(CN) — In a tag-team effort, President Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, a nationalist British politician supported by the far right, joined forces to push Prime Minister Boris Johnson into breaking off ties with the European Union and backing an even more hardcore Brexit strategy before the December elections.
Ignoring the diplomatic protocol of not meddling in elections in foreign countries, Trump spent 28 minutes Thursday evening talking with Farage on his LBC radio show in London about what he’d like to happen in the United Kingdom.
Farage and Trump are friends and both push nationalist views. Farage’s political career is based around the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU and he was a key figure backing the referendum to leave the EU. Trump also favors Brexit.
Trump praised Johnson in the conversation, and urged the prime minister to join forces with Farage’s Brexit Party and also scrap a withdrawal deal Johnson and the EU have come up with to keep trading and political ties somewhat close after Britain leaves the EU.
That deal, though, was blocked by a deeply divided Parliament and months of deadlock over Brexit forced the House of Commons last week to call a rare snap election for December.
Trump said the deal Johnson is pursuing with the EU would make it impossible for the U.K. and U.S. to enter into a free trade deal.
By saying that, he undermined one of Johnson’s core arguments in favor of his Brexit plans. Johnson and his allies in the Conservative Party say that leaving the EU will make the U.K. wealthier by allowing it to strike new trade deals around the globe. Many economists question that assumption.
Trump’s remarkable call into Farage’s radio show teed up what came next on Friday. At a news conference to launch the Brexit Party’s election campaign, Farage challenged Johnson to drop his EU deal or face his Brexit Party fielding candidates throughout Great Britain in the election.
It was a one-two punch that could make Johnson’s election campaign much more difficult and, ironically, improve the chances of those opposing Brexit.
Regardless, Trump’s intentions appeared clear: Back Johnson, back Brexit, back Farage and slam the opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
“He’s a fantastic man,” Trump said about Johnson. “I think he’s the exact right guy for the times.”
Trump added that Farage and Johnson should form an alliance to ensure the U.K. leaves the EU. He said the two would become “an unstoppable force.”
“I’d like you and Boris get together because you would really have some numbers,” Trump said of their chances of winning the election. “He [Johnson] respects you a lot, I can tell you that,” Trump said, referring to conversations he apparently has had with Johnson about the matter. “I wish you two guys could get together.”
But the Conservatives are unlikely to align themselves with Farage.
Robert Jenrick, the Tory housing secretary, said on a Friday morning television show that the Conservatives “are not interested in doing any pacts with the Brexit Party, or, indeed with anybody else.”
Trump laid into Corbyn, the opposition leader. Corbyn is pushing Labour further to the left and has advocated renationalizing parts of the British economy, such as utilities.
“Corbyn would be so bad for your country. He’d take you into such bad places,” Trump said.
He said Corbyn was “of a different persuasion, to put it mildly.”
Corbyn responded in a Tweet that Trump was “trying to interfere in U.K. election to get his friend Boris Johnson elected.”
Despite Trump’s criticism of Corbyn, Trump’s comments about Johnson’s deal with the EU could end up being damaging for Johnson.
Trump called Brexit a “good concept” but he questioned the deal Johnson negotiated with the EU.
“To be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can’t do it, you can’t trade,” Trump said.
Trump claimed the U.K. would reap huge benefits by opening its market to the United States. He said the U.K. was being “held back” in trade by its membership in the EU.
“I think we can do many times the numbers [on trade] that we’re doing right now,” Trump said. “And certainly much bigger numbers than you’re doing with the EU.”
British news media cited government officials who dismissed Trump’s claims and said Johnson’s deal would allow the U.K. to leave the EU’s customs regime and “strike our own free trade deals.”
On Friday, Farage took Trump’s comments and turned them into campaign fodder.
“There will not be trade deals with the U.S. or I think with any other part of the world,” Farage said, citing what Trump had said on his show. Farage said the deal leaves the U.K. too closely tied to the EU.
Farage threatened the Tories with an electoral fight unless Johnson agreed to scrap his EU deal and promised to leave the EU without a deal.
“I am going to say to Johnson, ‘Drop the deal because it is not Brexit,’” he said.
Farage gave Johnson two weeks to ditch his EU deal and agree to a “nonaggression pact” or face the Brexit Party challenging Tories for their seats. In the event they forge an alliance, Farage said the Brexit Party would focus on challenging Labour seats.
Quoting Trump, Farage said an alliance would make them “an unstoppable force.”
Tories pushed back against Farage.
“A vote for Farage risks letting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street via the back door,” said James Cleverly, the chairman of the Tory party. “It will not get Brexit done, and it will create another gridlocked Parliament that doesn’t work.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)