London: President Donald Trump rowed back Wednesday on his comments that Britain’s much-loved National Health Service should be opened up to US private companies in a post-Brexit trade deal.
The mercurial US leader also softened his tone on UK Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and actress-turned-British princess Meghan Markle.
Trump sparked outrage across Britain’s political divide by telling a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May that “everything is on the table” in talks on a post-Brexit US-UK free trade deal — including the NHS health service.
“So NHS or anything else. A lot more than that,” Trump said on the second of his three-day state visit Tuesday.
Britons treasure their free health care system and fear its partial privatisation. Some suggest that US pharmaceutical companies would hike the price of medications and other basic services.
Trump was asked specifically about the NHS at the press event and appeared to ask May what the acronym stood for before responding.
He told ITV television in an interview aired on Wednesday that he did not mean that the UK health system would be up for negotiations in the talks.
“I don’t see it being on the table,” Trump told ITV.
“Somebody asked me a question today and I say ‘everything’s up for negotiation’ because everything is, but that’s something that I would not consider part of trade.”
Trump sowed more confusion by suggesting that he was not opposed to either meeting Corbyn or dealing with him should he ever become UK prime minister.
The self-avowed socialist delivered a fiery speech at an anti-Trump rally Tuesday and boycotted Monday’s reception for the US president at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had turned down Corbyn’s request for a private meeting because he was “something of a negative force”.
A Labour spokesman confirmed that Corbyn had made the request.
Trump told ITV that he might meet Corbyn after all.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate to meet him, but I would. I certainly would have no problem with it,” Trump said.
“I think it’s a long shot when you say that, you know, I don’t, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Trump managed to ruffle feathers even before his arrival by dishing out advice in a pair of interviews about how to handle Brexit and who was best placed to lead the country after May steps down as Conservative party chief on Friday.
‘Did I say nasty?’
He was further quoted as telling The Sun that he thought Meghan — the US-born actress who married Prince Harry last year and became the Duchess of Sussex — was “nasty” for saying in 2016 that she would move to Canada if Trump became president.
Trump told ITV that he was misunderstood.
“They said some of the things that she said and it’s actually on tape,” Trump told ITV.
“And I said: ‘Well, I didn’t know she was nasty’. I wasn’t referring to she’s nasty. I said she was nasty about me. And essentially I didn’t know she was nasty about me.”
He added: “You know what? She’s doing a good job.”