Davis Says May's Attack on Brussels Was Prompted by Newspapers

  • Says U.K. was ‘polite’ about leak of conversation over dinner
  • Explains British change of tone came after negotiation stories

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s accusation that the European Commission is trying to interfere with the British election was prompted by stories she read in newspapers on Wednesday morning, Brexit Secretary David Davis said.

May had initially dismissed reports about an April 26 dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier as “Brussels gossip.” Then on May 3 she stood outside her Downing Street residence and accused unnamed European Union officials of trying to “affect the result of the general election.”

Davis, who also attended the dinner, said the change of direction was the result of a story in the Financial Times suggesting Britain might have to pay more as it leaves the EU, and a story in the Times saying other EU leaders won’t be directly negotiating with May. He said the premier had at first been “very polite” in response to the briefing of the dinner conversation.

“For 48 hours, we stuck to that,” Davis told the BBC’s “Question Time” show Thursday. “But then we had further briefing: ‘We’re going to have to pay 100 billion, the prime minister won’t be able to negotiate.’ Eventually we got to the point where the line was crossed. The Commission was trying to bully the British people.”

Asked whether he is willing to agree to pay 50, 60 or 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to the EU as part of the cost of leaving, Davis said “they’re all too high,” before accusing the bloc of “an intimidation play.”

European Council President Donald Tusk

Source: Bloomberg

The prime minister’s attack on the EU was a departure from the approach she set out in January, when she urged colleagues to maintain “discipline” during a “crucial and sensitive negotiation.” Then she warned that “every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain.”

Earlier on Thursday, EU President Donald Tusk urged both sides to calm down. ““These negotiations are difficult enough as they are,” he warned. “If we start arguing before they even begin, they will become impossible.”

Whatever May’s reason for her statement, the effect has been positive among supporters of her Conservative Party. The party’s candidates said Thursday that it is going down well with voters.

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