Bolton Declines to Comment on UK Leadership Candidates After Trump Praises Boris Johnson

By Patrick Goodenough | May 31, 2019 | 4:32am EDT
Prime Minister Theresa May and then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in 2017. May is leaving Downing Street next week and Johnson is a favorite in a 12-way race to succeed her. (Photo by Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

( – Ahead of President Trump’s first state visit to the United Kingdom, National Security Advisor John Bolton said Thursday the president looks forward to negotiating a trade agreement with “a fully independent Britain.” He also raised the possibility of a three-way deal with Canada.

“He’s been a strong supporter of Brexit and I think he really does look forward to the opportunity to negotiate with a fully independent Britain, outside the European Union,” Bolton told Sky News in London.

Bolton said the state visit will “underline the strength of the bilateral relationship.”

“I think it will make it very clear that the interests and values of the United Kingdom and the United States are very, very close, regardless of political currents in either country.”

Bolton said a bilateral trade deal would be good for both countries, adding, “I could imagine bringing Canada into a three-way deal in the near future.”

With Prime Minister Theresa May stepping down next week after failing to get parliamentary support for her European Union withdrawal plans, a Conservative Party leadership contest is underway to succeed her. Bolton would not be drawn when asked his views on the race.

“At this stage it’s obviously a delicate moment in the leadership selection process, and I’ll leave it at that,” he said.

There are now a dozen Conservatives vying for the job, with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, current Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in the lead, according to bookmakers’ odds.

Trump on Thursday described both Johnson and fellow euroskeptic Nigel Farage as “friends,” indicating that he “may” meet with them during the upcoming visit.

“Nigel Farage is a friend of mine. Boris is a friend of mine,” he told reporters outside the White House. “They’re two very good guys, very interesting people.”

Farage left the Tories almost three decades ago, led the United Kingdom Independence Party in the European Parliament, and now heads the new Brexit Party, which became the biggest British party in last week’s European Parliament election.

Hailing that striking result, Farage has warned that his party could become the biggest in Britain itself, should the country not leave the E.U. by the fall.

Citing Farage’s “big victory,” Trump said he and Johnson were “big powers over there.”

But asked whether he would throw his support behind them, he said, “they’re friends of mine but I haven’t thought about supporting them. Maybe it’s not my business to support people, but I have a lot of respect for both of those men.”

Bolton told Sky News Trump has relationships with both Johnson and Farage – and others in Britain – due to his “longstanding business interests” in the country.

Asked whether it was appropriate for Trump “to have dealings with the likes of Nigel Farage at this delicate time” in British politics, Bolton replied with a smile, “The president will do what the president wants.”

Trump and May have had a sometimes difficult relationship, but Bolton said the president admires the outgoing prime minister for “her determination and her grit.”

“He’s tried to work very closely with her because the U.S.-U.K. relationship is the most important bilateral relationship we have,” he said. “And I think the two of them will have a lot to discuss next week even though she’s announced her intention to leave.”

Trump’s three-day visit will include a ceremonial welcome in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, meetings with Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family, talks at Downing Street, and a ceremony in Portsmouth on the English Channel coast to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

As was the case during his visit last July, protests are being planned.

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