Saturday 16 December 2017

Here's what Theresa May has to say about reports of a disastrous Brexit meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker

By Georgia Humphreys

There are reports the European Commission President walked out of talks in Downing Street saying he was “10 times more sceptical than before”.

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”.

Here’s everything you need to know about the reports and May’s response.

What did the reports say exactly?

The Prime Minister came under fire following reports Juncker walked out of talks last week in Downing Street saying he was “10 times more sceptical than before”.

A detailed account in the German press of their dinner suggested Juncker left fearing the negotiations would end in failure.

The following morning Juncker reportedly rang German chancellor Angela Merkel to warn her that May’s approach was from a “different galaxy” and that she was deluding herself.

Merkel responded by rewriting a speech she was giving that day to warn that some in Britain were still harbouring “illusions” about the Brexit process.

So how exactly has May dismissed the claims?

Campaigning in Ormskirk in Lancashire, May said: “From what I have seen of this account, I think it is Brussels gossip.

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

The Prime Minister sought to exploit the report to drive home her message that she – not Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – can provide the strong leadership needed to secure the best deal for Britain.

“It also shows that these negotiations are at times going to be tough and in order to get the best deal for Britain we need to ensure that we have got that strong and stable leadership into those negotiations,” she said.

“When it comes June 8 people have a clear choice.

“There will be 27 European countries on one side of the table – who do they want to see standing up for Britain on the other side? Me or Jeremy Corbyn.”

What have other politicians said since the accounts of the dinner?

Corbyn, campaigning in Battersea, south London, warned that May’s negotiating strategy was unravelling.

“To start negotiations by threatening to walk away with no deal and set up a low tax economy on the shores of Europe is not a very sensible way of approaching people with whom half of our trade is done at the present time,” he said.

“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.

“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 and is taking the country towards a disastrous hard Brexit.”

For the SNP, Scotland’s minister for UK negotiations with the EU Michael Russell said: “Leaving the EU with no deal – and no agreement on access to the single market – would be an unprecedented act of self-harm which would devastate the UK and Scottish economy.”

Meanwhile, pro-Brexit Conservatives dismissed the report as an attempt to destabilise the Government ahead of the negotiations.

Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith told Channel 4 News: “The reality is there is no trouble because this is all pre-negotiation guff really, at the end of the day, so it should be put in that basket and then we’ll get on with the negotiation.”

Press Association

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