EU officials deny 'tortured' May asked for Brexit help

EU officials yesterday denied a report saying a "tortured" British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker for help in Brexit negotiations.

EU officials yesterday denied a German newspaper report saying a “tortured” British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker for help in stalled Brexit negotiations at a dinner in Brussels last week.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that May “begged” Juncker for help in the negotiations, warning Europeans of the immense political risk she had taken domestically in backing away from a hard Brexit and asking for a two-year transition period.

The article, which did not cite sources, said May appeared “tortured,” “fearful” and “discouraged” at a dinner with Juncker just days ahead of an EU summit in which EU leaders handed May a small victory by agreeing to start preparations for the next stage of negotiations.

The report which appeared on Sunday said Juncker later told colleagues that May appeared beaten down by party infighting and looked like she wasn’t sleeping at night, with “dark circles” under her eyes.

In a tweet, Juncker’s cabinet chief Martin Selmayr, who also attended the dinner with May, staunchly denied the newspaper report.

“I deny that 1/we leaked this; 2/Juncker ever said this; 3/we are punitive on Brexit,” wrote Selmayr. “It’s an attempt to frame EU side and to undermine.”

Selmayr’s response came after May’s former joint chief of staff Nick Timothy took to Twitter to accuse him of leaking the information, calling it a “reminder that some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one.”

Selmayr, a former ECB official from Germany, is a powerful figure in Brussels, known as a skilled spin doctor and is often thought to be a source to FAZ, a conservative Frankfurt-based daily.

It is the latest leak to highlight the fraught atmosphere surrounding the talks, whose slow progress has stoked fears Britain could leave the European Union in March 2019 without a deal in place, risking economic and legal chaos.

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas accused unnamed people of trying to “point at us to serve their own political agendas, their own political priorities or even to undermine our negotiatiing position”.

“President Juncker would never have used the words attributed to him and never would have said anything like this. We have never been punitive on Brexit,” Schinas said.

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