Theresa May will not need a “third person” in her relationship with Donald Trump, her official spokeswoman has said, in comments that will be seen as a slapdown of Nigel Farage.
The Downing Street spokeswoman said the prime minister would not seek the Ukip leader’s help to build ties with the US president-elect, despite Farage’s close relationship with the Republican.
“We have established routes of engagement with the president-elect and his team. Our diplomatic staff have been building those contacts and links in the run-up to the election,” she said in response to questions about Farage’s hour-long meeting with Trump in New York.
The spokeswoman talked about a warm phone call between May and Trump on Thursday, adding: “The president-elect talked about enjoying the same close relationship that Reagan and Thatcher did. I don’t remember there being a third person in that relationship.”
Asked whether British ministers ought to speak to Farage about the meeting with Trump, she added: “It seems to me there are pretty widespread reports of his meeting with Trump, so they don’t need to speak to him, can’t they just read the British press?”
There have been reports of a cabinet split in which some ministers urged May to use Farage’s links to Trump.
Asked whether May felt snubbed in light of Farage’s reception in New York, the spokeswoman said: “The president-elect invited the prime minister to visit at the earliest opportunity when they spoke last week … This is about the relationship between the government of the UK and the president-elect and the office of the White House as it will be when inaugurated.”
She said the government would continue to use “well-established channels”, and rejected claims that the UK ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, had failed to build ties with Trump’s team.
“The prime minister has welcomed the work that the diplomatic team have been doing at the embassy in Washington, the engagement of our ambassador and his team with the teams of both candidates,” she said. “We’ve been able to use the links with the Trump team moving forward.”
The spokeswoman suggested May would travel to the US at the earliest possible opportunity.
Asked whether May was worried about Trump’s comments on Nato, the spokeswoman said the UK was a leading voice in pushing members to commit to the agreement to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
“The prime minister and the government are clear on the importance of Nato, that it has formed the bedrock of collective security for many years, and we remain committed to that and committed to working with our European partners,” she said. She would not be pushed on the suggestion from the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, that there had been a “collective whinge-o-rama” in response to Trump’s election victory. “I think the PM acknowledges that this was a choice by the American people. Her focus is how can we build a strong relationship – shared values, cooperation on defence,” she said.
“We want to build a strong working relationship so we can engage with them on shared interests, and talk about how to cooperate in benefit of both countries.”
Johnson also said there was “a lot to be positive” about after Trump’s election. He said: “It’s only a few days since the election has taken place. I think we all need to wait and see what they come up with. But I think we should regard it as a moment for opportunity.”
Johnson had previously called Trump “ill-informed” and said his comments on Islam showed “a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States”.
But arriving in Brussels on Monday morning, Johnson said the Republican’s victory reflected wider changes in public opinion to which politicians must respond.
“This is a time, I think – as the prime minister is saying today – when there’s a big change going on in the world,” said Johnson. “People who feel they haven’t been properly listened to and properly represented are starting to make their voices heard. It’s up to us, it’s up to everybody, to listen to them and to take things forward in a positive way.
“Donald Trump, as I’ve said before, is a dealmaker and I think that could be a good thing for Britain, but it could also be a good thing for Europe and that I think is what we need to focus on today.”