President Donald Trump directly criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, saying it had probably killed off hope of a U.S.-British trade deal and that she had failed to take his advice on how to negotiate with the European Union.
In an interview published just hours before he was due to have lunch with May and tea with Queen Elizabeth on Friday, Trump chided the “very unfortunate” results of the prime minister’s Brexit negotiation.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper.
“I would have done it much differently,” he told The Sun, which urged its readers to back Brexit before a referendum in June 2016. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”
Trump also heaped praise on Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary this week along with Brexit Secretary David Davis in protest at May’s strategy. Johnson, the president said, “would be a great prime minister”.
No sitting U.S. president has ever made such biting public criticism of a British prime minister while visiting, and his comments undermined May in her party, her country and abroad.
Sterling fell half a percent to a 1-1/2 week low of $1.3131, partly on Trump’s comments. He was due to meet May at the Sandhurst military academy and for talks at her official country residence Chequers later.
“Where are your manners, Mr President?” asked Sam Gyimah, a junior minister in May’s government.
May was looking forward to sitting down with Trump to talk him through the negotiating stance at Chequers, her spokesman said when asked about the Trump comments.
As Britain prepares to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, supporters of Brexit have made much of the so-called special relationship with the United States and the benefits of forging closer trade ties with the world’s biggest economy.
Many have cast May’s plan as a betrayal, including lawmakers in her deeply divided Conservative Party, who have warned that she might face a leadership challenge.
Jacob Rees-Mogg - a leading Conservative Brexiteer and considered a potential alternative party leader by some - said it was perfectly reasonable for Trump to make such comments, adding that May now had an opportunity to change her mind on her Brexit plan.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the president “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much,” adding that he said in the interview she “is a very good person” and that he “never said anything bad about her”.