US President Donald Trump said he apologised to Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday over his bombshell interview with a British tabloid, in which he claimed she had ignored his advice on Brexit and praised former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s potential as a possible premier.
Trump’s comments were condemned by British politicians as it delivered an astonishing political knifing of the already embattled May, comprehensively undermining her fragile position in Britain’s tortuous negotiations on leaving the European Union next year.
Addressing a joint press conference at the end of their bilateral talks at the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, Trump said, “She’s a total professional.”
“I said, ‘I want to apologise because I said such good things about you,’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press,’” Trump said of their purported conversation.
Trump added that he wished the Sun newspaper put the “tremendous things” he said about May in its headline, but acknowledged, “That’s one of those things.”
Trump has insisted the US-UK relationship is “the highest level of special”.
He said Brexit was an “incredible opportunity” and “whatever” the UK did after it left the EU was “OK with me”.
Trump described Brexit as a “very tough situation... between the borders and the entries into the countries and all of the things”, saying: “The only thing I ask is that she work it out so that we can have very even trade”.
Trump said: “The relationship between our two nations is indispensable to the cause of liberty, justice, and peace.”
Prime Minister May said they had discussed plans for an “ambitious” trade agreement.
May said the US was “keen” to do a deal with the UK, adding: “We will do a trade deal with them and with others around the rest of the world”.
She maintained the government’s Brexit agreement “delivers” on the referendum vote.
In the interview with the Sun newspaper, Trump - who has been a long-time supporter of Brexit - said May had not listened to his advice on how to do a Brexit deal, saying: “I would have done it much differently.”
Trump also said that former Foreign Secretary Johnson - who disagrees with May on Brexit and resigned this week - would make a “great prime minister”, adding: “I think he’s got what it takes.”
But at the Chequers news conference, Trump said he had been responding to the Sun’s question about Johnson as a possible prime minister, adding: “He has been very nice to me. He’s been saying very good things about me as president”.
After Trump’s interview was published, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the president “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much”, adding that he had “never said anything bad about her”.
Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the Prime Minister May “should be standing up to [Mr Trump]” after he “slagged her off”, instead of holding his hand.
The second day of Trump’s visit to the UK was marked by mass protests across Britain, with a huge blimp depicting him as a baby wearing a nappy flown by demonstrators in London.