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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

Theresa May shrugs off Donald Trump criticism

British prime minister greets the US leader at Chequers for trade talks amid row 

US president Donald Trump, left. and Britain's prime minister Theresa May shake hands at a press conference following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London. Brendan Smialowski / AFP Photo
US president Donald Trump, left. and Britain's prime minister Theresa May shake hands at a press conference following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London. Brendan Smialowski / AFP Photo

Donald Trump's bombshell verdict that Theresa May had blown Britain's hopes of securing a free trade deal with the United States threatened to overshadow his UK visit on Friday.

Ministers shrugged off the US president's remarks on Friday but a pre-visit interview to The Sun amounted to a devastating critique of his host.

"Donald Trump is in many ways a controversialist, that's his style, that's the colour he brings to the world stage. He is that sense very unconventional. I don't think we see it as rude,” said the deputy foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan.

“Actually, events have moved on somewhat, because even as he was giving that interview, the white paper was being published in London. And so now that the details of the white paper are clear, the president and the prime minister will be able to discuss this in more detail at Chequers today.”

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Trump in Britain

US president slams May’s Brexit deal hours after dinner to honour him

Comment: Theresa May could end up the loser from Trump's UK visit

Trump lands in London to protests and joy

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Mr Trump's intervention in Britain's Brexit debate comes at a time when Mrs May is facing a full-scale rebellion within her own party over a White Paper proposal on British trade ties with Europe.

Mr Trump joined the critics saying the "deal she is striking is much different from the one people voted on".

"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. If they do that, their trade deal with the US will probably not be made,” Mr Trump said.

In his first public comments since the interview emerged, Mr Trump put a brave face on the tensions.

He said Friday his relationship with Prime Minister Theresa May was "very, very strong" after launching an extraordinary attack on her Brexit strategy during a visit to Britain.

Sitting alongside May at the beginning of talks at the prime minister's country retreat of Chequers, Trump said: "The relationship is very, very strong," he said. "We really have a very good relationship."

In the lead-up to the visit, Mrs May planned an itinery designed to showcase Britain's strengths as a US ally and hoped to use his three-day tip to push for a trade deal.

But even before he arrived, the president attacked May’s Brexit plan, said the country was in “somewhat turmoil” and that meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin next week -- the British premier’s geopolitical enemy -- would be easier than meeting her.

In the interview, he went much further, turning his fire on May for the way she handled negotiations with the EU, saying “she didn’t listen to me”.

He also lavished praise on Boris Johnson, who resigned as May’s foreign secretary on Monday as part of the rebelllion and who Mr Trump may yet meet during his time in Britain.

“I think he’s got what it takes and I think he has got the right attitude to be a great Prime Minister,” he said.

There was anger over Mr Trump's unguarded intervention in domestic political tensions.

Emily Thornberry, the Labour foreign affairs spokesman, called on Mrs May to stand up to Mr Trump.

“She is his host. What did his mother teach him? This is not the way you behave,” she said. “You need to stand up to him. She is letting down our country by not standing up to him.”

Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of the diplomatic service, added his criticism via Twittter.

Protesters are gathering in central London to make their feelings about Mr Trump known. A giant inflatable baby blimp has been tethered in front of parliament.