CHEQUERS, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he looked forward to finalizing a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, striking a contrasting tone to a newspaper interview when he said Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy would kill such an agreement.
In an interview published just hours before the two leaders held talks, Trump chided the “very unfortunate” results of the prime minister’s proposals for Brexit and her negotiating tactics as Britain leaves the European Union in March next year.
However, Trump later took a completely different stance, saying May was doing a “fantastic job”.
“Once the Brexit process is concluded and perhaps the UK has left the EU, I don’t know what they’re going to do but whatever you do is OK with me, that’s your decision,” Trump told a press conference with May in the garden of her official country residence Chequers.
“Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters. This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries and we will seize it fully.”
Last week at the same location, May finally won agreement for her Brexit plans from her cabinet but within days, two senior ministers quit, which Trump said earlier in the week had left Britain in turmoil.
Hours after those proposals were formally published, Trump cast the strategy into doubt in a newspaper interview where he delivered a scathing assessment.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun. “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”
Asked about that interview, Trump said he did not criticize the prime minister and heaped praise on her.
“Unfortunately, there was a story that was done which was generally fine but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said a tremendous thing,” he said. “It’s called fake news.”
May likewise glossed over the comments.
“We agreed today that as the UK leaves the European Union we will pursue an ambitious U.S.-UK free trade agreement,” she said. “The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies.”
She also thanked Trump for his support over Russia which Britain has blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in southwest England in March.
Trump is due to meet Putin, who has rejected the nerve agent claims, at a summit when he finishes his four-day visit to Britain.
As Trump and May spoke, thousands of protesters marched against the president through central London, one of more than 100 demonstrations planned against the president during his stay.
While Trump’s trip was not a full state visit, he has been given red carpet treatment and is scheduled to have tea later with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, where her grandson Prince Harry married U.S. actress Meghan Markle in May.
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden, editing by Larry King, Kevin Liffey and David Stamp