European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has arranged to meet his “good friend” Tony Blair in Brussels this week while Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU take place across the road.
The Commission denied that the timing of the meeting was a calculated snub to Theresa May’s negotiators – despite it taking place at the same time as the third round of Article 50 Brexit talks and while Ms May’s ministers are likely to be in town.
A European Commission spokesperson on Friday afternoon announced that Mr Juncker would be “receiving Tony Blair” in Brussels on Thursday this week, when David Davis’s team will be locking horns with Commission negotiators.
The spokesperson confirmed that “current issues of current European economics and politics” – code for Brexit – were likely to feature in the discussions between the pair, among a “wide range of issues”.
There have been persistent rumours, repeatedly denied by Mr Blair’s office, that the former prime minister has ambitions to return to public life or politics.
A staunch opponent of Brexit, the former PM has previously said he believes Britain could stay in the bloc if EU officials ‘meet us halfway’ and restrict freedom of movement and immigration.
At the general election he urged voters to direct their vote to whichever candidate in their local consituency would stop Brexit.
Downplaying suggestions that the meeting was a deliberate slight of the UK, he told reporters in Brussels: “The president is in constant and regular contact not only with the current leaders, heads of state, heads of government political leaders in Europe, his current peers in the European Council; but of course also with his peers from the previous times.
“After all, he was a Prime Minister for 20 years, and Tony Blair is one of his peers, they are good friends, they’ve known each other a long time, Tony Blair was here last year, he was here the year before, so this is absolutely nothing extraordinary.”
Explaining what the pair would discuss, the spokesperson said: “I don’t think there is a written agenda; I would expect a broad range of issues that would be raised. I expect it to include issues of global politics, Middle East, Libya, the work of Tony Blair’s faith foundation and I would also imagine that current issues of current European economics and politics may feature.
He added that Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, had “extremely fruitful list of relationships” with former world leaders from this decades in politics.
Mr Blair’s office has not yet responded to request for comment on this story.
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