A few days after President Trump said the United States would “stay right in our lane” by not weighing in on Brexit, both his son and his national security adviser were decidedly driving on the other side of the road.
Donald Trump Jr. and national security adviser John Bolton took to British media to scold the country’s political leadership over Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to request a delay in Britain’s seemingly endless divorce from Europe.
The effort by presidential surrogates is aimed at amplifying the pro-Brexit message among Britons even though the United States has no say in the matter.
“Next Friday, March 29, is supposed to be the British people’s Independence Day,” the younger Trump wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “But because the elites control London from Brussels, the will of the people is likely to be ignored.”
Bolton gave an interview to British broadcaster Sky News, accusing political leaders in London of failing voters who chose more than two years ago to quit the European Union and its collective trade policy.
Bolton dangled a separate trade deal between Britain and the United States once Britain rids itself of the E.U., saying “we are ready to go.”
The commentary from members of Trump’s inner circle was an extraordinary departure from the diplomatic norm, in which close allies such as the United States and Britain are careful not to appear to be meddling in each other’s business.
Trump Jr. said the Brexit process should be over by now and that May erred by not taking his father’s advice on how to sever ties. May has said that Trump advised her to sue the E.U. rather than enter into what became protracted negotiations.
The younger Trump has not previously commented extensively on foreign policy. Bolton supported Brexit before becoming Trump’s national security adviser a year ago and shares the president’s view that the E.U. impinges on state sovereignty.
“God bless the people of Great Britain, who two years ago voted to get out of the European Union,” Bolton said in a speech last year.
Bolton is known to speak with pro-Brexit British ministers. He told Sky News that British trade minister, Liam Fox, a vocal Brexit supporter, “would be welcome here” for talks on a separate U.S.-U.K. trade deal once Britain is out of the E.U.
An agreement could be reached “quickly,” Bolton predicted, although such a pact faces an uncertain and probably lengthy review in Congress, where Democrats and Republicans have expressed reservations.
“The president’s been clear that he wants a resolution to this issue that allows the United States and Britain to come to trade deals again,” Bolton said.
He added, “The people of Britain have voted. When is the political class going to give effect to that vote?”
Britain’s Parliament has twice rejected May’s plans for departure. She conceded Wednesday that she must ask E.U. leaders to delay Brexit until June 30, and blamed lawmakers for foiling plans to exit on schedule by March 29.
There is no agreement in place governing British trade and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and May wants to prevent Britain from “crashing out” of the E.U. without those safeguards.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was in London on Wednesday attempting, he said, to reassure Britons that Trump Jr.’s “bonkers” opinion piece may reflect the president’s views but is not a stand-in for official U.S. policy.
“The Donald Trump Jr. op-ed has completely flummoxed people over here,” Murphy said in an interview. “It sounds like it was written by Nigel Farage, and people don’t know if it’s official U.S. policy or just an op-ed the pro-Brexit crowd handed to the president’s son to submit to a newspaper.”
Farage is a British politician, businessman and broadcaster who is a leader in the pro-Brexit — or “leaver” — camp. Trump is an admirer, and met with Farage at Trump Tower shortly after his surprise election victory in November 2016. Trump suggested at the time that Britain name Farage as its ambassador to Washington. The British government noted there was “no vacancy.”
“Donald Trump Jr. and this US Administration are our friends, not the likes of Mr Juncker,” Farage tweeted Wednesday, referring to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The White House has said nothing official this week about Brexit and did not respond to a request for comment on whether Trump Jr. and Bolton were acting in concert.
While hosting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House last week, Trump first said he would not comment on Brexit and then took several questions about it. Trump decried what he said are needless delays and political contortions going on in London.
“It’s tearing a country apart,” Trump said.
Trump’s populist message in 2016 is linked to the tide of nationalism and dissatisfaction that propelled earlier the same year the surprise referendum vote in Britain to leave the E.U. Both draw on themes of sovereignty and economic independence. Trump regularly complains about E.U. trade and regulatory structures and on Wednesday said that the E.U. had been as difficult to deal with as China.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, linked Trump directly to Brexit on Twitter, saying both were bad political developments.
“Both Trump & Brexit involved external manipulation. Both were victories for our enemies. Both have torn apart communities instead of bringing them together. Both mean building walls instead of breaking them down,” Verhofstadt wrote. “There is another way. #RenewEurope.”
Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics, said Trump Jr.’s article symbolized “part of the willingness on both sides — leave or remain — to use any weapon at all in defense of their position.”
He noted that Trump’s team would have calculated, rightly, that the Daily Telegraph is among the most pro-Brexit newspapers in the country. But he said there was little resentment over the piece, in part, because the United States does not have a direct stake in the negotiations and because those who wish to remain are, on the whole, more moderate in their reactions.
“I don’t think there is any sense of resentment about Donald Trump Jr. writing in the Telegraph in this way,” he said. “Oddly, there would be have been more resentment if an Irish or Dutch or French politician had written something. Having an American political figure step into this will make some pro-Brexiteers feel comforted. Some like Trump quite a lot.”
Karla Adam and William Booth in London contributed to this report.