Tuesday 18 June 2019

'What did you call me? You called me nebulous' - Theresa May's heated exchange with EU's Juncker

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss Brexit, at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
British Prime Minister Theresa May meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss Brexit, at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Alastair Macdonald and Elizabeth Piper

Theresa May remonstrated with Jean-Claude Juncker at a Brussels summit on Friday and the EU chief executive had to placate the prime minister for having publicly called Britain's Brexit demands "nebulous" the night before.

Under huge pressure at home as British media described her largely unsuccessful plea for favour from EU leaders as a humiliation, May appeared anxious to make a point to Juncker before a new session in the morning.

What they said was not audible but official video of their exchange as other leaders took their seats showed May repeating herself while the former Luxembourg premier held her by the arm, shook his head and raised with his palm in an apparent effort to calm her down before the Dutch prime arrived to interrupt them.

According to lipreaders, May confronted Juncker about the comments delivered to journalists in the early hours of the morning.

"What did you call me? You called me nebulous," May is understood to have said.

Juncker is believed to have replied, saying; "I wasn't calling you nebulous, I was calling the British position nebulous."

The previous evening, Juncker told a news conference that British calls for EU help on Brexit were "nebulous" and "vague". Diplomats said other leaders made similar complaints directly to the beleaguered British leader during the talks.

May said she had had a "robust discussion" with Juncker -- "the sort of discussion you're able to have when you have developed a working relationship and you work well together".

The European Commission president had assured her, she said, that what he was describing as nebulous was the "general level of debate" in Britain on Brexit, not her own pitch to leaders.

EU diplomats said May had on Thursday evening appealed for some legally binding amendments to the Brexit deal which she had agreed last month but seems unable to get through parliament.

But the other 27 leaders had stood firm on a refusal to do anything that might water down the so-called "backstop" designed to avoid a disruptive "hard border" for Northern Ireland. They issued a statement stressing that they hope it would not be used, or if it were for only a very short time.

But that has failed to satisfy critics of May's plan, who say it opens the risk of Britain being bound into EU customs and other regulations indefinitely, unless the two sides can agree on another way to keep their borders almost totally open.

Reuters

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