Theresa May 'begged' Juncker for help on Brexit at private Brussels dinner, leak claims

'She has deep rings under her eyes. She looks like someone who can't sleep a wink,' European Council president reportedly says of PM

Jon Stone,Ashley Cowburn
Monday 23 October 2017 11:29
Theresa May 'begged' Juncker for help on Brexit at private Brussels dinner, leak claims

Theresa May appeared “tormented” and “begged” for help in Brexit talks, Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly told aides after dining with the Prime Minister last week.

The highly personal comments about the private meeting in Brussels came after the pair issued a joint statement after the dinner pledging to accelerate the Brexit negotiations.

But an account of the meeting – published by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) - claimed that Ms May looked like she could not sleep and seemed “anxious” and “tormented” as well as “despondent and discouraged” with progress so far.

Theresa May: No Brexit breakthrough on the cards

The newspaper report said: “She indicated that back home friend and foe are at her back plotting to bring her down. May said she had no room left to manoeuvre.

“The Europeans have to create it for her. May's face and appearance spoke volumes," Mr Juncker is said to have later told his colleagues.

“She has deep rings under her eyes. She looks like someone who can't sleep a wink.”

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The apparent leak comes as senior UK officials admitted at last week’s European Council summit that the Prime Minister was operating in a difficult domestic political backdrop. Ms May admitted to EU leaders over dinner for the first time on Thursday evening that Brexit had faced “difficulty”.

Downing Street claimed the unannounced dinner had been long-scheduled, but the leak claims it was arranged at the last minute. The Commission at the time said it had only been formally scheduled at the end of the previous week but both leaders had been keen to have dinner for some time.

And later in the week, at the European Council summit, EU leaders said they would begin scoping work on future trade talks while making clear to Ms May that she must make more concessions on Britain's divorce payment for negotiations to progress.

After the report emerged, Ms May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy, who resigned from his position after the disastrous election result, accused his old opposite number in Mr Juncker’s office of leaking details of the dinner last week.

“After constructive council meeting, Selmayr does this. Reminder some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one,” said Mr Timothy – referring to Mr Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr.

The account to the German newspaper is the latest leak blamed on Mr Selmayr, a German from Angela Merkel’s political party who ran Mr Juncker’s campaign to be Commission President.

The CDU-aligned aide was also accused of leaking details to the same paper about an April meeting between Ms May and Mr Juncker in Downing Street, in which the Commission President was said to have left “10 times more sceptical” than when he arrived.

But Mr Selmayr accused Mr Timothy of spreading “false” claims and insisted that Brussels did not want to weaken the Prime Minister’s position. In his response he suggested there were some people who had an interest in undermining the “constructive” relationship between Ms May and Mr Juncker.

Asked to comment on the leak, a spokesperson for the European Commission referred The Independent to the statement by Mr Selmayr denying behind behind the leak and underlining the Commission’s interest in constructive talks.

Downing Street and the Commission’s Article 50 negotiations taskforce both declined to comment on the episode.

Mr Selmayr said: “I deny that 1) we leaked this; 2) Juncker ever said this; 3) we are punitive on Brexit. It’s an attempt to frame the EU and to undermine talks.”

“Juncker and I have no interest in weakening the PM,” he added

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