Brexit: No 10 ‘doesn’t recognise’ account of Juncker dinner

Theresa May and Jean-Claude JunckerImage copyright

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Things went downhill after a warm welcome, according to the leaks

Downing Street has said it “does not recognise” an account published in a German newspaper of a dinner last week between Prime Minister Theresa May and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The pair reportedly clashed over Mrs May’s desire to make Brexit “a success” and for the issue of protecting the rights of expat UK and EU nationals to be agreed as early as June.

According to an account in Frankfurter Allgemeine, Mr Juncker said: “I leave Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before.”

After the dinner, held last Wednesday, the UK government called it a “constructive, useful working dinner”.

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But the German newspaper report suggests Mr Juncker said there would be no trade deal between the UK and the rest of the EU if the UK failed to pay the “divorce” bill which it is expected to be asked for.

It was the day after the meeting that Mr Juncker reportedly told German chancellor Angela Merkel that Mrs May was “deluding herself” and “living in another galaxy” when it came to the issue of Brexit talks.

Mrs May was asked about that quote during her interview on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show, and responded: “I’m not in a different galaxy. I think what this shows and what some of the other comments we’ve seen coming from other European leaders show is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough.

“That’s why you need strong and stable leadership in order to conduct those negotiations and get the best deal for Britain.”

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The accounts of the dinner coming out of Germany have been seized upon by opposition parties in the UK.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “These reports have blown a massive hole in the Conservative Party’s arguments. It’s clear this government has no clue and is taking the country towards a disastrous hard Brexit.

“This election offers us a chance to change the direction of our country, keep Britain in the single market and give the people the final say over what happens next.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said of Mrs May: “She seems to be sending rather mixed messages.

“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.”

Analysis: By BBC Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly

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The EU set out tough terms for the Brexit negotiations at the weekend – and has followed up with a steady drumbeat of briefing suggesting that the UK is unprepared for the talks to come and harbouring delusions about the possible outcomes.

Officials in Brussels naturally have a vested interest in stressing that leaving the EU is difficult and dangerous – but there’s enough detail in the descriptions of a difficult dinner in Downing Street last week to suggest that there are real problems alongside the tactical manoeuvrings.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who was a guest of Theresa May, apparently told his host that the more he heard about the British position the more sceptical he was about the prospects of a deal.

His staff have made it known that he telephoned Angela Merkel to warn that in his view the prime minister was “deluding herself”.

British perceptions of the meal have not been leaked in the same level of detail but there’s no doubt the European briefings will be seen in the UK as provocative – and designed to stir up fears among British voters about what Brexit is ultimately going to mean.

The Europeans say they can’t be sure who will be Britain’s chief negotiator – the main counterpart to Michel Barnier who is the Commission’s man – hoping to draw attention to what they portray as a lack of serious preparatory work on the UK side.

It’s worth remembering too that all this has come before formal Brexit negotiations have even started – they’re likely to get going next month. And every stage is likely to be accompanied by similar leaks and briefings – the only difference is at some point the British are likely to join in too.


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