WATCH: Theresa May hits back at Jean-Claude Juncker in 'nebulous' row

Posted On: 
14th December 2018

Theresa May has clashed with Jean-Claude Juncker after he accused her of failing to make clear precisely what she wants from the Brexit negotiations.

Jean-Claude Juncker clashes with Theresa May.
PA Images

The European Commission president said the Prime Minister had been "nebulous" when she addressed EU leaders at a Brussels summit last night.

Speaking at a press conference afterwards, Mr Juncker said: "Our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us to say what we want.

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"So we would like within a few weeks our UK friends to set out their expectations for us because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise and I would like clarifications."

As the EU Council summit reconvened this morning, an angry Mrs May appeared to confront Mr Juncker over the comments.

According to lip-readers, the Prime Minister said: "What did you call me? You called me nebulous. Yes you did."

Mr Juncker then replied: "No I didn't, I didn't."

Asked about the clash at a lunchtime press conference, Mrs May said: "I had a robust discussion with Jean-Claude Juncker I think that is the sort of discussion you are able to have when you have developed a working relationship and you work well together.

"What came out of that was his clarity was that he had been talking - when he used that particular phrase - he had been talking about a general level of debate."

In a later press conference, Mr Juncker also addressed the exchange, saying: “I think at the very first moment ... she thought that I did criticise her by saying yesterday night that the British position was nebulous.

“I didn’t know that this word exists in English ... I did not refer to her, but to the overall state of the debate in Britain.

“As I told you earlier I was following the debate in the House and I can’t see where the British parliament is heading at, and that’s why I was saying that this was nebulous, foggy, in England.

“I was not addressing her, and in the course of the morning after checking what I’d said yesterday night, she was kissing me.”

European Council President Donald Tusk added: “We have treated Prime Minster May with the greatest respect. All of us.

“And we really appreciate the effort by the Prime Minister to ratify our common agreement. My impression is that we have treated prime minister May with much greater empathy and respect than some British MPs, for sure.”

Meanwhile, in a fresh blow to relations between London and Brussels, the Times reported that EU leaders had gone back on an agreement to provide Mrs May with some "political comfort" that she could get some concessions from them on the Irish backstop.

The deal had been struck between negotiators earlier this week, but at a dinner which the Prime Minister did not attend last night, the agreement was scrapped.

Instead, in what appeared to be an attempt to put pressure on MPs to back the Brexit deal, the rest of the EU rejected the UK's demands for "legally-binding" assurances that the backstop will be time-limited.