May uses negative report of dinner with EU officials to rally Britons

British Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed the report as "Brussels gossip".
British Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed the report as "Brussels gossip". PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has refuted a German newspaper's account of a dinner last week with EU officials that suggested round one of Brexit negotiations was particularly discordant.

Mrs May yesterday dismissed the report as "Brussels gossip", but used it to warn British voters that the European Union was lining up to win a divorce deal that "works for them", using criticism that she had "illusions" over the talks to call for Britain to unite behind her at June 8th's snap election.

"We need that strong and stable leadership more than ever before," she wrote in the Western Morning News newspaper. "The negotiations ahead will be tough."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday ran an article describing a gulf between Mrs May and Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, as well as the bloc's chief negotiator on Britain's exit, Mr Michel Barnier.

According to the German newspaper and some from Britain, like The Sunday Times, Mr Juncker came away from their dinner last Wednesday believing that Mrs May was not just in "a state of denial", but in "a different galaxy", as he was reported to have told German Chancellor Angela Merkel the next day.

The paper reported that Mrs May had, at one point, said: "Let's make Brexit a success." Mr Juncker was said to have replied: "Brexit cannot be a success."

Mrs May was also said to have called for talks on a trade deal simultaneously with negotiations on Britain's exit, arguing that since Britain is already a member and merely wants to leave, a trade deal should be much easier to complete.

Mr Juncker, somewhat theatrically, reportedly dismissed the idea, reaching into his bag and pulling out two big stacks of paper: Croatia's EU entry deal and Canada's free trade pact.

The two sides also differed on the question of how much Britain will have to pay, as part of the divorce settlement, with Mrs May reportedly saying it owes nothing because there is no mention of such payments in the EU's founding treaties.

Mr Juncker was said to have replied that without a payment, there would be no trade deal.

The German newspaper reported Mr Juncker as saying: "I'm leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'May uses negative report of dinner with EU officials to rally Britons'. Print Edition | Subscribe