Wednesday 23 August 2017

May denies claim her dinner with Juncker was a disaster

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech to Conservative Party members in Mawdesley, Ormskirk. Photo: Andrew Yates, Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech to Conservative Party members in Mawdesley, Ormskirk. Photo: Andrew Yates, Reuters

Gavin Cordon

Theresa May has dismissed claims she is at loggerheads with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker over her Brexit negotiating strategy as just "Brussels gossip".

The British prime minister came under fire following reports Mr Juncker walked out of talks last week in Downing Street saying he was "10 times more sceptical than before".

Opposition parties warned the UK was heading for a "disastrous hard Brexit" after a detailed account in the German press of their dinner suggested Mr Juncker left fearing the negotiations would end in failure.

But campaigning in Ormskirk in Lancashire, Mrs May brushed off the claims, insisting that they were at odds with what the commission had said about the meeting.

"From what I have seen of this account, I think it is Brussels gossip," she said.

"Look at what the European Commission themselves said immediately after the dinner took place which was that the talks had been constructive."

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker at last week’s meeting. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker at last week’s meeting. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Downing Street said it did not recognise the latest report which appeared in the German 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung' newspaper.

However, the reported disclosures - attributed to commission sources - threatened to sour the mood between London and Brussels before negotiations have even begun.

Read more: Media reports about Brexit talks with Juncker are just 'Brussels gossip' - says Theresa May

The EU side - which included chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier - was said to have concluded that Mrs May was way too optimistic about the prospects for a deal.

When Mrs May told them "Let us make Brexit a success", Mr Juncker was said to have replied "Brexit cannot be a success".

At one stage - to underline the complexity of negotiations - the commission president was said to have brandished copies of Croatia's EU entry deal and Canada's free trade deal which runs to 2,000 pages.

Mrs May was also said to have angered the EU side when she warned that the UK could not be forced to pay a "divorce bill" for leaving because there was no requirement under the treaties, which drew the response that the EU was "not a golf club".

As he left, Mr Juncker was said to have told her: "I leave Downing Street 10 times as sceptical as I was before."

The following morning he rang German chancellor Angela Merkel to warn her that Mrs May's approach was from a "different galaxy".

Mrs Merkel responded by re-writing a speech she was giving that day to warn that some in Britain were still harbouring "illusions" about the Brexit process.

No 10 said it did not recognise the account of the meeting which took place over dinner last Wednesday.

A government spokesman said: "As the prime minister and Jean-Claude Juncker made clear, this was a constructive meeting ahead of the negotiations formally getting under way."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning in south London, warned Mrs May's negotiating strategy was unravelling.

"Of course they are going to be difficult [negotiations], but you start from the basis that you want to reach an agreement, you start from the basis that you have quite a lot of shared interests and values," he said.

"If you start from that basis and show respect, you are more likely to get a good deal. But if you start with a megaphone, calling people silly names, it is not a great start to anything."

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said: "It's clear this government has no clue."

Irish Independent

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