‘Disastrous Brexit dinner’ journalist defends claims

a place setting for dinner with a white bowl and plate
The dinner has been described in contradictory ways as 'disastrous' and 'friendly'

The author of a controversial German newspaper article titled ‘The disastrous Brexit dinner’ has defended claims that UK Prime Minister Theresa May suggested dealing with EU nationals in the UK by simply treating them like any other foreigners.

Writing in the daily paper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), politics editor Thomas Gutschker said that Mrs May and EU chiefs agreed at a dinner last Wednesday (April 26) that the issue of expat rights must be a priority in the Brexit negotiations but he said they were then ‘amazed’ when Mrs May said this could be resolved in June and Britain could simply treat them the same as non-EU citizens.

Connexion asked Mr Gutschker about his sources. He said: “As a matter of principle I never reveal sources or comment on their origin. So, you have to draw your own conclusions from the article.

“Regarding citizen’s rights, it was the understanding of people in the room that Theresa May wanted to solve the issue at the June council [June 22-23] for all EU citizens concerned, that is the 3.2 million people currently residing in the UK. Not visitors.

“She proposed to treat them as any other person from a third country according to domestic British law - to which the EU Commission officials objected.”

'Third country' nationals means those from outside the EU, who do not benefit from rights to live and work in the UK under EU single market rules and typically require a visa to stay in the UK. It is expected that as part of the Brexit negotiations whatever is agreed for EU nationals in the UK would apply to British people living in the EU.

Number 10 told Connexion they ‘did not recognise’ FAZ’s account of the dinner however Mr Gutschker, whose article has now been released in English is widely rumoured to have obtained the detailed account from a European Commission leak.

The Financial Times claims that ‘Mrs May’s team’ have identified Martin Selmayr, Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff, who was at the dinner, as the likely source. Among others reportedly at the dinner with Mr Juncker and Mrs May were the commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his deputy Sabine Weyand, DEXEU permanent secretary Oliver Robbins and Brexit Minister David Davis.

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Asked about the origins and accuracy of the article, the European Commission's Brexit press spokesman said: "We don't comment on comments".

He said however that Mr Juncker, speaking at an EU Council press conference last Saturday, April 29, had described the meeting as 'very constructive' and 'in a friendly atmosphere'.

He said Mr Juncker added: "Privately, everything went well. But in fact, we have a problem, because the British want to leave the EU and it is not feasible that this can be done just like that.

"It will take time and we had to discuss a certain number of the elements we will have to address in the next coming months. But it was excellent – I am not talking about the food.

"We were discussing in London and here several issues, including the one that is related to finances, without entering into details. But I have the impression, sometimes, that our British friends – not all of them – do underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face."

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