A purported transcript of last week’s Downing Street dinner attended by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, makes alarming reading if true. That is questionable, since the Prime Minister’s office said it “does not recognise” the account published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Still, the German newspaper has evidently received some well-sourced feed-back from what may turn out to be one of No 10’s most fateful suppers.
The UK Government called it a “constructive, useful working dinner”. Mr Juncker is said to have left “ten times more sceptical than I was before”. He later told the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Mrs May was “living in another galaxy”. That must have informed last Saturday’s talks in Brussels, where the 27 EU members, minus Britain, agreed guidelines for the negotiations. These require certain matters to be resolved before trade talks begin, including citizenship rights and the Brexit bill demanded by the EU. Mrs May is insisting on what she thought was the EU position – that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. She is right to stick to her guns on this and it is disappointing that some Remainers seem to be siding with the EU, as if willing the talks to fail.
It was always a danger that the unelected Commission would institutionalise the Brexit process in Brussels; now it is armed with a mandate for talks that will be hard to unpick. One idea worth considering is whether a well-respected non-European political figure could be invited to offer advice and, if necessary, mediate. Without an independent intermediary there is a risk of serious misunderstandings causing unnecessary long-term harm to relations with our EU members.