LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May will become the first foreign leader to hold White House talks with President Trump when she travels to Washington on Friday, Downing Street confirmed Sunday.
The visit was aggressively sought by British officials as a symbol that the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom endures, after Britain voted to leave the European Union and America elected a president who is reviled across much of Western Europe.
British politicians — May included — were sharply critical of Trump during his campaign. But since his election, Britain has gone out of its way to emphasize solidarity with the new administration, even as other European governments have been more cautious.
In an appearance on the BBC on Sunday, May said she “will be talking to Donald Trump about the issues we share and how we can build on the special relationship.”
A government statement said the agenda would include “a number of the most pressing global issues, notably tackling terrorism, Syria, relations with Russia and cooperation in NATO.”
But perhaps of highest priority for May will be to sound Trump out over prospects for a U.S.-U.K. trade deal. With Britain leaving the European Union, May is under pressure to show that countries are eager to cut new deals with the United Kingdom.
Britain already does more than $180 billion worth of trade with the United States annually, and America is the biggest source of inward investment to the United Kingdom.
Trump has been highly critical of many trade deals but has signaled a willingness to reach an agreement with Britain. Analysts have cautioned that any negotiations are likely to stretch on for years.
Asked about Trump’s vow in his inaugural address to pursue protectionist policies under the slogan “America first,” May said Sunday that she was unconcerned.
“If you think about it, any leader, any government, as we do here in the United Kingdom when we look at any issue, we ensure that we’re putting the U.K.’s interests and the interests of British people first,” she said.
But opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said May was fooling herself if she thought Britain would get a good deal from Trump.
“There were no signs of any special relationship in Donald Trump’s inauguration speech,” Corbyn told Sky News on Sunday. “It was quite the opposite. It was America first, America only, America inward-looking.”
The Labour Party leader urged May to tell Trump that his “misogyny during the election campaign” was “simply not acceptable.”
May demurred when pressed on whether she would raise Trump’s comments about women during her meeting with the president.
A day after women’s rights rallies drew huge crowds in cities worldwide, she said that being a female leader meeting Trump on equal footing was the “biggest statement” she could make about the issue.