U.S. President Donald Trump said a free trade deal with Britain might be impossible if it went ahead with Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposals for post-Brexit ties with the European Union, in a damaging intervention set to further criticism of her plans.
In an interview with Britain’s Sun newspaper published late on Thursday, Trump said May’s plans for a business-friendly Brexit would leave it too close to the EU to allow a new trans-Atlantic trade deal to be struck.
WATCH: Britain prepares for President Donald Trump’s visit
Just hours earlier at a lavish dinner to mark Trump‘s first visit to Britain as president, May made a direct pitch for a deal with Washington. She praised the friendship between the two allies, glossing over Trump‘s previous remarks that Britain was a “hot spot” in turmoil over Brexit.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun, referring to May’s Brexit proposals.
“If they do that, then their trade deal with the U.S. will probably not be made.”
Referring to May’s Brexit proposals, Trump told the Sun, Britain’s top-selling newspaper, “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.”
Trump chastised May for ignoring his advice on Brexit and not making a credible threat to walk away from talks.
“I would have done it much differently,” he told the Sun, which urged its readers to back Brexit before a referendum in June 2016. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”
Trump‘s intervention comes at the end of a tumultuous few days for May. Two senior ministers resigned in protest this week at her plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc next March.
Trump said that one of them, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, “would be a great Prime Minister.”
Trump has frequently angered British politicians. Late last year May criticized him for retweeting a message by a member of a British far-right group and the speaker of Britain’s parliament has said Trump would not be welcome to address it.
May’s critics have said, however, that she reins in criticism of Trump due to the strong desire of many in her Conservative Party to reach a trade deal with the United States after Brexit.
May’s “business-friendly” Brexit plan — which would keep Britain in a free trade zone for goods with the EU but mean it has to share some EU rules — was agreed by her cabinet only last Friday after two years of wrangling since Britons voted to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum.
A trade deal with the United States is one of the main aims of Brexit supporters within May’s Conservative Party, who are concerned that she is making too many concessions to the EU.
Some Brexit supporters have cast May’s Brexit plan as a betrayal, including lawmakers in her own deeply-divided party who have warned of a leadership challenge.
Before the Sun interview was published, May invoked Winston Churchill as she addressed Trump and business leaders at a black-tie dinner at Blenheim Palace, the grand 18th-century country house which was the British WWII leader’s birthplace.
“Mr President, Sir Winston Churchill once said that ‘to have the United States at our side was, to me, the greatest joy’,” May told Trump, according to a text of her speech provided by her office.
“The spirit of friendship and co-operation between our countries, our leaders and our people, that most special of relationships, has a long and proud history. Now, for the benefit of all our people, let us work together to build a more prosperous future,” she said.
Outside the mansion, near Oxford to the northwest of London, a couple of thousand demonstrators lined the road and booed Trump‘s arrival, one of over 100 protests police expect to take place during his four-day trip.
Whilst Trump‘s trip is not the full state visit he was originally promised, he was heralded by military bands on his arrival in the country and at Blenheim, and on Friday he will have tea with Queen Elizabeth.
Trump had already cast doubt on May’s Brexit plans earlier in the day after a NATO summit in Brussels, where he provoked a crisis session to force allies to raise their defense spending.
The Sun said its interview with Trump was conducted in Brussels before he left for the British leg of his trip.