That May/Juncker dinner leak – what does it all mean and what has Tim Farron been saying about it?

So the May and Juncker dinner leak is all over the papers. “Brussels gossip” says the Prime Minister. What she didn’t say was that it was untrue.

A very useful summary of the main points appears here on The Economist’s Jeremy Cliffe’s Twitter feed. In essence, it sounds as though the Prime Minister has no clue about how Brexit is going to work. They don’t even seem to understand the basics. That already puts our country at a significant disadvantage. If you are going to have to go into a negotiation like this, it helps if you understand what you are doing.

When the story first emerged, Tim Farron had this to say:

These reports have blown a massive hole in the Conservative Party’s arguments.

It’s clear this government has no clue and is taking the country towards a disastrous hard Brexit.

Theresa May chose a divisive hard Brexit, with Labour’s help, and now has no idea what to do next.

This election offers us a chance to change the direction of our country, keep Britain in the single market and give the people the final say over what happens next.

After May had spoken this afternoon, he added:

Theresa May’s lack of denial suggests these damning revelations about her approach to Brexit were largely accurate.

This government is showing dangerous levels of complacency over an issue that will define our country for generations.

Britain desperately needs a strong opposition to stop a catastrophic hard Brexit and hold this government to account.

The only way to stop a hard Brexit and ensure a decent, strong opposition is to elect more Liberal Democrat MPs on 8th June.

The thing that we need to get across to the voters is that the slogan that is never far from May’s lips when she talks to her adoring fans is actually a cover for a level of incompetence that should make us weep.

Another interesting resource on this is the commentary from David Allen Green published by the FT. Overall he thinks:

What the leaks reveal is not that UK/EU disagree, but how far the UK are away from grasping the process and the issues to be addressed.

May seems to be arguing that we can walk away with no financial liabilities using the line that there is nothing in the treaties therefore they can’t make us pay. Well, it seems to me to be blindingly obvious that if we are to have a hope of getting the trade deal we desperately need, we shouldn’t land the EU in excessive financial bother by refusing to pay reasonable liabilities.

David Allen Green points out:

The ‘not in treaties’ line of May at (17) disregards the various heads of liability set out in the EC guidelines, not just budget.

To my mind, the strongest leaders cover all the bases in their strategy, they know what they are doing and they get on with doing it with confidence. They don’t passive-aggressively scream about how strong they are while accomplishing nothing.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Arnold Kiel 1st May '17 - 9:09pm

    Strong denial and stable ignorance!

    It is horrifying that this Government failed to gain a basic understanding of the task at hand despite having produced practically nothing in 10 months since the referendum. Arch-Brexiteers cultivating their prejudices in a closed bubble; they are overwhelmed and instead of analysing the situation give in to their authoritarian reflexes. As if “crushing the saboteurs” solves any of their problems. Unchallenged wishful thinking leads to the misconception of having a strong hand, and the subsequent destruction of all goodwill on the other side of the table. Unbelievably foolish!

    After June 8, she will likely fire Johnson, Davis, and Fox, and start over at square one with little more than one year to go…

    Even Jeremy Corbyn would have done a better job preparing for and carrying out these negotiations.

    Let’s make this campaign about leadership indeed!

  • Whilst the points made above are valid, the fact that the leak happened at all should be of great concern. One of the things people most hated about the EU was it’s interference in matters that should be sacrosanct to the nation states. To leak this in the midst of a general election campaign is just plain wrong and Junker should have been across this instantly. The fact he wasn’t increases the chance this was an authorised “leak”.

    It is at times like these that the EU shows how much it misunderstands the attitude of many Brits. Even remainers like myself felt the EU overstepped too often, for the average Tory / UKIP supporter this leak is like petrol to naked flame. I fear this will be turned very quickly into 1. An example of EU interference and 2. Another reason why we need a strong Tory majority.

    For those of us who think differently it may confirm our fears, but it really doesn’t help convert others to the cause….

  • Steve,
    The EU don’t care, we are leaving and they are doing their best to propel us through the door. They want an example to be set and when it is the EU will be much stronger and we will be much weaker. Upsetting for the brave Brexiteers but inevitable I’m afraid. stupidity must be punished and it will be.

