I didn’t criticise PM. That is fake news, says US president
right deal, she may choose to do what I suggested.”
He declined to elaborate on what advice he had offered May, saying it was “respectfully submitted” but then looked horrified at a reporter’s suggestion that he meant the UK could walk away from negotiations. “If she walks away, that means she’s stuck. You can’t walk away, but you can do other things,” he said.
The US president also revealed that he had apologised to May for the Sun article when he met her over breakfast and that she had told him “don’t worry, it’s only the press” – a revelation of a private conversation that drew a grimace from the prime minister.
Trump lavished praise on his host after spending a day at Sandhurst and lunching with May, before meeting the Queen for tea at Windsor Castle, as tens of thousands protested against his visit in London, Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester. He then left for his Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire for the weekend.
He said that the US-UK relationship was “the highest level of special” and that May was “an incredible woman right here doing a fantastic job”.
Trump spoke warmly about the reception he received at Blenheim Palace on Thursday night with his wife, Melania, saying he “felt sorry for others on the table” because he and May were in such deep conversation. “We probably never developed a better relationship than last night,” he said.
Trump said the interview in the Sun had omitted his praise of May. “It’s called fake news and we solve a lot of problems with the good old recording instrument,” he said, though he later admitted he had indeed made the comments. The Sun has published its own audio recording. A spokesman for the paper said it stood by its reporting and that Trump had essentially retracted his original charge, adding: “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well ... fake news.” Downing Street had hinted in advance they were expecting a more emollient tone from the president at the press conference.
Trump said he now understood that May’s Brexit plan would not make a trade deal with the US impossible and suggested he had underestimated May’s negotiating skills.
“I don’t know what you’re going to do, but whatever you do is OK with us. Just make sure you can trade with us, that’s all that matters,” he said to May. “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.”
May also sought to underline the benefits of the Chequers deal, as MPs in Westminster also voiced concern that it would prohibit new comprehensive trade deals. “There will be no limit to the possibility of us doing trade deals around the rest of the world once we leave the European Union on the basis of the agreement that was made here at Chequers and that I’ve put forward to the European Union,” she said.
Trump’s suggestion that Boris Johnson, who recently resigned as foreign secretary, would make a good prime minister, was repeated as May stood beside him, stony-faced.
Cracks also emerged as the president repeatedly made inflammatory claims that immigration in Europe had caused terrorism and was eroding culture, an assertion May made some attempt to counter. He said: “I think it’s been very bad for Europe. You see the same terror attacks that I do. I know it’s not necessarily politically correct to say that, but I’ll say it, and I’ll say it loud. I think they’d better watch themselves because they’re changing a lot of things.”
Trump is set to meet the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki on Monday.