May told by Brussels she must ‘face down’ Boris Johnson

Theresa May has been told by Brussels that she needs to ‘face down’ Boris Johnson if she wants to start trade negotiations with the EU by the critical Christmas deadline.

The Prime Minister left a summit of EU leaders on Friday buoyed by their promise to start preparations for trade talks – on condition that she finally offers an acceptable sum for the ‘divorce bill’.

The supportive noises were part of an orchestrated effort by the EU to buttress Mrs May’s domestic position by putting a positive gloss on the deadlock.

They dread Mrs May being weakened so much that she is ousted by a hard Brexiteer such as Mr Johnson, who would be happy for the UK to crash out of the EU without a deal.

Take cover: Brussels has told Theresa May to defy Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

But last night Mrs May was warned by one of the most senior figures in the Brussels establishment that she had to defy Mr Johnson by making concessions before the next summit in December.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May should call the bluff of the ‘increasingly desperate Brexiteers’ and ‘outline, once and for all, what kind of future relationship the country wants with the European Union’.

He added: ‘This may require Theresa May to face down Boris Johnson and others in her own party who refuse to accept the reality of the Brexit they campaigned for… Brexiteers failed to outline the extent of UK liabilities in Europe. Nevertheless, what is clear is that it will not be the taxpayers of the European Union who pay Britain’s bar bill.’

The warning came as:

  • Brexit Secretary David Davis met anti-EU Labour MPs in private to beg them to help pass key Brexit legislation;
  • Government mandarins told Ministers that they will not agree to downplay the disruptive impact of a no-deal Brexit for political ends;
  • Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable produced new research which claimed a no-deal Brexit would cost the country an estimated £430 billion over five years.

EU leaders made clear at the Brussels summit that unless Mrs May substantially increased the offer on the ‘divorce bill’, they will not give the green light to the trade talks at a crunch meeting in December. However, they insulated her from the harshest criticism by highlighting the fact that the EU was starting ‘internal preparations’ for an EU-UK trade deal.

As the rate of diplomacy intensifies, Mr Davis will try to unlock the deadlock tomorrow by visiting Paris for Brexit talks with Emmanuel Macron’s administration.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament¿s chief negotiator, told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May should call the bluff of the ¿increasingly desperate Brexiteers¿

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May should call the bluff of the ‘increasingly desperate Brexiteers’

Business leaders have warned the Government that they cannot afford to wait any longer than the end of the year to start making contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit.

Publicly, Mrs May has so far only implied a willingness to pay a bill of around £18 billion.

Privately, however, her officials have long made clear that the negotiations will not be unblocked unless she offers between £40 billion and £50 billion – and she cannot continue to fudge the issue for much longer. Mr Johnson, who infuriated Mrs May by setting out his own ‘Brexit blueprint’ last month just six days before Mrs May set out the Government’s position in her Florence speech, thinks the bill should be no higher than £10 billion.

He also advocates a brief transition period and objects to the UK continuing to be yoked to the European Court of Justice post-Brexit.

It comes as Ministers have delayed the introduction of the EU Withdrawal Bill – which is intended to give practical effect to Brexit – while they study more than 300 amendments put down by MPs. They are particularly concerned about Tory support for a move to force a Commons vote on the final deal, which would effectively give MPs the right to block the option of leaving the EU without a deal. Tory whips are so concerned that they will lose the vote that Mr Davis has held meetings with anti-EU Labour MPs to urge them to vote with the Government.

It is likely to present MPs such as Bolsover’s Dennis Skinner – a veteran, Tory-loathing Brexiteer – with an acute dilemma if the choice is between diluting Brexit or propping up a Conservative Government.

It has also emerged that civil servants have warned Ministers against playing down the risks of leaving the EU without a deal, pointing out that it will be extremely difficult to institute border control systems and post-Brexit IT projects in the 18 months remaining.

Some have taken to deliberately setting out their concerns in emails so that there is written evidence to exonerate them in the event of a subsequent inquiry.

