Jean-Claude Juncker: “May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself”.
In this coming election Theresa May is asking us to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations.
As a keen poker player I realise that having a strong hand is one thing but the edge in a game of incomplete information comes from how you play that hand. Last week Theresa May met with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission, for what should have been a cordial pre-negotiation talk. The details of the talk were leaked by senior EU diplomats to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung(FAZ).
The main points were translated into English by the Berlin Bureau Chief at The Economist, Jeremy Cliffe.
They point to Brexit negotiations that are starting off from a situation where both sides are miles apart in their expectations. They suggest that the Brexit negotiations could be fraught and that it will be difficult to keep the disputes private. The leak also suggests that the PM may well be giving the public unrealistic ideas as to how good the Brexit deal will be.
Juncker left the meeting thinking that there is a very good chance the talks will collapse completely.
Here is what happened.
- May had said she wanted to talk not just Brexit but also world problems; but in practice it fell to Juncker to propose one to discuss.
- May has made clear to the Commission that she fully expects to be reelected as PM.
- It is thought [in the Commission] that May wants to frustrate the daily business of the EU27, to improve her own negotiating position.
- May seemed pissed off at Davis for regaling her dinner guests of his ECJ case against her data retention measures – three times.
- EU side were astonished at May’s suggestion that EU/UK expats issue could be sorted at EU Council meeting at the end of June.
- Juncker objected to this timetable as way too optimistic given complexities, eg on rights to health care.
- Juncker pulled two piles of paper from his bag: Croatia’s EU entry deal, Canada’s free trade deal. His point: Brexit will be very very complex.
- May wanted to work through the Brexit talks in monthly, 4-day blocks; all confidential until the end of the process.
- Commission said impossible to reconcile this with need to square off member states & European Parliament, so documents must be published.
- EU side felt May was seeing whole thing through rose-tinted-glasses. “Let us make Brexit a success” she told them.
- Juncker countered that Britain will now be a third state, not even (like Turkey) in the customs union: “Brexit cannot be a success“.
- May seemed surprised by this and seemed to the EU side not to have been fully briefed.
- She cited her own JHA(Justice and Home Affairs) opt-out negotiations as home sec as a model: a mutually useful agreement meaning lots on paper, little in reality.
- May’s reference to the JHA opt-outs set off alarm signals for the EU side. This was what they had feared. ie as home sec May opted out of EU measures (playing to UK audience) then opted back in, and wrongly thinks she can do same with Brexit
- “The more I hear, the more sceptical I become” said Juncker (this was only half way through the dinner)
- May then insisted to Juncker et al that UK owes EU no money because there is nothing to that effect in the treaties.
- Her guests then informed her that the EU is not a golf club
- Davis then objected that EU could not force a post-Brexit, post-ECJ UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal.
- Leaving EU27 with UK’s unpaid bills will involve national parliaments in process (a point that Berlin had made repeatedly before).
- “I leave Downing Street ten times as sceptical as I was before” Juncker told May as he left
- Next morning at 7am Juncker called Merkel on her mobile, said May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself
- Merkel quickly reworked her speech to Bundestag to include her now-famous “some in Britain still have illusions” comment
- FAZ concludes: May in election mode & playing to crowd, but what use is a big majority won by nurturing delusions of Brexit hardliners?
- Juncker’s team now think it more likely than not that Brexit talks will collapse & hope Brits wake up to harsh realities in time.
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