Theresa May warned over Brexit in disastrous meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker

Robin De Peyer

Theresa May was told Brexit "cannot be a success" during a disastrous dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, according to a damning leaked account of the meeting.

The Prime Minister faced a backlash after German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung published a report which painted a disastrous picture of last week’s dinner.

It claimed EU Commission officials balked at Mrs May’s hopes for negotiations, which include a trade deal within two years and a quick agreement to secure the status of Brits living abroad.

According to the account of the meeting published by the German newspaper, Mr Juncker said Britain would not secure a trade deal between the UK and the remaining EU member states without paying a “divorce” bill – said to amount to about £50bn – it is expected to be asked for.

During the meeting, Mr Juncker is said to have told Mrs May: “It [Brexit] cannot be a success”.

“I leave Downing Street 10 times as sceptical as I was before,” Mr Juncker is said to have told the Prime Minister.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier was also at the dinner (EPA)

After the dinner, he reportedly phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel early the following morning to share his concerns with her, allegedly saying that Mrs May is “deluding herself” and “living in another galaxy”.

Downing Street rejected the account of the meeting reported in Germany, but critics seized on it to attack the PM for having “no plan” in negotiations for withdrawal from the EU.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said: “This is a deeply worrying account and further evidence that Theresa May’s rigid and complacent approach to Brexit negotiations risks leading Britain over a cliff edge.

"By refusing to acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead the Prime Minister increases the risk that there will be no deal, which is the worst of all possible outcomes."

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron added: "It's clear this government has no clue and is taking the country towards a disastrous hard Brexit. Theresa May chose a divisive hard Brexit, with Labour's help, and now has no idea what to do next."

Number 10 has sought to play down the reports of the meeting, which was also attended by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

During an interview on the BBC this weekend, Mrs May was asked about claims Mr Juncker told her she was “living in another galaxy”.

"I'm not in a different galaxy. I think what this shows and what some of the other comments we've seen coming from other European leaders show is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough," she responded.

Eurosceptics, meanwhile, claimed the leak from an EU Commission source strengthened the case for a “clean break” from Brussels as opposed to the pursuit of a deal after lengthy and complicated negotiations. A Ukip spokesman was quoted by the Financial Times as saying the account showed the EU was attempting to “bully” Britain.

Leaks during the two-year negotiation period are expected because of the obligation on Mr Juncker to keep the EU’s other member states informed of how talks are developing.

However, the account reported in Germany will be viewed in Downing Street as a provocative move aimed at turning prevailing opinion in Britain away from the view expressed by Number 10 that Brexit will be a success.

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