Theresa May and Donald Trump entered a news conference on Friday holding hands and went out of their way to praise one another’s leadership, a day after the U.S. president assailed her Brexit strategy and said one of her political opponents would make a good prime minister.
The two leaders said they’d complete a trade deal between their countries as soon as the U.K. leaves the European Union, after Trump told the Sun newspaper in an interview published Thursday that an accord might not be possible because of her decision to maintain ties with the EU.
The interview, published during a gala dinner May hosted for Trump at Blenheim Palace, appeared to further ratchet up tensions in a relationship that’s been fraught since the president assumed office. But Trump tried to make it up to May on Friday, repeating over and over that she was a “tough negotiator,” — a high form of praise from the author of “The Art of the Deal.”
“I said very good things about her” in the interview, Trump said. “She’s a total professional, because when I saw her this morning I said, ‘I want to apologize, because I said such good things about you.”’
Trump said that the “special relationship” — “the highest level of special” — between the two countries is “a bond that is like no other.”
May batted away questions about Boris Johnson, her former foreign minister who resigned last week after she announced her plan for a “soft” Brexit. Trump, whom Johnson has effusively complimented, told the Sun he’d make a good prime minister.
Trump called the Sun story “generally fine” but said that some of his remarks were left out. “We record when we deal with reporters — it’s called fake news.”
He didn’t elaborate. He said that May is “doing a terrific job.”
“We agreed today that as the U.K. leaves the EU we will pursue an ambitious U.S.-U.K. trade deal,” May said Friday at a news conference with Trump at Chequers, her country estate.
“The United States looks forward to finalizing a great bilateral trade deal” with the U.K., Trump said. “We want to trade with the U.K. and the U.K. wants to trade with us.”
Trump, who had accused May of taking too long to quit the EU in the Sun interview, acknowledged that talks to leave the bloc are “not an easy negotiation to be sure” and said that the deal Britain reached “is OK with me,” before adding “just make sure we can trade together.”
May hoped to use the talks to explain her plan for Brexit and to outline the complexities involved. Trump’s comments suggest she managed to convey to the president a sense of the difficulty of extricating the U.K. from the 27-member trading bloc without a parliamentary majority.
It was clear that the two leaders disagreed on immigration and Iran but stated their own positions without airing their criticisms of the other’s position.
Trump said that immigration has been “a very negative thing for Europe” while May responded that “the U.K. has a proud history of welcoming people fleeing persecution” and “immigration has been good for the U.K.”