LONDON – President Trump’s tabloid broadside against U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit negotiation tactics threatened to overshadow what was supposed to be a friendly meeting to shore up the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Trump’s no-holds-barred interview in the London tabloid The Sun was so explosive that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a late-night statement clarifying that the president “likes and respects” his British counterpart.
Trump and May were scheduled to spend a lot of time together on the second day of his U.K. visit, part of a European tour intended to shore up alliances before Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
But the question of Brexit was already looming over the visit, as May’s government has faced high-profile defections over her proposal for a “soft” exit from the European Union. May hopes to sign a trade deal with the U.S. after the U.K. leaves the EU in March next year.
In the Sun interview, Trump cast his lot with the Brexiteers, the conservative faction that wants a complete split with the European government in Brussels. Trump told The Sun that a trade deal with the U.S. would likely not happen if May’s plan to keep close trade ties with the EU goes ahead. He also said Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary this week over May’s Brexit plan, would be a “great prime minister.”
Condemnation of the interview was swift.
Sarah Wollaston, a lawmaker from May’s ruling Conservative Party, tweeted that Trump is “determined to insult” May. “The divisive, dog-whistle rhetoric in his @TheSun interview is repulsive. If signing up to the #Trump world view is the price of a (trade) deal, it’s not worth paying,” she added.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who Trump said had done a “very bad job on crime” and a “very bad job on terrorism,” told the BBC it was “interesting” that Trump “is not criticizing the mayors of other cities” where terror attacks have also occurred. Trump has previously feuded with Khan, who is the British capital’s first Muslim mayor.
Trump will meet with May at the prime minister’s country retreat at Chequers – 47 miles outside London — followed by a joint press conference with the two leaders. Then Trump flies by helicopter to Windsor Castle, where he’s scheduled to have tea with Queen Elizabeth II.
The president will spend the weekend at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland before flying to Helsinki Monday for the Putin summit.
John Fritze reported from Washington.
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