LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday revealed the advice President Trump had given her on how to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union: Go straight to court.
Mrs. May was asked by the BBC about comments Mr. Trump made both in an interview in the British tabloid The Sun and later at a Friday news conference at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, northwest of London.
“He told me I should sue the E.U.,” Mrs. May said.
Her comments would most likely be seen as pushing back against Mr. Trump, who had criticized her for ignoring his suggestion and whose interview in The Sun had embarrassed the prime minister, just as she was rolling out the red carpet for his working visit to England that she had hoped would showcase the strength of trans-Atlantic ties.
At the news conference, Mr. Trump, without revealing how he had advised Mrs. May, said that she had seemed to regard his suggestion as too “brutal.”
Some hard-line supporters of the withdrawal, known as Brexit, have criticized Mrs. May as not being tough enough in talks with the bloc, and Mr. Trump’s remarks seemed to back them up.
Asked by the visibly surprised interviewer to repeat her account of Mr. Trump’s advice, Mrs. May, did so: “Sue the E.U.,” she said, smiling, “not go into negotiation, sue them. Actually, no, no, we are going into negotiations with them.”
Mrs. May gave no further details of what sort of legal case he had in mind, and it was not immediately clear what practical help such an intervention would make during a tense negotiation over Brexit.
Last week, Mrs. May published details of an agreement reached by her cabinet on how post-Brexit trade could work, but that prompted the resignation of two senior ministers, including Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary, saying that the plan would not deliver the Brexit people had voted for in the 2016 referendum.
While he was still in his job, Mr. Johnson compared Mrs. May’s negotiating style, unfavorably, to that of Mr. Trump. And in The Sun interview, Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Johnson, a Conservative party rival of Mrs. May’s, would make a great prime minister.
On Sunday, Mrs. May seemed to suggest that Mr. Trump’s advice had not been completely consistent. “Interestingly, what the president also said at that press conference was, ‘Don’t walk away,’” she told the BBC.