US president-elect Donald Trump called Britons “smart” for voting for Brexit and foresaw the dismantling of the European Union in a wide-ranging interview that rocked Westminster on Monday, proving a new irritant for Prime Minister Theresa May.
May, who will try to dispel the impression her government is riddled with “muddled thinking” on Brexit during a speech on Tuesday, is yet to get an appointment with Trump, who will take over as US president at the inauguration on Friday.
The interview was more of an irritant for May because it was done by Michael Gove, Conservative MP and former justice secretary, and one of the contenders for May’s job after David Cameron quit as prime minister following the June 23 referendum on Britain’s future in the EU.
Gove, a former journalist and a leading Brexiteer, interviewed Trump for The Times, where he is now a columnist. It was Trump’s first interview with a British publication, conducted in what Gove called his “glitzy, golden man cave” in the Trump Tower, New York.
Promising a quick trade deal after Brexit – unlike President Barack Obama, who said before the referendum Britain would be “back of the queue” if it voted to exit the EU – Trump said he could understand why voters chose to leave the bloc.
“You look at the European Union and it’s...basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out…I believe others will leave (the EU). I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think,” Trump said.
Critical of Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel for welcoming a large number of refugees last year, Trump said: “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.
“People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it…entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit,” he added.
Asked whether he would push ahead with a trade deal with Britain after Brexit, Trump said, “Absolutely, very quickly. I’m a big fan of the UK. We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides.”
Trump spoke on several issues, including Russia, foreign policy and his mother’s praise for Queen Elizabeth. He said he was keen to meet May after his inauguration.
“I will be meeting with (Theresa May). In fact if you want you can see the letter, wherever the letter is, she just sent it. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and…we’re gonna get something done very quickly,” he said.