Donald Trump today insisted the UK and US are ‘trying to work something out’ amid a transAtlantic row over his protection of an American diplomat’s wife who allegedly hit and killed a teenager while driving on the wrong side of the road.
The president attempted to cool mounting tensions that were stoked when he defended the suspect, Anne Sacoolas, who claimed diplomatic immunity and was spirited out of Britain after the crash.
Mr Trump caused fury when he suggested Americans driving on the wrong side of the road in the UK was a common mistake, saying: ‘It happens.’
The intervention, just hours after Boris Johnson called him to appeal for the diplomatic immunity to be waived, sparked questions about whether the Special Relationship still exists.
But speaking to reporters in Washington overnight, Mr Trump said he had a ‘good conversation’ with the PM. ‘We are trying to work something out,’ he added.
Downing Street had raised the hopes of the family of 19-year-old Harry Dunn, announcing that Mr Johnson had spoken to the President and ‘urged him to reconsider the US position’ in a phone call.
Speaking to reporters in Washington overnight, Mr Trump said he had a ‘good conversation’ with the PM. ‘We are trying to work something out,’ he added.
Hopes raised: Downing Street revealed in a statement last night that Boris Johnson (pictured today) had urged Donald Trump to ‘reconsider’ over the death of Harry Dunn
But Mr Trump dashed those hopes in a press conference just 46 minutes later on Wednesday night, joking about driving on the wrong side himself and saying: ‘It happens’.
To make matters worse, the President accidentally revealed a briefing note which stated that ‘the spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom’.
Mr Trump was pressed again about the situation as he left Washington DC for a rally in Mineapolis last night.
Asked whether the Ms Sacoolas had been spoken to, he said: ‘They are in the process of being spoken to…
‘I had a conversation with Boris Johnson yesterday, a good one.
‘We are talking about diplomatic immunity, a very interesting situation.
‘We are trying to work something out.’
Ministers have been staying tight-lipped on the row, apparently keen to avoid a public meltdown that could prevent the the issue being resolved behind the scenes.
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, the Dunn family’s local MP, tweeted last night that she was ‘pleased’ the council had agreed to ‘extending road signs around the American base, making clear which side of the road to drive on’.
However, she has not done any interviews on the subject since Monday.
In contrast MPs and the family have made no secret of their anger.
Labour’s Wes Streeting said of Mr Trump’s comments yesterday: ‘These are crass and insensitive comments that will inflict further pain and suffering on a grieving family.
‘Mrs Sacoolas should return to the UK immediately to provide answers as to what happened to Harry Dunn.
‘The Special Relationship between our two countries has been the cornerstone of our mutual defence and prosperity for nearly a century. President Trump continually undermines that relationship.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also took aim at Mr Trump, saying he would ‘mount legal action’ in the US if he were Prime Minister.
‘For somebody to be killed in our country and the person who did it to flee to the United States and then claim diplomatic immunity is completely unacceptable,’ he said.
Mr Dunn’s family today branded the President ‘insensitive, clumsy and oafish’ and said they were ‘horrified by his words’.
Harry Dunn (pictured), 19, was killed n a car crash in Northamptonshire allegedly caused by the wife of an American diplomat
The parents of Mr Dunn are demanding justice after the suspect, Anne Sacoolas (pictured), claimed diplomatic immunity and was spirited out of Britain after the crash
The President accidentally revealed a briefing note which stated that ‘the spouse of the U.S. government employee will not return to the United Kingdom’
Mr Trump’s bombshell briefing reveals the US has already told Britain she will not be returned to the UK to face justice
Speaking to Sky News about the briefing note, which Mr Trump accidentally flashed to cameras, the teenager’s mother Charlotte Charles said: ‘I’m just disgusted.
‘I don’t see the point in Boris Johnson talking to President Trump, or President Trump even taking a call from Boris Johnson.
‘If he’d already made his decision that if it were to be asked and if it were to be raised, the answer was already going to be no.
‘It’s just beyond any realm of any human thinking.’
Number 10 had last night put out a statement, published by the Press Association at 8.38pm, which said the two leaders would ‘work together to find a way forward’.
‘The Prime Minister urged the President to reconsider the US position so the individual involved can return to the UK, cooperate with police and allow Harry’s family to receive justice,’ the statement said.
The President said he was fully aware of the case and deeply saddened by what has happened, and he expressed his condolences to Harry’s parents, who are separated.
‘The leaders agreed to work together to find a way forward as soon as possible.’
Harry Dunn’s mother Charlotte weeps as she and her family speak to the media yesterday
In Washington, Mr Trump started a wide-ranging press conference at the same moment that the statement appeared.
At 9.24pm UK time, he was asked about the case and said: ‘The woman was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that can happen.
”When you get used to driving on our system and then you’re all of a sudden on the other system where you’re driving – it happens. You have to be careful, very careful.
‘You know, those are the opposite roads, that happens. I won’t say it ever happened to me, but it did.’
Traffic drives on the left in Britain and on the right in America.
Mr Trump said officials would speak to the driver, 42-year-old Mrs Sacoolas, but reiterated that she had diplomatic immunity.
‘So a young man was killed, the person that was driving the automobile has diplomatic immunity, we’re going to speak to her very shortly and see if we can do something where they meet,’ Mr Trump said.
‘It was an accident, it was a terrible accident.’
The note in his pocket said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had already informed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that Mrs Sacoolas would not return.
Mr Dunn’s mother said: ‘You would hope, being a UK citizen, that they would be the ones to help us as much as possible.
‘With Donald Trump saying yesterday that every driver has driven on the wrong side of the road at some point – perhaps they have.
Charlotte Charles (left) and Tim Dunn (right), the parents of Harry Dunn, arrive with their partners at the Foreign Office today ahead of the meeting with the Foreign Secretary
The crash took place in August outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire (pictured) – a US intelligence hub in Britain
‘But not every driver has travelled the distance that Anne Sacoolas did and taken the life of a 19-year-old who was completely and utterly innocent.
‘So to us, although it’s a personal issue for us, it is more of a unique case than just having accidentally driven on the wrong side of the road so I’m not very happy about those throw-away comments.’
Mr Trump has generally enjoyed a warm relationship with Mr Johnson, backing him for the Conservative leadership earlier this year.
The President called the Tory politician a ‘very talented person’ and said the former London mayor would do a ‘very good job’ as Prime Minister.
As mayor, Mr Johnson had heavily criticised then-candidate Trump in 2015, saying he would not want Londoners to face the ‘risk of meeting Donald Trump’.
The latest diplomatic row has again tested the so-called Special Relationship, a term coined by Winston Churchill.
The car which crashed into Mr Dunn in August was thought to have been driving on the wrong side of the road after leaving RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, a military base used by the U.S. Air Force.
Mrs Sacoolas, reportedly the wife of a US intelligence official, was granted immunity and flown back to America on a private jet from RAF Mildenhall.
Northamptonshire Police have also asked the US to consider waiving the diplomatic immunity.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also met Ms Charles and Harry’s father Tim Dunn on Wednesday afternoon.