When it comes to the Brexit process, the U.K. and EU seem to agree on at least one thing: Theresa May’s “impressive” stubbornness as a negotiator.
Responding to leaked reports of a contentious dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last week, the U.K. Prime Minister told BBC that her reported clash with Juncker about the U.K.’s desire to make Brexit “a success” was just “Brussels gossip,” adding that she will prove to be “bloody difficult woman” for Juncker and his colleagues during the coming months of negotiations.
The almost verbatim report of the dinner at 10 Downing was first published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, which revealed that Juncker came away from the meeting with the impression that May was “on a different galaxy” in her understanding of the complexity of the Brexit process. “I’m leaving Downing Street 10 times more skeptical than I was before,” Juncker reportedly told May before departing. The rising tensions between the two leaders bodes poorly for the ensuing Brexit talks, which are unlikely to start in earnest until after the German elections in September.
The scale and detail of the leak may indeed have been an attempt to pressure May into softening her commitment to a “hard Brexit,” but as Politico’s Tom McTague reports, May is not a leader who can be so easily shaken out of her position. “Those who have dealt with May up close consistently report two things: stubbornness and a long memory,” he writes.
During her term as home secretary, May was the only cabinet member to stand up to then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, as one MP told McTague, repeatedly refusing to agree to the liberalization of Chinese visas at their request.
She’s also known to hold a grudge, and to have mastered the art of the public put-down. “After six years serving in the cabinet with Cameron and his closest ministerial colleagues, May took an ax to all those who had slighted her in the past as soon as she got the keys to Number 10. It was a brutal display of power,” McTague writes.
That said, Juncker is as unlikely to budge as May; the EU’s position on Brexit negotiations has remained mostly stable, and the block is presenting a relatively unified front, at least for now. The leak may have caused a minor scandal, but in the end it’s unlikely to change either side’s approach.