He Said, She Said on UK Prime Minister, Trump Phone Call

Brits say May criticized tariffs, while White House does not mention any tough talk

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint press conference at the White House in 2017. May announced last month she will step down, but before she does, she and Trump will meet again in London. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint press conference at the White House in 2017. May announced last month she will step down, but before she does, she and Trump will meet again in London. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Posted June 4, 2018 at 3:09pm

The White House and 10 Downing Street have very different versions of a Monday telephone chat between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May, the latest example of growing tensions between the longtime allies.

The British government issued its summary of the call first, contending May “raised the U.S. decision to apply tariffs to EU steel and aluminium imports.” Such “readouts” typically feature ample diplomat-speak, but this one insisted the British leader told Trump she believes the import fees are “unjustified and deeply disappointing.”

“The prime minister said the U.S., U.K. and EU are close national security allies and we recognise the importance of the values of open and fair trade across the world,” according to a Downing Street spokesman. “The prime minister also underlined the need to safeguard jobs that would potentially be affected by the decision.”

[Analysis: Transactional Trump Penalizes Allies, Woos Foes — And Rankles Members]

Almost 90 minutes later came the White House’s summary of the call, which did not mention any blunt tariff talk by Trump’s British counterpart. In fact, the U.S. version first mentioned Trump’s June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the situation in Syria, as well as “Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including in Yemen and Syria.”

It wasn’t until the statement’s fourth — of five — sentences that trade was mentioned. “The president further underscored the need to rebalance trade with Europe and expressed hope for a Brexit deal that does not increase tensions on the Northern Ireland border,” the White House said.

At issue are 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent of aluminum that come from the European Union, fees Trump slapped on abruptly late last week even as the two sides were discussing possibly extending a temporary waiver the European bloc had been granted.

The same was true of Mexico and Canada, with the latter’s leader lashing out at Trump in recent days over the matter. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program in an interview that aired Sunday he sees the imports as “insulting.”

[Koch Groups to Spend Millions Against Trump Trade Agenda]

“One of things I have to admit I’m having a lot trouble getting around is that this whole thing has come about because the president and the administration has decided that … Canadian steel and aluminum is a national security threat to the United States,” Trudeau said.

“First of all the idea that our soldiers, who fought and died together on the beaches of World War II, in the mountains of Afghanistan, and have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world… this is insulting to them,” he added, saying the U.S. and Canadian economies are too closely connected for one country to be penalizing the other.

Watch: 2 Trump Agenda Items to Watch on the Hill After Recess

Loading the player...

Trump does agree with May and Trudeau on one thing: All have mentioned discussing the matter later this week when they all will participate in a G7 summit in Quebec, Canada.

Trump’s decision to penalize some of America’s best friends is consistent with his approach of pressing allies and wooing foes, betting he can extract things from both to benefit the United States — and his resume. But the trade fees have angered even Republican lawmakers, who have stood by him on most every other controversial action he has taken or tweet he has posted.

A group affiliated with the libertarian Koch brothers plans to spend millions on an ad campaign promoting the benefits of free trade, breaking with Trump’s nationalistic policies.