President Donald Trump wrapped up the official portion of his United Kingdom visit Friday, during which he had falsely denied criticising his host, met with the Queen and maneuvered around a huge protest against his presence.
Trump ended up denying that he criticised British Prime Minister Theresa May, the day after a British tabloid published an interview with him in which he did just that. He dismissed the interview, conducted by a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication, as “fake news” saying it didn’t include his comments praising May.
Trump said his comments came after he “read some reports” that suggested the United Kingdom would not be able to make a free trade deal with the US, but he said May and her representatives have since reassured him that will still be possible.
“I believe after speaking with the prime minister’s people that it will absolutely be possible,” Trump said. “The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade, that we don’t have any restrictions, because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us.”
Trump also said Friday he apologised to May for the interview, though it appears his apology was about the paper’s omission of his comments praising her, not his criticism.
“She is a total professional because when I saw her I said, ‘I want to apologise, because I said such good things about you,’ ” Trump said.
Trump said May said, “Don’t worry, it’s only the press.”
Trump took pains Friday to praise May and reaffirm his belief in the special relationship between the US and the UK – “the highest grade of special” – during a news conference in which the questions focused on Trump’s comments a day earlier in which he criticised May’s “soft Brexit” plan and said she didn’t listen to his suggestions on how to exit the European Union.
Still, Trump – despite stomping all over diplomatic protocol by giving a critical interview as he headed to London – did not back away from his comments, reaffirming that he would handle Brexit differently than May and that he believes May’s chief political rival in her own party Boris Johnson “would be a great prime minister.”
“I also said that this incredible woman right here is doing a great job, doing a fantastic job,” Trump said, justifying his comments.
During his news conference, Trump addressed a range of topics including his hope to address nuclear disarmament with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their upcoming Helsinki summit; defending his behavior at the recent NATO summit; and proclaiming that immigration has been “bad for Europe.”
The US President, who has faced planned protests in London since his arrival, also told The Sun he feels “unwelcome” in London, explaining why much of his visit will take place outside the capital city.
A giant “Trump Baby” blimp floated outside of Britain’s House of Parliament on Friday morning.
Blimp organiser Leo Murray told CNN the giant balloon had been designed to speak to Trump “in a language that he understands, which is personal insults.”
Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central London against Trump as he visits the UK, chanting “Donald Trump’s not welcome here,” and holding placards that call him the “World’s #1 racist” and an “American psycho.”
Throngs of protesters began marching from outside the BBC at central London’s Portland Place, slamming the President for his attitude and behavior toward women and controversial policies, including the Muslim travel ban and the separation of migrant children from their families at the US border, organisers of the “Bring the Noise” protest said.
Asked earlier in the day whether he regrets his interview with British tabloid The Sun, Trump very visibly shook his head and rolled his eyes, turning to his aides with a look that showed his displeasure with the question.
Trump’s interview published Thursday amounted to a stunning diplomatic affront for a visiting US president, emerging while Trump was still at a gala dinner May threw in honour of his visit.
For May, it comes at a time when she is already politically weakened following a string of resignations from her Cabinet.
Despite Trump’s criticism – which pounded the front pages of nearly every British newspaper – he and May carried on with their regularly scheduled meetings on Friday.
The White House had attempted to mollify Trump’s criticism, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders releasing a statement insisting that “the President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much.”