Theresa May will come under intense pressure to secure a future trade deal with the United States on Friday as she sits down with Donald Trump just hours after he warned that her soft Brexit blueprint would “kill” Britain’s chances.
Against a backdrop of furious protests across the country, the prime minister will try to persuade the US president that her proposals would create an “unprecedented opportunity” for a free trade agreement.
At a dinner held in Trump’s honour at Blenheim Palace on the eve of the talks she vowed to “tear down” the bureaucratic barriers that Brussels had put in the path of business, as part of an attempt to overcome US fears over her new Brexit plan.
But Trump’s remarks in an interview with the Sun threatened to dramatically undermine her attempts to placate furious Tory leavers by winning US support for her softer Brexit plan, finally released in the long-awaited white paper on Thursday.
In his interview, which breaks all normal diplomatic conventions by criticising his host, Trump warned: “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.”
He claimed the prime minister ignored his advice on Brexit negotiations. “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me,” he said.
As the government released its long-awaited Brexit white paper on Thursday, she sought to placate angry Tory leavers by winning US support for her softer Brexit plan. She told Trump: “Now, as we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more. It’s an opportunity to reach a free trade agreement that creates jobs and growth here in the UK and right across the United States,” she said.
“It’s also an opportunity to tear down the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. And it’s an opportunity to shape the future of the world through cooperation in advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence.”
May, dressed in an ankle-length red gown and red heels, and her husband, Philip, in black tie, welcomed President Trump and his wife, Melania, to Blenheim. The first lady was dressed in a floor-length yellow ball gown.
The Trumps arrived from London on the Marine One helicopter before being driven in the armoured presidential limousine – nicknamed The Beast – to the opulent 18th-century palace near Woodstock in Oxfordshire. The prime minister and president once again briefly held hands as they walked up to the palace.
The president’s arrival was marked by a military ceremony, with bandsmen of the Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards playing the Liberty Fanfare, Amazing Grace and the National Emblem march.
Last year Trump offered hope of a trade deal between the US and the UK happening “very, very quickly”, marking a break with his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had said the UK would be at the “back of the queue” if it left the EU.
Whitehall officials were alarmed when the US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, said this week that a deal was “totally up in the air” after the Chequers summit, which raised questions over the extent to which Britain could negotiate tariffs.
Earlier on Thursday, Trump had appeared to throw his weight behind a hard Brexit by suggesting the government was taking “a different route” from the complete break from the EU that he said the British people had voted for.
“I would say Brexit is Brexit,” he told reporters at the Nato summit. “The people voted to break it up so I imagine that is what they would do, but maybe they’re taking a different route. I’m not sure that’s what they voted for.”
The president, who has already described the UK as a country in turmoil, also said he had been reading up closely on Brexit in recent days, describing Britain as “a pretty hot spot” following the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis from senior cabinet posts.
Downing Street indicated that the prime minister was prepared to challenge Trump’s remarks at the Chequers talks, which will also cover Russia and the Middle East. May said: “What we are doing is delivering on the vote of the British people.”
As May addressed the crowd of business leaders gathered to welcome Trump, protests against the president were under way at the US embassy, with thousands more people expected to take to the streets on Friday.