London: Donald Trump has indicated Boris Johnson is his preferred Conservative leadership candidate as frustration grows over Brexit in the White House.
The US president stopped short of formally endorsing the former foreign secretary yesterday (Thursday) but described him as a “friend” for whom he had “a lot of respect”.
He is expected to meet Johnson privately during next week’s state visit in what would be a notable breach of convention.
Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader who campaigned for the president in 2016, may also be invited, sparking speculation that Trump may seek to act as a go-between to encourage the two men to form a political alliance.
Senior US administration figures have talked up a Johnson-Farage pact, likening it to Ronald Reagan’s blue collar conservatism that won the Republicans 12 years in the White House.
Asked if he would see either man, Trump said: “Well, I may. Nigel Farage is a friend of mine. Boris is a friend of mine. They are two very good guys, very interesting people.
“Nigel has had a big victory, he has picked up 32 per cent of the vote starting from nothing and I think they are big powers over there. I think they have done a good job.
“I like them. They are friends of mine but I haven’t thought about supporting them. Maybe it is not my business to support people but I have a lot of respect for both of those men.”
Winfield House, the US ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park where Trump will spend much of his time on the visit, is a possible location for a meeting. A dinner will be hosted there on Tuesday evening.
Trump arrives in the UK on Monday and stays until Wednesday when he will set off for France for the D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations.
Sources for Johnson and Farage said nothing was in the diary. Farage said: “I haven’t pushed it. I will wait to see what happens.”
A meeting could help Johnson’s leadership ambitions, showing he can establish a rapport with the president, whose personal relations with Theresa May have been lukewarm. UK officials say they are unaware of any US request to meet Johnson or Farage. The president met Johnson at the UN in New York in September 2017.
Trump will raise concerns over Huawei being given access to the UK’s 5G infrastructure, John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, confirmed. Bolton said the US would accept “zero” risk of telecoms networks being intercepted by foreign powers.
Meanwhile, Mark Harper, the former chief whip, today becomes the 12th Tory MP to declare their candidacy in the party leadership contest, telling The Daily Telegraph he is “embarrassed” at the failure to pass key domestic legislation. Michael Gove’s leadership bid received a boost from Neil Parish, his chief inquisitor as chairman of the Commons environment committee, who said he would back him. Writing on the Telegraph website, Parish said Gove “stands out” as “a great communicator and operator”.
— Daily Telegraph