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European Commission hits out at claim it's trying to 'punish' the UK over Brexit

·Brussels correspondent
British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)
British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)

The European Commission’s top official has publicly clashed with a Conservative MP over claims made about his role in Brexit negotiations.

MP Greg Hands has accused Martin Selmayr, the secretary general of the EU’s executive, of working with Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy chief Brexit negotiator, to “punish” the UK.

Selmayr blasted the claim as “false” on Twitter, sparking a social media spat at a sensitive moment in the Brexit process.

The row comes after Hands published an article on the Conservative Home website, which cites a recent Yahoo Finance UK exclusive, on Tuesday about the influential role Selmayr and Weyand have played in divorce talks and are likely to play in future trade negotiations.

“It has been clear from the beginning that the mission of senior Brussels officials has been to punish Britain for Brexit,” he wrote. “Selmayr and Weyand appear to be no exception to this.”

Martin Selmayr.
Martin Selmayr.

Hands, who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum but is opposing the existing exit deal, cites comments made by the pair to argue that the deal to be voted on by MPs next week is stacked in the EU’s favour.

Selmayr, who has been nicknamed the “monster” in Brussels, told an EU meeting in November that “the power is with us,” according to the Financial Times.

He also took the unusual step of giving an on-the-record interview to a German newspaper in which he said the EU have “negotiated hard and realised their objectives.”

READ MORE: Juncker ignored EU watchdog’s advice over Brexit talks transparency, letters reveal

“These officials are the ones who know the detail best,” Hands said. “Both have been clear that the Agreement is overwhelmingly favourable to the European Union.”

He added, on trade talks, “The same people are likely to be in charge from the EU side. These are people totally committed to seeing that Britain is harmed.”

The article has been shared widely by Conservative MPs opposed to the Brexit deal, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

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Hitting back on Wednesday, Selmayr wrote of the article: “This is false. It may be a story that some want to hear, but it is still false. We have never said this.”

Commenting on claims of inaccuracies in the article, Selmayr added, “Will the truth ever matter in this debate?”

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He has been challenged by the BBC’s Brussels correspondent to specify which part of the article is false, but has so far not done so. Hands has subsequently defended his work.

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It’s not the first time Selmayr has found himself at the centre of a Brexit controversy.

Yahoo Finance UK revealed how the commission blamed Brexit for a cronyism scandal which surrounded Selmayr’s appointment to his current role as the EU’s most senior civil servant.

He was also blamed for leaking embarrassing details of the prime minister’s meetings with president Jean-Claude Juncker, although he denies this.

READ MORE: EU blames Brexit in cronyism scandal