LONDON (AP) — Moving from pageantry to policy during his state visit to Britain, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged embattled Prime Minister Theresa May to “stick around” to complete a U.S.-U.K. trade deal, adding to this recent chapter of uncertainty in the allies’ storied relationship.
The president, whose praise for May comes after he spent days touting her possible successors, met with the prime minister and corporate executives from the United States and United Kingdom as part of a day of negotiations ahead of a news conference on Trump’s second day on British soil. The leaders’ top priority is a possible bilateral trade deal to be negotiated once – or if — the U.K. leaves the European Union.
May has been dogged by her failure to secure Brexit. She plans to resign Friday , days after Trump departs England, as head of the Conservative Party but remain as prime minister until her successor is chosen. Trump has been sharply critical of May in the past but only had warm words for her Tuesday as he urged her to stay to “get this deal done.”
“I think we’ll have a very, very substantial trade deal,” said Trump, extolling its virtues for both nations. “I think that this is something we both want to do … we’re going to get it done.”
After Trump suggested May stay on, most in the room chuckled. The two leaders later warmly chatted during a tour of 10 Downing St., the prime minister’s office, as May pointed out a copy of the American Declaration of Independence.
Traditionally, U.S. presidents avoid interjecting themselves in the domestic politics of other nations. But Trump is far from traditional.
Trump told the Sunday Times in an interview before arriving that Britain should “walk away” from talks and refuse to pay a 39 billion-pound ($49 billion) divorce bill if it doesn’t get better terms from the EU.
That move, known as a “hard Brexit,” could have a devastating impact on the U.K. economy, according to many experts, and stands in contrast to a previous White House position that the departure should be done as painlessly as possible. Others in the U.K. are urging for a second referendum that could keep the EU intact.
The president has also opined that Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, an outspoken advocate of leaving the EU without a deal, should be given a role in the negotiations. Farage, a divisive figure in Britain, has long been a Trump supporter. And while Trump has avoided criticizing May on this visit, unlike a year ago when he blistered her in a newspaper interview just before landing in London, the president has touted her rival, Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson, as an “excellent” leader for the U.K.
The economic meeting at St. James’s Palace brought together 10 leading companies — five from the UK and five from the United States. CEOs and senior representatives from BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, National Grid, Barclays, Reckitt Benckiser, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs International, Bechtel and Splunk were listed as attending.
While the business leaders gathered, protesters began to assemble across London, some of whom had the now-infamous Trump baby balloon bobbing in the air near Parliament Square.
The U.S. president arrived in Britain at a precarious moment, amid a fresh round of impeachment fervor back home and uncertainty on this side of the Atlantic. The day of meetings with May follow a whirlwind of pomp, circumstance and protest for Trump, who had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and tea with Prince Charles before a grand state dinner at Buckingham Palace.
The queen used her toast to emphasize the importance of international institutions created by Britain, the United States and other allies after World War II, a subtle rebuttal to Trump, a critic of NATO and the U.N.
But most of the talk and the colorful images were just what the White House wanted to showcase Trump as a statesman while, back home, the race to succeed him — and talk of impeaching him — heated up. Yet Trump, forever a counter-puncher, immediately roiled diplomatic docility by tearing into London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
As so often happens when Trump travels overseas, norms were shattered, including when the president complained about his television viewing options in the foreign capital and urged people to punish CNN by boycotting its parent company, AT&T.
Following Tuesday’s focus on business and trade, Trump will use the next two days to mark the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see. The events will begin in Portsmouth, England, where the invasion was launched, and then move across the English Channel to France, where Allied forces began to recapture Western Europe from the Nazis.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the occasion to call for strengthening multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.