A war of words has erupted between Downing Street and the European Commission after reports emerged of a disastrous meeting between the PM and top EU officials.
Following a dinner last week, May yesterday dismissed claims of a dispute with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, branding the story “Brussels gossip”. Brexit-backing Tory MPs are also riding to the Prime Minister's defence.
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported over the weekend that EU officials accused May of wearing “rose-tinted glasses” and being ill-prepared for the meeting. It said Brussels' representatives were “astonished” by the Prime Minister's hopes of reaching a quick agreement on foreign nationals next month.
Campaigning in Lancashire yesterday, May brushed off the reports. "Just look at what the European Commission themselves said immediately after the dinner took place, which was that the talks were constructive," the PM said.
Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said the leak to Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung was “just positioning and posturing” by Brussels, while MP Kwasi Kwarteng accused EU officials of “playing games”.
“It's a very deliberate leak and I think they are playing games and trying to strengthen the hand of the EU,” Kwarteng said.
Treasury select committee member and Brexiteer Steve Baker added: “We have always expected tough talk and robust positions before the negotiations. Both sides know it is in everyone's interests to strike a broad and deep agreement.”
And one former trade negotiator has told City A.M. Juncker's reported claims that Brexit “cannot be a success” will backfire.
Shanker Singham, who now heads up trade policy at the Legatum Institute, said the comments may go down poorly throughout Europe.
“If I'm a small or medium-sized business in Germany, and I have a big trading relationship with the UK and I'm hearing the commission president say this can't be a success, then I'm going to get upset about that. I think this is a mistake,” Singham said.
“The common enemy here is actually failure, and [Juncker] needs to realise that.”
Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Juncker of seeking to “interfere” with the UK's election by “over-stating” the EU's negotiating position.
“If they have done this to make Mrs May's life harder, they haven't succeeded. They have done the reverse and this will play to the electorate as a sign of strong government,” Rees-Mogg said.
However, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron slammed the PM: "Theresa May's lack of denial suggests these damning revelations about her approach to Brexit were largely accurate.
“This government is showing dangerous levels of complacency over an issue that will define our country for generations.”