The President delivered an astonishing political knifing of the British Prime Minister on Thursday, comprehensively undermining her fragile position in Britain’s tortuous negotiations on leaving the European Union and getting his visit to the country off to the most explosive of starts.
In an interview with the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sun, Trump said May had ignored his advice on Brexit, he praised former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — who has just walked out of her Cabinet over the issue — and he said May’s cherished hope of a free trade deal with the US would be killed off by her softened approach.
Trump’s comments represent a stunning intervention in British domestic politics, especially since they came at the end of a week in which she lost three ministers, including Johnson, who said her approach is a betrayal of a referendum vote to leave the EU.
They are a fresh sign that Trump has no time for diplomatic niceties, is either oblivious to the political pressures that foreign leaders face or simply does not care about them and is willing to sow disruption wherever he goes in order to enhance his own outspoken political brand.
They are also just the latest instance of Trump, who cozies up to foreign strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, insulting or criticizing an allied leader.
And they follow his belligerent performance at the NATO summit, where he demanded more defense spending from members and created new divisions in the Western alliance.
For May, Trump’s visit could not have got off to a worse start, at a time when her long-term political prospects are in serious doubt owing to a rebellion of some members of Parliament from her Conservative Party over the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU.
The President’s interview also amounted to a personal rebuke of his host. It broke just as Trump left a lavish black-tie dinner in his honor hosted by May at Blenheim Palace at the start of a visit that presents her with a deeply difficult test given Trump’s unpopularity in Britain and her own wobbly political position.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tried to put out the blazing controversy by saying Trump was grateful for a wonderful welcome in Britain.
“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he…