Trump Praises Theresa May's Likely Successors, Says He Would Have Sued EU Over Brexit

Jun 4, 2019
Originally published on June 4, 2019 3:33 pm

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET

President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May discussed Brexit, business ties and the relationship between the U.S. and U.K. at joint events Tuesday, marking something of a final hurrah for May, who is resigning Friday after failing to secure a Brexit deal.

Trump called the relationship between the two countries "the greatest alliance the world has ever known." At a news conference, he also praised several men who want to succeed May as prime minister.

While Trump's arrival in London the day before was marked by ceremony and spectacle, he and May focused on the road ahead, as the U.K. prepares to leave the European Union. The thorny Brexit issue has fueled some awkward exchanges between Trump and May. Last summer, Trump sharply criticized May's failure to make a deal, saying she hadn't listened to his advice, in comments published just ahead of a joint press conference.

At the time, Trump also said May's top Conservative rival, Boris Johnson, would "make a great prime minister." And he repeated that sentiment Tuesday.

Trump and May give a joint press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Tuesday.
Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images

During an afternoon news conference at the Foreign Office, May reiterated that she believes the Brexit plan she negotiated with the EU is a good deal. As for whether she should have taken Trump's advice, May pointed out that he had suggested she sue the EU — and that she landed a good deal by not doing so.

"I would have sued, but that's OK," Trump said, shrugging his shoulders as the audience chuckled.

Still, the president said a Brexit deal is "teed up" and, turning to May, added, "Perhaps you won't be given the credit that you deserve, if they do something. But I think you deserve a lot of credit. I really do."

Trump also noted that he had correctly predicted the outcome of the U.K.'s watershed 2016 vote to leave the EU. "I think it will happen," he said, "and I believe the prime minister has brought it to a really good point, where something will take place in the not-too-distant future."

Protesters gather behind a barrier on Whitehall road in Central London during a demonstration against the Trump.
Tolga Akmen / AFP/Getty Images

During the Q&A part of the news conference, a question touched on London Mayor Sadiq Khan — who reignited his feud with Trump over the weekend in an essay criticizing the U.S. president. Trump had responded by calling Khan a "stone cold loser."

"He should be positive, not negative," Trump said of Khan on Tuesday. "He's a negative force, not a positive force."

The president also was asked about a phone call with Johnson, a front-runner to replace May, during this state visit. Media outlets have reported that Trump sought a meeting with Johnson — who said he was tied up with other matters.

"I know Boris. I like him, I've liked him for a long time. He's — I think he would do a very good job," Trump said.

Acknowledging that one of Johnson's rivals for the post, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was seated in the front row, Trump continued, "I know Jeremy, I think he'd do a very good job."

As for Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Trump responded: "I don't know Michael. But — would he do a good job, Jeremy? Tell me."

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In a separate foray into British politics on Tuesday, Trump met with Nigel Farage, the controversial leader of the ascendant Brexit Party — who Trump recently said should help negotiate Brexit despite not being a current member of the U.K. government. Farage is a member of the European Parliament.

Farage was spotted in a car arriving at the U.S. ambassador's house, where the Trumps have been staying, according to multiple British media reports. The two men have met previously, including during a much-publicized visit after Trump's successful 2016 campaign.

Trump attends a business roundtable with May at St. James's Palace, during the second day of his state visit.
Tim Ireland / WPA/Getty Images

"Good meeting with President Trump — he really believes in Brexit and is loving his trip to London," Farage tweeted on Tuesday. That message came one day after Farage spoke glowingly of Trump during an appearance on Fox News.

As the two leaders met, crowds of protesters gathered in London to demonstrate against the U.S. president's policies, climate change, the complicated mess of Brexit — or some combination of all of the above. As with Trump's visit last summer, the demonstration featured a small blimp depicting the president as a suntanned baby.

Trump commented that he hadn't initially seen the protesters but that he had seen thousands of people cheering, including some who waved U.S. flags.

"I didn't see the protests until just a little while ago, and it was a very, very small group of people, put in for political reasons. So, it was fake news," he said.

Media outlets and protest organizers said there were thousands of protesters in London.

On Tuesday night, the Trumps hosted a dinner at Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador's residence, where the guests of honor included Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall.

A woman takes a selfie as the "Trump Baby" blimp is inflated in Parliament Square in Central London at the start of the demonstrations.
Tim Ireland / AP

Earlier in the day, first lady Melania Trump accompanied the president on a visit to 10 Downing Street, where a red carpet was rolled out to greet them. The Trumps posed for photos with May and her husband, Philip, before going on a tour of the famous residence. At one point, the two world leaders paused to look at a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, from the time of the former British colony's national founding.

"It's a fascinating document, we think it has been in the U.K. for about 200 years," May said, according to a pool report.

Trump had spent much of the day with May, starting with a roundtable discussion at St. James's Palace in London, where the pair sat with Ivanka Trump and other administration officials alongside the CEOs of large British companies such as Barclays bank and drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.

May, Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Philip May arrive at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence, where a red carpet was rolled out to greet them. On a windowsill to the left, Chief Mouser Larry the Cat keeps watch.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

At the morning business summit, Trump said he is optimistic about reaching a bilateral trade agreement with the U.K. in the wake of Brexit.

The U.S.-U.K. summit took place just three days before May is slated to leave office, having announced her resignation last month. Referring to her exit, Trump praised the prime minister.

"I'd just like to congratulate you on having done a fantastic job on behalf of the people of the United States and it's an honor to have worked with you," Trump told May. "I don't know exactly what your timing is, but stick around. Let's do this deal, OK?"

May emphasized the substantial business ties that already exist between the U.S. and U.K.

The Trumps and Mays explored 10 Downing Street. Among the items they looked at was a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, from the time of the former British colony's national founding.
Carlos Barria / Reuters

"Our trade between our nations last year worth almost $240 billion," May said. She later added, "British companies employ a million citizens in the U.S. And every morning, a million people here in the U.K. go to work for American companies."

When she was asked later about Trump's suggestion that she stick around to conclude trade deals, May told a reporter, "Nice try. But, no. I'm a woman of my word."

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