Last Wednesday, 26 April, Theresa May invited Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker to dinner at No.10. Tim Shipman’s report (May is living in another galaxy) in yesterday’s Sunday Times gave an insight into some of what went on and is well worth a read (I downloaded without £). But the full horror becomes apparent in the German-language account (Das Brexit-Dinner) in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Last night I did a speedy read-out of the key points on Twitter – focusing on what wasn’t in the Sunday Times article – and I’ve repeated this below. Jeremy Cliffe from the Economist’s Berlin bureau has done a fuller read-out which is well worth a read.
- Juncker isn’t easily shocked (think his experience with Greece) – but was clearly visibly shocked by dinner at No.10. “Ten times more sceptical than before.”
- Some context: UK has blocked agreement of EU’s mid-term budget review, pleading election purdah and inability to bind successor government. This hasn’t gone down well.
- Some light relief: Davis over dinner recounted [three times!] his recent success in ECJ against Theresa May on data retention. His boss was not amused. He won’t last after election?
- First big shock: May wants to start with discussion of EU citizens’ rights as early as end of June. “For May there’s no problem: they should simply be treated as 3rd-country citizens under British law.”
- On process: she wants secrecy. EU can’t do that. [Jeremy Cliffe has more detail here on process and ordering of discussions]
- May’s attitude: “Let’s make Brexit a success”. Juncker: “Brexit can’t be a success”. She seemed surprised – seemed she hadn’t heard this view so plainly before.
- Very interesting point: May views Brexit as similar to “protocol 36” to Lisbon treaty – a paper exercise with little practical change. This rang Juncker’s alarm bells (“siren”): Brexit is a very different exercise. [Protocol 36 is summarised in an EU press release from 2014: UK opted out but then opted back into many of the detailed elements. Stewart Wood (Baron Wood of Anfield) has also recently blogged about this as a possible reason for May’s delusion.]
- On the money question: May argued the UK doesn’t owe a penny – there’s nothing about a bill in the treaty. Davis added that UK would no longer be within jurisdiction of CJEU so EU couldn’t enforce a debt anyhow. [Prize for most crass comment of the evening?]
- Juncker countered: OK then no trade deal. And the process will have to be different from what’s been envisaged, with every Member State having a say.
- All of this explains Juncker’s profound shock, and phone call to Merkel at 7am the next day. He now thinks it’s >50% likely there’ll be no deal.
One caveat: this has clearly been briefed by European Commission, and it’s part of their strategy to communicate Juncker’s shock so openly.
But, stepping back from the detail, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this sorry affair is the cavalier attitude shown by May and Davis: a caricature of Brexiteer amateurism.
PS: thanks to Simeon the Stylite for the tip-off on the German article and to Brigid Fowler for jogging my memory on the Stewart Wood blog. In conversation with Simeon last night on Twitter, I drafted the government’s response for them: “we don’t recognise this account of the dinner”.