Top EU official denies Brexit dinner report

A dinner between British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker last week continues to serve up headlines

A senior EU official on Monday denied a German newspaper report saying a "tortured" British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with Jean-Claude Juncker for help in stalled Brexit negotiations at a dinner in Brussels last week.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said that May "begged" European Commission chief Juncker for help in the negotiations, warning Europeans of the immense political risk she had taken domestically in backing away from a hard Brexit and asking for a two-year transition period.

The article, which did not cite sources, said May appeared "tortured," "fearful" and "discouraged" at a dinner with Juncker just days ahead of an EU summit in which EU leaders handed May a small victory by agreeing to start preparations for the next stage of negotiations.

The report which appeared on Sunday said Juncker later told colleagues that May appeared beaten down by party infighting and looked like she wasn't sleeping at night, with "dark circles" under her eyes.

In a tweet, Juncker's cabinet chief Martin Selmayr, who also attended the dinner with May, staunchly denied the newspaper report.

"I deny that 1/we leaked this; 2/Juncker ever said this; 3/we are punitive on Brexit," wrote Selmayr.

"It's an attempt to frame EU side and to undermine," he added.

Selmayr, a former ECB official from Germany, is a powerful figure in Brussels, known as a skilled spin doctor and is often thought to be a source to FAZ, a conservative Frankfurt-based daily.

In May, a diplomatic row erupted following a similar report in the daily that Juncker had left a dinner meeting with May "10 times more sceptical" about the prospect of a Brexit deal and told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that May was in a "different galaxy".

That report was widely attributed to Selmayr and came just weeks ahead of British elections that turned into an embarrassing debacle for May who lost her majority in the UK parliament.

May and Juncker were joined at the dinner table last week by British Brexit minister David Davis and his EU counterpart, chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

In a short statement, the EU and UK said the meeting took place in a "constructive and friendly atmosphere".