President Donald Trump‘s first official visit to Great Britain has been marked by protests and controversy, as the president criticized Prime Minister Theresa May on her handling of Brexit — and then apologized.
In an explosive interview with The Sun, Trump, 72, slammed May’s negotiations of Brexit, saying the European Union trade deal she’s working on “will definitely affect trade with the United States, unfortunately in a negative way.”
“The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on,” he told the British publication. “The people voted to break it up so I imagine that is what they would do, but maybe they’re taking a different route. I’m not sure that’s what they voted for.”
“I would have done it much differently,” Trump added. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route. I would actually say that she probably went the opposite way.”
However, Trump also said that May’s route was “fine” and that “she is a nice person.”
“She should negotiate the best way she knows how,” he told The Sun. “But it is too bad what is going on. You know, deals that take too long are never good ones. When a deal takes so long, they never work out very well.”
Trump praised May’s former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who days earlier resigned his position in protest over May’s Brexit plan. “I think he would make an excellent prime minister,” Trump said.
May — who is hosting Trump for his visit — came face to face with him for at a lavish black-tie dinner in his honor at Blenheim Palace on Thursday night alongside their respective spouses.
The two politicians were back together on Friday for a closed-door meeting. Later, in a press conference with reporters, Trump said he had apologized to May — a rare move for the former Celebrity Apprentice host.
“I said, ‘I want to apologize because I said such good things about you.’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press,’ ” Trump recalled, according to Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs. “I thought that was very professional.’ ”
“I didn’t criticize the prime minister. I have a lot of respect for the prime minister,” he added in a video shared by NBC News. “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 tremendous things. … I think she’s doing a tremendous job.”
He added: “Whatever you do is okay with us. Just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters.”
Trump also called the interview “fake news,” though the Washington Post points out that The Sun — notably owned by Trump’s media ally Rupert Murdoch — has a recording of the comments.
The Sun has responded to the claim, saying, “To say the President called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well… fake news.”
The White House defended Trump and his relationship with May.
“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “As he said in his interview with The Sun, she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.”
May, meanwhile, has addressed Trump’s comments to The Sun.
“Lots of people give me advice about how to negotiate with the European Union,” she said, Jacobs reported. “My job is actually getting out there and doing it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
Ultimately, Trump said that he would grade his relationship with May and the U.K. as “the highest level of special.”
“Am I allowed to go higher than that?” he asked. “I’m not sure. But it’s the highest level of special. They’re very special people. It’s a very special country.”
Tens of thousands of British people took to the streets of central London on Friday to protest President Trump in what was dubbed a “The Stop Trump March.”
Carrying signs that read “Trump Not Welcome” and “Dump Trump,” the crowd made it clear that not everyone in the U.K. supported the country’s diplomacy.
Also making waves at the protest? A 20-foot balloon of an angry, orange, diaper-clad baby that resembles Trump, flown 98 feet above the British Parliament Square Gardens.
The blimp, dubbed “Trump Baby,” was approved by none other than London Mayor Sadiq Khan himself after a crowdsourcing campaign amassed over $20,000 and 10,000 signatures in favor of the stunt.
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As high as it was, Trump never saw it in person. His travel plans conveniently kept him out of the area. (Later on Friday, he’ll meet with Queen Elizabeth for tea.)
Still, Trump didn’t seem to mind them. Asked at the NATO summit in Brussels if he was concerned about protests in London, Trump told reporters, “I think they like me in the U.K.”
“I think they agree with me on immigration,” he said, later discussing the hot-button issue at his press conference with May. “I think it’s been very bad for Europe. … You see the same terror attacks that we do. It’s changing the culture. I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it. And I’ll say it loud. They better watch themselves because they are changing culture. They are changing a lot of things.”