Donald Trump and Woody Johnson attend the NY Jets kickoff luncheon party at Cipriani Wall Street on August 27, 2008 in New York. (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The new US ambassador to the UK has told Britons they will grow to like Donald Trump “when you get to know him”.
Woody Johnson made the comments in his first public speech since arriving in London to become the US president's representative in Britain. He also pledged to back Britain during the Brexit negotiations and said his long personal friendship with Trump meant he had a better insight into the president's personality.
“As you know, an American ambassador is the personal representative of the president,” he said. “Many of you do not know the president. I have known him for over 30 years. I know the president, and I know his family. My wife Suzanne and the first lady are great friends. Our sons were born three days apart in the same hospital. Our relationship is long-standing, personal, and close. And I can promise you, when you get to know him, you’ll like him.”
The ambassador also made it clear that the UK “is always at the head of the line” when it comes to negotiations and said the US was “committed to standing with the UK through Brexit” – a dig at former president Barack Obama's pre-referendum comment that the UK would be at the back of the line in terms of trade deals if it voted to leave the EU.
“Our position on Brexit is clear,” Johnson said. “We want a strong and prosperous UK to remain a leader in Europe, and we want both the UK and the EU to remain strong leaders globally.”
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He added: “It is in everyone’s interest that Brexit be transparent, smooth, and orderly. But whatever the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU, Britain should know you will have a strong and reliable trade and investment partner in America.”
Johnson, a billionaire, inherited his wealth from his ancestors, who founded the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company. He owns the New York Jets and is a longtime Republican donor who was initially involved in Jeb Bush's presidential campaign before switching to Trump. In return he was rewarded with the post of ambassador to the UK, a position traditionally reserved for political allies of presidents rather than longterm career diplomats.
The new ambassador also pointedly referenced a long-running dispute over whether President Obama had moved a small sculpture of Winston Churchill from a prominent position in the White House, saying one of Trump's first actions was to restore the bust “to its rightful place directly opposite the president’s desk in the Oval Office”.
“As far as the president is concerned, the United Kingdom, our most enduring ally, is always at the head of the line,” he said.