Donald Trump and Theresa May dodge UK state visit question in awkward joint press conference: 'We'll talk about it'

Downing Street says the pair has asked officials to work on 'finalising the details of a visit by the President to the UK later this year' 

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
Thursday 25 January 2018 15:35
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Donald Trump and Theresa May have fended off a barrage of questions about the President’s possible state visit to the UK during an unexpected and awkward joint press conference at Davos.

The short affair featured Ms May stumbling over her words and Mr Trump repeating phrases, ultimately ending with the pair giving an indirect response to questions about the highest honour that Britain can give a foreign leader.

“We’ll talk about it”, Mr Trump responded when asked about the state visit – a comment that Ms May seconded.

Downing Street later said the pair has asked officials to work on “finalising the details of a visit by the President to the UK later this year”.

Since Ms May offered Mr Trump a state visit almost exactly a year ago – just a few days after he was inaugurated – there has been speculation over when and if Mr Trump will actually make a trip to the UK.

In June, the White House denied that Mr Trump’s state visit, which typically includes a banquet with the Queen, was delayed over fears of potential protests and his perceived unpopularity. The following month, the White House then confirmed that the state visit had been postponed until 2018 but gave no explanation.

Scheduling Mr Trump’s trip across the pond has seemed to be often complicated by the President’s controversial actions and comments.

A public spat between Mr Trump and Ms May in November over the President’s sharing of anti-Muslim videos aroused rumours that the state visit would be cancelled altogether.

Mr Trump also cancelled a planned trip to London next month for the official opening of the new US embassy building. He claimed he did not agree with a decision to sell the US embassy headquarters – “perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London” for a small amount – “only to build a new one in an off location”.

Donald Trump says he and Theresa May are on the 'same wavelength in every way'

It remains to be seen whether Mr Trump and Ms May can craft the “special relationship” that was coined by Winston Churchill and nurtured by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Even though relations between the leaders have appeared rather rocky, the President said on Thursday that “it’s a false rumour ” there is tension in the US-UK relationship.

“We’re on the same the wavelength in I think every respect,” he said. “The prime minister and myself have had a really great relationship, although some people don’t necessarily believe that, but I can tell you, I have a tremendous respect for the prime minister and the job she’s doing.”

“I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot,” he added as Ms May nodded in response. “There was a little false rumour out there. I wanted to correct it.”

For her part, Ms May said she and Mr Trump “have that really special relationship between the UK and the United States.”

“It’s at each other’s shoulders,” she added. “We face the same challenges across the world, and as you say we’re willing to go and to defeat those challenges and meet them. And alongside that, working for the improved trade relationship of the future”.

The leaders did not respond to shouted questions about Ms May’s public condemnation of Mr Trump in November for retweeting several videos posted online by a “hateful” British far-right group.

In response to her criticism, Mr Trump had tweeted at the time: “@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”

But with the UK currently negotiating its exit from the EU, Ms May is keen to strike a trade deal with the US. This means she may be more willing to forgive Mr Trump’s antics.

“We’re already working on how we can shape that,” Ms May said ahead of her meeting with Mr Trump. She also said a “whole range of policy areas” would be discussed, including North Korea, Syria and Iran.

Earlier, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the UK would still be at the “front of the queue” for a trade deal, taking a jab at former President Barack Obama’s comments in 2016 saying that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” if it chose to leave the EU.

“As soon as the UK is ready we will be prepared to negotiate an attractive trade deal,” he told the BBC in Davos.

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