  • @Frankie
    You may be right. But May has already hinted that she will play dirty. The EU rely on us for security information and (as abhorrent as it would be to most on this site) she will link the continued access to that to trade. when I speak to my Dutch friends they are furious that it is being made confrontational and don’t just blame May. Their exports to us are a large part of their economy and they do not expect the EU to plug the gap. Unlike Germany they do not have the excess in the economy to easily weather such stupidity.

    I think you’re right we will suffer, but we won’t be alone and it both sides will need to compromise. Sadly even if May was willing (or able) to the fact that all 27 nations need to agree to any deal means I doubt they can.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st May '17 - 10:31pm

    Steve Way – I’m yet to have someone explain to me how Juncker is still in a job.

    It is worth pointing out here that the EU institutions appear to have envisaged informal negotiations with an A50 state ( I realise how unhappy some people are here, but all EU states signed up to an agreement with an explicit exit clause. What exactly does Juncker think the purpose of A50 is? This was not in any way unforeseeable and surely an orderly process should have been worked up by the guardians of the Treaty. They guard the treaty, even if they don’t like it.

    OK, I have reservations about aspects of the UK side of the argument, but it takes two to tango. The UK has done nothing more than activate an explicit treaty right and some in the EU might do well to remember that.

    Anyway, I’ll take my pasting now.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st May '17 - 10:37pm

    Frankie – ‘The EU don’t care’

    Well that’s the impression some people are giving. The UK has been a long-standing net contributor and it opened its borders to the A8 countries on day 1. That’s rather more brave than can be said for some brave states currently handing out brave lectures on the European Ideal.

    There are a lot of voters across the EU who are itching for a shot at the EU (and the euro) and maybe some of those in the EU institutions who bravely, ‘don’t care,’ might do well to stop and think on that for a moment. The EU should care – fact that it’s given the impression for so long that it doesn’t care is a big part of the reason it got into bother.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st May '17 - 10:51pm

    Interesting point in that twitter link – Juncker appears to say that the UK-EU negotiations should pretty much be all in public. That seems on the face of it rather different to how the Commission handled, for example, TTIP. I’d be interested to know what the differences are.

    Also it says that the EU ‘informed’ May that the EU does not work like a golf club. I’d agree that it’s a pretty inane comparison but it would be interesting to know what they do see as an appropriate analogy – shareholders?

  • Junker said “Brexit cannot be a success.” so the only option would seem to be a hard brexit. There is no point in having negotiations with someone who wants us to fail.
    I voted remain, but better now if we keep our money, pay the tariffs on trade and just walk away.

  • Whilst the points made above are valid, the fact that the leak happened at all should be of great concern.

    Yes, I am greatly concerned that the information had to be leaked and was not automatically placed in the public domain. May has just had a reminder that the Brexit negotiations won’t be occurring in private. Interestingly, I hope the EU27 are watching as this level of openness over Brexit could cause problems when in future the EU wishes to revert to behind closed doors decision making.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st May '17 - 11:36pm

    Steve and malc get to the nub more than Caron or Tim.

    Whether May is useless or her ministers and cohorts, the voter , shall in large numbers see the leak as showing a hostile and obstructive attitude, plus Juncker makes our pm seem like as adorable a person as one can find !

    Tim needs to calm down on this .

  • May can do plenty of things on migrant issues unilaterally if she wants to, when she wants to, but her stated policy objective is 10s rather than 100s of thousands net so a massive exodus will allow her to claim she met the objective and the human cost will be blamed on the 27.
    The idea that the negotiations will be private is incredibly naive.

  • Mark – some British people are abroad and the Tories decided to not give a lot of them an EU vote. Its true that the UK government cant guarantee anything for them now. However what you miss in all of your posts about citizens rights is – Brits in the UK who have relationships with EU migrants. Children with EU parents etc. The Tories could unilaterally do a lot in the interests of Britons right now and it would set a moral precedent for the others abroad. But they dont care.

