Donald Trump has said he believes both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt would do a "very good job" as the next leader of the Conservative Party.
The US president name-checked three Tory hopefuls as he stood alongside the outgoing UK prime minister Theresa May at a press conference following talks at Downing Street.
Mr Trump has had a phone call with Mr Johnson during his state visit this week and is set to hold talks with Michael Gove and Mr Hunt.
Finishing the press conference on a jovial note, he jokingly asked Mr Hunt, who was sitting in the front row, whether he thought Mr Gove would do a good job as leader.
Mr Trump told reporters: “I know Boris. I like him. I have liked him for a long time. I think he would do a very good job. I know Jeremy, I think he would do a very good job.
“I don’t know Michael — would he do a good job, Jeremy?”
Downing Street said Mr Trump had been “courteous” and let Mrs May know he was holding talks with the leadership rivals.
The UK prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Once the PM said she was stepping down, it was inevitable the focus would fall on who her successor will be.”
Details emerged earlier on Tuesday that Mr Trump had called Mr Johnson and offered a one-to-one meeting but the former foreign secretary is due to attend a leadership hustings on Tuesday night.
It is understood the two men had a “friendly and productive” 20-minute call.
A source said: “Boris thanked him but declined the invitation as he has to focus on the hustings event that was happening at the same time, which the president understood.
“He said he looked forward to catching up at a later date.”
Meanwhile, a source close to the environment secretary said: “Mr Gove was asked last night by Mr Trump’s team if he would be able to meet the president today. He said yes.
“Nothing has been fixed yet.”
The president is also understood to have asked for a meeting with Mr Hunt on Wednesday.
The president also met Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Eurosceptic Tory former Cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson during his visit.
While Mr Trump said he did not know Mr Gove, the two men have previously met.
Mr Gove interviewed the then president-elect at Trump Tower for a piece which was published in The Times in January 2017.
Speaking after the interview, Mr Gove said he felt Mr Trump’s “aggressive” public persona was at odds with his warmer private side.
Mr Trump’s efforts to engage with the Tory leadership contenders is a sign that the White House is already preparing for Mrs May’s departure from Number 10.
As Mr Trump was communicating with the Tory leadership rivals, he also urged outgoing Mrs May to “stick around” and conclude a trade deal.
But Mrs May, asked by a reporter during Tuesday’s press conference, whether she would consider Mr Trump’s suggestion, smiled and said: “No, I’m a woman of my word.”
Earlier, at a press conference with Theresa May, Mr Trump said Britain’s public health service should be on the table in future trade talks between the two countries after Brexit, prompting Mrs May to say some areas of the economy might be off-limits.
The National Health Service (NHS), which was created after the second World War, provides a wide range of free services ranging from routine consultations to life-saving operations.
“I think everything with a trade deal is on the table,” Mr Trump told reporters during a visit to London. “So NHS or anything else, or a lot more than that. But everything will be on the table, absolutely.”
Mrs May, speaking at the same news conference , quickly followed up: “But the point about making trade deals of course is that both sides negotiate and come to an agreement about what should or should not be in that trade deal for the future.”
Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, also rebuffed Mr Trump’s proposal.
“Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks - and never will be. Not on my watch,” Mr Hancock, who is a contender to replace Mrs May as prime minister, said on Twitter.
The opposition Labour Party has focused on fears among voters that the NHS might be privatised as it tries to capitalise on the Brexit crisis within Ms May’s Conservative Party.
“Theresa May stood next to @realDonaldTrump as he said the NHS will be ‘on the table’ in a US trade deal. And that’s what Tory leadership contenders and (Brexit Party leader Nigel) Farage are lining up for the No-Deal disaster capitalism plans they have,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter.
“They all need to understand: our NHS is not for sale.”
In the same speech, the US president promised Britain a “phenomenal” post-Brexit trade deal and pledged to work out any differences with London on the role of China’s Huawei in building 5G networks.
Feted by Queen Elizabeth on the first day of his state visit to Britain, Donald Trump turned to politics on Tuesday and congratulated outgoing prime minister Theresa May and singled out two of her potential successors for praise.
The collapse of Mrs May’s premiership over Brexit had raised concerns that Mr Trump could publicly humiliate Mrs May.
Instead, Mr Trump steered clear of rhetoric that could embarrass her and glossed over even the most sensitive issues such as Huawei and her succession.
Mr Trump mentioned Boris Johnson, who has said the United Kingdom should leave the European Union on Oct. 31st, deal or no deal, and Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s foreign minister who has warned against leaving without a deal. “I know Boris, I like him, I’ve liked him for a long time. I think he would do a very good job,”
Mr Trump told reporters at a news conference beside Mrs May at Britain’s foreign office. “I know Jeremy, I think he’d do a very good job,” he added. When asked if an interim decision by British ministers to allow Huawei a limited role in 5G networks would affect security cooperation with Britain’s biggest ally,
Mr Trump said he would work out the issues. “We have an incredible intelligence relationship and will be able to work out any differences.”
Mr Trump said. “We did discuss it, I see absolutely no limitations, we have never had limitations, this is a truly great ally and partner and we will have no problem with that,” he said.
The Trump administration has told allies not to use Huawei’s 5G technology and equipment because it fears that would allow China to spy on sensitive communications and data. Huawei denies it is, or could be, a vehicle for Chinese intelligence.
Mr Trump’s state visit, promised by Mrs May back in January 2017 when she became the first foreign leader to meet him after he took office, has been cast as a chance to celebrate Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States, boost trade links and reaffirm security cooperation. –Reuters and PA