Saturday 21 October 2017

UK Home Secretary admits leaked account of EU's 'disastrous dinner' with Theresa May could be accurate despite Downing Street dismissal

'I think it’s a mistake to allow those sorts of details – if they are true – to come out from a dinner'

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd Picture: Reuters
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd Picture: Reuters

Rob Merrick

The EU’s version of its ‘disastrous dinner’ with Theresa May, which has thrown the Brexit talks into turmoil, could be “true”, the Home Secretary has suggested.

Amber Rudd undermined No.10’s dismissal of the account of the talks – after which the Prime Minister was accused of living in a “parallel reality” – as “Brussels gossip”.

“None of this is really surprising,” Ms Rudd said, of the horrified leaked reaction of Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission's president.

Instead, she criticised the leak itself, saying: “I think it’s a mistake to allow those sorts of details – if they are true – to come out from a dinner.” Asked if they were true, Ms Rudd replied: “I don’t know.”

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

According to accounts of Wednesday night's dinner, Ms May hinted she would try to avoid paying any exit bill, telling Mr Juncker the EU had no legal power to force Britain to pay up.

She also insisted talks about a future trade deal should start early – despite the EU making clear the expected £50bn ‘divorce bill’ must be agreed first.

The EU side was also astonished at Ms May's suggestion that the controversy over EU citizens’ future rights could be settled next month – believing she had no grasp of its complexity.

Mr Juncker is said to have made clear to the Prime Minister that, unless she accepted the EU’s ‘red lines’, there was no point in even beginning the withdrawal talks.

His last words to the prime minister as he left were: “I'm leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before,” according to the leak.

Asked about that devastating account of the dinner, Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “None of this is really surprising.

“We always said it’s going to be difficult, these negotiations. I’m not surprised that there is some briefing coming out from different sides of the negotiation

“What we will always do is make sure that we conduct our negotiations more discreetly, shall we say, so that we can have a freer negotiating hand.”

The comments were in stark contrast to those of Ms May, on the campaign trail in Lancashire yesterday, when she said: “From what I have seen of this account, I think it is Brussels gossip.

“Just look at what the European Commission themselves said immediately after the dinner took place, which was that the talks had been constructive.”

Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, warned: “Unless we change tack quickly and adopt a more constructive approach, the weaker our negotiating hand will become.”

The morning after the dinner, Mr Juncker is believed to have telephoned Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to tell her Ms May was living in “another galaxy” and a “parallel reality”.

A few hours later, Ms Merkel made an outspoken attack herself on Britain, saying: “Some people in the UK are suffering under illusions.”

During the interview, the Home Secretary also appeared to pour cold water on suggestions that the Conservatives’ post-Brexit immigration policy will be revealed next week.

“We will set out in the manifesto some of our strategy towards immigration,” she said, repeating that a consultation with businesses would be held over the summer.

Independent News Service

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