Theresa May set for Brexit showdown with EU chiefs


Theresa May is to hold her first major showdown with Brussels chiefs since calling a General Election in a bid to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations.

The Prime Minister will hold talks at Downing Street with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Demands from Brussels for a £50bn Brexit divorce bill and the threat of a Spanish veto on the future of Gibraltar are set to dominate what are certain to be tense discussions.

Mrs May is hosting a working dinner in No 10, during what EU officials describe as a “flying visit” to London by the pair, with Brexit the only item on the menu for the talks.

Although the Prime Minister has clashed with Mr Juncker many times, it will be her first meeting with Mr Barnier, once described by The Daily Telegraph as “the most dangerous man in Europe”.

The biggest dispute at the Downing Street dinner is likely to be demands by Mr Barnier that the UK should pay a bill of up to £50bn for leaving the EU in two years’ time.

Mr Barnier, a veteran French politician, said last month that the UK would face a punishing Brexit settlement or even no deal at all unless Theresa May and her government agrees to pay up.

Britain will reportedly have to pay into the EU budget up until 2020 if it wants Europe to grant the UK reasonable terms on a Brexit transition deal.

The Daily Telegraph claims the idea is being actively discussed by British Brexit negotiators and would require a softening of British negotiation red lines in order to buy political goodwill in talks over a future trade deal.

According to the Telegraph, Britain’s departure from the EU will leave a €10bn black hole in Europe’s finances which is causing anxiety in capitals across the continent, including Berlin, which fears it will have to pick up the bill for any shortfall.

During talks with Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier, the Prime Minister will also bitterly oppose a proposal in a Brexit blueprint which effectively gives Spain a veto over any deal affecting the status of Gibraltar.

That threat prompted former Conservative leader Michael Howard to suggest Mrs May would go to war with Spain to defend Gibraltar, as Margaret Thatcher did to protect the Falklands in 1982.

The Downing Street dinner will follow the final Prime Minister’s Questions before the election and what could be the last clash across the despatch box between Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Prime Minister is certain to repeat her claim that the election is about winning a mandate for Brexit negotiations and that Labour and the other opposition parties are hell-bent on sabotage.

After Sir Keir Starmer unveiled a new Labour approach to Brexit, the party announced that Mr Corbyn had met Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood “to discuss the transition to government if Labour wins the General Election”.

But as the election campaign enters its second week, Mr Corbyn and Labour will shift their focus from Brexit to the NHS.

However, the Liberal Democrats will attempt to keep up the pressure on Brexit when leader Tim Farron attempts to woo business leaders in Tory-held St Albans.

“My message to business is this – dump the Tories,” he will say. “Every penny you give them will hurt you; you are funding your own funeral.”

“With this disastrous hard Brexit the Government is hurting businesses, both big and small, costing jobs and hitting families.”