Donald Trump waded into the UK’s fraught politics on the first day of a state visit, urging his hosts to proceed with Brexit and dangling the promise of a U.S. trade deal he said would swiftly follow.
With the country preparing for the appointment of a new prime minister, Trump called on the British to throw off the “shackles” of European Union membership in a tweet before a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
The White House issued a statement saying that the president supports a Brexit “being accomplished in a way that will not affect global economic and financial stability while also securing independence to the United Kingdom.”
Trump will meet Tuesday with Premier Theresa May, likely for the last time. May, who became the Conservative government’s leader in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum, is resigning after failing to persuade Parliament to approve the divorce deal she negotiated with the EU, leaving the issue in the hands of her successor.
The American president has suggested that person should be Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary who quit May’s cabinet in protest over her Brexit proposal.
In the lead-up to his trip to London, Trump said the U.K. should walk away from tortured talks with the EU if Brussels refuses to negotiate better terms, and said Nigel Farage – who’s campaigning for a no-deal Brexit – should be put in charge of the process.
A hard split with the EU would give maximum scope for a new trade accord with the US If the UK remained bound to the bloc’s regulations, it would narrow the options for a future agreement.
It’s a sensitive issue in the UK Rivals jockeying to replace May are putting forward their own Brexit plans, with the favorite, Johnson, pledging to take Britain out of the EU – with no deal, if necessary – at the end of October.
Trump criticized May’s compromise agreement with the EU last November, saying Britain “may not be able to trade with us” as a result. His comments dashed hopes stoked by his comments made before an earlier meeting with May, when he said “a very big deal, a very powerful deal” would be completed between the two countries “very very quickly.”
Opponents of Brexit say a trade deal with the US risks imperiling the National Health Service, by increasing the involvement of private US companies in the public sector. May’s office was forced to reiterate Monday that the state-funded health-care system would not be up for discussion in trade talks.
The statement potentially put her government at odds with Trump after his ambassador in London, Woody Johnson, told the BBC that the “entire” UK economy would be on the table.
Trump and May will meet American and British business leaders on Tuesday at the start of the second day of his visit, which could throw up more controversy than Monday’s schedule of royal visits and pageantry.
May, who will co-host the talks at St. James’s Palace, will call for governments on both sides of the Atlantic to embrace the opportunity of Brexit to seal a bilateral free-trade deal, and work together to keep global markets “free, fair and open.”
Before the talks, the prime minister’s office called for greater cooperation in a statement that appeared to acknowledge the potential differences of opinion.
The partnership between the US and UK “can be greater still” if they continue “to work together to underpin, shape and influence the global economy and its rules and institutions,” May will say, according to extracts of her remarks released by her office.
Trump has clashed with global economic institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and his use of tariffs in trade conflicts with China, Europe and Mexico has alarmed markets, adding to uncertainty around Brexit for companies investing in the UK.
The talks will include executives from BAE Systems Plc, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, National Grid Plc, Barclays Bank Plc, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, Goldman Sachs International, Bechtel Corp and Splunk Inc.
Small and elite by design, the event is timed to put Trump in control of the message at the start of the day, before talks with May’s team at 10 Downing Street.
He is expected to pressure the UK over Huawei Technologies Co., which the US wants to see shut out of 5G broadband networks across Europe.
A joint news conference with the prime minister will then give Trump – if he chooses – a further chance to intervene in British politics.
The president is all but certain to be asked about his views on Boris Johnson and Farage, whose fledgling Brexit Party inflicted a heavy defeat on May’s Tories in European elections last month.
While Trump had held out the possibility that he could meet with the two men, no plans had been announced by Monday evening. If the meetings are to take place, the most likely timing is Tuesday afternoon.
Trump’s first day in London was largely free from controversy – once he’d actually landed. Minutes before Air Force One touched down at Stansted Airport, he renewed his long-running spat with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, calling him a “stone cold loser.”
It was an apparent response to a newspaper column by Khan – the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital – in which he called Trump “one of the most egregious examples” of the global rise of the far right.
At the Buckingham Palace banquet, the president and the British monarch exchanged toasts.
The queen hailed the “assembly of international institutions” created after World War II “to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.”
“While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace,” she said.
Trump has frequently questioned the continued utility of such institutions, including the United Nations and NATO.
He toasted “the common values that will unite us long into the future: freedom, sovereignty, self-determination, the rule of law, and reverence for the rights given to us by almighty God.”
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters are expected to take to the streets on Tuesday, with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn planning to address the crowds about the time of the Trump-May news conference.