Donald Trump has sought to undo the damage caused by his dramatic Brexit intervention by revealing he apologised to Theresa May for an explosive newspaper interview.
Following talks with the prime minister at her Chequers country retreat, the US president backtracked on his claim Mrs May’s Brexit blueprint will “kill” hopes of any future US-UK trade deal and hailed US-UK ties as the “highest level of special”.
Mr Trump repeated his call for the UK to retain the ability to sign new trade agreements once it leaves the EU, but signalled he had received assurances from Mrs May this would be the case.
The president also heaped praise on the prime minister and, although he described a write-up of his interview with The Sun as “generally fine”, he hit out at “fake news” for neglecting to include positive comments he made about Mrs May.
Mr Trump’s visit to the UK has so far been dominated by the bombshell newspaper interview, which also saw the US president claim recently resigned foreign secretary Boris Johnson – who has consistently agitated against Mrs May – would make a “great prime minister”.
In addition, Mr Trump claimed he would be negotiating Brexit “much differently” and declared Mrs May “didn’t listen to me”.
Addressing the row at a joint news conference with Mrs May on Friday, Mr Trump claimed he “didn’t criticise” Mrs May and has a “lot of respect” for her.
He said: “The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade and we don’t have any restrictions because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us.
“So if they go in a slightly different route [on Brexit] – and I know they do want independence… if they are going to go in a certain route I just said that I hope you are going to be able to trade with the United States.
“I read reports where that won’t be possible, but I believe after speaking with the prime minister’s people and representatives and trade experts it will absolutely be possible.”
Revealing how he had said sorry to Mrs May for the interview row, Mr Trump claimed the prime minister was “a total professional because when I saw her this morning I said ‘I want to apologise because I said such good things about you’”.
He added: “She said ‘don’t worry it’s only the press’. I thought that was very professional.”
Mr Trump also lavished praise on the prime minister, claiming he had “gotten to know Theresa May much better over the last two days”.
He said: “She’s a very smart, very tough, very capable person and I would much rather have her as my friend than my enemy, that I can tell you.”
Mr Trump described Brexit as “a very tough situation” and spoke of a “suggestion” he gave the prime minister for dealing with the EU.
He said: “I did give her a suggestion. I wouldn’t say advice. I think she found it maybe too brutal.”
“You can’t walk away because if she walks away that means she’s stuck. You can’t walk away but you can do other things.”
Mr Trump’s remarks about her Brexit strategy had added to the pressure on Mrs May, who has also seen her proposals – agreed by cabinet ministers last week and published in a white paper on Thursday – rejected by Tory Brexiteers.
Yet, the prime minister insisted her plan “delivers on the Brexit vote” and will allow the UK to have an independent trade policy.
She said: “There will be no limit to the possibility of us doing trade deals around the rest of the world once we leave the EU on the basis of the agreement that was made here at Chequers and that I’ve put forward to the EU.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the PM for “rolling out the red carpet” for the US leader.