  • Paul Murray 2nd May '17 - 7:34am

    Jean-Claude Juncker is the man who said “When it becomes serious, you have to lie”. Brexit is an existential threat to the EU and is about as serious as it gets for Juncker. So you will forgive me if I treat every statement that comes from him or his representatives with extreme scepticism.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd May '17 - 7:51am

    I can’t follow the intricacies of our disentanglement form the EU. I don’t apologise for this,I think that I am part of a very large majority who make up the people on the doorstep. But there are some things that I do find particularly puzzling.

    Tim and Nick Clegg argue that we somehow have dues to pay to the EU because we are leaving. As net contributors how is this calculation made? And where in the contract is this specified?

    It seems that the remaining EU member states will have problems of their own when they have to make up the shortfall in funds when we leave, with difficult decisions on who will pay more or who will get less, but I still don’t understand why we should pay for what little jackie paper says, is our right to leave the union if that is what the British people want.

    It is interesting the Emanuel Macron is calling for ‘deep’ reform of the EU, something many of us would have welcomed, but now it is too late for us.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd May '17 - 8:07am

    Lovely tweet from David Alan Green, “The delightful Anglocentric view that a EU leak to a German newspaper, published in in paper edition not online, is all about UK politics.”

  • Are so few Lib Dems prepared to take a long, hard look at the failings of the EU?

    For now, the ‘existential threat of Brexit’ may be the glue that holds the 27 member states together but can they keep this facade up for the next year or two? I think cracks will become ever more visible as squabbling about the Euro, debt, increased contributions, and a two-tier system of membership unfolds.

    Yes, the UK may have a thorny path ahead while it extricates itself from this dysfunctional organisation but thank goodness we’re getting out.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd May '17 - 8:40am

    Let’s imagine that Scotland has held another Independence referendum, and this time the people of Scotland have voted for independence. I would hope, and expect, that the response of the British government would be something like this : “We are disappointed at this result, and will be sad to lose Scotland as a member of the United Kingdom. But we accept and respect that this is the democratic decision of the Scottish people. We wish the people of Scotland well for their future as an independent nation, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that Scotland’s transition to independence is as smooth as possible”.
    I know its a poor analogy in a number of ways. But wouldn’t we have more respect for the EU right now, if its response to Brexit was more like this?

  • Catherine – that is how the EU reacted. Britain then faffed around for a year before invoking article 50.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd May '17 - 9:05am

    There are countries in the EU27 with whom we need to have bilateral relations, for example the Republic of Ireland (no hard border) Spain (Gibraltar) Luxembourg (tax) France (Channel Tunnel) and Denmark (food safety in pig meat).

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd May '17 - 9:06am

    Alistair, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of wishing Britain well, or expressing a wish to make the transition as smooth as possible. One can understand the rest of the EU becoming impatient with the delay in invoking article 50, but now it has been invoked, and the delay doesn’t seem sufficient excuse for the EU’s present attitude.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd May '17 - 9:13am

    Jayne Mansfield 2nd May ’17 – 7:51am This was an issue that was not before the voters in the June referendum. We cannot know how much difference it would have made to their votes, but the outcome was close and it might have done. We must be careful to separate revenue and assets when arguing this. Tory hardliner John Redwood has argued in the Daily Telegraph that no payment should be made.

  • @Catherine Jane Crosland – Bill le Breton’s comment sums things up nicely, the problem (many in the UK have) is comprehending there are two sides and thus audiences to the Brexit negotiations.

    With the amount of spin and misrepresentation being put on events, firstly with respect to Leave/Remain and now with respect to Brexit, it is obvious the negotiations themselves need to be both in public and broadcasted live; given the LibDems commitment to open government and participative democracy this is something I would expect the LibDems and ALDE to be calling for…

    As to the EU’s attitude, I can fully understand where they are coming from. For example, take May’s original statement that there was no need for a general election then after invoking Article 50 does a surprise u-turn and makes up a load of bogus claims including that she now needs a general election because Parliament wasn’t sufficiently compliant…

  • Arnold Kiel 2nd May '17 - 9:50am

    Tim and Caron are absolutely right.

