European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker fears Brexit talks will collapse after a disastrous meeting with Theresa May.
Juncker walked out of the Downing Street talks saying he was ’10 times more sceptical than before’.
Opposition parties warned the UK was heading for a ‘disastrous hard Brexit’ after a detailed account of their meeting last week suggested Juncker left fearing the talks would end in failure.
Reports in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung – attributed to commission sources – threaten to sour the mood between London and Brussels before negotiations have even begun.
The EU side – which included chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier – was said to have concluded that May was way too optimistic about the prospects for a deal.
When the Prime Minister told them ‘let us make Brexit a success’, Juncker was said to have replied ‘Brexit cannot be a success’.
At one state – to underline the complexity of negotiations – the commission president was said to have brandished copies of Croatia’s EU entry deal and Canada’s free trade deal which runs to 2,000 pages.
May was also said to have angered the EU side when she warned that the UK could not be forced to pay a ‘divorce bill’ for leaving because there was no requirement under the treaties, which drew the response that the EU was ‘not a golf club’.
As he left, Juncker was said to have told her: ‘I leave Downing St 10 times as sceptical as I was before.’
The following morning he rang German chancellor Angela Merkel to warn her that May’s approach was from a ‘different galaxy’.
Merkel responded by re-writing a speech she was giving that day to warn that some in Britain were still harbouring ‘illusions’ about the Brexit process.
No 10 said it did not recognise the account of the meeting which took place over dinner last Wednesday.
A Government spokesman said: ‘As the Prime Minister and Jean-Claude Juncker made clear, this was a constructive meeting ahead of the negotiations formally getting under way.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning in Battersea, south London, warned May’s negotiating strategy was unravelling.
‘Of course they are going to be difficult [negotiations], but you start from the basis that you want to reach an agreement, you start from the basis that you have quite a lot of shared interests and values,’ he said.
‘If you start from that basis and show respect, you are more likely to get a good deal. But if you start with a megaphone, calling people silly names, it is not a great start to anything.’
Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said: ‘It’s clear this Government has no clue and is taking the country towards a disastrous hard Brexit.’
For the SNP, Scotland’s minister for UK negotiations with the EU Michael Russell said: ‘Leaving the EU with no deal – and no agreement on access to the single market – would be an unprecedented act of self-harm which would devastate the UK and Scottish economy.’