In London, Trump greeted with high-flying protest
President praises British leader after criticism in tabloid
Blimp in the form of a diaper-clad Donald Trump flies above London during president’s visit.
ELLESBOROUGH, England — President Donald Trump on Friday sought to repair his newly damaged relationship with British Prime Minister Theresa May, effusively praising her at a joint news conference after the publication of an explosive tabloid interview in which he criticized her, praised her rival and warned of an end to free trade between their countries.
The president did reiterate one controversial contention from his interview Thursday with The Sun, a British tabloid owned by Trump supporter Rupert Murdoch: that immigrants were ruining Europe’s culture.
May, in response, countered with the sort of tribute to immigrants that used to be a staple of U.S. leaders.
Trump, echoing the language of white nationalists, said of immigration: “I do not think it’s good for Europe. And I don’t think it’s good for our country.
“I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud: I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things. You’re changing security,” the president said as May stood by, plainly discomfited.
The prime minister, in turn, cited Britain’s “proud history of welcoming people who are fleeing persecution” and said of immigrants, “We’ve seen them contributing to our society and our economy.”
Trump, otherwise doing his best at damage control in a joint news conference, blamed the media for focusing on disagreements and said The Sun had not published all of his positive comments about May. “I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” he said, though the newspaper posted an audio recording.
He insisted the United States and Britain have “the highest level of special” relationship. “Am I allowed to go higher than that? I don’t know,” he said.
Their news conference, and private discussions on economic and security issues, were held at Chequers, the sprawling 16thcentury manor that is the prime minister’s country retreat and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Its location in the wooded countryside about 40 miles from London kept Trump far from protests that filled the capital’s streets for a second day — a rare demonstration against a U.S. president.
Trump and his wife, Melania, later had tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, also outside London.
Trump’s first trip to Britain had been repeatedly delayed, and was downgraded from a formal state visit, in part because of tensions he’d provoked in the past and the threat of mass protests.
In the tabloid interview, Trump also trashed London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has criticized the president, as being soft on crime and terrorists, and lamented the protests against his visit. But it was his unabashed intervention into an ally’s domestic politics that so violated precedent and the traditional deference.
The president’s publicly discordant relations with allies are the backdrop, then, for his first official visit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.
Further complicating that get-together, on Friday while Trump visited the queen, the U.S. special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election brought new indictments against a dozen Russian intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Shortly before news of the indictments, as Trump and May walked away after their news conference, he responded to a shouted question about whether he’d tell Putin to “stay out of our elections.”
“Yes,” Trump said. Likely to the chagrin of European allies, however, Trump did not hesitate to reply affirmatively to a question about whether he and Putin can have a good relationship as long as Russia continues to occupy Crimea, which it invaded in 2014. NATO strongly condemned Russia’s occupation again this week, at the summit Trump attended.
“Yes,” he said. “I think I would have a very good relationship with Putin if we spend time together.”
Yet again, Trump blamed resident Barack Obama for Russia’s seizure of Crimea, suggesting his weakness was a green light to Putin.
The news conference was dominated by questions about his interview with the Sun, leaving both leaders defensive and sometimes irritated. The first questioner, a British reporter for the BBC, asked Trump of his published remarks, “Is that really the behavior of a friend?”
Yet, from the moment they walked out of the brick manor, Trump and May appeared intent on showcasing a united front; the president held her hand as he helped her down a few brick steps to the podium.
May did not rebuke Trump even mildly. But she emphatically defended her handling of the difficult negotiations to remove Britain from the European Union by March, as required after British voters in 2016 approved the so-called Brexit referendum to withdraw from the EU and its common economic policies and open borders.
After tea with the queen, Trump flew to Scotland. He will spend the weekend at his golf retreat there, which he publicly promoted both in Brussels and Britain, ahead of the rendezvous with Putin in Finland on Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May and President Trump make their way to a news conference.