U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Britain on Monday on a state visit laden with diplomatic peril, having already humiliated outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May over Brexit and challenged her to be tougher in dealing with China’s Huawei.
Trump and his wife, Melania, will be treated to a display of British royal pageantry during the June 3-5 visit: lunch with Queen Elizabeth, tea with heir Prince Charles, a banquet at Buckingham Palace and a tour of Westminster Abbey, coronation church of English monarchs for 1,000 years.
Beyond the pomp, though, the proudly unpredictable 45th U.S. president also brings demands: He has praised a more radical Brexit-supporting potential successor to May and his envoys have urged a tougher British stance towards telecoms giant Huawei.
In an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, Trump said the next British leader should send arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage to conduct talks with the EU. Britain must leave the EU this year, Trump said.
“They’ve got to get it done,” he said. “They have got to get the deal closed.”
“If they don’t get what they want, I would walk away. If you don’t get a fair deal, you walk away.”
Trump repeated his backing for those candidates to succeed May who have said Britain must leave on the due date of Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
Those candidates include former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, whom Trump praised in an interview with the Sun newspaper on Friday, along with former Brexit minister Dominic Raab and interior minister Sajid Javid.
Trump said it was a mistake for the Conservatives not to involve Farage, the Brexit Party leader, in talks with Brussels after his success in European Parliament elections last month.
“I like Nigel a lot. He has a lot to offer – he is a very smart person,” Trump said. “They won’t bring him in but think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet.”
On the Brexit divorce bill, Trump said: “If I were them, I wouldn’t pay 50 billion dollars. That is a tremendous number.”
A meeting with either Johnson, favourite to succeed May, or Farage, a bombastic anti-establishment campaigner, would be seen as a snub for May who is bowing out after failing to negotiate a Brexit deal that parliament could ratify.
British officials are privately concerned that Trump could heap further ignominy on May, who battled in vain to unify her ruling Conservatives behind a deal and cried while announcing the end of her premiership in Downing Street last month.