Theresa May accused of 'poisoning' Brexit talks over claims EU is sabotaging election
Senior figures from across the political divide have branded Theresa May “deeply irresponsible” after she accused EU leaders of trying to influence Britain’s general election.
In an astonishing intervention on the steps of Number 10 the Prime Minister said "threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials" to coincide with the run-up to 8 June.
The ratcheting up of tensions with the bloc follows reports that a dinner she shared with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker last week ended badly.
After meeting the Queen to mark the dissolution of Parliament this afternoon Mrs May said barbs from the continent showed some in Brussels “do not want Britain to prosper" in the future.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick to accuse her of “playing party games with Brexit” in the interests of the Conservatives.
“By winding up the public confrontation with Brussels, the Prime Minister wants to wrap the Conservative party in the Union Jack and distract attention from her government’s economic failure and rundown of our public services,” he said.
“But Brexit is too important to be used as a political game in this election.
“These are vital negotiations for every person in Britain and for the future of our country. But Theresa May is putting party interest ahead of the national interest.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the Prime Minister of "willfully sabotaging" Brexit by making a "bogeyman” of the EU.
“For Theresa May, driven by entirely narrow, partisan motives, to deliberately seek to poison the well will make the negotiating task ahead even harder,” she said in a statement.
“This is an irresponsible, gratuitous attack on our European neighbours, which is aimed at diverting attention from the Tories’ dismal record on health, the economy, austerity and welfare by painting the EU as a bogeyman.
“Insulting our neighbours simply makes the Brexit mountain much harder to climb, but unfortunately it is par for the course from Theresa May.”
Remain campaigner for Open Britain and Labour MP Chuka Umunna blasted the Prime Minister for “crude electioneering”.
“By picking a needless fight with our European partners in this way, the Prime Minister is making a good deal with Brussels less likely, and a chaotic Brexit with no agreement at all more likely,” he said.
And Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron fumed: “The Prime Minister admitted that she is rolling the dice on her Brexit talks and if we don’t get it right then our economic security will be at risk.”
'MAY ON ANOTHER GALAXY'
Reports of Mrs May's meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said he called Angela Merkel the morning after to claim Mrs May was “on another galaxy”.
Among the issues of contention were the EU’s stance that the UK must pay a “divorce bill” to cover its liabilities, and 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.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, yesterday mocked Mrs May's election mantra by tweeting that there needed to be a "strong and stable” understanding of the complexities of the Brexit negotiations.
It also emerged this morning that the EU could demand €100bn from the UK as the Brexit divorce bill, far in excess of the €60bn previously quoted.
Speaking at an unmarked podium with the door to Number 10 behind her, Mrs May said: "In the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be.
"Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.
"All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June...
"The events of the last few days have shown that - whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders - there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed. Who do not want Britain to prosper.
"So now more than ever we need to be led by a Prime Minister and a Government that is strong and stable."