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President Donald Trump sought to walk back some of his scornful rhetoric towards U.K. leader Theresa May on Friday afternoon, offering Westminster an unprecedented olive branch post-Brexit.
Speaking alongside May outside her country retreat, Chequers, Trump said: “Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together.”
“The only thing I ask of Theresa (May) is that we make sure we can trade (and) that we don’t have any restrictions. We want to trade with the U.K. and the U.K. wants to trade with us,” he added.
May had said earlier that Trump agreed to "pursue an ambitious U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement" over the coming months. Last week, at the same location, Britain's prime minister finally won an agreement for her Brexit plans with her government ministers.
The U.S. president also said both countries had a "tremendous opportunity to double, triple or quadruple" its trading relationship when the U.K. leaves the EU next year.
Ahead of the press conference on Friday, the U.S. president sought to comprehensively undermine May's government with a stunning rebuke of her approach to Brexit negotiations.
In an interview with The Sun newspaper published late Thursday, Trump said May had ignored his advice on Brexit by pursuing a softened approach to talks with the EU. He also warned that such a move would “probably kill” off any chance of May getting a free trade deal with the world’s largest economy.
It was seen as an astonishing political attack on Britain’s leader, and one which could aggravate her increasingly fragile position in government amid torturous negotiations with the rest of the bloc.
“I didn’t criticize the prime minister," Trump said Friday, quickly interjecting before May could respond to a question about his reported comments.
"I have a lot of respect for the prime minster and unfortunately there was a story that was done which was generally fine but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said tremendous things ... We record when we deal with reporters. It’s called fake news,” he added.
His latest comments marked a sharp turnaround from his reported interview with The Sun, when Trump had offered further evidence of his willingness to criticize or even demean key Western allies in order to try to enhance his own political agenda.
A spokesperson for The Sun later reacted, saying the newspaper stood by its reporting and the quotes used.
Trump’s reported intervention in British domestic politics comes at a time of heightened political turmoil in Westminster. Over the past week, three of May’s cabinet ministers — including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — have resigned citing irrevocable differences over Downing Street's approach to Brexit.
The U.S. president also told The Sun that he believed Johnson had all the attributes to become a “great prime minister,” describing him as a “very talented guy.”
When asked to clarify his comments about Britain's former foreign secretary, Trump said: "I think he thinks I am doing a great job. I am doing a great job that I can tell you. Just in case you haven't noticed."
"Boris Johnson I think would be a great prime minister. I also said that this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job, a great job. And I mean that."