Theresa May’s “deluded” Brexit plan savaged by EU President during disastrous Downing St dinner

Theresa May was handed a humiliating reality check over her “delusional” Brexit plans during a disastrous dinner with top EU officials, it has been reported.

A disturbing account of the Prime Minister’s dinner with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker last week was first leaked by EU officials to German newspaper Frankfurter am Zeitung.

According to the report May pleaded that both sides should “make Brexit a success” to which Juncker replied that for the EU “Brexit cannot be a success”.

May also said that the UK would not pay any divorce costs, leading Juncker to tell her non-payment will mean no trade deal, it was reported.

EU negotiators believe it is now “more than likely” there will be no deal, with Juncker telling the Prime Minister as he left that “I leave Downing St 10 times as sceptical as I was before”.

The Economist’s Berlin bureau chief Jeremy Cliffe tweeted a long thread detailing what took place during the dinner.

Here is Cliffe’s thread, which has gone viral, in full:

1. May had said she wanted to talk not just Brexit but also world problems; but in practice it fell to Juncker to propose one to discuss.

2. May has made clear to the Commission that she fully expects to be reelected as PM.

3. It is thought [in the Commission] that May wants to frustrate the daily business of the EU27, to improve her own negotiating position.

4. May seemed pissed off at Davis for regaling her dinner guests of his ECJ case against her data retention measures – three times.

5. EU side were astonished at May’s suggestion that EU/UK expats issue could be sorted at EU Council meeting at the end of June.

6. Juncker objected to this timetable as way too optimistic given complexities, eg on rights to health care.

7. Juncker pulled two piles of paper from his bag: Croatia’s EU entry deal, Canada’s free trade deal. His point: Brexit will be v v complex.

8. May wanted to work through the Brexit talks in monthly, 4-day blocks; all confidential until the end of the process.

9. Commission said impossible to reconcile this with need to square off member states & European Parliament, so documents must be published.

10. EU side felt May was seeing whole thing through rose-tinted-glasses. “Let us make Brexit a success” she told them.

11. Juncker countered that Britain will now be a third state, not even (like Turkey) in the customs union: “Brexit cannot be a success”.

12. May seemed surprised by this and seemed to the EU side not to have been fully briefed.

13. She cited her own JHA opt-out negotiations as home sec as a model: a mutually useful agreement meaning lots on paper, little in reality.

14. May’s reference to the JHA (justice and home affairs) opt-outs set off alarm signals for the EU side. This was what they had feared.

15. ie as home sec May opted out of EU measures (playing to UK audience) then opted back in, and wrongly thinks she can do same with Brexit

16. “The more I hear, the more sceptical I become” said Juncker (this was only half way through the dinner)

17. May then insisted to Juncker et al that UK owes EU no money because there is nothing to that effect in the treaties.

18. Her guests then informed her that the EU is not a golf club.

19. Davis then objected that EU could not force a post-Brexit, post-ECJ UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal.

20. …leaving EU27 with UK’s unpaid bills will involve national parliaments in process (a point that Berlin had made *repeatedly* before).

21. “I leave Downing St ten times as sceptical as I was before” Juncker told May as he left.

22. Next morning at c7am Juncker called Merkel on her mobile, said May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself.

23. Merkel quickly reworked her speech to Bundestag to include her now-famous “some in Britain still have illusions” comment.

24. FAZ concludes: May in election mode & playing to crowd, but what use is a big majority won by nurturing delusions of Brexit hardliners?

25. Juncker’s team now think it more likely than not that Brexit talks will collapse & hope Brits wake up to harsh realities in time.

26. What to make of it all? Obviously this leak is a highly tactical move by Commission. But contents deeply worrying for UK nonetheless.

27. The report points to major communications/briefing problems. Important messages from Berlin & Brussels seem not to be getting through.

28. Presumably as a result, May seems to be labouring under some really rather fundamental misconceptions about Brexit & the EU27.

29. Also clear that (as some of us have been warning for a while…) No 10 should expect every detail of the Brexit talks to leak.

30. Sorry for the long thread. And a reminder: full credit for all the above reporting on the May/Juncker dinner goes to the FAZ.

Responding to the account Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blasted May’s “megaphone diplomacy” and aggressive posturing.

He said: “She seems to be sending rather mixed messages.

“Of course they’re going to be difficult but you start from the basis that you want to reach an agreement.

“You start from the basis that you have a lot of shared interests and values and a very important trading relationship with Europe.

“If you start from that basis and show respect you’re more likely to get a good deal – whereas if you start with the megaphone calling people silly names it’s not a great start to anything.”

Corbyn said that he was looking forward to “sensible” talks with Juncker, saying: “We will approach it with respect and sense and bring about a good deal.”

Shadow Brexit Secretary 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.

“It is clearer by the day that an extreme Tory Brexit poses a severe risk to the British economy and to people’s jobs and living standards.

“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.”

A government spokesperson said: “We do not recognise this account.

“As the Prime Minister and Jean-Claude Juncker made clear, this was a constructive meeting ahead of the negotiations formally getting underway.”

Brexit briefing: Weekly news roundup

16 February 2018

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