Theresa May has hit back at claims that her Brexit strategy was “delusional” and “on another galaxy”, warning that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” in talks with the EU.
She refused to comment on leaked details of an awkward meeting with EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, saying she “can’t recall” being told that her approach meant “Brexit cannot be a success”.
A German newspaper printed claims by unnamed EU commission sources that Mr Juncker left last week’s Downing Street meeting “ten times as sceptical as I was before” on reaching a Brexit deal, and gave talks only a 50/50 chance of success.
“During the Conservative Party leadership campaign I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman,” the Prime Minister said. “And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.”
Mrs May came under renewed pressure over claims she is avoiding scrutiny on the campaign trail, with former chancellor George Osborne accusing her of trying to win a mandate for Brexit with slogans and no substance.
The first leader column of Mr Osborne’s tenure as editor of the London Evening Standard said Brexit was a “historic mistake” and argued: “There’s nothing wrong with repeating election campaign slogans; the problem comes when the election campaign amounts to no more than a slogan.
“If you ask for a blank cheque, don’t be surprised if later it bounces.”
Asked about the Evening Standard editorial on a stop in Bristol, Mrs May defended her campaign style, saying: “What I’m doing is giving a very clear message in this campaign, because this election is very important for the future of our country.”
Earlier there was anger from journalists in Cornwall who claimed they were prevented from standing outside a factory as the Prime Minister arrived for a visit, barred from following her on her tour, and told not to film a Q&A.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s election chair said the Prime Minister’s campaign was “going to extraordinary efforts to avoid any form of public scrutiny”.
But Mrs May did speak to voters on walk along the sea front in the village of Mevagissey, and took questions from journalists.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “I think the talks have got off to a very, very bad start. I don’t doubt that this leak is irritating for the Prime Minister but the contents are really worrying.
“I think that rigid approach, that fixed approach that she has taken here in the UK is simply not working with our EU partners.
“We need to be flexible, we need to be smart and we need to understand how negotiations go - so she has got off to a very, very bad start, I’m afraid.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Whether you see these as leaks or Brussels gossip, the whirlwind of news following the May-Juncker meeting is a taste of what’s to come.
“The reports show a Prime Minister who is complacent and seems to have no idea how difficult these negotiations will be.”
Parliament was prorogued at a minute past midnight last night, formally getting the election campaign under way and removing the country’s 650 MPs.
A new poll suggested almost half of Labour voters are more likely to back the party because they believe Jeremy Corbyn will not become prime minister.
The ICM survey gave Conservatives a 19-point lead over Mr Corbyn’s party, and also found that voters believe Theresa May has fought the best election campaign so far.
It came as Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson suggested voters should dismiss Mr Corbyn’s chances of becoming prime minister and focus on their local Labour candidate.
Mr Watson told a conference of the Usdaw union in Blackpool: “Sometimes the most important question isn’t what makes the best PM. It’s who makes the best MP.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson branded the possibility of Mr Corbyn becoming prime minister as “dangerous” and warned against taking Conservative landslide for granted.
Mr Johnson described the prospect of the Labour leader winning as a real “risk” and said: “We should not under any circumstances underestimate the possibility of Labour getting into power under a dangerous Jeremy Corbyn.”
The Lib Dems said the party had broken its membership record, reaching 101,832 members on Tuesday afternoon.