Observers of the US presidency have long remarked that, while Donald Trump can be vicious in his criticisms on Twitter or in interviews, he turns soft as a pussy cat when standing alongside the object of his earlier scorn.
And so it turned out when Mr Trump met Theresa May at Chequers just hours after the publication of his scathing put-down of her handling of Brexit.
Despite having told The Sun only a day before that Mrs May's approach had "killed" any chance of a US trade deal, the President had clearly decided it was time to praise the Prime Minister, not bury her. Mrs May was "a terrific woman doing a terrific job", "a very smart, very tough and capable person" and "a very tough negotiator" who made everyone think "Gee Whizz! She left a lot of people in her wake!", he said.
Their relationship was so "great" after eating "breakfast, lunch and dinner" together that he felt "embarrassed" for the other guests at their table at Blenheim Palace on Thursday evening, frozen out of the conversation as the President and Prime Minister nattered on about world affairs for 90 minutes or more. As for the fabled special relationship which US presidents are always asked to reaffirm when they come to these shores, it was "indispensable", "the highest level of special", he said. "Am I allowed to go higher than that? I don't know."
And in a sign that they were still on good terms despite the things he had said, Mr Trump once again reached out to hold the Prime Minister's hand as they went up and down the steps leading into the garden where they spoke to the press. Never a man accused of a lack of self-regard, Mr Trump did his best to look a little bit sheepish about the faux pas of accusing his guest of failing to deliver the Brexit Britain voted for and talking up her would-be successor Boris Johnson as a future prime minister.
But he was pleased to report that he had already been forgiven.
"When I saw her this morning, I said 'I want to apologise, because I said such good things about you'," he revealed. "She said 'Don't worry, it's only the press'."
And well might the PM accept his apology, for it gave her the opportunity to get the President in front of the cameras, nodding along as she spelt out her plans for an "ambitious" trade deal with America once the UK leaves the EU next year. On Brexit, the President assured her "whatever you do is okay with me... Just make sure we can trade together".
Trans-Atlantic trade could be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled as a result, he predicted.
Mr Trump did confirm that he had given Mrs May "a suggestion, not advice" on how she could come out on top in negotiations with EU leaders. But - in comments which left reporters scratching their heads about what the suggestion could possibly have been - he remarked ruefully that it was "too brutal" for Mrs May to put into practice.
Otherwise, Trump was happy to resort to his usual excuse of "fake news" to explain away the embarrassment he had caused his host. He repeatedly offered to release tapes of his interview so the world could hear the truth about what he said, apparently unaware The Sun had already put out its own recording.
As the President held forth for almost an hour in the sweltering heat, cows lowing gently in the background, Downing Street aides could be forgiven for thinking that an apparently disastrous situation had been well and truly retrieved.
The worry will linger however that this man on whose cooperation so much of Mrs May's post-Brexit strategy depends may speak his mind more truthfully in the privacy of an interview with a tabloid reporter than he ever would when talking to her face to face.
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3 June 2018
3 June 2018
3 June 2018