Boris Johnson privately told US diplomats that Donald Trump was “making America great again”, according to a cache of official notes taken during high-level UK-US meetings whose details have leaked to The Telegraph.
The Prime Minister is quoted telling the US ambassador to Britain in August 2017, when he was foreign secretary, that Mr Trump was doing “fantastic stuff” on foreign policy issues like China, Syria and North Korea.
Other records show Mr Johnson claimed the US president was becoming “increasingly popular” in Britain in 2017 and spoke warmly about how under his leadership America was “back and engaged in the world”.
Mr Johnson’s praise for Mr Trump in private goes much further than he usually does in public, and is eye-catching given polls consistently show a majority of the British people disapprove of the US president. Its disclosure could see the Prime Minister get dragged into the US election campaign, with the president eager to tout overseas support and Democratic nominee Joe Biden already on-record once calling Mr Johnson a Trump “clone”.
The contemporaneous notes were taken by US officials during seven meetings and calls involving either the leader or top foreign minister of Britain or America.
Additionally this newspaper has spoken to more than 20 people who saw the UK-US relationship up-close under Mr Trump, including from senior posts in the White House, Downing Street, Foreign Office and State Department.
Taken together, they paint one of the most detailed pictures to date of how strained the ‘special relationship’ has been behind closed doors during Mr Trump’s first term.
It can also be reported:
• Mr Trump pushed back hard on Theresa May’s pleas to expel Russian diplomats after the Skripal poisoning, saying “I would rather follow than lead”
• The US president wondered why there was so much “hatred” in Northern Ireland and asked Mrs May during a lunch why Mr Johnson was not prime minister
• Mr Johnson built close working relationships with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and adviser Stephen Miller, while forging ties with the Trump inner circle
• The president was at times “hectoring” towards Mrs May in “nightmare” phone calls and would ask other world leaders what they thought of her
• Mr Trump cancelled his planned first visit to Britain as president at the last minute over the schedule and scrapped a call with Mrs May due to a foreign policy clash.
Since taking office in January 2017 Mr Trump has dealt with two prime ministers, first Mrs May until she stood down in July 2019 and then Mr Johnson, her successor.
While his personal relationship with Mrs May was strained at times, he has developed a warmer bond with Mr Johnson, who he has called a friend and “Britain Trump”.
The information leaked to The Telegraph includes details of three conversations Mr Johnson had with senior US officials when foreign secretary, and shows how he praised Mr Trump away from the cameras.
One meeting described in the notes saw Mr Johnson meet Woody Johnson, the then newly appointed US ambassador to the UK, in the Foreign Office on 29 August 2017.
“We were initially anxious about the US foreign policy but Trump has been doing fantastic stuff on Syria, North Korea, China, Afghanistan”, Mr Johnson said, according to the notes. “America is back under Trump”, Mr Johnson is quoted saying at one point. At another he said “we’ll solve problems together”, adding: “The president is making America great again”.
Mr Johnson’s echoing of Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, or MAGA for short, will raise eyebrows given it is the rallying cry for the president’s supporters, who wear red baseball caps bearing the words.
A second conversation was between Mr Trump and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, when they spoke on the phone on June 7 2018, right before the president’s trip to Britain.
“The visit’s going to be very important. We’re going to give him a great time,” Mr Johnson said, according to the notes, adding later: “The president is increasingly popular in the UK.” Mr Pompeo is quoted responding: “We’ll put him on a street corner of Piccadilly. He can shake hands with people. That would be great.” Mr Johnson added: “That would be crazy.”
The tone of the last comments described is unknown but appears to be tongue in cheek. It is also unclear whether there was evidence backing up Mr Johnson’s ”increasingly popular” claim.
A poll of Britons conducted by YouGov the week before found 74 per cent of respondents had an unfavourable view of Mr Trump while just 16 per cent had a favourable view. A third meeting involving Mr Johnson came on May 26 2017.
He met Rex Tillerson, then the US secretary of state, at 1 Carlton Gardens, the foreign secretary’s official residence in London. At one point, according to the notes, Mr Johnson said: “It’s great to see America is back and engaged in the world with a different tempo. We think that is going to have an impact, especially on Russia’s thinking.”
Mr Tillerson is quoted responding: “Russia needs to receive a consistent message from everyone. The future is not with Iran and not with Assad [the Syrian dictator].”
In all three meetings Mr Johnson pushed the UK’s foreign policy positions despite differences with the US – something his supporters will likely point to as an advantage of having a good relationship with Mr Trump.
According to the notes Mr Johnson told Ambassador Johnson not to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, pressed Mr Tillerson on the importance of securing peace in Syria and expressed regret to Mr Pompeo that the US could leave the United Nations’s Human Rights Council.
The other four meetings at which notes were taken are a May-Trump lunch in January 2017, a May-Trump call in March 2018 and two briefings Mr Trump got in the White House, one ahead of a call with Mrs May and the other before a UK visit.
Approached for comment, a Number 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is committed to the extremely important relationship between the UK and US and to enhancing the work we do together to ensure the prosperity and security of our citizens.” The White House declined to comment.