LONDON — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Theresa May to hold a general election to make the job of negotiating Brexit easier, a report from The Observer released on Sunday says.
Juncker, who has been one of the most vociferous critics of Brexit in Brussels, urged May on several occasions to hold the election, telling her it would give her more breathing room during “pinch points” in negotiations around leaving the EU.
“It is understood that Juncker had advised May to call an early general election as a result of his concerns that the 17-seat majority she had inherited from David Cameron would not be enough during the pinch points of the negotiations, including over the issue of the UK’s divorce bill, estimated to be as much as €100bn,” Toby Helm and Daniel Boffey of the Observer write, citing an EU source.
“During bilaterals, in the margins of summits, Juncker repeatedly told her he thought she should do it,” the source reportedly said.
May called an election in April with the rationale that she could win a bigger majority in the House of Commons, and consequently be less in the thrall of hardline Brexiteers in the party. However, her decision backfired spectacularly as a disastrous campaign from the Conservative Party and a huge surge in support for Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn robbed May of her majority.
That has made the prospect of negotiating Brexit, which many believe will be one of the most complex political negotiations in history, even more tricky as May will likely struggle to pass legislation through parliament if even a handful of MPs rebel. A Conservative minority government is likely to be propped up by a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.
Juncker and May’s relationship has been strained in recent months, especially after Juncker’s team leaked details of a dinner between the pair at Downing Street.
An extensive leak of a meeting between Juncker and Theresa May appeared in the German press early in May, depicting Juncker as dismayed at May’s position on Brexit negotiations. He reportedly told May as he left the dinner: “I leave Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before.”
May then claimed in a speech outside Downing Street that EU officials were deliberately attempting to swing the result of the election on June 8th by undertaking such leaks.
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