Trump in UK for NATO summit, endorses Prime Minister Johnson indirectly ahead of polls

Aditi Khanna

London, Dec 3 (PTI) US President Donald Trump on Tuesday refrained from giving his view on British politics but did endorse Prime Minister Boris Johnson indirectly as he arrived here for a three-day visit to mark 70 years of the NATO alliance amid the general election campaign in the UK. President Trump is visiting the UK to attend a Nato summit on Wednesday in Watford, south-east England, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the transatlantic organisation.

Trump said he was staying out of the UK election on December 12 'because I don't want to complicate it'.

'I have no thoughts on it. It's going to be a very important election for this great country, but I have no thoughts on it. I could work with anybody,' Trump told reporters at a briefing at the US ambassador's residence here.

Pressed further on why he was choosing to stay off the election topic, he said: 'Because I don't want to complicate it. I'll stay out of the election.' 'You know that I was a fan of Brexit. I called it the day before. I think Boris is very capable and I think he'll do a good job,' he said.

Trump is also due to hold separate talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

A one-on-one meeting with Johnson is yet to be finalised, indicating the UK Prime Minister's hesitation on being openly endorsed by the US President this close to the election next week due to a feared divisive impact.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a vocal critic of the US President, has called for Trump to be treated with 'respect and politeness' during his visit. He recently wrote to Trump, demanding assurances that the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS) will be “off the table” in any post-Brexit US-UK trade talks. The issue has dominated Labour’s allegations against the ruling Conservative Party, which is accused of plotting to sell NHS contracts to the US but Johnson has dismissed the claims were 'nonsense'.

'If you handed it (NHS) to us on a silver platter, we want nothing to do with it,' Trump said when asked about the issue.

Trump, who was last in the UK in June when Theresa May was in charge at 10 Downing Street, is expected to be greeted with protests once again but at a smaller scale as he attends a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday before the official NATO talks kick off.

NATO was founded after World War II to counter the threat of Soviet Union’s expansion, with its 29 member states pledging to come to the aid of one another should any come under attack.

However, in recent times the alliance has come under some pressure with Trump insisting member-countries pitch in more funds and French President Emmanuel Macron recently describing the alliance as suffering from brain death.

'It is a very, very nasty statement. I think they have a very high unemployment rate in France. France is not doing well economically at all,' Trump said in reference to Macron’s comments.

He added: 'It is a very tough statement to make when you have such difficulty in France when you look at what is going on. They have had a very rough year. You just can't go around making statements like that about NATO. It is very disrespectful.

'Nobody needs Nato more than France... the US benefits the least. It's a very dangerous statement for them to make. I'm looking at him (Mr Macron) and I'm saying that he needs protection more than anybody and I see him breaking off (from NATO). So I'm a little surprised at that.' While reiterating his long-standing complaint that other NATO members were not contributing enough financially, he claimed to have become a “bigger fan of NATO because they have become more flexible'. PTI AK PMS AKJ