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Trump backtracks criticism of May, says looks forward to trade deal with UK

In an interview published on Friday morning in The Sun newspaper, Trump dismissed May’s Brexit plans, tore into London mayor Sadiq Khan and said former foreign minister Boris Johnson would make a “great prime minister”.

world Updated: Jul 14, 2018 12:58 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Donald Trump,Theresa May,Trump May Brexit
US President Donald Trump (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London on July 13, 2018 on the second day of Trump's UK visit.(AFP)

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he looked forward to finalising a trade deal with Britain, backtracking an interview in which he criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans by saying her proposal would kill such an agreement.

Addressing the news media after a bilateral meeting with May at her official country residence Chequers, Trump was effusive in his praise for her and said “whatever” the UK does after it leaves the EU is “OK with me”, adding that Brexit was an “incredible opportunity”.

Last week at the same location, May finally won agreement for her Brexit strategy from her cabinet but within days, two senior ministers quit, which Trump said earlier in the week had left Britain in “turmoil”.

In an interview published on Friday morning in The Sun newspaper, Trump dismissed May’s Brexit plans, tore into London mayor Sadiq Khan and said former foreign minister Boris Johnson would make a “great prime minister”.

Trump said if May went ahead with the “soft Brexit” plan outlined last Friday — that led to the resignations of Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis — it will “kill” any prospect of a US-UK trade deal.

A trade deal with the US is supposed to be the big prize of Brexit, with its potential to largely compensate the economic loss that would ensue by exiting the European single market. Trump’s words appeared to pour cold water on May’s latest plans.

However, addressing the press at Chequers, Trump said “didn’t criticise” May in the interview, insisting he had a “lot of respect” for her. The interview was “generally fine” but missed out his positive comments about May — so amounted to “fake news”, he said.

Pointing to May, Trump said “this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job, a great job”, and added that the US is looking forward to finalising a “great” bilateral trade agreement with the UK.

“We want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us,” Trump said at a press conference with May at her official country residence Chequers.

May likewise glossed over the comments in The Sun.

“We agreed today that as the UK leaves the European Union we will pursue an ambitious US-UK free trade agreement,” she said. “The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies.”

However, The Sun said it stood by the interview.

“We stand by our reporting and the quotes we used — including those where the president was positive about the prime minister, in both the paper and in our audio... To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well... fake news,” the newspaper said.

In the interview, Trump described Johnson as “a very talented guy”, adding: “I like him a lot. I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me, and says very good things about me. I was very saddened to see he was leaving government and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country.”

Asked if Johnson could be in No 10, Downing Street one day, he replied: “Well I am not pitting one against the other. I am just saying I think he would be a great Prime Minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Trump also claimed Khan — with whom he has clashed in the past — has “done a very bad job on terrorism”. He went on: “Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place. Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism”.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Jul 14, 2018 10:06 IST