    Juncker, a much more able and seasoned statesman than your PM, is genuinely and rightly concerned that no deal will be reached. The EU is not only contractually entitled to the UK’s settlement payment, it urgently needs it. If the UK defaults on its obligations, the EU will on theirs. Renegotiating all current and mid-term money-flows as well as long-term pension obligations between the remaining 27 is, in the current atmosphere, almost impossible and could be a bigger threat to the survival of the EU than Brexit itself.

    The EU-haters among you will like this, but even you will concede that it is legitimate for the EU to fight this in the interest of all remaining members.

    Then the UK chief negotiator responds to this with legalistic technicalities: “once we are out, the ECJ has no jurisdiction over us anymore, therefore, irrespective of our obligations, you will have no legal recourse”. You speak like this to an adversary you are absolutely sure to never see or deal with again.

    Next, your PM adds to this insult by appealing to “make Brexit a success”. Hello, Theresa? This man desperately tries to save the EU, and you want him to make a success of your destructive act aimed at the very same EU? I am searching for words here: either the PM has started to believe her most stupid lies created for the least reflective domestic audience, in which case I must question her mental health, or she lacks any trace of emotional intelligence.

    Finally, why would anyone want these negotiations to be confidential? To avoid ongoing scrutiny, and hammer through any deal, no matter how bad; any hard Brexiteer’s dream.
    Apart from being in the UK’s national interest, transparent negotiations are a prerequisite to keep all 27 in the loop and on board, which is also in the UK’s national interest.

    Juncker, not May, is the grown up here who tries to minimize damage to all parties.

  • ..’ there didn’t seem to be a great deal of wishing Britain well,’

    If someone treated me as Britain has the EC/EU over many, many years, I think my attitude would be (if I was being polite and generous of spirit): “You want out? The door’s that way. But don’t expect any parting gifts.”

  • “Even when Scotland voted to stay in the U.K. Cameron snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with his disgraceful remarks in Downing Street.”

    And quite right he was to say those “disgraceful remarks” should have done it much earlier.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd May '17 - 10:15am

    Caron, I would *hope* that the British government’s response to Scotland voting for independence would be something along the lines I suggested. Perhaps you are right in saying that I was being overly optimistic in saying that I would “expect” this response. But my point was that generosity and co-operation *should* be the response of any reasonable government in this situation, and your reply suggests that you would agree.

  • @ Caron “If Scotland voted for independence what the UK is hearing from the EU is the height of reasonableness compared to what Scotland would hear from Theresa May’s UK”.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence about what we may expect should we decide to stay in a Union run by what looks like being a long standing right wing Tory Government outside the EU.

  • David Allen 2nd May '17 - 10:44am

    Sure, the EU are negotiating tough. It is none of our business as Lib Dems to suggest that because they are doing that, our wonderful Theresa should be given a get-out-of-jail-free card, and allowed to blame her own incompetence on a “perfidious” EU.

    We have just delivered the EU a huge kick in the teeth, which they did not ask for, and do not like. Whether or not they can get a sizeable compensation payment from the UK, Brexit will cost them money. Of course they want compensation! By all means let’s keep the payment down, but let’s not kid ourselves – It’s perfectly reasonable that the EU should want it.

    We should be saying – Yes, Corbyn as a negotiator with the EU would not inspire our confidence. But there is every indication that if Theresa May does the job, she will be even worse.

  • @ Councillor Wright “It’s absolutely inconceivable that the UK would behave towards an independent Scotland in the manner than the EU has behaved towards the UK”.

    And you’ve got that on good authority from St Teresa have you ?

  • Nicholas Cunningham 2nd May '17 - 11:21am

    Let’s get real concerning the other 27 members of the EU, they have their own interests to protect and the narrative that they would simply fall over themselves to give us a deal that is equal to that of being a member was and is completely ridiculous. The meeting last week that ended so disastrous for this country, where our position was miles from reality and the question that has to be asked, how did May, Davis, Fox and others read it so wrong. Those individuals supposedly are leaders, our so called top people concerning Brexit, it goes to show how egos get in the way of reality and when we actually get to the position where reality forms our position concerning Brexit, then and only then we will get a deal of some sorts and the blank piece of paper gets some meaning, but it won’t resemble anything like we have today.

