Trump criticizes UK prime minister in tabloid interview

LONDON — President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a joint news conference on Friday, set to face questions after Trump criticized May in an interview that has dominated British news coverage since Thursday night.

Trump’s interview with the British tabloid “The Sun” — in which he knocked May’s “soft Brexit” compromise and boosted a rival within her own party — published Thursday and dealt a stunning diplomatic affront for a visiting US president. For May, it comes at a time when she is already politically weakened following a string of resignations from her Cabinet.

Now, the two leaders will face the uncomfortable questions stemming from that interview, which emerged while Trump was still at a gala dinner May threw in honor of his visit. The dinner offered much of the pomp and circumstance of a state visit — with a military band, red carpet and ornate surroundings — even though Trump’s stop in the UK is officially not.

Despite Trump’s criticism — which pounded the front pages of nearly every British tabloid — he and May are still scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting, working lunch and joint news conference on Friday. Audio of Trump’s comments was also carried on airwaves.

The White House 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.”

“He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person,” Sanders said. “He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here in the UK.”

But Sanders’ statement will likely do little to clean up Trump’s black and white comments about May’s handling of Brexit negotiations, in which Trump warned that May’s “soft Brexit” would likely “kill” the prospect of a new US-UK trade deal and explained that he “told her (May) how to do” Brexit.

“I told her how to do it. That will be up to her to say. But I told her how to do it. She wanted to go a different route,” Trump said, adding that May “didn’t listen.” “She should negotiate the best way she knows how, but it’s too bad what’s going on.”

Trump also all-but endorsed May’s chief political rival within her own party, the recently resigned British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, calling him “a very talented guy,” lamenting his resignation from May’s Cabinet and saying he believes Johnson “would be a great prime minister” — though he insisted he was “not pitting one against the other.”

Trump’s rebuke of May came even as the UK prime minister offered her support for Trump’s controversial upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I welcome President Trump’s forthcoming meeting with President Putin: open channels of communication between the US and Russia are key to managing the risks of confrontation,” May said in a speech during a working dinner with NATO allies, according to quotes from her remarks provided by her office.

Her government rolled out the red carpet for Trump and worked with the US to pull off a visit that mitigated the effect of long-expected protests in London.

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.