July 13 (UPI) — U.S. President Donald Trump began talks Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May at her retreat in Chequers, and despite a frank interview he gave to a tabloid newspaper that renounced her Brexit plan, the two seemed united during a news conference.
In the interview with Britain’s The Sun, Trump said a new trade deal with the United States was unlikely because of May’s Brexit negotiation tactics.
In the piece, Trump said he advised May on how to handle the exit from the European Union and said he “would have done it much differently.”
“I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route,” he told the Sun.
Trump also said former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who quit this week over May’s Brexit plan, would make a “great prime minister.”
“I think he’s got what it takes.”
“I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me and says very good things about me,” he added. “I was very saddened to see he was leaving government, and I hope he goes back in at some point.”
The interview was so surprising, Trump’s press officer Sarah Sanders issued a statement overnight Thursday to clarify the president’s attitude toward May.
“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,” Sanders said. “He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here in the U.K.”
During the news conference Friday, Trump and May dismissed criticism he shared of the prime minister during The Sun interview.
Trump said he did not criticize May during the interview and said the British tabloid did not include all the good things he said about her.
As for her not taking his advice on Brexit negotiations, Trump said it was merely a suggestion.
“I only gave her a suggestion, not advice,” Trump said. “She probably thought it was too brutal.”
Trump said his statements to The Sun were based on reports he had read that indicated free trade would likely not be possible with Britain after it leaves the EU. He said after their visit he thinks the two countries can reach a free trade agreement.
“Whatever you do is OK with me,” Trump said. “Whatever you’re gonna do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade with you, that’s all that matters.”
May said her country would have “no limit to the possibility of doing trade deals around the world” after Brexit and said trade would be a matter of negotiation.
When asked about his upcoming meeting with Putin, Trump said he will focus on Ukraine, Syria and nuclear proliferation. He also said he will bring up the issue of Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
“I’ll absolutely bring that up, but it won’t be a Perry Mason moment.”
The president said U.S. relations with Russia are hurt by “rigged witch-hunts.”
When asked about Russia illegally occupying Crimea, Trump blamed the Obama administration and said Putin “wouldn’t have done that if I was president.”
Trump first met May Thursday night and the pair spoke for about 90 minutes and attended a state dinner. Trump said the discussion “was really something.”
Trump’s visit to Britain followed two days of a NATO summit in Belgium, where the U.S. president shook up the conference with rhetoric about other members failing to meet fiscal defense requirements, the possibility that he could end the United States’ 70-year membership in the alliance and Germany being “captive” to Russian energy.
During Friday’s news conference with May, Trump dismissed critics of the meeting, characterizing it as deliberations that led to positive results, including every member vowing to allocate more money for defense.
“We have left NATO with more money, more spirit, more unity than even before,” Trump said.
In the Sun story, Trump also criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the city’s first Muslim mayor who has criticized Trump’s immigration policies. Trump said Khan has done a “very bad job on crime” and a “very bad job on terrorism.”
During Friday’s news conference, Trump spoke about how immigration is detrimental to Britain.
May said her country has a “proud history of welcoming people with different backgrounds.”
“What is important, is to control the borders and determine who comes into our border,” she said.
May’s office said it would not comment on The Sun article during a greeting with Trump and May at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to review a military exercise.
Tom Newton Dunn, who interviewed Trump for the Sun, said the president seemed “sensitive” about the inflatable “Trump baby” being flown over London and its accompanying protests on Friday.
“He’s really quite stung by the criticism he’s been getting,” Dunn said.
On Thursday, Trump had said, “I think they like me a lot in the U.K.”
After Trump’s meeting with May in Chequers, he is scheduled to head to Windsor Castle for tea with Queen Elizabeth II. Trump plans to spend the weekend at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland before flying to Helsinki, Finland, for a summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.