Live Briefing: Trump in the U.K.: President Tells May Ties Are at ‘Highest Level of Special’

0
42

Right now: President Trump is at Windsor Castle, meeting the queen.

President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May worked to avoid a political crisis after a bombshell interview in which Mr. Trump criticized the British leader on several fronts, notably her approach to British withdrawal from the European Union.

The president has never shown much affection for diplomatic norms and multilateral institutions, as he demonstrated at the NATO summit meeting this week, but Mrs. May chose to nurture the “special relationship” rather than allow his remarks to fracture it.

Here’s the latest:

• Mr. Trump and Mrs. May held private talks and a news conference, in which they tried to restore a sense of unity after the president’s devastating interview with the British tabloid The Sun. He then went to Windsor for tea with the queen.

• Mr. Trump told The Sun that Mrs. May’s approach to Brexit, as the withdrawal is often called, would almost certainly imperil a trade deal with the United States that Britain badly wants. But he retreated from that stance on Friday, saying that ties between the two countries were at the “highest level of special” and that she was doing a “fantastic job.”

• Mr. Trump said at an earlier news conference that “they like me a lot in the U.K.,” but he was greeted with protests on Thursday and Friday, including a giant balloon depicting him as a snarling baby in a diaper. He is largely avoiding London, telling The Sun, “When they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”

• The New York Times has live coverage of his seven-day, three-nation trip, from our White House reporters and European correspondents. Photographs from Mr. Trump’s weeklong trip are here.

May keeps to role of host after her guest’s provocations

Mrs. May and Mr. Trump worked on Friday to repair the damage after she was left with a deepening political crisis and a diplomatic embarrassment by the interview with The Sun, published Thursday night.

In a news conference at the prime minister’s country estate, Chequers, Mrs. May accentuated the positive, saying “no two countries do more together than ours to keep their people safe and prosperous,” and gave no hint of anger about the interview that seriously undermined her.

With the “special relationship” thrown into doubt, Mr. Trump said that ties between the two were at the “highest level of special,” adding “this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job.”

Those comments were sharply at odds with his views expressed in his interview with The Sun, published as the president and the prime minister were having dinner. Mr. Trump castigated Mrs. May to The Sun for her approach to the British withdrawal from the European Union. He warned that it could jeopardize a much-sought trade deal for Britain.

But on Friday, he expressed the opposite view on Brexit and on trade. “I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Mr. Trump said, “but whatever you do is O.K. with me, that’s their decision.”

He also said the United States would work for a trade deal with Britain, though later in the news conference he remarked that it was a “tough decision,” but emphasized that he was most concerned about a fair deal on trade.

Mr. Trump complained the European Union treated the United States “horribly” and expressed frustration with what he said were “barriers that are beyond belief.”

Highlights from the May-Trump news conference

• Brexit: The president seemed to backpedal on the criticism of the prime minister’s policy, saying, “Whatever you do is O.K. with me, that’s their decision.” But he repeated that Mrs. May had not followed the advice he gave on Brexit, adding, “I think she found it maybe too brutal.”

• Immigration: Mr. Trump said “I think it’s been very bad for Europe” and “it’s changing the culture” of the Continent, adding, “You see the same terror attacks that I do.” But Mrs. May said Britain had “a proud history” of welcoming immigrants, and that “over all, immigration has been good for our country.”

• Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election: Mr. Trump has at times dismissed it as unproven, but he said he would again raise it with President Vladimir V. Putin, who has denied any interference. “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee I did it, I did it, you got me,’” he said, “but I absolutely will ask the question.”

• U.S.-Russia relations: Mr. Trump said a major obstacle to improving ties was the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and his 2016 campaign. He blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and said it would not have happened if he had been in office.

• The May-Trump relationship: They both brushed off suggestions that his remarks to The Sun had undercut her or damaged their relationship. Mr. Trump said that when he started to apologize Friday morning, the prime minister said, “Don’t worry, it’s only the press.”

Interview put May and Britain in a difficult spot

Mrs. May is hoping to lay the groundwork for a trade deal with the United States, while negotiating a so-called soft exit from the European Union, sticking close to its rules on goods.

But in his interview with The Sun, Mr. Trump called those two goals incompatible.

If she pursues her Brexit strategy, the paper quoted him as saying, “then their trade deal with the U.S. will probably not be made.”

Speaking to The Sun, he described the prime minister’s approach to Brexit as “very unfortunate,” and said, “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

He had much warmer words for Boris Johnson, the ambitious British politician who just quit as foreign minister in an open break with Mrs. May and who is seen as one of her primary rivals within the Conservative Party. Mr. Johnson, he said, would “make a great prime minister.”

For the president to criticize and politically undercut one of his closest international allies, on her home turf, was an extraordinary breach of protocol, but if anything seems clear at this point, it is that there is no reason to expect the expected.

Perfectly reasonable, or ‘wholly outrageous’? The response in Britain

On Friday, Mrs. May’s hard-line opponents used Mr. Trump’s comments to bolster their argument that the government’s Brexit plans should be torn up in favor of a cleaner break.

Speaking to the BBC, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, argued that Mr. Trump had been “perfectly reasonable” and simply been reflecting the reality of the government’s proposals.

Alan Duncan, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, suggested that Mr. Trump had spoken to The Sun before reading the details of Mrs. May’s latest Brexit plan.

But Simon Fraser, formerly one of Britain’s most senior diplomats, described the president’s “patronizing put-down” of Mrs. May as “wholly outrageous.”

“Normally I don’t feel sorry for Theresa May,” Emily Thornberry, a foreign affairs spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, told Sky News. “I don’t think that feeling sorry for a prime minister is a very good look, but this morning I feel sorry for her.”

