PHILADELPHIA — Britain "absolutely" condemns the use of torture, Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday — and she says she's not afraid to tell that to U.S. President Donald Trump when she meets him in Washington.
May's face-to-face talks at the White House on Friday will be Trump's first with a foreign leader since his inauguration. May plans to seize the opportunity to bolster the trans-Atlantic "special relationship."
But she is under fire for seeking to get close to a president who has renewed his commitment to building a Mexican border wall, moved to pull the U.S. out of international trade treaties and said he thinks torturing terrorism suspects works.
May told reporters aboard her Royal Air Force plane that "we absolutely condemn the use of torture." She said "my view on that won't change, whether I'm talking to you or talking to the president."
Britain's official policy is to halt intelligence-sharing with countries that practice torture. May did not say what her government would do if the U.S. re-instated waterboarding, which has been called a form of torture and was banned under President Barack Obama. But she said "our position has not changed."
May started her two-day U.S. trip in Philadelphia, where she will tell a gathering of Republican lawmakers that Britain outside the European Union and the U.S. under Trump can "lead together again" in the world, as they did when they set up the United Nations and other organizations that have underpinned global order for decades.
May's said her talks with Trump in the Oval Office will focus on the fight against Islamic State group terrorism, the future of the NATO alliance — and Britain's desire for a quick trade deal with the U.S. after the U.K. leaves the EU, likely in 2019.
Critics say May's desire for new economic partners once Britain exits the EU's single market of 500 million people is blinding her to Trump's disregard for facts, sweeping edicts and isolationist "America first" stance. All that comes in contrast to May's strong support for globalization.
Historian Simon Schama dubbed May "Theresa Appeaser," while Labour Party lawmaker Ed Miliband tweeted that her warm words for Trump should make her fellow Conservatives "feel queasy."
Trump has branded NATO "obsolete" and said the EU is "basically a vehicle for Germany" that Britain was "smart" to leave.
But May said Trump had assured her in phone conversations of his "strong commitment" to NATO.
"Talking about the future of NATO is one of the issues we will discuss, as well as a whole range of other issues - our trading relationship, counterterrorism," May said. "I will be able to hear direct from him what his views are."
Trump has spoken enthusiastically about doing a free-trade deal with Britain, but has generally been cool on trade agreements. He is pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a deal Obama worked hard on — and has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
May, in contrast, has vowed Britain will champion free trade around the world.
On a personal level, the leaders could hardly be more different. Trump is a brash, spotlight-loving businessman whose closest British ally to date has been the former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.
May is a small-town vicar's daughter who has risen to the top of politics through prudence, caution and the avoidance of personal ostentation and controversy. Her most flamboyant feature is a fondness for leopard-print kitten-heel shoes.
May said Thursday that the U.S.-U.K. relationship was not built on personalities, but on "shared interests, shared challenges."
"We have a special relationship, a longstanding relationship," she said. "It's existed through many different prime ministers and presidents. I want to build on that relationship. I believe, from the conversations I've already had with Donald Trump, that he does too."
And, she added: "Haven't you ever noticed? Sometimes opposites attract."