Jean-Claude Juncker has reportedly accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of being "deluded" and said Brexit was bound to fail, after the pair met in Downing Street to discuss negotiations last Wednesday (26 April).
After the meeting, a spokesperson for the British prime minister claimed that it was a "constructive meeting" where "the UK's commitment to achieving a deep and special partnership with the European Union" was discussed, but a newly published report in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ) has thrown that account into question.
According to the German newspaper, which based its report on information from people present at the meeting, Juncker was so concerned with the outcome of his meeting that he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her mobile to say that May was "living in another galaxy" and was "deluding herself".
Disagreements between May and Juncker, the President of the European Commission, reportedly started on the topic of the Brexit divorce bill, where the EU argues the UK is required to pay €60bn (£52bn, $64bn) to settle outstanding financial obligations before it leaves the economic bloc.
May is said to have maintained the government's stance that the UK is not legally obliged to settle the amount. In reply, Juncker is said to have told May that Britain could not simply end its membership of the EU like a "golf club".
Juncker then insisted that unless the amount was settled, no trade deals would be negotiated between the EU and the UK.
According to the FAZ report, the pair also clashed on the rights of UK citizens living in Europe. May was reportedly hoping to have the issue finalised by an EU Council meeting in June, but Juncker said this was not possible given the complexity of the issues, such as rights on access to health care.
On 29 April, the European Parliament agreed on its guidelines for Brexit negotiations. These included "reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens" which would include "the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence". May has repeatedly refused to make this guarantee for EU citizens living in the UK.
Juncker was "astonished" by May's seeming lack of understanding about how the EU works. To demonstrate the complexities of the agreements the UK and EU faces, he reportedly pulled two "piles of paper from his bag": one was Croatia's EU entry deal and the other, was Canada's free trade deal (which nearly failed in its last stages, due to objections from one region of Germany).
May is also said to have indicated she wanted negotiations to remain confidential, but Juncker said this was impossible, given the need from the Commission to consult with member states and the European Parliament over the negotiations. "All documents must be published," the report said.
Downing Street has issued a fresh statement rejecting the report's claims.
"We do not recognise this account," a spokesman said in an email to Bloomberg. "As the prime minister and Jean-Claude Juncker made clear, this was a constructive meeting ahead of the negotiations formally getting underway."
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