Theresa May accuses EU of trying to 'deliberately' interfere in election

Gordon Rayner
Theresa May speaks outside Downing Street - Reuters

Theresa May cast herself in the role of Britain’s new Iron Lady with a blistering attack on the EU for trying to interfere in the general election and “run over us” in Brexit talks.

The Prime Minister accused European politicians and officials of plotting to “deliberately affect” the result of next month’s poll by issuing “threats” against Britain.

She said bureaucrats had “misrepresented” the UK’s position on Brexit, adding that some of them “do not want these talks to succeed”.

On a day in which the gloves well and truly came off in Mrs May’s fight with Brussels over the Brexit deal, she stood outside the door of Number 10 and invoked the spirit of Margaret Thatcher in her battle with those who “do not want Britain to prosper”.

She was speaking hours after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, had told Britain to pay an “incontestable” Brexit divorce bill of up to £92 billion or face being taken to court.

Mrs May spoke in measured but forceful tones that hinted at an underlying anger that has been building since a highly partial account of her meeting with Mr Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker last week was leaked to a German newspaper.

In the week since that meeting, she has been criticised, mocked and briefed against by senior figures in the EU.

She had initially dismissed the reports as “Brussels gossip” but could contain herself no longer after Mr Barnier’s browbeating comments.

Although she was careful not to accuse anyone by name, her speech was clearly aimed at Angela Merkel, who said last week Britain had “illusions” about the outcome of Brexit, as well as Mr Barnier, European Commission President Mr Juncker and Mr Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr, the man accused of leaking damaging reports to the German press.

Mrs May’s extraordinary - and unscheduled - speech also took aim at Jeremy Corbyn, telling voters “we will all pay the price” if he became Prime Minister and took over the Brexit talks.

Critics said that while the speech might help win over voters - particularly those who voted Ukip in the last election - attacking Brussels’ most senior figures would make the Brexit negotiations far harder.

Jean-Claude Juncker is greeted by Mrs May Credit: EPA

Mairead McGuinness, an Irish MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament, suggested it could be a “Humpty Dumpty moment” after which Britain’s relationship with the EU could never be repaired.

Mr Corbyn accused Mrs May of "playing party games with Brexit" to gain an advantage with voters, while Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested the Prime Minister had "poisoned" the Brexit talks.

Speaking after a meeting with the Queen to mark the dissolution of Parliament, Mrs May said that “Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.

“All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election.”

Countdown to the General Election

She said she wanted the EU to succeed after Brexit, but: “There are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed, who do not want Britain to prosper.”

Mrs May’s presidential-style speech - in which she did not mention the Conservative Party once - was in keeping with recent stump speeches in which supporters have held up placards with her name in huge letters, rather than the name of the party.

A Conservative Party source said: “We have been very clear from day one that this election is about a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.”

Martin Selmayr, on the right, is chief of staff to Jean-Claude Juncker Credit: Getty

Mr Selmayr last night appeared to offer Mrs May an olive branch by saying that Mr Juncker regarded her as “an impressive woman and a very impressive negotiator” which would be “good for negotiations because we need a very strong negotiator, someone who unites the entire nation behind her”.

However he added that: “Brexit will never become a success, of course, because it is a sad and sorry event, but it can be managed in a professional and pragmatic way.”

Mr Selmayr also suggested Mr Juncker would only spend half an hour each week on Brexit, giving an insight into where it lies in his priorities.

Mr Barnier had earlier suggested that Britain could be forced to pay the Brexit bill through the courts, and constitutional experts said the relevant body would be the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which settles disputes arising from international agreements.

However David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, insisted there was no legal obligation for the UK to pay anything at all and could do so by walking away from the table.

Germany, France and Poland have insisted extra payments are added to the Brexit bill, almost doubling the cost from around £50 billion to more than £90 billion.

But Mr Davis insisted: “We will not be paying 100 billion euros...in the walkaway circumstance, there is nothing to be paid.”

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