May says she will be ‘bloody difficult woman’ in Brexit talks

Prime minister insists after Juncker leak controversy that sides have common ground

Theresa May has said she will be "a bloody difficult woman" towards European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. The prime minister said that, despite Mr Juncker's claim that she was "in a different galaxy", there was a lot of common ground between both sides ahead of the talks.

"But look, I think what we've seen recently is that at times these negotiations are going to be tough. During the Conservative Party leadership campaign I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker," she told the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

During last year's leadership campaign, former chancellor Ken Clarke was caught on camera describing Ms May in the words she quoted. The prime minister dismissed a detailed account of last week's dinner in a German newspaper as Brussels gossip but she stopped short of disputing any of its specific claims. These included a claim that she suggested that the issue of EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens in the EU could be settled at a summit just two weeks after next month's election.

“I’ve always said that I want this to be an issue that we address at an early stage. I’ve always said that there are complexities to this issue and lots of details that will need to be agreed. What people want to know is to have some reassurance about their future. I believe we can give that at an early stage. I’ve got the will to do this,” she added.

Wrong approach

Opposition politicians have pointed to reports of Ms May’s dinner with Mr Juncker as evidence that her government is ill-prepared for the forthcoming negotiations. Former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister

Nick Clegg

, who served in cabinet with Ms May when she was home secretary, said she appeared to be taking the wrong approach to the talks.

“What is worrying about the reports, if they are true, is that Number 10 [Downing Street] appears to be treating the rest of the EU as if they were running the home office – just barking instructions at the EU and expecting them to fall into line,” he said.

Mr Clegg on Tuesday outlined his party’s policy on Brexit ahead of the general election, which includes a call for a referendum on the outcome of the negotiations. He said the referendum should offer two options: accept the deal or remain in the EU.

“If Brexit is going to be as popular as they argue it will be, they should surely be enthusiasts for a referendum on the final deal? It is becoming increasingly obvious that their refusal to countenance another referendum is because they fear they would lose it, not least since voters will be much more alert to the lies and fabrications so effectively deployed the first time round,” he said.

Labour woes

With the latest poll showing the Conservatives 19 points ahead, Labour had a difficult day on the campaign on Tuesday. Much of the news coverage was dominated by a radio interview during which shadow home secretary

Diane Abbott

floundered over the cost of Labour’s promise to increase police numbers by 10,000.

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson on Tuesday appeared to suggest that voters should forget about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister when they vote for their local Labour candidate.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about the qualities you need in a prime minister. Theresa May doesn’t think that the ability to answer questions is one of them. But sometimes the most important question isn’t what makes the best PM. It’s who makes the best MP,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times