Prime Minister Theresa May’s U.K. government accused some European Union countries of wanting Britain to “fail” as her team stepped-up the attack on the bloc’s leaders in a push for votes in the British election.
In the most outspoken comments so far, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker held “very hostile” briefings against May after an April 26 London dinner meeting deliberately to influence voters. She criticized the timing of reports — that the EU wants to stop May from leading Brexit talks, and that Britain will face a 100 billion euro ($110 billion) exit bill — in the weeks before the June 8 vote.
“Why would Jean-Claude Juncker and his team have done such a very hostile approach?” Rudd said Sunday in an interview on the BBC Radio’s Pienaar’s Politics show. “Would it not be possible to hold onto your aggression, perhaps your opening negotiating salvos, during an election period?”
May’s Tories are campaigning to return to power with a bigger parliamentary majority. She’s stressing her “strong and stable” personal leadership as the country faces the complex task of negotiating withdrawal from the EU. Conservative strategists worry voters won’t turn out for May because she’s almost 20 points ahead of her main Labour Party rivals in opinion polls and triumphed in British local elections last week.
Tories think the premier’s focus on the EU’s role in the U.K. election through hostile briefings about her Brexit policies will play well by rallying voters to the national cause. However, there is a risk that these clashes could damage relations between officials in London and Brussels before Brexit talks begin. EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday appealed for calm.
The argument dates back to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper on April 30 that Juncker left May’s dinner shocked about her unrealistic expectations for Brexit, claiming she was living in another galaxy.
In the BBC interview, Rudd said these “very unhelpful” comments showed that the EU did want to “meddle” in the U.K. election. “It seems extraordinary to me that they would launch it during an election period,” she said.
Rudd’s cabinet colleague, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said he believed the briefings were deliberately designed to damage May’s chances of being re-elected. Some EU countries “appear to think that for the EU to survive, Britain must fail,” Hunt said on BBC television’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
One Conservative lawmaker said the rhetoric from May and her ministers should be taken with a pinch of election-time salt.
“I just think this is a bit of puff. We are in a general election,” Anna Soubry said in an interview with the “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” show on Sky. “These are opening salvos. It’s like those boxers, they do all that stuff before they actually get in the ring. We’re not in the ring yet.”