The EU’s executive has dismissed as excitable electioneering Theresa May’s extraordinary claims that Brussels was seeking to interfere in the UK general election. “We are not naive,” the European commission’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, told reporters.
Speaking after returning from Buckingham Palace to inform the Queen that parliament had been dissolved for the 8 June poll, May delivered an unexpected broadside against the EU on Wednesday afternoon, claiming unnamed EU forces were trying to disrupt the election.
“Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press,” she said in a statement outside No 10.
“The European commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election which will take place on 8 June.”
Schinas suggested to reporters in Brussels that the commission and member states were taking little heed of the allegations. “We are not naive. At the moment there’s an election taking place in the UK,” he said. “People get excited when we have elections. The election in the UK is mainly about Brexit.
“We here in Brussels are extremely busy with out policy work. We have too much to do on our plate.”
With reference to recent comments from Martin Selmayr, the European commission president’s chief of staff, who has claimed the commission will only allow 30 minutes of thinking time a week for Brexit issues, Schinas added: “This week it’s up.”
Pushed to say whether the EU denied attempting to interfere in the British election, Schinas repeated that Brussels understood the motivations behind the claims, adding: “It’s normal. Things are said.”
Schinas’s comments were echoed by senior diplomats representing the 27 member states that will remain once the UK leaves in 2019, although some voiced concern that the rhetoric could go too far.
“We are going our own ways at the end but we need to get through this together,” said one. “Brussels gets used in domestic political debates but there is no hidden agenda here. The EU’s negotiating guidelines are there to ensure the very best outcome for everyone.”
A second EU source intimately involved in the drafting of the EU’s position dismissed the claim as electioneering. They told the Guardian: ”Domestic politics is domestic politics and we understand what she is doing. There wasn’t any toughening of negotiating guidelines in that way at all.
“We’ve heard quite a few statements like this and I am quite sure this will not be the criteria the British people use to decide how to vote.
“The EU negotiators are working seriously and assiduously. They want to be ready for when the UK is ready. There was no talk of the UK general election in the meetings today.”
When Juncker was asked what he thought of May’s description of herself as “a bloody difficult woman” on Wednesday, the commission president told reporters: “I am not using this rhetoric because in different translations it could mean different things. I deeply respect the British prime minister, I like her as a person. I have noted that she is a tough lady.”
May’s comments were made shortly after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, unveiled details of the EU’s opening negotiating stance. He also said that the divorce bill that would be presented to the UK on leaving would be “incontestable”.
It is claimed the sum could be as high as €100bn, and EU officials have insisted that the UK will not be able to reduce that down by claiming it has a share of the union’s assets.
Barnier had however also spoken of a “a very cordial” exchange with the British prime minister during the infamous dinner in Downing Street last week. He had also talked approvingly of the decision to call a general election which would ensure continuity of government through the negotiations.