the 28-member economic bloc next year, than many hard-Brexit supporters are demanding.
“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 had told the newspaper in reference to the Brexit strategy.
The US President, who is on a four-day-long first official tour to the UK, also said he had told May how to do a Brexit deal, but she didn’t agree and didn’t listen to me.
Trump’s interview attracted sharp criticism from British MPs, many of whom described it as an insult to the British prime minister and the UK.
Conservative party MP Sarah Wollaston said Trump was “determined to insult” May, adding: “If signing up to the Trump world view is the price of a deal, it’s not worth paying.”
“Our Prime Minister is so weak she still rolls out the red carpet for a man who does nothing but insult her. Humiliating,” Opposition Labour party MP Ben Bradshaw added.
Trump had said he was “cracking down” on the EU because “they have not treated the United States fairly on trading”.
The US President described Johnson, one of leading critics who is seen as a potential challenger to May, as a “very talented guy” and said the former foreign secretary would make a “great Prime Minister”.
In his wide-ranging interview, Trump also took aim at one of his most vocal critics, London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
He blamed the Pakistani-origin mayor for making him feel “unwelcome” in the UK, in light of mass street protests and said he “used to love London”.
Khan had authorised protesters to raise a giant helium-filled balloon showing a nappy-wearing Trump next to the British parliament today.
Trump said that Khan was doing a “terrible job” in fighting crime and believed the mayor was responsible for the terror attacks that had taken place in London because he had “done a very bad job on terrorism” as well as a “bad job on crime”.
Responding to Trump’s criticism of his response to terrorism, Khan said it was “interesting” that the US president “is not criticising the mayors of other cities” which have also experienced terror attacks.
He defended his decision to allow the giant Trump baby inflatable to fly over London, saying: “The idea that we limit the right to protest because it might cause offence to a foreign leader is a slippery slope”.
Trump went on to claim that the UK and the rest of Europe was “losing its culture” because of immigration.
The interview was conducted in Brussels before the US President and First Lady, Melania, arrived in the UK yesterday afternoon.
At a red-carpet reception at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, the 18th century ancestral home of Britain’s war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, last evening Prime Minister May made a call to strike an “unprecedented” post-Brexit trade deal between the US and UK.
Source: Economic Times