Publicly, Theresa May has so far only implied a willingness to pay a bill of around £18 billion

Publicly, Theresa May has so far only implied a willingness to pay a bill of around £18 billion

Concern across Europe that Mrs May could be toppled by Mr Johnson may end up playing to his advantage, with pro-Brexit Tory MPs impressed by his ability to strike fear into foreign ministries.

The antipathy to him is particularly acute in Germany and France, where they fail to see the funny side of his Second World War comparisons: he has accused the EU of contemplating Nazi-style ‘punishment beatings’ over Brexit and said it was emulating Hitler by trying to create a powerful superstate.

I’m Johnson’s ‘Monsieur Le Poop Scoop’ 

Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office deputy says he has been dubbed ‘Monsieur Le Poop Scoop’ by EU Ministers because his job is to ‘clear up the diplomatic mess’ left behind by his boss.

The nickname of Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan emerged after reports that senior EU figures regard Mr Johnson as a ‘joke’ because of his gaffes and colourful language. 

Alan Duncan, Conservative MP for Rutland and Merton with his dog Noodle

Alan Duncan, Conservative MP for Rutland and Merton with his dog Noodle

A friend of Sir Alan said: ‘He has told people that the Europeans complain Boris causes such a diplomatic mess wherever he goes that Alan has to follow him round to clear it all up. They have taken to calling him Monsieur Le Poop Scoop. Alan thinks it is hilarious.’

The disclosure will do little to improve the rocky relations between Mr Johnson and Sir Alan, left.

When Mr Johnson ran for the Tory leadership last year, Sir Alan called him ‘Silvio Borisconi’ – a reference to ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, known for his ‘bunga bunga’ sex parties and corruption claims.

In August, it was claimed that Foreign Office aides were so horrified by Mr Johnson’s incompetence they asked Sir Alan to make key decisions instead.

But Mr Johnson hit back after Sir Alan was accused of a gaffe three weeks ago when he said Brexit was the result of a ‘tantrum’ by working-class Britons.

Mr Johnson mocked his diminutive deputy as a ‘Mount Rushmore of wisdom’.

A senior EU source said: ‘He is regarded here as a joke, but a dangerous one. We have managed to pretty much avoid him as Foreign Secretary, but we wouldn’t be able to if he was your Prime Minister.’

Some elements within the EU still think that Brexit can be averted, or at least heavily diluted – but not if Mr Johnson took over.

A senior source in the European Parliament said: ‘Even now, there are EU leaders who privately say that they don’t think Brexit will happen. And nothing in Theresa May’s approach has done anything to dissuade them.

‘They think we should drive such a hard bargain that the UK is forced to walk away; they think when May is forced to confront the grim reality of a no-deal Brexit she will offer a second referendum in which your voters will opt to stay in the EU after all, or at least opt for a Brexit-lite, in which you stay in the Single Market and merely opt out of the EU institutions.’ Anti-Brexit Tory MP Anna Soubry said the growing threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit would harden the stance taken by Remain supporters like her who had reluctantly agreed to accept the referendum result. She said: ‘We need to listen to people in business who know what they are talking about. People are coming round to the view that no Brexit would be better than no deal.’

Mrs May will tomorrow tell the Commons that she will continue to ‘put people first’ in the talks. She is expected to tell MPs: ‘The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical but in the end they are about people – and I am determined that we will put people first.’

It comes as Mr Johnson prepares to make a major speech on world affairs at London’s Chatham House tomorrow, which is bound to be seen by some as his latest attempt to set out his stall as a future Tory leader.

It’s claws out for the Commons Catwalk! 

Theresa May has been accused of turning Parliament into a ‘Commons catwalk’ over an attempt to ditch the Tories’ ‘male, pale and stale’ image.

She faced a backlash after Conservative whips ordered rising star female MPs to shove older male colleagues out of the TV limelight during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The women stand shoulder to shoulder, pictured left, at the entrance to the debating chamber, known as the Bar of the House, ensuring they are seen with Mrs May on TV. The spot has traditionally been occupied by male MPs such as former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.

In a light-hearted response last night, Mr Duncan Smith made clear he was not giving up his traditional standing spot without a fight. He quipped: ‘It’s a case of first come, first served – and that goes for all of us. Excuse me, man coming through…’