Theresa May praised the “strong and enduring” ties between the UK and US ahead of a state visit by Donald Trump that will be marked by unpredictability, clashes over security policy and protests.
The prime minister, who will resign as leader of the Conservative party on Friday, said that the visit was a “significant week for the special relationship” and highlighted the strong security ties between the UK and the US.
“We do more together than any other nations in the world. We are the largest investors in each other’s economies and our strong trading relationship and close business links create jobs, opportunities and wealth for our citizens,” she said.
“Our security relationship too is deeper, broader and more advanced than with anyone else. Through joint military operations, unrivalled intelligence-sharing and our commitment to Nato, our global leadership remains at the heart of international peace and stability.”
In his meetings with Mrs May, Mr Trump is expected to threaten to cut security ties with the UK if it does not reverse its position on Huawei.
While the UK has tentatively decided to allow the Chinese company to be part of building its 5G network, the US has effectively banned it from operating.
The imminent departure of Mrs May from Downing Street, along with the continued Brexit stalemate, has resulted in lower expectations in the government about what can be achieved from the state visit.
One British government official said: “The expectations of a big joint economic announcement on trade have obviously been dialled back considerably, given the Brexit situation and the fact the prime minister will soon be stepping down.”
Prior to his arrival, Mr Trump broke convention with several interventions in the Conservative party leadership contest. As well as endorsing his “friend” Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister, he made the case for leaving the EU without a deal, suing the bloc, cancelling the £39bn divorce settlement and sending Nigel Farage to lead negotiations.
International protocol dictates that foreign leaders stay out of domestic matters. But Mr Trump attacked Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, stating she had left the EU with “very little to lose” and set out an alternative approach for her successor.
“If I were them I wouldn’t pay $50bn. That is me. I would not pay, that is a tremendous number,” he told the Sunday Times.
Several of Mrs May’s potential successors have said the UK must leave the bloc on October 31 with or without a deal — including former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
Mr Trump endorsed the view that the UK must be ready to leave without a formal treaty. “If they don’t get what they want I would walk away. If you don’t get the deal you want, if you don’t get a fair deal, then you walk away,” he said.
The president praised Mr Farage, leader of the Brexit party and one of his closest political allies in the UK. He said it was “a mistake” not to include him in Brexit negotiations and encouraged the next prime minister to send him to Brussels.
“I like Nigel a lot. He has a lot to offer. He is a very smart person. They won’t bring him in. Think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet,” Mr Trump said.
Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, said Mr Trump had known Mr Johnson for a “long time” and his tacit endorsement was based on “his knowledge of Boris as a person and all the meetings he’s had”. He also reflected the president’s sentiments on leaving the EU without a deal.
“From what my travelling around the country indicates people are ready to go and move on. Even though the economy is doing reasonably well, it could do a lot better once this Brexit is finished,” he told the BBC.
On the prospect of a future trade deal, Mr Johnson admitted that access to the National Health Service for American suppliers would be “on the table”.