LONDON - President Donald Trump on Friday declared the U.S. relationship with Britain as “the highest level of special,” rejecting reports of troubled ties further frayed by his comments published in one of the highest-circulation newspapers in this country.
Standing alongside the British prime minister outside her Chequers country estate, Trump defended his remarks in the newspaper interview, which were seen as further weakening Theresa May’s hold on power.
“It didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said tremendous things,” Trump replied to a question about critical remarks he made in an interview with The Sun.
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The conservative British newspaper itself characterized Trump’s printed remarks as pouring nitroglycerine on the already raging revolt against the prime minister by Brexit hardliners in May’s own party.
“They didn’t put it in the headline," Trump said about positive comments he made about May during the interview. "I wish they put it in the headline."
Trump then alluded to “fake news,” but he did not specifically deny any of his comments printed by the newspaper, whose Friday morning headline blared: “May has wrecked Brexit…US deal is off!”
But Trump on Friday afternoon said that after his discussions with May and her aides, he now believes a post-Brexit free trade agreement between Washington and London is “absolutely possible.”
Trump’s verbal barbs in the brash down-market tabloid are viewed here as unprecedented criticism by a visiting American leader of a sitting prime minister, prompting politicians to unite across party lines to condemn the U.S. president’s comments.
“Where are your manners, Mr. President?” questioned Sam Gyimah, a member of May’s Conservative Party who serves as the minister for universities, science research and innovation.
One of Gyimah’s party colleagues, Sarah Wollaston, said Trump was “determined to insult” the prime minister.
An opposition party member of parliament, Emily Thornberry, on a widely-viewed Friday morning TV program, declared it was “extraordinarily rude of Donald Trump to behave like this,” adding: “What did his mother teach him? This is not the way you behave.”
Another opposition lawmaker, Ben Bradshaw, lamented that “our prime minister is so weak she still rolls out the red carpet for a man who does nothing but insult her. Humiliating.”
But a proponent of a hard exit from the European Union who is a potential Conservative Party leadership rival to May, Jacob Rees-Moog, termed Trump’s comments perfectly reasonable, expressing hope she would change her mind.
Trump, in the interview, said May had ignored his advice on how to negotiate Britain's exit from the European Union. Trump said May’s so-called soft-Brexit approach went “the opposite way” to what he had recommended and that it was “very unfortunate.”
May’s proposal was finalized last Friday. It was quickly followed by the resignation of two members of her Cabinet, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who did not approve of her approach.
In the exclusive interview with The Sun, Trump also said that Johnson would make a “great prime minister,” adding, “I think he’s got what it takes. He repeated that assertion at Friday’s news conference while repeating praise of May
During the news conference Trump, as he frequently does, lambasted two U.S. news organizations.
Responding to a query from NBC News on whether his repeated attacks on America’s alliances give Russian President Vladimir Putin the upper hand, Trump began, “that’s such dishonest reporting.”
He also refused to recognize a reporter from CNN, saying the U.S. cable network is “fake news. "I don’t take questions from them,” and then immediately called on a correspondent from Fox News Channel to ask a question.
Both Fox News and the Sun newspaper are owned by the Australian-born international media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who frequently speaks on the telephone with Trump.
Following Friday afternoon tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, Trump heads to Scotland, where he owns two golf courses.
Protesters are expected in the vicinity of the president’s golf resorts during his weekend visit, but the bulk of demonstrations against Trump are taking place in London. Outside the House of Parliament protesters are flying a six-meter blimp depicting Trump as an orange snarling baby grasping a mobile phone.
In the Sun interview when asked about the so-called Trump Baby, the president said, “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, defended the blimp noting Britain’s rich history of “having a sense of humor” and questioned why any American president would have an issue with it. “Can you imagine if we limited freedom of speech because somebody’s feelings might be hurt?” asked Khan. The mayor urged London protesters to be “peaceful and good spirited.”
Trump moved in and out of the city exclusively by helicopter, minimizing traffic jams in the congested capital but also preventing him from seeing any protesters close at hand.
After his visit to England and Scotland, the U.S. president heads to Helsinki, Finland, where on Monday he holds a highly-anticipated summit with Putin.