Before leaving for London, Trump took a swipe at May, questioning whether her Brexit proposal, to create a free-trade zone between Britain and the EU for agri-goods was “what the people voted for” – one of the key complaints of hardline Brexiters such as David Davis and Boris Johnson, who quit the cabinet this week in protest.
Trump gave an interview to The Sun, in which he said May’s plans for a so-called soft Brexit would end any hopes of a trade deal with the US. He also suggested Boris Johnson, who quit her cabinet earlier this week, would be a better leader than her.
“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 said in an interview in the Sun newspaper published Friday.
In the Sun interview he criticised May for the way she handled negotiations saying “she didn’t listen to me” and that the deal she is pursuing “is not what the people voted on” and will affect trade with the US “in a negative way”.
The Trumps were greeted by British pomp and ceremony, including a performance by military bands from right across Britain decked out in full regalia, which the leaders and their spouses watched from the steps of the entrance to the palace.
May told guests, from some of the two nations’ largest businesses, that the US and Britain were “not just the closest of allies, but the dearest of friends”.
“Today, that friendship manifests itself in many ways, as was the case in Churchill’s time, and, in many years before and since, it’s there in our joint efforts to protect our shared security – whether through targeting Daesh terrorists or standing up to Russian aggression,” she told guests over a meal of Scottish salmon and English Hereford beef.
The British government orchestrated what is thought to have been the largest expulsion of Russian spies from Western and European countries around the world following the attempted Novichock poisoning assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
While both are recovering, British woman Dawn Sturgess died last week when she and her boyfriend, who has regained consciousness, are thought to have come into contact with the original source of the poison – possibly through a used syringe.
Trump continues to dismiss the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential campaign, and any possible coordination with it, as a witch-hunt.
Trump is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, next week.
May gave a warm and gracious speech focusing much of it on commerce, citing the value of British foreign investment to key swing states Trump won in his upset 2016 victory and promising to “tear down bureaucratic barriers” through a new free-trade agreement after Brexit next year.
“There are thousands of British employers with a long-term presence in the US, providing well-paid work and driving economic growth in every state,” she said.
“Some of those are with us at Blenheim tonight; between them, the British companies represented here this evening employ well over a quarter of a million people in the United States.”
May focused on the benefits of British investment as crucial to jobs in US swing states.
“That all means a great deal more than simply numbers in bank accounts,” she said.
“It means jobs, opportunities and wealth for hardworking people right across America. Tomorrow morning, around 24,000 men and women in Michigan will get up and go to work for a UK-owned company. Another 40,000 will do the same in Ohio. 60,000 in Pennsylvania … from Maine to Alaska, more than a million Americans work for British companies.”
May’s gracious tone was in stark contrast to that set by Trump before his arrival.
After previously describing Britain as “somewhat in turmoil”, Trump went further as he left the NATO summit in Brussels, describing Britain as a “hot spot” and repeating his gibe that his Monday meeting with Putin might be his easiest.
Trump’s visit to Britain was delayed and downgraded from a state visit to a working visit, following a fierce backlash in Britain over what critics say are his racist and sexist views.
Nevertheless he will meet the Queen at Windsor Castle for tea on Friday afternoon.
The President’s trip largely avoids London, where a major anti-Trump rally is planned, and a giant helium balloon depicting Trump as a baby in a nappy will be flown.
He brushed off the protests saying people in Britain like him.
Latika Bourke is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age based in London. She has previously worked for Fairfax Media, the ABC and 2UE in Canberra. Latika won the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010.
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