In Windsor, a sharp contrast to that last big American visit

A famous American visited Windsor for an event at the castle with the royal family, and got a rapturous welcome from hordes of people proclaiming British-American unity.

That was two months ago. The American was Meghan Markle, not Mr. Trump.

In May, the High Street in Windsor was packed with royal wedding memorabilia and ecstatic fans of Ms. Markle and Prince Harry, many of them waving American flags. For Mr. Trump’s visit to Windsor on Friday, when he will have tea with the queen, the American flags were nowhere to be seen and the streets were quiet.

“Everyone was really excited during the royal wedding — Windsor welcomed visitors with open arms,” said Luisa Lee, 39, a commercial director who lives locally. “But now people think ‘He’s here, so what?’”

Apart from heavy security and some protesters, there were few signs that anything unusual was happening in Windsor. Outside a memorabilia store across the street from Windsor Castle, a party mask with a gloomy caricature of Mr. Trump stared down at an image of the beaming royal newlyweds, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“From a business point of view, they’ve closed the road, so we’re going to suffer,” said Kesavan Muthu, 50, a sales clerk at the store.

Not all of the locals were indifferent or disapproving about the president’s visit.

“I think it’s great that he comes here — I think he’s one of the good guys,” said Andy Brown, 50, who works in maintenance. “He’s brilliant, he says what he wants, and I’ll raise a glass for him.”

— Iliana Magra

The snarling baby takes flight

The most anticipated element of Britain’s “Stop Trump” protests, a giant orange balloon of Mr. Trump depicted as a pouting baby in a diaper and carrying a smartphone, took off Friday morning from Parliament Square in London and came back to earth a couple of hours later.

The main protests came in the afternoon, when thousands turned out for demonstrations in central London against Mr. Trump’s policies.

The balloon captured the imagination of some Trump critics — activists, tourists, and bystanders diverted from their commutes — who gathered around for its ascent, counting down from 10 as if it were a rocket launch.

“This is a victory,” said Leo Murray, an activist and the creator of the balloon. “People love it, he hates it and it’s driven him out of London.”

Anti-Trump protests have been organized for every stop of the president’s trip in Britain. More than 200 demonstrators gathered outside of Chequers, including two wearing giant papier-mâché heads with unflattering likenesses of the president and the prime minister.

Mr. Murray and others behind the inflatable “Trump Baby” have called the balloon a “symbol of resistance” aimed at giving Mr. Trump a clear message that he is not welcome in Britain.

“The only way to get through to him is to get down to his level and talk in a language he understands, one of personal insults,” Mr. Murray said.

But Lucy Lawson, an American living in Britain, said that while she opposed Mr. Trump’s policies, she considered the protest infantile.

“Why are people going down to his level?” she asked.

Ms. Lawson asked one of the organizers why they launched the balloon, knowing that Mr. Trump would not be in London.

“It’s going to swamp his Twitter feed,” Mr. Cottrell said. “There’s no way he doesn’t see this.”

Meeting the queen? There are rules

If Mr. Trump was a bull in a china shop this week with NATO and Mrs. May, he will presumably be a bit more restrained when he and his wife, Melania, meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

Mrs. Trump was briefed on royal protocol ahead of the visit with the queen, her spokeswoman said. For first ladies, that would typically include briefings on how to curtsy, how to sit properly, and teatime etiquette.

It was unclear what preparation, if any, was given to the president.

Myka Meier, an expert in protocol and etiquette at Beaumont Etiquette, said in an email that there was no official code of behavior for meeting the queen, though tradition frowns on turning one’s back on the monarch or sitting before she does.

But there is one rule, she said: No touching.

“In the event that the queen extends a handshake to her guests, they may then reciprocate the gesture,” Ms. Meier wrote.

A person touching a royal can make headlines, as Michelle Obama did when she touched the queen in 2009. Jimmy Carter scandalized Britain by kissing the queen’s mother — on the lips, no less.

Grant Harrold, a former butler for several royal family members, advised keeping the conversation light — when in doubt, limit it to weather and the queen’s corgis, he said in an email. He also had advice for Mr. Trump on shaking hands.

“No hand clasps or ongoing pumps,” Mr. Harrold wrote, “as we are meeting the Queen not pumping up a bicycle tire.” — Katie Rogers

Obama weighed in on British politics, too, if a bit more gently

Mr. Trump is not the first American president to wade publicly into another country’s politics — not even the first to step into Britain’s.

In London in 2016, President Barack Obama called on Britons to reject the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.

An unwritten rule of international diplomacy states that the leader of one country should not try to influence the internal politics of another. The rule is broken often, but usually with an element of deniability — not out in the open.

Mr. Obama intervened with a different tone than Mr. Trump did. Mr. Obama even acknowledged that he might be crossing a line, explaining at a news conference with David Cameron, then the prime minister, why he had “the temerity to weigh in.”

Ben Rhodes, a former Obama aide, wrote in his recent book, “The World As It Is,” that Mr. Cameron, who opposed Brexit, had asked Mr. Obama to make a statement against withdrawing from the bloc.

The Sun finds itself at the center of the journalism universe

The front page of The Sun on Friday.

British newspapers, especially the tabloids, know a good story when they see one, and the release of Mr. Trump’s interview with The Sun dominated the front pages. A sampling of the headlines:

The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation., proclaimed under a banner trumpeting the interview, “May has wrecked Brexit … deal is off!”

The Times of London, which is also owned by News Corporation but generally takes a more restrained approach, said, “Trump: May’s soft Brexit will kill chance of US trade deal.”

The Daily Mail described it as the “President’s Brexit Attack on May,” while another tabloid, the Daily Mirror, took a briefer approach: “Donald Thump.”

The Guardian has compiled a roundup of the British front pages.

For more breaking news and in-depth reporting, follow @nytimesworld on Twitter.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here