May revels in 'bloody difficult woman' tag after reported Juncker clash
Theresa May has boasted about being a "bloody difficult woman" amid reports of a clash with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker over Brexit.
The Prime Minister insisted "a lot" of the leaked account of a difficult Downing Street dinner between the two sides was "Brussels gossip".
But she acknowledged the negotiations were going to be tough after a detailed account in the German press of their meeting suggested Mr Juncker left fearing the negotiations would end in failure.
In an interview with the BBC, Mrs May turned to the description of her coined by former cabinet colleague Ken Clarke.
She said: "During the Conservative Party leadership campaign I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman.”
"And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker."
Pressed by BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg whether the commission chief had indeed found that out, Mrs May said: "Well these are going to be tough negotiations as we as we go ahead.”
"I'm asking the British people to give me a mandate to go into those negotiations.”
"Every vote for me and my team is a vote to strengthen our hand in ensuring that we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom."
Asked whether Mr Juncker had told her at the dinner "Brexit cannot be a success", Mrs May said: "I don't recall the account that has been given of the meeting that took place.”
"I think a lot of this is Brussels gossip."
She said the UK needed the "right leadership" in the negotiations: "The 27 other EU countries on one side of the table and who is going to be there standing up for the UK?”
"It's either going to be me or Jeremy Corbyn."
The Downing Street dinner on April 26 saw Mr Juncker and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier dine with Mrs May and Brexit Secretary David Davis.
A comprehensive leak to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper - attributed to commission sources - said the EU side concluded Mrs May was way too optimistic about the prospects for a deal.
As he departed, Mr Juncker was said to have told her: "I leave Downing St 10 times as sceptical as I was before."
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said he would not comment on leaks but pointed out Mr Juncker had publicly described the dinner as "constructive" while acknowledging difficulties ahead.
Mr Juncker had described it as "a very constructive meeting in a friendly atmosphere" but "I have the impression sometimes that our British friends - not all of them - do underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face".
Asked if the meeting had been a disaster, Mr Schinas added: "You can use this assessment and make your judgment on how you can characterise our understanding of the dinner."
Asked what "technical difficulties" Mr Juncker meant, the spokesman said there were "many things", including "the sequencing of the negotiation, the degree of difficulty involved in various stages".
On citizens' rights, there were "25 different sub-topics that altogether form something that is just a part of the negotiation", Mr Schinas said.
"There are issues that clearly are not understood the same way, from a technical point of view. But we will work it out - it is in the commission DNA to work for solutions."
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "I think the talks have got off to a very, very bad start.
"I don't doubt that this leak is irritating for the Prime Minister but the contents are really worrying.
"I think that rigid approach, that fixed approach that she has taken here in the UK is simply not working with our EU partners.
"We need to be flexible, we need to be smart and we need to understand how negotiations go - so she has got off to a very, very bad start, I'm afraid."
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "Whether you see these as leaks or Brussels gossip, the whirlwind of news following the May-Juncker meeting is a taste of what's to come.”
"The reports show a Prime Minister who is complacent and seems to have no idea how difficult these negotiations will be."
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: "I think these leaks over the weekend confirmed our worst fears really - that Theresa May is going into these negotiations utterly unprepared, completely arrogant and not understanding how the EU works.”
"It's not surprising she's then putting the backs up of the 27 other member state governments, with whom she needs to keep on good terms if we're to try to get the best possible deal for the country."