Theresa May has accused the European Union of seeking to influence the result of the UK general election through threats, as she formally fired the starting gun on the campaign and asked voters to back her over Jeremy Corbyn.
In an extraordinary statement on the steps of No.10 Downing Street, the prime minister said her Brexit negotiating position had been “misrepresented in the continental press”.
“The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials,” she said.
“All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on the 8th of June.”
Details of a meeting between May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, printed in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, suggested the talks were off to a bad natured start.
May accused “some in Brussels” who “do not want Britain to prosper” of trying to sabotage the Brexit negotiations.
“Whoever wins on the 8th of June will face one overriding task - to get the best possible deal from this United Kingdom from Brexit,” she said.
May was speaking having visited the Queen to mark the dissolution parliament ahead of the election.
The prime minister again repeated her campaign slogan that she offered “strong and stable” government when compared to Labour.
Labour MP Chuka Ummuna, a supporter of the pro-Remain Open Britain group, said May’s speech was “straight out of the Donald Trump playbook”.
“This is straightforward, crude electioneering by the Prime Minister, putting the Tory Party’s interests before the national interest. By picking a needless fight with our European partners in this way, the Prime Minister is making a good deal with Brussels less likely, and a chaotic Brexit with no agreement at all more likely,” he said.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also hit out at May’s choice of language and accused the prime minister of being “deeply irresponsible”.
Speaking outside No.10 today, May said:
“Whoever wins on 8 June will face one overriding task: to get the best possible deal for this United Kingdom from Brexit.
“And in the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be.
“Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press.
“The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.
“All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.
“By contrast, I made clear in my letter to the President of the European Council invoking Article 50 last month that, in leaving the European Union, Britain means no harm to our friends and allies on the continent.
“We continue to believe that no deal is better for Britain than a bad deal.
“But we want a deal. We want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. And we want the EU to succeed.
“But the events of the last few days have shown that - whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders - there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed. Who do not want Britain to prosper.
“So now more than ever we need to be led by a Prime Minister and a Government that is strong and stable.
“Because making Brexit a success is central to our national interest. And it is central to your own security and prosperity.”