LONDON — Making nice at the end, President Donald Trump eased up Tuesday on his frequent criticisms of outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May over her handling of the tortured Brexit deal, declaring that history will remember her fondly if the United Kingdom can successfully leave the European Union.
The latest chapter in the allies’ storied “special relationship” played out as anti-Trump protesters — with the infamous Trump baby balloon bobbing overhead — thronged the streets of nearby central London.
The president’s unexpected compliments for May come just days before she was set to resign the leadership of her party after failing to secure a Brexit deal. She will depart as prime minister once her successor has been chosen.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with you. You are a tremendous professional and a person who loves her country very much,” Trump told May at a news conference near the prime minister’s Downing Street office. But he couldn’t resist a slight dig, evoking the two years of broadsides he had lobbed at her by recalling that he had urged her to sue the EU rather than try to negotiate a departure.
Trump said he would have “sued and settled, maybe, but you never know. She’s probably a better negotiator than I am.” And he added that the deal May came away with was a good one and “perhaps you won’t be given the credit you deserve.”
May voiced hope her successor will be able to achieve Brexit.
“I still believe —I personally believe— that it is in the best interest of the U.K. to leave the European Union with a deal. I believe there is a good deal on the table,” she said. “Obviously, it will be whoever succeeds me as prime minister to take this issue forward. What is paramount, I believe, is delivering on Brexit for the British people.”
Earlier in the day, Trump jokingly suggested that May “stick around” until a new U.S.-U.K. trade deal was brokered. May and her aides chuckled at that.
Trump said Britain and the U.S. would be able to strike a “phenomenal trade deal” once the U.K. had left the EU — music to the ears of pro-Brexit Britons. But, in words sure to alarm those in Britain concerned about Brexit, he said that “everything”— including the National Health Service — would be “on the table” in future trade negotiations. In a later interview that will air Wednesday on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain,” Trump appeared to back away from that idea, saying he didn’t envision the health service being part of the talks, adding, “That’s not trade.”