By JILL COLVIN and JONATHAN LEMIRE
ELLESBOROUGH, England (AP) — A day after landing a series of broadsides against his British hosts, President Donald Trump declared Friday that his relationship with Prime Minister Theresa May was better than ever in yet another bout of diplomatic whiplash that has come to define the American president’s European visit.
Trump’s pomp-filled visit to the United Kingdom was overshadowed by an explosive interview in which he blasted May, his host, blamed London’s mayor for terror attacks against the city and argued that Europe was “losing its culture” because of immigration.
He tried to downplay the fallout as he sat next to May for a meeting at Chequers, her official country house. He said they spent about 90 minutes talking at dinner Thursday and claimed they “probably never developed a better relationship than last night.”
“The relationship is very strong,” Trump insisted, skirting questions about The Sun interview.
Trump said in the interview, published Thursday as May feted him at an opulent welcome dinner at a country palace, that he felt unwelcome in London because of protests, including a giant balloon that flew over Parliament on Friday depicting him as an angry diaper-wearing baby.
Interviewed before he left Brussels for the U.K, Trump accused May of ruining what her country stands to gain from its Brexit vote to leave the European Union. He said her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, would make an “excellent” prime minister, speaking just days after Johnson resigned his position in protest over May’s Brexit plans.
Trump added that May’s “soft” blueprint for the U.K.’s future dealings with the EU would probably “kill” any future trade deals with the United States.
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the paper.
Trump, who has linked his own election to the June 2016 referendum in which a slim majority of British voters supported leaving the EU, complained, “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on.”
He also told the tabloid that he’d shared advice with May during Britain’s negotiations with the EU and she ignored it.
The controversy shadowed Trump across Britain, much like the 20-foot (6-meter) tall balloon depicting him as an angry baby that flew for a few hours in London during his visit. Protests were also planned in some 50 U.K. cities.
The president started the day by reviewing a private military exercise alongside May at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told The Sun, which is owned by his media ally, Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News in the United States.
Trump has been traveling by helicopter to avoid the protests in central London. After meeting with May, a scheduled joint news conference was to be dominated by the fallout from the interview before he visits Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
The interview was the latest breach of diplomatic protocol by Trump, whose predecessors tended to avoid criticizing their foreign hosts.
As for Johnson, Trump said: “I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.” He added, “I think he is a great representative for your country.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement after the interview was published, saying Trump “likes and respects Prime Minister May very much.”
“As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person,” Sanders wrote.
On Thursday night, hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London, where Trump was staying, providing a preview of the forceful protests expected Friday.
Trump acknowledged feeling unwelcome in the city, and blamed that in part on Mayor Sadiq Khan, who gave protesters permission to fly the baby Trump balloon.
Trump also blamed recent terrorist attacks there on Khan, who is Muslim. The president claimed Europe is “losing its culture” because of immigration from the Middle East and Africa.
“Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a sham,” he said. “I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way.”
Khan, whose grandparents hailed from Pakistan, responded by questioning why Trump repeatedly chose him to criticize.
“Paris, Nice, Brussels, Berlin. Cities in America all suffered terror attacks,” Khan told British broadcaster Sky News. “And it’s for President Trump to explain why he singled me as the mayor of London out and not the mayors of other cities and leaders of other cities.”
In contrast to the president’s sharp words, Trump’s first event in England was an oasis of warm greetings at an evening reception Thursday at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, the larger-than-life British leader cited by the president as a model of leadership.
His departure from the U.S. ambassador’s residence aboard the presidential helicopter was met by jeers from demonstrators banging pots and pans, and another group of protesters lined roads near the palace. Some signs read “Dump Trump,” ”Lock Him Up” and “There Will Be Hell Toupee.” Police worked overtime, their days off canceled.
Trump was greeted at the palace by May, whose government has been rocked by resignations from ongoing tumult over Brexit.
The outdoor arrival ceremony at Blenheim was a grand affair marked by a military band in bearskin hats, hundreds of business leaders in black tie and gorgeous setting sunlight. Trump wore a tuxedo and first lady Melania Trump donned a butter yellow chiffon off-the-shoulder gown.
The mood was far less jovial in Belgium earlier in the day.
During his 28 hours there, Trump disparaged longtime NATO allies, cast doubt on his commitment to the mutual-defense organization and sent the 29-member pact into a frenzied emergency session. He declared that the alliance was a “fine-tuned machine” that had acceded to his demands to speed up increases in military spending to relieve pressure on the U.S. budget. But there was little evidence they had bowed to his wishes on that front.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.