US president Donald Trump has given his strong backing for Brexit, telling Theresa May that “a free and independent Britain is a blessing for the world”.
Mr Trump predicted he would have a “fantastic” relationship with the Prime Minister, as he welcomed her as his first overseas visitor since becoming president and accepted her invitation to the UK on a state visit this year.
In a White House press conference minutes after showing her the bust of Winston Churchill restored to the Oval Office, Mr Trump said the special relationship between the UK and US was “one of the great forces in history for justice and for peace”.
And he added, in words that will be warmly appreciated in Downing Street: “We pledge our lasting support to this most special relationship.”
The sense that Mrs May had hit it off with the president on their first meeting was reinforced when the pair briefly held hands as they walked from the Oval Office to their first press conference together.
In almost an hour of talks ahead of a working lunch with Mr Trump, Mrs May appeared to have made some progress on key policy issues which have threatened to divide them.
She pointedly noted that she had secured Mr Trump’s “100 per cent” commitment to Nato, allaying British concerns over his earlier description of the military alliance as “obsolete”.
Addressing Mr Trump directly before the TV cameras, Mrs May said: “Today we have reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance.
“Mr President, I think you confirmed that you are 100 per cent behind Nato.” And Mr Trump backed away from suggestions that he was ready to sanction the use of torture on terror suspects – something Mrs May had made clear she could not support.
The president said that, although he did not “necessarily agree” with his defence secretary’s opposition to “enhanced interrogation” methods like torture, he would allow James Mattis to override him.
High on the agenda for the meeting were Britain’s hopes for a swift free trade agreement with the US after its withdrawal from the EU.
Mrs May said they were both “ambitious” for a deal and wanted to “take forward immediate high-level talks, lay the groundwork for a UK/US trade agreement and identify the practical steps we can take now in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily.”
Mr Trump left no doubt about his enthusiasm.
“I think Brexit is going to be a wonderful thing for your country,” he said.