In a wide-ranging interview with the Times of London on Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump said he believes the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union “is going to end up being a great thing” and argued that threats to British identity were a main reason the UK voted to leave the union.
“People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity,” Trump told the paper.
Trump also cited the migration crisis as a primary cause for Britain backing Leave in the June referendum.
“I believe others will leave,” he added. “People don’t want to have other people coming in and destroying their country.”
Some pro-Brexit politicians, such as Trump ally and former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, played to nationalist sentiment and fears over the refugee crisis in their campaign to leave the EU. In the lead-up to the vote, Farage drew widespread condemnation across party lines for unveiling a poster showing a long line of migrants and refugees, with the implication that the UK couldn’t control its borders.
The UK actually resettled a very small number of refugees in the migrant crisis compared with other European nations. Even before voting for Brexit, the UK also had the power to opt out of EU asylum policy and refugee resettlement plans.
On Friday, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the EU Anthony Gardner said that he believed Farage had misled Trump and his transition team on EU politics. Gardner said encouraging Brexit and the breakup of the EU would be “folly” and hurt American interests.
The interview with the Times of London took place at Trump Tower, where Trump spoke with UK Conservative Party politician Michael Gove ― who himself campaigned for Brexit and made a failed bid to become British prime minister following the referendum. In other parts of the interview, Trump criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s asylum policy, claimed he was open to negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce nuclear arms and described Russia’s intervention into Syria as “a very bad thing.”
Trump also promised to pursue a trade deal with the UK once in office, according to the Times of London. In footage from the interview, however, Trump appears to dodge a question from Gove asking if Britain is “at the front of the queue” in terms of trade talks. Trump responds by saying, “I think you are doing great,” in an apparent reference to the UK.
Trump initially came out in support for Britain leaving the EU in May, when polls indicated that Britons would vote to stay in the economic bloc. During his campaign, Trump said people would call him “Mr. Brexit” for his ability to defy polling that indicated he would handily lose the U.S. election.
The UK has been mired in a period of political and economic instability after the Brexit referendum, as its government attempts to formulate a plan for how to exit the EU. The British Pound has plummeted since the vote, losing almost 20 percent of its pre-Brexit value against the U.S. dollar.