Friday 23 August 2019

US President Donald Trump promises 'big trade deal' with UK as he cranks up pressure for a harder Brexit

Queen Elizabeth with US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania. Photo: REUTERS
Queen Elizabeth with US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania. Photo: REUTERS

Jonathan Lemire and Kevin Freking

US president Donald Trump heaped further pressure in favour of a hard Brexit as he called on Britain to throw off the "shackles" of EU membership.

He hinted at a "big trade deal" with the US as he again weighed into domestic politics during his state visit to Britain.

In the lead up to his trip to London, Mr Trump said the UK should walk away from the tortured talks with the EU if Brussels refuses to negotiate better terms for the divorce.

And yesterday during the height of his visit to London, he tweeted: "Big Trade Deal is possible once UK gets rid of the shackles. Already starting to talk!"

It is another signal of his desire to get on with a trade agreement, and for the British government to secure a clean break from EU rules. A hard Brexit would give maximum scope for a new accord.

Mr Trump embarked on his long-delayed state visit to Britain by belligerently insulting London's mayor - but being feted with smiles by the royals at a time of turmoil for both nations.

It was a whirlwind of pomp, circumstance and protest for Mr Trump, who had lunch with Queen Elizabeth and tea with Prince Charles before a grand state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Eager to flatter Mr Trump, the British lavished him with spectacle, beginning his visit with a deafening royal gun salute as the president and First Lady Melania walked to the palace where a waiting queen greeted them with a smile.

Those were the images sought by a White House eager to showcase Mr Trump as a statesman while, back home, the race to succeed him - and talk of impeaching him - heated up.

Yet Mr Trump, forever a counter-puncher, immediately roiled diplomatic docility by tearing into London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

He unleashed a Twitter tirade after a newspaper column in which London's mayor said he did not deserve red-carpet treatment and was "one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat" to liberal democracy from the far right.

"@SadiqKhan, who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly 'nasty' to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom," Mr Trump wrote just before landing. "He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me."

During the palace welcome ceremony, Mr Trump and the prince inspected the guard of honour formed by the Grenadier Guards wearing their traditional bearskin hats. Royal-gun salutes were fired from nearby Green Park and from the Tower of London as part of the pageantry accompanying an official state visit, one of the highest honours Britain can bestow on a foreign leader.

A year ago, he also had taken aim at his hosts before landing on English soil, blasting Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview hours before she hosted him for dinner.

This time he has so far spared Mrs May, whom he will meet with today, but he also has praised her rival Boris Johnson, just days before Mrs May steps down as Conservative leader on Friday for failing to secure a Brexit deal.

"I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent," Mr Trump told 'The Sun'. "I like him. I have always liked him. I don't know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person."

After lunch with the queen, Mr Trump was given a biography of Winston Churchill as a gift.

He was shown parts of the collection at Buckingham Palace, including an 18th-century map of New York, historic photos of golf at St Andrews and books about birds and George Washington. Westminster Abbey was next, with a tour and moment's silence at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

As Mr Trump crossed London, he was shadowed - at a distance - by demonstrators, who planned to fly again a huge balloon depicting the president as a baby. He declared there was "great love all around" but the 'fake news' would try to find protests.

As often happens when Mr Trump travels overseas, norms were shattered, including when the president complained about his television viewing options in the foreign capital and urged people to punish CNN by boycotting its parent company, AT&T.

Mr Trump will make his first presidential visit to Ireland tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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