U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with some of Donald Trump’s top advisers as Britain looks to build ties with the incoming administration ahead of the country’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The sessions involved Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and the president-elect’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on Sunday evening before Johnson traveled to Washington to visit with congressional leaders.
The talks were “positive and frank” and covered relations with Syria, Russia and China, the BBC reported, citing unidentified aides.
Johnson arrived in the U.S. after Prime Minister Theresa May stressed the importance she places on forging links with the new administration as Britain seeks to expand trade and security co-operation after Brexit. In Washington on Monday he will meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and a trio of senators — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland.
“The special relationship we have with the United States is an important relationship in terms of security and stability around the world,” May said in an interview Sunday on Sky News. “The conversations I’ve had, I think we’re going to look to build on that relationship for the benefit of both the United States and the U.K. and I think that’s something that’s optimistic and positive for the U.K. for the future.”
Trump said he’ll meet May in the spring after she sent her two most senior aides on a secret trip to the U.S. in mid-December for talks with members of his team. May made critical comments about Trump before his election.
“I look very much forward to meeting Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington in the Spring,” Trump said on Twitter Saturday. “Britain, a longtime U.S. ally, is very special!”
Outflanked by Farage
May, who has spoken to the incoming president twice by phone, is attempting to recover lost ground after she was outflanked by her political rival Nigel Farage. The former U.K. Independence Party leader met with Trump within days of his victory in November and also worked with the campaign before the election. May rejected Trump’s unusual suggestion that Farage, who is close to key members of the president-elect’s team, should be made U.K. ambassador in Washington.
As home secretary in December 2015, May criticized Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. as “divisive, unhelpful and wrong.” Johnson, who was mayor of London at the time, said Trump was “unfit” to the hold the office of president.
U.K. officials are said to be concerned by their weak links with the incoming U.S. administration as Britain develops its post-Brexit plans. There are signs that Trump, whose mother was Scottish and who owns two golf resorts in Scotland, may be a willing partner. Whereas Obama said Britain would be “at the back of the queue” to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S., Trump told Farage that the nation would be “at the front.”
During the Sky News interview, May was asked about a recording of Trump in which he used sexually explicit language about women. The 2005 videotape surfaced in October, briefly roiling the election campaign. “That’s unacceptable, but in fact Donald Trump himself has said that and has apologized for it,” May said.
“But the relationship that the U.K. has with the U.S. is about something much bigger than just the relationship between the two individuals as president and prime minister,” she said. “It’s a relationship where actually in the U.K. we feel we can say to the U.S. if we disagree with something that they are doing.”