Donald Trump mounted an unexpected charm offensive in his first UK interview as US president, declaring his love for Scotland and offering an apology for tweeting far-right propaganda.
The chances of a visit to Scotland by the most controversial occupant of the White House in modern history shot up after Mr Trump told broadcaster and friend Piers Morgan that Scotland is a “very special place” that he longs to return to.
“The real me is somebody that loves Britain, loves the UK. I love Scotland,” Mr Trump said.
“One of the biggest problems I have in winning [the presidency], I won’t be able to get back there so often. I would love to go there.”
Mr Trump was interviewed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he became the first US president in 20 years to address the global business elite at the annual gathering in Switzerland.
The timing of a presidential visit to the UK was confirmed on Thursday, with Downing Street revealing that a working visit would take place in the second half of 2018.
Mr Trump’s family owns two golf resorts in Scotland at Turnberry and Menie, and there has been speculation that he could go to Balmoral during the summer in order to have an audience with the Queen while avoiding the expected mass protests that will greet his visit in London and other major cities.
“As you know, before this happened, I would be there a lot,” Mr Trump said of his frequent visits to Scotland before winning the US election in 2016. “Very special people and a very special place.
“I don’t want to cause any difficulty for your country, that I can tell you.”
Mr Trump last travelled to the UK in June 2016 during the presidential campaign with stops at his Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire golf courses.
He has previously refused to come to the UK until the government could guarantee he wouldn’t face a hostile reception.
The president’s mother, Mary MacLeod Trump, was born on the Isle of Lewis before emigrating in the 1930s to the US, where she died in August 2000 at the age of 88.
A campaign of flattery ahead of this year’s visit may be necessary, with an Ipsos Mori poll revealing that 69 per cent of Britons do not want the US president invited to the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Departing from his usual robust style, the president insisted he “knew nothing” about the group Britain First when he shared anti-Muslim videos posted by their deputy leader with his 47 million Twitter followers, and said: “If you are telling me they’re horrible people, horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.”
Mr Morgan said the comments were a “significant climbdown” for the president, but the offer failed to impress his critics, who dismissed it as a “non-apology”.
Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox, congratulated Mr Morgan on pushing for an apology from the president, but said that “given Trump’s track record of attacking Muslims, migrants and Mexicans it’s hard to take him seriously”.
Mr Trump’s decision to retweet the videos posted by Jayda Fransen, which were debunked as false attempts to depict violence by Muslim extremists, drew public criticism from Downing Street and put the biggest strain on the UK-US relationship.
The president told Mr Morgan: “I knew nothing about them and I know nothing about them today other than I read a little bit. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain, perhaps it was a big story in the UK, but in the United States it wasn’t a big story.”
Responding to calls for the president to be banned from visiting the UK, Mr Trump said: “I hadn’t heard about banning. I think a lot of people in your country like what I stand for, they respect what I stand for, and I do stand for tough borders.”
After a meeting with Theresa May on Thursday, the US president hit out at “rumours” of a rift between the two leaders caused by his unpredictable social media pronouncements, which included telling the Prime Minister to “focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism” in the UK after she called his Britain First tweets “wrong”.
Reports this week also claimed Mrs May has struggled to get her message across in conversations with Mr Trump because he speaks over her. The US president denied any rift, saying: “I can tell you I have a very good relationship with the Prime Minister.”