EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker has revealed he literally kissed and made-up with prime minister Theresa May after their public bust-up over Brexit.
The European commission president also said he wants to “bring down the temperature” of the Brexit debate in a bid to get the deal through the UK parliament.
Although he admitted he’d like to go on the attack against the EU’s critics at Westminster.
Juncker spoke after being ‘handbagged’ by May at the start of Friday’s European Council meeting as a result of comments he made over Brexit.
Furious May took the Luxembourg politician to task in front of TV cameras after he said the Brexit debate was “nebulous and imprecise”, which she interpreted as a thinly-veiled attack on her.
According to lipreaders, May said: “What did you call me? You called me nebulous.” When Juncker protested, she replied: “Yes, you did. Nebulous. Yes, you did.”
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was forced to intervene to break up the rapidly escalating row.
Asked about the incident at a press conference later, Juncker said: “She thought that I did criticise her by saying yesterday night that the British position was nebulous. I did not refer to her but to the overall state of the debate in Britain. I was not aggresive.”
And he told reporters: “In the course of the morning, after having checked what I said yesterday night, she was kissing me.”
May admitted that she had a “robust discussion” with Juncker but accepted that he had been “talking about a general level of debate” over Brexit in the UK when he used the word “nebulous.”
Juncker said he had been watching “second by second” the Commons debate over the Brexit deal and “noted there’s a deep mistrust in the House when it comes to the European Union.”
“We have to bring down the temperature,” he said. “These attacks coming from Westminster against Europe, against the European commission will not be responded to in the same way by the European Union – although I would like to do.”
European council president Donald Tusk said he believed the EU has “treated prime minister May with much greater empathy and respect than some British MPs for sure.”
As to the state of the negotiations, Mrs May also insisted she could win assurances from the EU over the Brexit backstop within days.
May’s confrontation with Juncker confrontation sparked unusual interest in the word ‘nebulous’, with Google reporting a spike in searches for the word.
Search interest in "nebulous" has spiked in the UK today. pic.twitter.com/mqwUlELOTh
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) December 14, 2018
It took place with May gripping her handbag, leading some observers to suggest it was a pre-planned stunt designed to reassert her authority after another humiliating setback on Thursday.
Juncker was reportedly crucial to a decision by EU leaders to reject her request for assurances that the Irish border backstop wouldn’t “trap” the UK.
Now the prime minister has responded by heeding calls from supporters to take inspiration from her Conservative predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, and stage her own ‘handbag moment’ at the summit.
Thatcher’s handbag became a symbol of her fierce approach to politics and to “handbag” was even entered into the dictionary as a way to “ruthlessly” deal with an opponent.,
“Of course, I am obstinate in defending our liberties and our law,” Thatcher once said. “That is why I carry a big handbag.”
May’s stand at the summit will boost her image at home temporarily, but has exposed how far away she is in achieving the “legal and political assurances” over the Brexit deal she promised MPs.