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U.K. foreign secretary praises Trump on trade and Russia

Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt sat down with Axios on his first visit to Washington since replacing Boris Johnson last month, and said his early interactions with President Trump lead him to believe Trump "is actually trying to do something quite different from what a lot of people think."

What he's saying: "I think he absolutely understands the importance of the international order as we know it. You don’t have to persuade him that Russia is up to nefarious activity which is not acceptable and breaches international norms. But his view is that if this international order is going to work, it’s got to be reformed. It’s got to change."

  • "I met him on my second day on the job and then I went to meetings at Chequers with [Prime Minister] Theresa May and him in a very small group. And I was coming to this with an open mind and probably quite a lot of the prejudices that a lot of people would have about him."
  • "The traditional western foreign policy has been that if we disapprove of something someone’s done, we don’t just take action but we stop the engagement as well. He takes the view that actually you need to engage with people. I think it’s a business mentality. He’s always looking for a way to re-cast the deal."

As for the threat of auto tariffs, which would hammer the European economy and which Trump raised again last night at his West Virginia rally, Hunt said Trump is right to spot a "clear imbalance."

  • "I can’t justify why it is that the tariffs are different in one direction compared to the other given that both Europe and the U.S. have similar standards of living. He’s saying he wants to put it right...but he’s not looking to have a world where Europe and the U.S. don’t trade with each other, and he completely gets the importance of free trade."

Between the lines: Leaders in Brussels and Berlin have been stressing the need to push back against Trump, particularly on trade. Hunt, who is clearly intent on building strong ties with the administration (he’ll meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today), took just the opposite approach. He praised Trump’s "guts," and made a stronger defense of the president's foreign policy objectives than many in the administration have managed.

  • On Brexit: Hunt, who campaigned for remaining in the EU during the Brexit battle, told Axios he now believes “we will be better off outside the EU.” He said that will be the case even if the U.K. crashes out next year without an exit deal, a scenario he's been warning against in European capitals.
  • On replacing Johnson, who resigned over May's handling of Brexit, Hunt said: “I don’t think anyone could be stylistically the same as Boris. So of course my style is going to be completely different. I don’t think that the substance is terribly different, particularly when it comes to relations with the U.S."
  • So is Trump right that Johnson would make "a great prime minister?" "Well Boris is someone I would never underestimate. This is a man who has changed the course of British history through his campaigning for Brexit. I don’t agree with him on everything, but, you know, who knows for the future?"

1 fun thing: Hunt spoke with Axios after a White House meeting with Mike Pence. He said the vice president has "great affection" for the U.K., and told him he'd watched the box set of Netflix's "The Crown."

Check out more from our interview with Hunt in tomorrow’s Axios World newsletter. Sign up here.

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