President Donald Trump has weighed in on the power struggle in British politics, praising Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson and suggesting he may meet the pair on his state visit to Britain next week.
Days before he is due to travel to London, the President congratulated Farage on his performance in the recent European elections and called Johnson, who is the frontrunner to replace Theresa May as prime minister, a “friend of mine.”
Both have been critics of May, and Trump’s comments are likely to cause unease in Downing Street ahead of a visit that is replete with potential diplomatic pitfalls.
Trump’s comments came in an impromptu exchange with reporters at the White House on Thursday. Asked whether he would meet Farage or Johnson in London, Trump replied: “I may. Nigel Farage is a friend of mine, Boris is a friend of mine, they’re two very good guys, very interesting people.|”
Turning to the success of Farage’s Brexit Party in last week’s elections to the European Parliament, Trump added: “Nigel’s had a big victory, he picked up 32% of the vote starting from nothing and I think they’re big powers over there. I think they’ve done a good job.” Farage’s party scored just under 31% of the vote, according to the European Parliament.
Farage’s gains came at the expense of May’s Conservative Party, which was punished by voters after it failed to pass a Brexit plan through Parliament by the original March 29 deadline.
Johnson, meanwhile, is currently leading a crowded field of candidates to take over from May when she steps down in June. He resigned as foreign secretary last year in protest at May’s Brexit strategy.
Trump stopped short of endorsing Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership contest, saying: “Well I like them, I mean they’re friends of mine, but I haven’t thought about supporting them. Maybe it’s not my business to support people. But I have a lot of respect for both of those men.”
May announced the timetable for her resignation last week, finally bowing to intense political pressure over the country’s Brexit impasse, but will remain as prime minister until after Trump’s visit is over.
She is due to meet with Trump when he arrives in the country on Monday, and will attend a state banquet in his honor at Buckingham Palace.
It isn’t the first time Trump has embarrassed May with his admiration for Johnson. On the eve of his first trip to London last year and days after Johnson had quit May’s cabinet, Trump told The Sun newspaper that he would make a “great prime minister.” He added in a joint press conference that May was “doing a fantastic job.”