Brexit: Theresa May admits confronting Jean-Claude Juncker after he called her demands 'nebulous'

The PM's attempt to win fresh concessions on the Brexit deal took a disastrous turn 

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 14 December 2018 15:11
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Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker filmed in tense conversation at European Parliament

Theresa May has admitted confronting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker over whether he described her Brexit demands as “nebulous and imprecise”.

Footage emerged of a frosty exchange between the pair, where Ms May faced down the European leader over his apparent dismissal of her appeal for aid to get her blueprint “over the line” in parliament.

The prime minister’s attempt to win fresh concessions on her Brexit deal took a disastrous turn when Mr Juncker delivered a withering assessment of her efforts during a late-night press conference in Brussels on Thursday.

On the second day of the summit, a furious-looking Ms May challenged Mr Juncker, saying: “What did you call me? You called me nebulous,” according to lip-reading experts.

The EU chief’s response could not be established, but the prime minister appeared to add: “Yes you did, nebulous.”

Mr Juncker said: “No I didn’t, I didn’t.”

Theresa May admits 'robust' exchange with Jean-Claude Juncker over 'nebulous' remark at EU summit

The silent footage, captured by summit cameras, was widely shared and drew speculation that relations between Ms May and EU leaders had soured.

Asked about the moment at a press conference, Ms May admitted she had held a “robust” discussion with Mr Juncker.

The prime minister said: “I had a robust discussion with Jean-Claude Juncker – I think that’s the sort of discussion you’re able to have when you have developed a working relationship and you work well together.

“And what came out of that was his clarity that actually he’d been talking – when he used that particular phrase – he’d been talking about a general level of debate.”

Ms May said she was “crystal clear” about the assurances that were needed to convince Brexiteers, who are outraged by the Irish backstop plan.

She said it was in the interests of the EU and UK to “get this over the line”, warning: “A disorderly Brexit would be good for no-one.”

The row sprang from comments Mr Juncker made at a midnight press conference, where he told reporters: “Our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us to say what we want,” he said.

“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.”

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