MEP Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt tells Theresa May to ‘get real’ after Downing St dinner
The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator has mocked Theresa May’s campaign slogan and told her to “get real” as relations between Downing Street and Brussels continues to sour.
In a clear swipe at the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said a “strong and stable” understanding of the complexities involved was required to secure a Brexit deal with the EU.
It follows a damning report in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung of Mrs May’s dinner in Downing Street with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
Among the issues of contention last week were the EU’s stance that the UK must pay a “divorce bill” to cover its liabilities, and Mrs May’s aim to make a “success” of Brexit.
The pair also reportedly clashed over Mrs May’s suggestion that the issue of the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK could be resolved as early as the end of June.
Mr Juncker is reported to have remarked: “I leave Downing Street ten times as sceptical as I was before.”
The senior Brussels figure is also said to have called Angela Merkel after the meeting to claim that Mrs May was “on another galaxy”.
Mrs May last night dismissed the reports as “Brussels gossip”, with a Tory source this morning telling the BBC the Government would not enter a “briefing war” with the European Commission over the Brexit talks.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Today programme the fact details of the talks were leaked was “not surprising”, but said she could not confirm the veracity of the reports.
“We’ve always said that it’s going to be difficult these negotiations, difficult but with a strong prime minister in charge they’re ones we can do well out of. This is their opening salvo,” she told the Today programme.
“I’m not surprised that there is briefing coming out from different sides of a negotiation. But what we will always do is make sure that we conduct our negotiations more discreetly, shall we say, so we really we can have a freer negotiating hand. I think it’s a mistake to allow those sorts of details, if they are true, to come out from a dinner.
“I don’t know [if they’re true], Nick. But I do know that they are slightly in conflict with some of the other negotiations and discussions.”
Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg meanwhile accused Mrs May and her aides of leaking “furiously” during the Coalition government when she was Home Secretary.
“I wouldn’t feel too much sympathy for Theresa May. I remember her... hit men or hit women used to leak furiously when I was in Coalition if they didn’t like something,” he told the Today programme.
“The point is what is worrying about the reports, if they are true, is that Number 10 appears to be treating the rest of the EU as if they were running the Home Office, just barking instructions at the rest of the EU and expecting them to fall into line.
“This is a complex Rubik’s cube negotiation, which requires agility and charm to be successful. None of that appears to have been on evidence at that dinner last week.”
A senior Conservative source told the BBC: "We really, really do not recognise those reports."