President Donald Trump sought to walk back some of his more scornful rhetoric towards U.K. leader Theresa May on Friday afternoon, offering Westminster an unprecedented olive branch post-Brexit.
Speaking alongside May outside her country retreat, Chequers, Trump said: “Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together.”
“The only thing I ask of Theresa (May) is that we make sure we can trade (and) that we don’t have any restrictions. We want to trade with the U.K. and the U.K. wants to trade with us,” he added.
The U.S. president said both countries had a “tremendous opportunity to double, triple or quadruple” its trading relationship when the U.K. leaves the European Union.
Ahead of the press conference at the country retreat on Friday, the U.S. president sought to comprehensively undermine May’s government with a stunning rebuke of her approach to Brexit negotiations.
In an interview with The Sun newspaper published late Thursday, Trump said May had ignored his advice on Brexit by pursuing a softened approach to talks with the EU. He also warned that such a move would “probably kill” off any chance of May getting a free trade deal with the world’s largest economy.
It was seen as an astonishing political attack on Britain’s leader, and one which could aggravate her increasingly fragile position in government amid torturous negotiations with the rest of the bloc.
“I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” Trump said Friday, quickly interjecting before May could respond to a question about the U.S. president’s comments about her less than 24 hours earlier.
“I have a lot of respect for the prime minster and unfortunately there was a story that was done which was generally fine but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said tremendous things … We record when we deal with reporters. It’s called fake news,” he added.
On Friday, May said Trump had agreed to pursue an ambitious transatlantic trade agreement, shortly after holding talks with her U.S. counterpart.
“We agreed today that as the U.K. leaves the European Union, we will pursue an ambitious U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement,” May said, while speaking alongside Trump on Friday afternoon.
Trump’s intervention in British domestic politics comes at a time of heightened political turmoil in Westminster. Over the past week, three of May’s cabinet ministers — including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — have resigned citing irrevocable differences over Downing Street’s approach to Brexit.
The U.S. president also told The Sun that he believed Johnson had all the attributes to become a “great prime minister,” describing him as a “very talented guy.”
The comments were reflective of Trump’s willingness to criticize or even demean key Western allies in order to try to enhance his own political agenda.
Trump walks back Brexit threat: 'Whatever you do is OK with us'