U.S. President Donald Trump praised the E.U. for doing “a very good job” in uniting after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, in a Financial Times interview published on Sunday.
“I would have thought when it happened that more [countries] would follow, but I really think the European Union is getting their act together,” Trump said of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
The U.S. president praised the bloc for doing “a very good job in bringing it back together” since the shock referendum result in June. He lauded the E.U. for adopting “a different spirit for holding together” in recent months.
Trump’s comments are a departure from his prediction in January that “other countries will leave” the bloc following Brexit, which he then described as a “great thing.” His remarks in a joint interview to The Times and Bild newspapers came ahead of his inauguration, sparking an angry reaction among European leaders.
The E.U. “has no need for outside advice,” French President Francois Hollande said bluntly, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the time told reporters “We Europeans have our fate in our own hands.”
Speaking to the Financial Times, Trump claimed Brexit would be positive for both sides of the negotiating table. “I actually think it is going to be a great deal for U.K., and I think it is going to be really, really good also for the European Union,” he was quoted as saying.
Trump was joined on the presidential campaign by Nigel Farage, a key player in the Brexit referendum who urged U.S. voters last year to side with the anti-establishment candidate.
Britain last Wednesday initiated the process for quitting the E.U., a move that prompted a more formal response from the White House. “We respect the will of the British electorate and her majesty’s government in taking steps of departing the European Union. … Whatever future the U.K.-E.U. relationship looks like, we want the U.K. to remain a strong leader in Europe,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Bitter feelings nonetheless linger between Washington and Brussels, captured on Thursday when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker joked he was ready to encourage U.S. independence movements if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support. “The newly elected president is delighted to see Britain leave” the European Union, Juncker said in Malta. “If he carries on, I am going to promote the independence of Ohio and Austin, Texas,” he said in German at a congress of the European People’s Party (EPP).