President Trump said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is "doing a fantastic job" as British prime minister, and even said he apologized to her Friday morning before their meeting, after an interview published Thursday highlighted his criticism of her handling of Brexit.
"I think she's a terrific woman," he told reporters at a joint press conference Friday at the country estate of the prime minister, Chequers. The president also called the relationship between the U.S. and U.K. the "highest level of special." But Mr. Trump still thinks, as he told The Sun tabloid, that May's Conservative Party rival Boris Johnson would be a great prime minister.
According to Mr. Trump, he also did not criticize May and that reports to the contrary were "fake news."
"I didn't criticize the PM. I have a lot of respect for the PM. And unfortunately there was a story that was done, which was generally fine, but it didn't put in what I said about the PM," he said.
Mr. Trump's visit to Britain is sandwiched between the Brussels NATO summit, where he blasted allies over defense spending and trade, and ahead of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Mr. Trump promised to take a firm line with Putin and tell him to stop interfering in U.S. elections.
On Friday, Mr. Trump met and dined with May, who faces her own political challenges, with just days to come up with a new plan for Brexit or face a vote of no confidence in parliament. Two top U.K. officials overseeing Brexit negotiations, including Johnson, resigned from her government earlier this week.
Reporters questioned Mr. Trump about his commitment to NATO, given his recent criticisms of the organization, and about his upcoming meeting with Putin.
On the day before the news conference, the British tabloid The Sun published an interview with Mr. Trump in he said Johnson would make a great prime minister, and Britain's trade relationship with the U.S. could face turbulence if May follows through with what's known as the so-called "soft" Brexit blueprint. The president made the comments ahead of meetings with May and Queen Elizabeth.
May's "soft" Brexit plan would keep strong economic ties with the European Union. Mr. Trump said he advised May how to manage Brexit, but she didn't listen.
"I did give, Theresa, who I like -- I did give her my views on what she should do and how she should negotiate, and she didn't follow those views," Mr. Trump told the Sun. "I would actually say she probably went the opposite way."
Live updates of Trump-May press conference below: