Theresa May's Brexit dinner leak: what does it tell us?

Leaked details of an apparently disastrous meeting between Theresa May and her European Union counterparts have been revealed by a German newspaper and sent social media into a tailspin.
Theresa May hosted the dinner last week. Picture: GettyTheresa May hosted the dinner last week. Picture: Getty
Theresa May hosted the dinner last week. Picture: Getty

Twitter’s “threading” tool is one of the social network’s most popular innovations – allowing entire articles, essays and analysis to be told through the medium of tweets.

One of the most popular ‘threads’ in recent times hit the website this morning, when a splash in German newspaper F.A.Z was converted into a series of tweets.

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Berlin-based journalist Jeremy Cliffe collated the report, which told of a seemingly disastrous meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission officials.

The account of Mrs May’s dinner with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been shared nearly 10,000 times, and has left Twitter users agog.

The Substance

The report, taken at face value (more on that later) does make damning reading for those who had placed their faith in Theresa May to negotiate a solid Brexit deal for Britain.

For one, the Prime Minister is clearly confident when she claims that if and when she is returned to Downing Street her hand will be strengthened in the talks on Britain’s orderly departure from the European Union. The report, which was almost certainly a verbatim account of the EU’s interpretation of what went wrong, says that Mrs May wants the issue of British ex-pats sorted next month.

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Mrs May’s own reputation for caution also seemingly came to the fore according to the leaked account – at one stage seeking to conclude talks in highly confidential monthly chunks.

According to the account, the Prime Minister was reminded that documents had to be published as the deal has to be approved by the parliaments of the remaining 27 EU states.

The Reaction

Reaction to the thread was swift, and damning.

Opposition parties took the chance to rush out press releases claiming the thread proved just how incompetent Theresa May is in dealing with EU leaders.

Some wits on Twitter were quick to point out that it was reassuring at least to see the Prime Minister deviate from her oft-repeated line about ‘strong and stable leadership’.

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Others pointed out that we shouldn’t be shocked, as Mrs May has been short on detail so far on what her substantive approach to the talks would be.

The Prime Minister might have voted Remain, but she has looked and sounded like a Brexiteer since winning the Tory leadership election last year. EU rivals and domestic allies alike have been aghast at the vagaries of the Prime Minister’s Brexit stance, most notably when she claimed that she would pursue a ‘red, white, and blue Brexit’.

Those people who have questioned whether Theresa May has a firm enough grasp on the details feel vindicated by the leaked account of that tense dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker and his officials.

Which could, of course, have been exactly what those who leaked the details were looking to achieve all along.

The Pinch of Salt

It is important to remember, before jumping on the bandwagon of eviscerating the Prime Minister, who is likely to have leaked the details of the meeting and why.

There have been a number of reactions to the leak that have sought to cast Mrs May in a better light than the leak does.

One journalist from a pro-Tory tabloid rather ambitiously posited the theory that the Prime Minister had deliberately slipped in some of her more stubborn approaches in the knowledge the details would be leaked.

That might be a stretch, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an ulterior motive in leaking a distinctly pro-European Commission take on the events of a meeting that marked the start of what will be a difficult few years of negotiations.

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Downing Street was quick to dismiss the story, saying that they don’t recognise the account of the meeting that took place.

But leaking details is a traditional, some would even say essential, part of diplomacy where a number of countries are involved.

That doesn’t mean that every account has to be taken at face value, especially one which casts one country’s team in such an unflattering light.

Did the meeting go poorly, as per the account? Almost certainly.

Was the UK’s approach as fumbling and ill-informed as EU officials would have us believe? That is harder to quantify, and will only become more difficult to divine as talks stretch on through months and years.