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Donald Trump

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in New York to mend fences with Trump

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 6:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 11:06pm

Boris Johnson has flown to New York for the UK government’s first formal face-to-face meetings with Donald Trump’s administration, hours after the prime minister declared the president-elect’s remarks about women unacceptable .

The foreign secretary met Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the incoming White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. The meeting marked the first formal contact between a UK government minister and the Trump transition team since his election in November.

The talks were “positive and frank” and covered relations with Syria, Russia and China, the BBC reported, citing unidentified aides.

On Monday, Johnson was also scheduled to meet congressional leaders including the speaker, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Bob Corker, and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

He was not expected not meet Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, as the protocol is to wait until after the confirmation process has been completed.

Johnson, a leading member of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, is likely to discuss the status of the “special relationship” once the former property tycoon takes office, and after the UK leaves the bloc.

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Theresa May used her first interview of 2017 on Sunday to give her clearest indication yet that the UK would leave the single market , a move that will reinforce the importance of securing a trade deal with the US before Brexit.

The foreign secretary’s visit comes after two of the prime minister’s chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, went on a private visit to meet members of the Trump team .

“Following the successful meeting last month between the prime minister’s chiefs of staff and president-elect Donald Trump’s team, Boris Johnson is undertaking a short visit to the US for meetings with close advisers to the president-elect and senior congressional leaders,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

“The discussions will be focused on UK-US relations and other foreign policy matters.”

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Before the US election, Johnson was extremely critical of Trump. Following the president-elect’s suggestion that he would back a ban on Muslims entering the US and that parts of London were no-go areas, the foreign secretary said Trump was “clearly out of his mind” and “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.

Since Trump’s victory, however, Johnson has described the billionaire as a dealmaker and called for an end to the “whinge-o-rama” over his victory.

Trump tweeted on Saturday night that he was planning to meet May shortly, with March seen as the most likely month. He said he was very much looking forward to meeting May in the coming months and described Britain as a very special ally.

May was challenged about Trump’s previous comments during her first TV interview of the year.

His presidential campaign was plunged into crisis after a 2005 recording came to light of him bragging to the TV host Billy Bush about groping women, saying he could “grab them by the p***y” because of his celebrity status. Sophy Ridge asked May how the comments made her feel as a woman on her Sky News show.

“I think that’s unacceptable, but in fact Donald Trump himself has said that and has apologised for it,” the prime minister said.

“But the relationship that the UK has with the United States is about something much bigger than just the relationship between the two individuals as president and prime minister.

“That’s important, but actually we have a longstanding special relationship with the United States. It’s based on shared values and it is a relationship where, actually in the UK, we feel we can say to the US if we disagree with something that they are doing.”

The relationship between the Trump team and May has been complicated by the unlikely intervention of Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, who had enjoyed an inside track with the Republican leader before it seemed likely he would win.

Farage and his entourage won a high-profile meeting at Trump Tower days after Trump’s election, and he has since implied that the UK ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, had no serious access to the Trump team’s thinking.

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May said on Sunday: “From the conversations I have already had – I have had two very good, positive conversations with Donald Trump already – I think we are going to look to build on that relationship for the benefit of both the US and the UK.

“I think that is something that is optimistic and positive for the UK for the future.”

Johnson, probably the best-known politician in the May cabinet, has been a political visitor to New York before as London mayor, but like many Conservative politicians admonished Trump for suggesting Muslims would be banned from coming to America.

Beyond Brexit, the foreign secretary will need to probe the coming US administration’s thinking on Iran, Syria, relations with Russia and Middle East peace talks.

It is Johnson’s second visit to New York as foreign secretary. His first was to the UN general assembly.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg