Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Theresa May is deluded' - Juncker in scathing call with Merkel after Brexit talks

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to Downing Street. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to Downing Street. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Helena Horton and Steven Swinford

THE European Union has warned that it is "more likely than not" that Brexit talks will fail after Jean Claude Juncker accused Theresa May of being "deluded" in the wake of a tense dinner at Downing Street in London.

The President of the European Commission launched a scathing attack on Mrs May after the meeting on Wednesday last week, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported.

He reportedly claimed during the meeting that Brexit "cannot be a success" and threatened to end talks without a trade deal if Britain refuses to pay a "divorce" bill.

The British Prime Minister said that the UK is not legally obliged to pay the EU anything as it leaves the EU. Mr Juncker and his colleagues responded by saying that Britain cannot simply cancel its membership of the EU as if it was a "golf club".

EU officials accused Mrs May of viewing Brexit through "rose-tinted glasses" after she said "let us make Brexit a success". Mr Juncker insisted: "This cannot be a success."

The pair also clashed over EU migrants as Mrs May pushed for an early deal during negotiations. The European Union's representatives said they were "astonished" by Mrs May's push for it to be sorted "by the end of June".

Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: PA
Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: PA

Mr Juncker suggested that this timetable was "too optimistic", pulling out of his bag "two piles of paper" - Croatia's EU entry deal and Canada's free trade deal - to highlight how complex talks are likely to become.

The most tense talks came over Britain's Brexit divorce bill. The European Union is calling on the EU to pay up to £50bn to fulfill its obligations to the EU.

Mrs May reportedly insisted that the UK is not legally obliged to pay the EU anything, which appears to have prompted an angry response. Mr Juncker suggested that without paying a divorce bill Britain would be unable to secure a future trade deal.

After the meal Mr Juncker called Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, saying that Mrs May was "living in another galaxy" and "deluding herself".

His call led to Mrs Merkel publicly warning that Britain was suffering from "illusions" about Brexit. Mrs May subsequently highlighted her comments and said that EU nations were "lining up" to oppose Britain and that talks would be "tough".

The European Union also appeared to reject calls by Mrs May for talks to remain confidential. The British Prime Minister called for negotiations to be held in monthly, four-day blocks which would remain confidential until the end of the process.

The European Commission said that this would be "impossible" given the need to consult member states and the European Parliament over discussions. "All documents must be published," the report suggested.

Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at Theresa May's Brexit negotiating strategy, warning her "megaphone" diplomacy would not get a good deal from Britain.

Mr Juncker's comments prompted Mrs Merkel to issue her own warning of "illusions" held within the UK that achieving a deal would be straightforward.

Mrs May sought to play down the reports, saying they simply showed that the forthcoming negotiations would be "tough" at times.

However they were seized upon by opposition parties in the UK who said the Government was heading for a "hard Brexit" which would leave people worse off.

Labour shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "Whatever the purpose of these leaks, this is a deeply worrying account and further evidence that Theresa May's rigid and complacent approach to Brexit negotiations risks leading Britain over a cliff edge.

"Theresa May talks about strengthening her hand, but in reality she has misjudged her hand at every turn, weakening Britain's position. By refusing to acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead the Prime Minister increases the risk that there will be no deal, which is the worst of all possible outcomes.

"In pursuing a rigid and complacent approach, the Prime Minister now finds herself marginalised and isolated across the continent. Since day one, she has been driven not by the national interest, but by the interests of the Tory party."


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