  • @Arnold Kiel
    Genuine question, but what contractual obligations outlive exiting the Union. If anything this shows how the EU failed to prepare for a nation leaving. My view is that leaving dates should have been linked to the budget renewal, i.e. Every 5 years.

    Junker may well be more able and seasoned but he has not acted reasonably or professionally by allowing / encouraging this leak.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd May '17 - 11:36am

    If I may sit on the fence somewhere between Mark and David …

    It would be certainly a bit silly for the rump UK to try hard-ball negotiating with Scotland after secession, not least because of the looming presence of the EU over Scotland’s shoulder, offering Scotland a potentially good deal (unless the Spanish get a lot of power and influence in the next few years). So probably things couldn’t get as bad as it looks like EU negotiations are about to get…

    BUT … it’s certainly not inconceivable that any negotiations would be bitter, sulky and against a rising tide of popular (English and Conservative) hysteria…

    – Would May be PM? There could have been another election by then, or she could have been defenestrated by her own party due to losing the referendum; if a different Tory PM was in place, it’s possible hardline English sentiment in that party could have decided on a ‘hammer the Scots’ agenda, or at least that press cheerleaders would be loudly calling for it, which would give Sturgeon the opportunity to play the injured party and claim persecution, even if negotiators were trying to take a softer line.
    – 2-3 years of negotiating the terms of the referendum between Sturgeon and May, whilst Brexit negotiations were also ongoing, would also have significantly soured things. We can certainly plausibly imagine the likes of Michael HOward stalking the TV studios saying inflammatory nonsense, just like on Gibraltar.
    – There is also the possibility that a UK Tory leadership might decide to think like the Spanish and make Scotland an example, trying to show other UK regions that secession was a bad choice, to prevent further fracturing of the UK. This is less likely, but still conceivable. Events in Northern Ireland, or even wales and Northumbria, could decide the course of the negotiation.
    – If things went truly south, items that we now think inconceivable and laughable could come on the agenda, like bickering about the sea border around the Isle of Man, or whether Scotland would definitively rule out a claim to Berwick. In such a circumstance, anything could happen, and a wounded or weak Tory PM would be the utterly worst person to carry off such a negotiation.

  • David Allen 2nd May '17 - 12:09pm

    “What contractual obligations outlive exiting the Union. If anything this shows how the EU failed to prepare for a nation leaving.”

    Article 50 was deliberately drafted to make it very difficult to leave. It was reasoned that a nation leaving would cause the EU great harm, so, it was only reasonable for the EU to make leaving very difficult. It was thought that this would dissuade any nation from thinking of leaving. The EU drafting team didn’t reckon with the stupidity of the Brits, who didn’t read the small print, and will suffer for not doing so.

    The EU hold all the cards. They can screw us royally, if they think they want to do so. Or of course we can leave with no deal, in which case they can again screw us royally, and will then certainly be motivated to do so. Alternatively, we could approach them reasonably, stop saying silly things like “no, you owe us money!”, and persuade them to make a deal that leaves us friends.

    Theresa won’t do that. She would prefer to grandstand and to win elections through populism rather than rescue the country. Corbyn, for all his cackhandedness, probably wouldn’t be quite so disastrous. Farron and Clegg would be miles better.

  • @David Allen
    Sorry but that doesn’t answer my question. Various legal minds have concluded that there is no legal / contractual obligation to pay the so called divorce settlement. I’d that is true (and it does seem logical once out of ECJ jurisdiction) then it becomes a perfectly valid bargaining chip for May to use.

    Should we be leaving, I don’t think so, do they hold all the cards, no they hold most of them but we have a few aces that can, and should be deployed. Irrespective of our views on whether we should be leaving or staying we need the best possible deal for the UK. I would disagree with you about Clegg but would prefer Farron was involved….

