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LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that President Donald Trump advised her to take legal action against the European Union rather than negotiate Britain's exit from the bloc.
Trump told reporters at a joint press conference with May on Friday that he had given the British leader a suggestion for Brexit that she found too “brutal.”
Asked what that suggestion was in an interview with the BBC on Sunday, May said with an amused expression that Trump told her she should sue the European Union.
"He told me I should sue the E.U. Not go into negotiations, sue them," she said.
Trump's first official visit to Britain this week was overshadowed by explosive and undiplomatic remarks he made about May's leadership, especially her handling of the Brexit negotiations.
In an interview with The Sun newspaper published Thursday — just as May was hosting Trump at a lavish black-tie dinner — Trump said the British leader's approach likely "killed" chances of a free-trade deal with the United States. He said he had told May how to conduct Brexit negotiations, "but she didn't listen to me."
The comments shocked many in Britain — even May's opponents. The president later sought to soften the blow, telling reporters at Friday's joint news conference that May was an "incredible woman" who is "doing a fantastic job" as prime minister.
He denied he criticized May, saying the Sun interview did not focus on his complimentary remarks about the British leader, but the Sun released audio that proved otherwise.
May didn't elaborate on what grounds the president specifically suggested she sue the E.U. in her interview on Sunday.
The president is spending a second day at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland before heading to Helsinki later on Sunday ahead of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump's retreat to his golf course inspired a dramatic display as Greenpeace sent a paraglider with a banner that said "Trump Well Below Par" over the roof of the resort's main building Friday.
The paraglider breached a no-fly zone, sparking a police hunt for the suspect that culminated in the arrest of a 55-year-old man, Scottish police said on Sunday morning.
Protests in London and throughout Scotland dashed any hope that Trump could spend a weekend preparing out of the spotlight after a tumultuous week on the world stage.
In an interview with CBS news published on their website on Sunday, Trump said he had low expectations for his meeting with Putin.
"I go in with low expectations," Trump said. "I'm not going with high expectations."
"I think it's a good thing to meet. I do believe in meetings," he added.
The president's European trip has thus far been marred by contentious talks with U.S. allies at the NATO summit in Brussels; his public criticism of May over trade and Brexit; mass demonstrations against his visit to the U.K. and the dramatic spectacle of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announcing a new raft of indictments in the Russia probe just as Trump was arriving at Windsor Castle for tea with Queen Elizabeth II.
Asked by British journalist Piers Morgan in an interview given on Friday whether he discussed Brexit with the monarch, Trump said: "I did. She said it's a very — and she's right — it's a very complex problem, I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be... Everyone thought it was going to be 'Oh it's simple, we join or don't join, or let's see what happens.'"
Speaking of the 92-year-old queen, Trump was quoted in the Mail on Sunday newspaper as saying: "She is an incredible woman, she is so sharp, she is so beautiful, when I say beautiful — inside and out. That is a beautiful woman."
Trump's earlier comments on Brexit threatened to weaken May's already fragile hold on power in Britain. Her Conservative government is deeply split between supporters of a clean break with the E.U. and those who want to keep close ties with the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.
Brexit Secretary David Davis and Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, both quit last week to protest May's trade plan — and Trump even said that Johnson would make a good prime minister.
Steve Bannon, Trump's former adviser, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Sunday as saying that it was now time for Johnson to challenge May for her job.
"Now is the moment," The Telegraph quoted Bannon, Trump’s former strategist and a key player in his 2016 election campaign, as saying.
Johnson has previously spoken highly of Trump, and suggested a Trump-style approach might achieve more in Brexit talks than what the U.K. government is currently doing, according to an audio recording obtained by BuzzFeed News.
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit,” BuzzFeed quoted Johnson as saying at a private dinner of supporters of his Conservative party in London last month. “He’d go in bloody hard...There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”