Theresa May is soaring strong and stable in the polls, on track for a three-figure landslide on 9 June.
Yet according to rather undiplomatic leaks, EU leaders think the British Prime Minister is in a “different galaxy” when it comes to Brexit.
The comments of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier over the weekend, along with the exposé of May’s meeting with Juncker last Wednesday published in a German newspaper, rather dampened the rocketing momentum May has been enjoying so far.
The accusations from the EU elite that May is “delusional” and poorly-briefed have been dismissed as “Brussels gossip” by a woman who has built her political career on being pragmatic and meticulously prepared.
The spin from Juncker’s office should be seen for what it is: calculated and heavy-handed tactics ahead of extremely difficult negotiations.
We can expect plenty more of these blood-letting briefings, but the key sticking points of the leaders’ meeting concern real obstacles: May insisting a trade deal must come first, with the Eurocrats maintaining that trade cannot even be discussed before an agreement is reached on EU citizens in the UK and Britain’s multi-billion “divorce” bill.
The discrepancy between how May is viewed in Brussels – stubborn and unrealistic – versus her popularity among UK voters reveals one of the hidden traps of her snap election gambit. To continue her trajectory towards the largest Tory majority since 1987, May cannot be seen to give in to EU demands, whatever the merits of an early compromise might be.
By standing firm, she widens her appeal to both hardline Brexiteers and nervous former-Remainers who want someone they can trust to get on with it. But Juncker and Barnier’s recent anger suggests that she could risk aggravating EU leaders to the point where relations are irreparable.
That is not yet the case. The EU needs a good deal with Britain – our financial contributions and security expertise are significant bargaining chips. And with an indestructible majority, May will have the breathing room to soften her stance if she wants.
But the uproar over the weekend demonstrates the inherent dangers of attempting to run two campaigns at once.