Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I'm a people person - I think you are too, Theresa'

US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May gesture towards each other during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington yesterday. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May gesture towards each other during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington yesterday. Photo: AP

Michael Deacon

Theresa May was determined to ensure her visit to the White House went smoothly. She had to get off on the right foot with Donald Trump, show him how keen Britain was to work with him and demonstrate that the UK is on his side. But first: the small matter of a joint news conference.

"Mr President," said the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg. "You've said torture works, you've praised Russia, you've said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America, you've suggested there should be 'punishment' for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home, who are worried about some of your views - and worried about you becoming leader of the free world?"

Mr Trump frowned at Ms Kuenssberg, and then stared at Ms May. "This was your choice of question?" he asked the prime minister. "There goes that relationship!" Not to worry, though. He was only joking.

The president seemed, by his standards, in relaxed, cheerful, even casual mood. He began the news conference by welcoming Ms May to the US, expressing his admiration for Britain and adding: "By the way - my mother was born in Scotland. Stornoway. Which is serious Scotland."

Then, after some amiable rambling about "this most special relationship", and what a "blessing" Britain was to the world, he declared it "a great honour" to hand over to "madam prime minister".

Ms May thanked him and spoke at length, and in some detail, about the talks they'd had so far, and what she hoped they would achieve. (In his own statement, Mr Trump had barely mentioned the talks at all.)

She finished. "Very nicely stated," murmured Mr Trump. Over to the press. The first question came from an American journalist and was about sanctions on Russia. The second question was Ms Kuenssberg's.

Mr Trump's reply, once he'd finished his little joke, was interesting. It barely addressed the question, and ignored the topics of Muslim immigration and abortion altogether.

That is hardly unusual at political press conferences. But normally when a politician doesn't answer a question, you infer they're dodging it on purpose. This, however, felt different. From the way the president burbled on, it was hard to avoid the impression he'd simply forgotten what the question was - but that he wasn't going to let this unduly bother him.

A journalist asked Mr Trump what he and Ms May could possibly have in common - the "vicar's daughter" and the "brash billionaire".

"Actually I'm not as brash as you might think," replied the president, the lights bouncing gently off his tangerine skin. "I'm a people person - and I think you are too, Theresa..." He pronounced it "Ter-ezza". She smiled, and didn't correct him. The people persons, it seemed, were off to a good start. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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