Brexit: Dinner leaks, Twitter spats and a plea for certainty

As aides and reporters battled on Twitter over leaks from a Brexit dinner between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU's Jean-Claude Juncker, British business lobbies called on their government to provide clarity.

The European Commission on Monday denied an account of a Brussels dinner last week during which May and Juncker discussed Brexit negotiations.

Juncker's head of cabinet, German lawyer Martin Selmayr, took to Twitter to deny the leaking of the details which were published in Germany's Frankfurt Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper.

According to the FAZ, May was "begging for help" from Juncker, who described her to colleagues as being anxious, despondent and discouraged.

Read more: Brexit diary 11: Brexit body language

Politics | 23.10.2017

"It's an attempt to frame the EU side and to undermine talks," Selmayr said of the leaked report controversy.

Selmayr was responding to an allegation from May's former chief-of-staff, Nick Timothy, also via Twitter, that he was behind the leak.  

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas repeated the denial.

"We have lots of work and no time for gossip," he said.

He declined to say who might wish the Commission ill but added that Juncker would "never have said something like this."

Earlier this year similar reports concerning a Downing Street dinner emerged in the same German newspaper.

Related Subjects

Slow progress on Brexit talks has stoked fears the UK could leave the EU in March 2019 without a deal in place.
 

EU leaders agreed on Friday to include the bloc's future relationship with Britain in negotiations among themselves over the coming months.

Businesses: We have to plan

As officials bickered via social media, UK business leaders were preparing to call for reassurance.

In a draft letter to Brexit Secretary David Davis, five leading business groups called for the economic relationship between Britain and the bloc to be "as close as possible to the status quo" during a two-year transition period for the country's move out of the EU.

Read more: Brexit: What's the 'no deal' fallout for the UK and EU?

"Agreement (on a transition) is needed as soon as possible, as companies are preparing to make serious decisions at the start of 2018, which will have consequences for jobs and investment in the UK," said the letter from the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, manufacturing trade body EEF, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the "will of the British people" and resigned the following morning.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the Remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first would settle the terms of Britain's exit, and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July-October 2017: Money, rights and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase 2

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase two issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2018: Johnson, Davis resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

May's Chequers proposal did not go down well with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, captioning a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft had been widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

January 2019: Agreement voted down

The UK Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Second defeat for May's deal

May tried to get legal changes to the deal's so-called Irish backstop in the weeks that followed. She eventually got assurances that the UK could suspend the backstop under certain circumstances. But on March 12, Parliament voted against the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242. EU leaders warned the vote increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Two days later, MPs voted to delay Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Extension after second defeat

Following the second defeat of May's divorce deal, the European Council met in Brussels on March 21 to decide what to do next. EU leaders gave May two options: delay Brexit until May 22 if MPs vote for the withdrawal deal or delay it until April 12 if they vote against the deal. If the deal were to fail again in Parliament, May could ask for a long extension.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Brexit deal rejected a third time

On March 29, the day that the UK was supposed to leave the EU, British lawmakers voted for a third time against May's deal — rejecting it this time with a vote of 344 to 286. Following the latest defeat, May approached the main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise, angering hardline Brexiteers in her own Conservative party.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

April 2019: Brexit delayed until Halloween

With the April 12 deadline looming after the third defeat of May's deal, EU leaders met again in Brussels to discuss a second delay. The only question was how long should it be? In the end, the UK and EU agreed to a "flexible" extension until October 31 — which can end sooner if the Brexit deal is approved. If the deal isn't ratified by May 22, the UK would have to take part in European elections.

se/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)