Trump, on His Best Behavior, Heaps Praise on May as ‘Tough’ and ‘Capable’

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Even as he tried to pivot away from his criticism of Mrs. May, Mr. Trump did confirm perhaps the most damaging element of the report in The Sun, which quoted him saying that the prime minister had rejected his advice about how to approach Brexit and was therefore headed down a damaging path. He said he still believed Mrs. May should follow his advice.

“I did give her a suggestion — I wouldn’t say advice — and I think she found it maybe too brutal,” Mr. Trump said. “As far as negotiating the deal, I probably would have done what my suggestion was to the prime minister, but she can always do that. At some point, she can do what I suggested.”

Mr. Trump said that the first thing he had done upon his arrival at Chequers on Friday was to offer a mea culpa to Mrs. May but that she had assured him none was necessary, joining him in pinning the drama on the news media. “I said, ‘I want to apologize, because I said such good things about you,’ ” Mr. Trump said of Mrs. May, adding, “She said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press.’ ”

Mrs. May, for her part, denied that she had felt undermined by the article, pivoting repeatedly to her insistence that the Brexit plan she is pursuing will, in fact, pave the way for an “ambitious” bilateral trade deal.

Mrs. May had been hosting a black-tie dinner Thursday night for Mr. Trump at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, when news of his interview with The Sun began to break, leaving British officials and politicians in a state of shock and disbelief.

The interview trampled on protocol by intervening directly in the most sensitive domestic issue confronting Mrs. May, and at a time when there is speculation about a challenge to her leadership after she announced her Brexit plan.

In the interview, Mr. Trump argued that if such a plan were accepted by the European Union, something most analysts doubt, Britain would be unlikely to secure a trade deal with the United States — a goal prized by hard-line supporters of Brexit who want a cleaner break with the Continental bloc.

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