David Cameron has said he “respects” the controversial presidential candidate Donald Trump for making it through the gruelling Republican primary process.
The prime minister refused to retract his claim, made when a Trump candidacy still seemed an unlikely prospect, that the billionaire’s proposal for banning Muslims from the US was “stupid, divisive and wrong”.
Speaking at a joint press conference at 10 Downing Street alongside his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, Cameron said, having come through the tough primary process, Trump “deserves our respect”.
“Knowing the gruelling nature of the primaries, what you have to go through to go on and represent your party in a general election – anyone who makes it through that deserves our respect,” he said.
However, he added: “What I said about Muslims, I wouldn’t change that view. I’m very clear that the policy idea that was put forward was wrong, it is wrong, and it will remain wrong.”
Cameron’s spokeswoman later said the prime minister respected Trump, “politician to politician”, given the fierce state-by-state battle for party supporters’ votes that primary candidates must endure before they can win the right to fight for the presidency.
Global policymakers are scrambling to catch up with the fact that Trump, who once appeared an eccentric outsider, will be the official Republican candidate after storming to success in the primaries. Abe visibly smirked – before rearranging his face into a serious expression – when the idea of Trump gracing the table at next year’s G7 summit was mentioned.
Cameron’s change of tone came after George Papadopoulos, an adviser to Trump, told the Times on Wednesday that he thought the prime minister should reach out with an apology or some sort of retraction.
Papadopoulos said Cameron’s comments were uncalled for and it would be wise for the prime minister to “reach out in a more positive manner” to the Republican frontrunner.
Asked if Trump would forgive the remarks, he said: “I can’t speak directly for him, but it would seem that if Prime Minister Cameron is serious about reaching out, not only to Mr Trump’s advisers but to the man himself, an apology or some sort of retraction should happen.”
No 10 sources said Cameron would be willing to meet Trump, as he would any other presidential candidate who visited the UK and requested discussions. He met Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ last candidate, in 2012.