U.S. President Donald Trump is meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May for talks overshadowed by an explosive interview the U.S. leader gave to Britain’s The Sun newspaper, slamming May for her handling of Brexit, praising her former foreign minister as a good candidate to replace her, and blaming immigrants in London for the city’s crime.
The two leaders are meeting at Chequers where they are discussing foreign policy, including the Middle East, according to White House officials. At the start of the discussions the president told reporters the relationship between Britain and the U.S. remains “very strong.” He did not address The Sun interview.
Trump visiting the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, before going to Chequers — the 16th century manor house of the current prime minister. After Chequers, he is scheduled to go to Windsor Castle where Queen Elizabeth II is scheduled to host Trump and first lady Melania Trump for tea.
He is taking helicopters to his various destinations. U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson says the president “is not avoiding anything” relying on helicopters, rather he is “trying to get as impactful a trip as he can get within a 24-hour period.”
There are, however, street protests against Trump’s first visit to Britain since taking office nearly 18 months ago. One protest group has been given permission for a balloon in the president’s image, shaded in orange and dressed in a diaper, known as the “Trump Baby Blimp,” to hover over Parliament Square Garden.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the demonstrations are not anti-American but rather reflect opposition to “the politics of fear and despair.”
Trump has long spoken of his desire to meet the monarch, but for this queen, such encounters with U.S. presidents are old hat, having met 10 American leaders since her coronation in 1952.
Trump, however, is the most unconventional of modern U.S. presidents and there is some anxiety in Britain about whether he will adhere to protocol.
Trump and the first lady attended a gala dinner in their honor Thursday hosted by the prime minister at the 17th century Blenheim Palace, 100 kilometers northwest of London.
During the gala, a wide-ranging interview Trump gave to Britain’s The Sun newspaper was posted on its website. In it Trump blasted May for wrecking Brexit.
“I actually told Theresa May how to do [Brexit],” the U.S. leader said in the interview, “but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.”
Trump also warned May in the interview that any future trade deal with Britain will not be likely if Britain has a soft exit from the European Union.
“If they do a deal like that,” Trump said, “we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK,” adding that approach would “probably kill” any future trade deals with the U.S.
He complained that the soft Brexit plan was a contentious move against the U.S. because the EU “is very bad to the United States on trade.”
Trump had words of praise, however, for former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this week over the soft Brexit strategy, saying Johnson would “make a great prime minister.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in response to questions about the president’s Sun interview, said in a statement: “The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with The Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’… He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.”
President Trump also told The Sun London Mayor Khan has “done a very bad job on terrorism”by allowing so many migrants to come to the city.
Khan told BBC Radio Friday, “The idea that you can blame [a rise in crime] on immigration from Africa is I think preposterous and we should call him out when he does so.”