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd May '17 - 1:25pm

    Mark Wright has my support for Liberal Democrat Prime Minister, but I want to be Culture Secretary and would think Catherine Jane Crosland ought to be Communities Secretary !

  • Peter Martin 2nd May '17 - 1:49pm

    @ Cllr Mark Wright,

    “It’s absolutely inconceivable that the rUK would behave towards an independent Scotland in the manner than the EU has behaved towards the UK.”

    I’m sure you are right. If the Scottish people want to go their own way I’m sure we wouldn’t be giving them an exit or divorce bill! We’d say we were sorry to see them go but we’d still want them to do well. For one thing, we wouldn’t want a failing Scottish state on our doorstep after independence.

    The Bank of England issues the Scottish currency. So, conceivably the BoE could do to Scotland what the E.C.B. did to Greece in 2015 when it closed down their banks.That collective punishment of the Greek people just about did it for me with the EU.

    I’m quite sure we would never do that. I completely fail to understand how anyone with progressive opinions can be quite so in love with the EU as are the Lib Dems. The EU is not the same as Europe. We can be in favour of European Unity and totally against the EU as it operates at present.

  • Peter Martin 2nd May '17 - 2:08pm

    @ Caron,

    I think you’re quite wrong about how the rUK would treat an independent Scotland. We can look back at what happened in Ireland a century ago. True, there were mistakes made then over the question of Irish independence but that was when there was a war on and when the campaign for Irish independence was in the form of an armed struggle.

    Once that was all settled and Ireland was independent, I can’t see that there was anything for Ireland to complain about. There were no tariff barriers on Irish exports. Irish people could come and go as they wished. They could live and work in the UK for as long as they pleased. They could even vote straightaway in elections.

    I’m sure it would be no different if Scotland was independent. There’d be no demands that Scotland cough up billions as an exit settlement. So no tariff barriers, and the freedom to come and go. Would UK industry and citizens get anything like that same offer from the EU?

  • Some of the comments here are quite ridiculous. How can the treatment of the Irish be described in any way as reasonable by modern standards? Other sound more like kippers than liberals.

    Both May and Juncker have personal reasons for not behaving reasonably in these negotiations.

    I would have thought calls for transparency in the negotiations should be encouraged as then we can decide for ourselves who is being reasonable.

    People must remember that Juncker cannot agree to anything on the fly. Clearly May would like the EU to spend all its time rushing through a deal on expats that will allow May to announce such a deal in time for the GE she chose to call.

    We should make our stance about encouraging honest negotiation with the goal of achieving the best possible deal for everyone.

    The Tories and right wing interests want to make it about May vs Juncker, Us vs Them, The UK vs The EU/Germany.

  • So depressing that after years of ‘co-operating’ with our EU neighbours (although we never really did did we?) the gloves are off. The UK Government seems ill-informed about the whole process (no wonder the electorate didn’t know what they were voting for if the Government doesn’t seem to fully understand it even now) and the EU are now trying to score points ahead of the negotiations. Please can all concerned grow up.

  • Peter Martin 2nd May '17 - 10:22pm

    @ Ian Sanderson,

    Of course there were problems after the Treaty, which incidentally one Liberal PM did have quite a hand in drafting, but I’m not sure it is fair to blame the British side for an outbreak of civil war in Ireland as a result, the attitude of the Irish authorities with regard to extradition or even the level of tariffs on imported cars there.

    By the time of WW2 the deep water ports in Ireland had been returned to the Irish government and the disputes over rents and payments effectively settled. The sectarianism that divided Dublin and Belfast didn’t divide Dublin and the nearest English city, Liverpool. I’m not saying that there were no tensions in Liverpool but they were really quite minor compared with those in Ireland itself or even in Glasgow.

    In any case the War of Irish Independence which led to the bad feeling in the 30’s was all 100 years ago and hopefully we’ve all moved on since then.

    No-one in the UK wants any trade war or any economic retaliation after Brexit. I’m not sure I can say the same about the EU though. Their track record on that in Greece isn’t good.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 3rd May '17 - 7:18am

    Lorenzo, Thank you. You have my support for Liberal Democrat Culture Secretary 🙂

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