The last time Theresa May and David Davis sat down for dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker, a suspiciously well-informed account of the meal – which wasn’t very flattering about the British side – ended up in the German press. Prompted perhaps by a furious Angela Merkel, the Commission president apologised for his side’s “ grave mistake”. Mrs May will hope to avoid a similar saga when she sits down with him once more this evening. Despite this prior friction, our Brussels correspondent James Crisp suggests that she can tell herself that she has ” chosen the most sympathetic dinner hosts she could possibly find in Brussels“.
Downing Street says their meeting has been in the diary for a few weeks, although the Europeans officials are putting it out that it was only confirmed in the last few days. Its timing is useful for Mrs May, as she hopes to grease European wheels before the remaining 27 leaders meet later this week to decide whether Michel Barnier can expand his brief to include the subject of trade. Before dinner, she spoke to French president Emmanuel Macron about “progress in the negotiations” ( a No 10 spokesman said) as well as Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
The Prime Minister might hope the European political climate will give her cause a boost. Sebastian Kurz, likely Austria’s next chancellor, has regularly urged Europe to be pragmatic in its treatment of the British over the exit negotiations. A few months ago, I noted, he suggested that the EU could respond to Britain leaving by cutting back on spending, rather than shaking the British down – or taxpayers of other countries – for every last penny.
Any easing in tensions will be welcomed by British ministers, who have expressed their keenness to make progress. Boris Johnson said that the EU must “stop letting the grass grow under our feet”, and that it is “time to head for the open sea” and move talks on. Downing Street says that journalists may get a briefing on tonight’s dinner afterwards, but President Juncker has been more colourful. “We will talk and you will have the autopsy report afterwards,” he said at a press conference today. If he is going into tonight’s meeting with an open mind, some will wonder rightly why he is channeling Gunther von Hagens in his suggestion that everyone will soon have the gruesome details of tonight’s meeting to pore over. Whatever emerges, we’ll have the latest on telegraph.co.uk.
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