Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Friday, December 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Friday, December 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN

Brussels — UK Prime Minister Theresa May remonstrated with president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at a Brussels summit on Friday and the EU CEO had to placate the prime minister for having publicly called Britain’s Brexit demands “nebulous” the night before.

Under huge pressure at home as British media described her largely unsuccessful plea for favour from EU leaders as a humiliation, May appeared anxious to make a point to Juncker before a new session in the morning.

What they said was not audible but official video of their exchange as other leaders took their seats showed May repeating herself while the former Luxembourg premier held her by the arm, shook his head and raised his hand palm-up in an apparent effort to calm her down before the Dutch prime minister arrived to interrupt them.

The previous evening, Juncker told a news conference that British calls for EU help on Brexit were “nebulous” and “vague”. Diplomats said other leaders made similar complaints directly to the beleaguered British leader during the talks.

May said she had had a “robust discussion” with Juncker — “the sort of discussion you’re able to have when you have developed a working relationship and you work well together”.

Juncker had assured her, she said, that what he was describing as nebulous was the “general level of debate” in Britain on Brexit, not her own pitch to leaders.

EU diplomats said that on Thursday evening, May had appealed for some legally binding amendments to the Brexit deal which she had agreed last month but seems unable to get through parliament. But the other 27 leaders had stood firm on a refusal to do anything that might water down the so-called “backstop” designed to avoid a disruptive “hard border” for Northern Ireland. They issued a statement stressing that they hope it would not be used, or if it were for only a very short time.

However, that has failed to satisfy critics of May’s plan, who say it opens the risk of Britain being bound into EU customs and other regulations indefinitely, unless the two sides can agree on another way to keep their borders almost totally open.

Reuters