In something of a dig to Theresa May, Jean Claude Juncker has joked that the UK would be better off if he was Prime Minister.
The European Commission president took his humorous swipe as he arrived at an informal meeting of the 27 other EU heads of government – also attended by May.
Juncker said May had not briefed him on the Chequers meeting of her Brexit ‘war cabinet’ when ministers agreed a broad policy for the next stage of negotiations, on trade.
He then quipped: ‘I am not the British prime minister. It would be good for Britain if I was, but I’m not.’
Juncker’s Commission, led by chief negotiator Michel Barnier, is responsible for coordinating the EU’s work on Britain’s withdrawal and conducting exit talks.
He has long been an annoyance for Brexiteers, and David Cameron unsuccessfully attempted to stop his nomination as Commission president in 2014.
It is expected that May will deliver a long-awaited speech setting out her vision for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union on Friday March 2, Downing Street has announced.
The PM cleared the way for the speech by securing agreement from senior ministers in her so-called ‘war cabinet’ at Chequers on Thursday on key features of the future relationship.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – who was not at the meeting – said the Government will pursue a policy putting Britain outside a customs union with the European Union but matching Brussels rules in certain sectors in an attempt to achieve ‘frictionless’ trade.
The policy puts Mrs May on a collision course with Tory Brexit rebels who are backing an amendment to the Trade Bill which would mandate the UK to form a customs union with Brussels on leaving the EU.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is widely predicted to give his blessing to a customs union arrangement with the EU in his own speech on Monday.
It’s expected he will use the opportunity to offer greater clarity on his party’s Brexit policy.