WHITE HOUSE – Accusations of attempted interference in a foreign election are being leveled at U.S. President Donald Trump after he phoned into a British radio station Thursday.
During the on-air discussion with Brexit Party head Nigel Farage, Trump praised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a fantastic man who is “the exact right guy for the times.”
Trump urged Farage to cooperate with Johnson, leader of the Conservative Party, ahead of Britain’s Dec. 12 national election, in which Brexit is a core issue.
“If you and he get together, it’s, you know, an unstoppable force,” Trump declared on LBC Radio.
Farage, who campaigned for the 2016 referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union, is a candidate in the upcoming snap election as the head of his party.
The election campaign in Britain has not officially begun. The latest polling data show Johnson’s Tories with a comfortable lead over the opposition Labour Party, as well as the Liberal Democrats. Farage’s Brexit Party is polling in the single digits and currently has no representation in the British Parliament.
Some political analysts, however, view the election outcome as unpredictable, with Farage’s party having the potential to split the Brexit vote and leave the Conservatives without a majority.
Critical of Labour leader
The U.S. president, in Thursday’s interview with Farage, went on to criticize the leader of the Labour Party, saying Jeremy Corbyn would be “so bad for your country” if he became prime minister.
Corbyn immediately took to Twitter to accuse Trump of “trying to interfere in U.K. election to get his friend Boris Johnson elected.”
A political correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, Andrew Sparrow, also said Trump used the interview with Farage “to intervene in the U.K. election.”
BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel tweeted:
Incredible statement from @realDonaldTrump on #GeneralElection19 – in effect calls for @Nigel_Farage and @BorisJohnson to work together; says @jeremycorbyn “would be so bad for your country.”
So much for staying out of other countries elections pic.twitter.com/awJqpGAqpZ
— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) October 31, 2019
During his time in office, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, weighed in on Brexit in 2016, provoking fury from the referendum’s supporters for saying London would be at the “back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the European Union, noted Ben Riley-Smith, U.S. editor of the Daily Telegraph.
“And the consensus of that was it backfired,” said Joe Lockhart, who was White House press secretary under U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The U.K. political editor of Business Insider, Adam Bienkov, implied Farage was being hypocritical about interference by foreign leaders in British politics, noting the political candidate’s criticism that it was disgraceful for Obama to campaign against Brexit while inviting Trump to discuss the election on his program.
Nigel Farage on when it is and isn’t ok for foreign leaders to interfere in UK politics. pic.twitter.com/PgdwNJvLMT
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) October 31, 2019
The virtual endorsement of a candidate in a democratic election in a foreign country by a sitting U.S. president appears unprecedented in modern history.
“As far as straight-up elections, it’s normally more subtle. But with Trump, nothing is subtle,” Lockhart told VOA.
“There has been a long-established norm in British politics that the prime minister does not weigh in on foreign elections, and vice versa, that world leaders should not intervene in United Kingdom votes,” Riley-Smith told VOA.
However, Trump’s unconventional support for the sitting prime minister might not benefit Johnson.
“Most Britons have a negative view of the U.S. president, according to polls. So being hugged by Mr. Trump during an election cycle will not necessarily result in extra votes,” Riley-Smith said.
“Donald Trump is unfit to hold the office of president of the United States,” said Chuka Umunna, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democratic Party. “Boris Johnson is unfit to be prime minister of the United Kingdom. This endorsement is yet another example of the cuddly relationship between the two men. As the saying goes, you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.”
This is not the first time Trump has weighed in on British politics, according to Amanda Sloat, senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.
Trump “has previously expressed similar views, including his preference for Boris Johnson, concerns about Jeremy Corbyn and advice on Brexit negotiations,” Sloat told VOA. “Trump’s interventions are largely background noise at this stage, given the current dysfunction of British politics and the president’s well-known view, and have little effect on domestic debates.”
Johnson views the December election as a way around the parliamentary impasse on the British exit from the EU, something voters decided to pursue three years ago.
In the radio interview, Trump said Johnson, by aggressively pursuing Brexit, is “willing to do what no one else would do.”
Trump also warned that conditions to which London and Brussels might agree following Brexit could make it impossible for a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Britain.
“Under certain ways, we would be precluded, which would be ridiculous,” Trump said.
The U.S. president also told LBC Radio listeners that during trade negotiations between London and Washington, his administration would not seek to tamper with Britain’s national health system.
Corbyn is warning that would not be the case.
“It was Trump who said in June the NHS is ‘on the table,’ ” the Labour Party head tweeted. “And he knows if Labour wins, U.S. corporations won’t get their hands on it. Our NHS is not for sale.”
Trump spoke with Farage on a day in which his public schedule was blank. The interview was conducted just after the House, controlled by the opposition Democrats, voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry against the president.
Trump, in the radio interview, noted that with the 232-196 tally, “I didn’t have one negative Republican vote, which is a very unusual thing.”
The president, immediately after the House vote, declared on Twitter that the impeachment inquiry was “The Greatest Witch Hunt in American History.”