UK Prime Minister Theresa May was reportedly urged to call last week’s general election by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in order to strengthen her hand ahead of Brexit talks. The plan spectacularly backfired.
Juncker is said to have advised May to call an election because her then 17-seat parliamentary majority was not seen as strong enough to guarantee a strong negotiating position. A larger majority, he allegedly told May, would help her dictate the terms of the divorce bill.
“During bilaterals, in the margins of summits, Juncker repeatedly told her he thought she should [call a snap election],” an anonymous EU diplomat told the Guardian.
“People don’t understand. We want a deal more than anyone. We are professionals, we have a mandate to get a deal and we want to be successful in that,” another EU source told the paper.
When announcing she would be dissolving government, May argued new elections were needed to stop the UK opposition’s “political game playing.”
“If we do not hold a general election now, their political game playing will continue as the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most pivotal stage in the run up to the next general election,” the PM told reporters outside 10 Downing Street on April 10.
“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit, and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country. So we need a general election and we need one now.”
But after last Thursday’s election, May’s Conservative Party has been left nine seats short of a majority.
The now infamous last encounter between Juncker and May at Downing Street ended up being leaked to the German press, with the European Commission president saying the British PM “lived in another galaxy” and did not understand what she was dealing with.
He also made several digs at Britain following the meeting, including the suggestion that the English language was “losing importance.”