In an interview with Britain’s Sun newspaper, the president went to extraordinary lengths to ridicule and belittle the prime minister. As the newspaper was rolling off the printing presses, May and her husband were dining with the Trumps at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of Winston Churchill.
On Friday, May will host the American couple at her official country residence, Chequers. Small talk over lunch will be excruciating, after Trump set out to dismantle May’s legacy as prime minister and talk up the prospects of her hated rival Boris Johnson.
Johnson plunged May’s premiership into crisis earlier this week when he resigned as foreign secretary in protest at the Brexit deal she is negotiating with Europe.
Trump’s lowly standing among Britons means his intervention is unlikely to persuade any more voters that it’s time to ditch the PM, but his words must count among the cruellest to be shared between leaders of the trans-Atlantic alliance in more than a century of close cooperation.
On the same day that he reportedly threatened to pull out of NATO, Trump’s words once again risked tearing apart the post-war global order.
With Britain’s ruling Conservative Party split over the extent of the relationship with the European Union post-Brexit, Trump said he would side with Johnson, who has claimed that Trump would have taken a much harder line in negotiations.
“He is right,” Trump said. “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.”
In the interview, which took place in the U.S. Embassy in Brussels on Wednesday, Trump told The Sun that Johnson was “a very talented guy.”
“I was very saddened to see he was leaving government and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country,” he said. “I am not pitting one against the other. I am just saying I think he would be a great Prime Minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”
Not only did Trump say he would have negotiated better than May, he suggested he had a better understanding of what the 52 percent of Brits who voted Brexit really wanted from the referendum. “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on,” he said. “It was not the deal that was in the referendum. I have just been hearing this over the last three days. I know they have had a lot of resignations. So a lot of people don’t like it.”
May has tried to steer a course of compromise with the EU, which would take Britain out of the bloc while maintaining close trade links facilitated by a shared regulatory framework. That would mean European food and goods standards would still apply in Britain, complicating a bilateral trans-Atlantic trade deal.
“If they do that, then their trade deal with the U.S. will probably not be made,” he said, dashing the hopes of May and the Brexiteers who hoped that increased trade outside the EU would make up for losses caused by Britain’s exit.
In a statement released after the Sun interview was posted online, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with the Sun ‘she is a very good person’ and he has ‘never said anything bad about her’. He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the UK.”
Trump told The Sun that he had predicted the outcome of the Brexit vote when he was in Scotland in June 2016. “I predicted Brexit. I was cutting a ribbon for the opening of Turnberry—you know they totally did a whole renovation, it is beautiful—the day before the Brexit vote. I said, ‘Brexit will happen.’”
In reality, Trump arrived to open his luxury golf resort the day after the Brexit vote had taken place.
Trump may have unwittingly revealed the source of his hostility, confessing that the planned protests across Britain—which began loudly outside every venue Trump attended on Thursday—had hurt his feelings.
“I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”
As it happens, he is staying in London, but all of his public events are being staged in rural or suburban areas where protests will be relatively contained.
Suggestions that Trump’s unusual itinerary for the four-day stay in the U.K. was motivated by a desperate attempt to avoid the baying crowds had been dismissed as speculation until now.
The biggest rally will be staged in central London on Friday, with organizers expecting 100,000 protesters. The centerpiece of anti-Trump sentiment will be a 20-foot orange “Trump Baby” inflatable designed to look like the president in a diaper that will loom over Westminster. “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he said.
The inflatable was approved by Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim mayor, who’s been involved in a long-running feud with Trump.
The son of a Pakistani bus driver has been singled out by Trump as responsible for the terror attacks that have struck London in recent years. The president repeated those slurs even more explicitly in The Sun interview. “You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London… Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place. Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism.”