Trump blasts Brexit plan amid protests

Jeff Mason and Michael Holden
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Donald Trump visit to UK

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania have been welcomed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May

Donald Trump's first official visit to Britain has coincided with him saying a US-UK trade deal may not be possible if Theresa May pushes ahead with her business-friendly plan for post-Brexit ties with the European Union.

The US president and his wife Melania arrived in London on Thursday with the first official engagement of their two-day visit being a lavish black-tie welcome dinner at Blenheim Palace hosted by the British prime minister.

The visit is also being marked with protests in central London, as well as outside the US ambassador's residence where the Trumps are staying, while others lined the streets in Blenheim holding placards.

More than 60,000 people are signed up to protest in London on Friday with plans afoot for a giant blimp portraying Trump as an orange, snarling baby to sit over parliament.

But as the pomp and ceremony unfolded at Blenheim Palace, the historic birth place of former British prime minister Winston Churchill, an interview Trump had given British tabloid The Sun was published.

"If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal," Trump told the Rupert Murdoch owned tabloid, in reference to May's post-Brexit trade proposals.

Trump also chastised May for ignoring his advice on Brexit and not making a credible threat to walk away from talks.

"I would have done it much differently," he told the newspaper, which urged its readers to back Brexit before a referendum in June 2016.

"I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn't listen to me."

At the dinner May made a direct pitch for a trade deal with Washington, praising the friendship between the two allies and glossing over Trump's previous remarks that Britain was a "hot spot" in turmoil over Brexit.

It's been a tumultuous few days for May having had two senior ministers resign in protest at her plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc next March.

Trump said that one of them, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, "would be a great Prime Minister."

After the story was published, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the president "likes and respects Prime Minister May very much," adding that he said in the interview she "is a very good person," and that he "never said anything bad about her."

Trump is due to have lunch with May on Friday. Her office had no immediate reaction to his remarks, beyond referring back to her speech.

While Trump's trip was not the full state visit he was originally promised, he was heralded by military bands on his arrival in the country and at Blenheim, and he is scheduled on Friday to have tea with Queen Elizabeth.

He is then due to spend two days at golf courses he owns in Scotland before travelling to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Sun said its interview with Trump was conducted in Brussels, where the NATO summit was held earlier in the week. Trump attended the summit, where he provoked a crisis session to force allies to raise their defence spending.