After telling reporters he would stay in his lane and avoid commenting on the contentious British exit from the European Union, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday immediately did just the opposite.
Alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office, Trump declared that Brexit is “actually tearing a lot of countries apart.”
Trump also lamented he was “surprised at how badly it has all gone from the standpoint of negotiating.”
The president said he had advised British Prime Minister Theresa May how to negotiate her country’s divorce from the EU, but “she didn’t listen to that.”
Asked by a reporter if he believes there should be a second public referendum on Brexit in Britain, Trump replied he does not think that would be possible and it would be “unfair to the people who won.”
In 2016, Britons who desired to remain in the EU were narrowly outvoted by those choosing to depart the 28-member state, political and economic union.
The issue of the United Kingdom border with the Republic of Ireland is one of Brexit’s most complex points, noted Trump.
“I’d like to see that whole situation with Brexit work out,” Trump added.
After Brexit, “we can do a very big trade deal with the U.K.,” noted Trump.
He also warned of tariffs being applied on the EU if trade talks with the United States falter.
“If they don’t talk to us we’re going to do something that’s very severe economically,” Trump said.
Trump, during the traditional St. Patrick’s Day seasonal meeting here between the leaders of the United States and Ireland, then turned to Varadkar, offering him an opportunity to speak about Brexit.
“We have a different opinion, president,” said the Irish prime minister. “I regret that Brexit's happening and the U.K. was a really important part of the European Union.”
The most concerning element for Ireland, Varadkar said, is that Brexit should not cause any problems in Northern Ireland, which voted to stay in the EU.
“We shouldn't have a hard border or anything to disrupt the peace process,” said Varadkar.
Until the 1998 Good Friday agreement, violence in the previous three decades in Northern Ireland killed more than 3,500 people. The conflict pitted loyalist Protestant paramilitary groups and the British army against the Irish Republican Army, a Catholic republican militia that was considered a terrorist organization by London.
“I think it’ll be a few years until the United Kingdom sorts itself out,” predicted Varadkar.
Trump’s intervention on Brexit is very welcome, according to pro-Brexit analyst Niles Gardiner, who worked for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after she left office.
“Today’s comments should not be a surprise, as President Trump has been very clear for years on Brexit. He has consistently emphasized Brexit as a prerequisite for a new U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement, and administration officials and members of Congress have been working diligently to prepare for such an agreement,” Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, tells VOA News. “There is every expectation in Washington that a U.S.-U.K. trade deal could be in place by the end of 2019 if Brexit goes forward this month and Britain successfully leaves the Customs Union.”
Britain is set to exit the European Union on March 29, but lawmakers voted Thursday to allow the government to seek a delay to the Brexit date.
It will be the third attempt by Prime Minister May to convince reluctant lawmakers to support her EU exit plan.