The US President has arrived at the Prime Minister’s country residence for what is likely to be a tense meeting following his incendiary comments on Brexit, the London Mayor, and Boris Johnson, which were published late on Thursday in The Sun newspaper.
The interview was published just as Trump attended a black tie gala at Blenheim Palace with Theresa May. Trump warned that May’s “soft” Brexit plan would “kill” any future US trade deal, and said that Britain remaining so closely aligned to the European Union would undermine a UK-US trade pact – which is seen as one of the biggest prizes after quitting the bloc.
In a another swipe, Trump also said he would have done the Brexit negotiations “much differently” and claimed the Prime Minister did not listen to his advice.
But as the two leaders sat down ahead of their talks at Chequers, both were keen to stress their “very, very strong” relationship, with Trump striking a more conciliatory tone.
Seated alongside the Prime Minister before a row of British and American flags, the president said he and May had “probably never developed a better relationship” than during last night’s dinner at Blenheim.
“The relationship is very, very strong, we really have a very good relationship”, he said, while making no response to questions about his explosive interview with The Sun.
May made clear she would not be knocked off track by Trump’s suggestion she had “killed” the chance of a trade deal, saying they would be discussing the “real opportunities” for a deal after Brexit.
Trump added: “We had a dinner where I think we probably never developed a better relationship than last night. We spoke for an hour or an hour and a half and it was really something.”
The comments came after the White House tried on Thursday evening to smooth relations following The Sun’s front page. An email released by press secretary Sarah Sanders read: “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 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 UK.”
Trump’s comments prompted outrage among politicians, who saw the interview as an embarrassment for May and offensive to the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who Trump has long criticised for being “soft on terror”.
Labour MP David Lammy blasted Trump’s comments about Khan, tweeting: “Trump has access to one of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence services. He knows last summer’s terrorist attacks didn’t result from decisions made at City Hall. Each time he blames @SadiqKhan, he insults every victim & every Londoner #trumpvisituk
“I will call it like it is. The real reason Trump blames my friend @SadiqKhan for the terror attacks last year is simple. He hates that London chose a Muslim mayor. The President is racist. He does not deserve to meet our Queen today #StopTrump.”
Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton said the president’s comments were Islamophobic. The Labour member said: “A dash of Islamophobia lobbed at Sadiq Khan who he blames for terrorism. Awful stuff.”
George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid-Norfolk and May’s former policy chief, called the President’s comments “outrageous”.
Tweeting a link to the interview in the Sun, Freeman wrote: “This why it was the right thing not to offer Trump a State Visit. The qualification for a State Visit is to behave like a Head of State.
“Of course we should host and listen to and work with President Trump, but privileges have to be earnt.”
On Friday, demonstrations are due to take place across the UK as part of a “carnival of resistance” against Trump’s policies.
The president arrived at Sandhurst on Friday morning for a military demonstration, and was greeted by Theresa May. At Chequers he will take part in a short 1-1 meeting with the Prime Minister, with a press conference scheduled to take place at 1.40pm.
Trump will then travel to Windsor Castle to meet the Queen before heading to Scotland for a private part of the four-day visit, ahead of travelling to Helsinki for a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.