Upbeat Trump gives taste of ugly post-Brexit trade-offs to come
US president plays down protests and lays out an unpalatable choice next Tory leader could face
Donald Trump wore his proprietary pout as he walked into the mosaiced expanse of the foreign office’s glass-roofed Durbar Court alongside Theresa May. But it soon became clear that the president was in a playful mood, determined to maintain the upbeat tone set for his state visit at Buckingham Palace on Monday.
Trump’s sons Donald and Eric and daughters Ivanka and Tiffany sat towards the front of the press conference, alongside a retinue including national security adviser John Bolton, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and counsellor Kellyanne Conway.
Thousands were protesting against him a few metres from where he was speaking, but to the sunny-tempered president they were invisible.
“We left the prime minister, the Queen, the royal family, there were thousands of people on the streets cheering. Even coming over today there were thousands of people cheering,” he said. “Then I heard there were protests, I said ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests’. I did see a small protest today when I came - very small - so a lot of it is fake news I hate to say.”
Trump lavished praise on May but saved some for her potential successors, including foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was sitting in front of him, and his predecessor Boris Johnson, both of whom he said would do a good job as prime minister.
He was due to meet environment secretary Michael Gove, who interviewed the president for The Times after his election, apparently without leaving much of an impression.
“I don’t know Michael,” Trump said, before turning to Hunt. “Would he do a good job Jeremy?”
Trump’s endorsements will have little effect on the Conservative leadership contest but his assertion that the National Health Service (NHS) would be on the table in a US-UK trade deal could help to frame it.
A number of leadership hopefuls, including hard Brexiteer Dominic Raab, immediately promised that they would never allow the NHS to be part of the negotiations.
But Trump’s intervention served as a salutary reminder to Conservative MPs that new trade deals outside the EU may not only be difficult to negotiate but will involve unpalatable choices and ugly trade-offs.