Hunt for the Brussels Dinner Mole Deepens as Tensions Mount Between UK and EUCC0Europe16:37 24.10.2017Get short URL
It had been arranged as a private dinner to try and smooth negotiations between the European Union and Britain over its departure from the bloc – only to evolve into an explosive new diplomatic row after “damaging leaks” emerged on the discussions that took place.
A fresh diplomatic war-of-words has erupted after the content of secretive talks between the leaders of the European Union and Britain over its decision to quit the bloc were later disclosed in what has been described as “damaging leaks.”
An account of the private working dinner in Brussels on Monday, October 16, ahead of a crunch European Council two-day summit, was later published in a German newspaper and claimed British prime minister Theresa May pleaded for her political life, having appeared “anxious, tormented, despondent and discouraged.”
EU president Jean-Claude Juncker has since rejected these claims, instead insisting Mrs. May had been in “good shape” and “fighting.” He dismissed the comments attributed to him in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Sunday, October 22, as being untrue with some now fearing in Brussels that a narrative is being built in which the EU will be blamed for provoking a “no deal” scenario.
“I am really surprised — if not shocked — about what has been written in the German press. And of course repeated in the British press. Nothing is true in all of this. I had an excellent working dinner with Theresa May. She was in good shape, she was not tired, she was fighting as is her duty so everything for me was OK,” he said.
Quizzed whether the British premier had begged for help in selling a divorce bill of £53 billion (US$69.9 billion), he insisted:
“No, that’s not the style of British prime ministers.”
In a speech given at Strasbourg University later, Mr. Juncker again denied Mrs. May appeared tired, although talking about the financial settlement, he said: “We must know what will be the bill of commitments that the Brits are taking.”
As the hunt for the source of the leak continues, sparking fears it could seriously harm the already fractious relations between Brussels and Downing Street, Nick Timothy, formerly Mrs. May’s most senior aide, pointed the finger of blame at Martin Selmayr, the European commission president’s chief-of-staff.
In a tweet, he wrote:
Mr. Selmayr denied being to blame and responded with his own tweet:
Downing Street has, so far, refused to deny the report, insisting it had no comment to make at this time.
German chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to be “furious,” however, over the damaging leaks following the talks amid fears it could topple the British prime minister and harm negotiations. It is understood she is desperate to keep Mrs. May in post as she fears whoever may replace her as Conservative leader could further jeopardize a deal being struck.
Ironically after the dinner, Mrs. May and Mr. Juncker issued a joint statement hailing “constructive and friendly” discussions that would see Brexit talks accelerated. Attending the meal also were the Brexit secretary David Davis, the prime minister’s chief Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins, and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
The incendiary leaks echo similar disclosures, however, made to the German press after a dinner between the British PM and Mr. Juncker in Downing Street in April. Again, it was hinted that Mr. Selmayr, a German lawyer dubbed “Rasputin,” “the Monster” and even “Darth Vader,” had been involved.
In the FAZ article, it claimed Mr. Juncker is alleged to have hinted he found Mrs. May’s “anxious, despondent and discouraged” by the discussions.
It stated: “She looks like someone who does not sleep for nights on end. She rarely laughs, though clearly, she has to for the photographers. But it looks forced. Previously, May could literally pour out laughter — her whole body shaking. Now she has to use her utmost strength to avoid losing her composure.”