Donald Trump apologised to Theresa May yesterday, hours after delivering a devastating personal attack on her Brexit strategy and claiming that her former foreign secretary Boris Johnson would be “a great prime minister”.
At a press conference on the first day of the US president’s visit to the UK, Mr Trump attempted to repair the damage created by his embarrassing newspaper interview by heaping praise on the prime minister and telling her “whatever you do [on Brexit] is OK with me”.
Yesterday’s contentious official visit began with an explosive intervention by Mr Trump in which he criticised the Prime Minister’s negotiating skills and warned that Mrs May’s new “soft” Brexit blueprint would kill any future trade deal with the US.
Mr Trump later used a press conference at the Mrs May’s country residence at Chequers to play down his remarks, insisting he had “a lot of respect” for the Prime Minister and claiming that the US-UK relationship is “the highest level of special”.
He added that there was “a tremendous opportunity to double, triple, quadruple” trade between the US and the UK.
Last night Mr Trump touched down in Scotland en route to his golf course at Turnberry for the private leg of his visit. Protests against his visit and policies were planned at the Ayrshire resort and in Edinburgh today.
As Mr Trump had tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters marched through London.
Following talks with the Prime Minister at Chequers, Mr Trump revealed he apologised to Mrs May over his interview with the Sun, in which he claimed he would have carried out Brexit negotiations “much differently” and said the Prime Minister had ignored “advice” he offered her. Responding to the Prime Minister’s proposals for the future relationship with the EU, which saw Mr Johnson and David Davis resign from her Cabinet, the president had told the newspaper: “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.
“If they do that, then their trade deal with the US will probably not be made.”
The president had already suggested the UK was “in turmoil” following resignations from Mrs May’s Cabinet earlier in the week. Having repeatedly undermined his host, at Chequers the president saved Mrs May from total humiliation by insisting he “didn’t criticise” her in the interview and setting the relationship between the US and the UK at “the highest level of special”.
On Brexit, he said: “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but whatever you do, it’s OK with me … just as long as we can trade together.
“The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade and we don’t have any restrictions because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us. I read reports where that won’t be possible, but I believe after speaking with the Prime Minister’s people and representatives and trade experts it will absolutely be possible.”
The president said Mrs May would do “very well” in the Brexit negotiations and called her a “very tough negotiator”.
“She’s a very smart, very tough, very capable person and I would much rather have her as my friend than my enemy, that I can tell you.”
But in a rambling 50-minute press conference in which he claimed several new outlets including the Sun were “fake news”, Mr Trump’s comments took a less helpful turn when he confirmed he had offered the Prime Minister an unspecified “suggestion” on Brexit.
“I think she found it maybe too brutal because I could see that – I don’t know if you remember what I said,” he told journalists “I gave her a suggestion, not advice, I wouldn’t want to give her advice, I’d give her a suggestion.
“I can fully understand why she thought it was a little bit tough and maybe someday she will do that. If they don’t make the right deal she might very well do what I suggested that she might want to do.”
Mr Trump also suggested the Mrs May “can’t walk away” from the Brexit negotiations “because if she walks away that means she’s stuck”.
“You can’t walk away but you can do other things.”
Mrs May insisted the US is “keen” to do a deal with the UK, and said that under her Brexit plans, “there will be no limit to the possibility of us doing trade deals around the rest of the world”.
“We will do a trade deal with them and with others around the rest of the world,” she added.
“Lots of people give me advice about dealing with the European Union. My job is actually getting out there and doing it.”
Before leaving Washington, DC, the US president described Mr Johnson as a “friend” and suggested he could meet him while in the UK, and in his interview suggested he would do a good job as prime minister.
Asked about the former foreign secretary at Chequers yesterday, Mr Trump said: “He’s been very nice to me. He’s been saying very good things about me as president.
“I think he thinks I’m doing a great job. I am doing a great job, I can tell you, just in case you haven’t noticed. Boris Johnson, I think, would be a great prime minister.”
Mrs May was forced to give a defence of immigration after the US president said it was behind the Brexit vote, linked it to terrorism in Europe and reopened his feud with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Speaking to the Sun, Mr Trump attacked Mr Khan over the wave of terrorist attacks in London last year and accused him of doing “a terrible job”.
Mr Trump also repeated his comments about immigration at Chequers, claiming it had been “very bad for Europe” and turning his fire on German chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I just think it’s changing the culture,” he said. “It’s a very negative thing for Europe. I think it’s very negative.”
Mr Trump added: “I have a great relationship with Angela Merkel. Great relationship with Germany. But I think that’s very much her Germany. ”