Trump backtracks on May criticism after Chequers meeting

US president says he will support whatever stance British prime minister takes on Brexit

There have been large-scale protests against Donald Trump as the US president visits the UK. Video: CCTV

Donald Trump has partially backtracked on his criticism of Theresa May's handling of Brexit, describing the prime minister as a tough negotiator and acknowledging that leaving the European Union was complex.

Speaking during a joint press conference at the prime minister’s official country residence of Chequers, Mr Trump said he would support whatever Ms May did.

“I don’t know what you’re going to do but whatever you’re going to do, it’s okay with us,” he said.

Mr Trump's meeting with Ms May at Chequers was overshadowed by the president's explosive interview in the Sun warning that the prime minister's proposal for a soft Brexit would make a trade deal with the United States impossible.

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The president said he had apologised to the prime minister on Friday morning because, he said, the newspaper had not reported his praise for her during the interview. In fact, the Sun did report his complimentary remarks but the president said later that he had not seen them.

Later, Mr Trump and his wife Melania met Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, where they were greeted by the band of the Coldstream Guards and inspected a guard of honour from the regiment. The appointment for tea with the queen was scheduled to last for just 25 minutes but the event ran for almost an hour.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth stands with US president Donald Trump and his wife Melania in the Grand Corridor during their visit to Windsor Castle on Friday. Photograph: Steve Parsons/Pool via Reuters

Tens of thousands of protesters took part in an anti-Trump demonstration in London which organisers estimated to number 250,000. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the protesters in Trafalgar Square, telling them that the demonstration’s message was one of solidarity.

“When we unite together with common objectives, we can all win,”he said.

Trade deals

In Chequers, the prime minister said that her Brexit proposal would not prevent Britain from agreeing new trade deals and she looked forward to negotiating a trade agreement with the US.

“The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to agree an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies. A deal that builds on the UK’s independent trade policy; reducing tariffs, delivering a gold-standard in financial services co-operation, and – as two of the world’s most advanced economies – seizing the opportunity of new technology. All of this will further enhance our economic co-operation, creating new jobs and prosperity for our peoples for generations to come,” she said.

Mr Trump said that, having spent time with the prime minister during his visit to Britain, he now believed that a trade deal with the US would, in fact, be possible if she secured the right agreement from the EU.

The “Donald Trump Baby Blimp” balloon flies over Parliament Square during a protest in London on Friday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

“I read reports where that won’t be possible, but I believe after speaking with the prime minister’s people and representatives and trade experts it will absolutely be possible”.

‘Brutal’

Mr Trump said he had offered the prime minister advice on how to approach the Brexit negotiations but she had rejected it because it was too “brutal”. He declined to say what he had advised her to do.

“The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade and we don’t have any restrictions because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us,” he said.

“We are by far their biggest trading partner and we have just a tremendous opportunity to double, triple, quadruple that. So if they go in a slightly different route – and I know they do want independence, it’s going to be independence, it’s just your definition – if they are going to go in a certain route I just said that I hope you are going to be able to trade with the United States.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times