Theresa May remonstrated with Jean-Claude Juncker at a Brussels summit on Friday and the EU chief executive seemed anxious to placate the British prime minister whose Brexit demands he had called "nebulous" the night before.

Under huge pressure at home as British media described her largely unsuccessful plea for favour from EU leaders as a humiliation, May appeared anxious to make a point to Juncker before a new session in the morning.

What they said was not audible but official video of their exchange as other leaders took their seats showed May repeating herself while the former Luxembourg premier held her by the arm, shook his head and raised with his palm in an apparent effort to calm her down before the Dutch prime arrived to interrupt them.

Later, Ms May said Mr Juncker had clarified during an animated conversation that he had not called her "nebulous".

"I had a robust discussion with Jean-Claude Juncker," she told reporters. "I think that's the sort of discussion you're able to have when you have developed a working relationship and you work well together.

"And what came out of that was his clarity that he had been talking, when he used that particular phrase, ... about a general level of debate."

Mr Juncker confirmed that at a press conference later in the day, telling reporters that his comment was directed at the overall state of Brexit debate in Britain. 

“I was following the debate in the House [of Commons], and I cannot see where the British Parliament is heading,” Mr Juncker said.

“After having checked what I said yesterday night, she was kissing me,” he joked.

The UK Prime Minister remained a “good friend” of the Commission President, he said.

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The previous evening, Juncker told a news conference that May's pitch to the summit for help on Brexit was "nebulous" and "vague". Diplomats said other leaders made similar complaints directly to the beleaguered British leader during the talks.

Asked what she had said to Juncker, a British government source said only: "I'm sure they had plenty to discuss."

Council President Donald Tusk also chimed in saying Mrs May had been shown nothing but respect from European Parliamentarians.

The UK had been treated with a “much greater empathy” by the EU than some British MPs, he said

EU diplomats said May had on Thursday evening appealed for some legally binding amendments to the Brexit deal which she had agreed last month but seems unable to get through parliament.

But the other 27 leaders had stood firm on a refusal to do anything that might water down the so-called "backstop" designed to avoid a disruptive "hard border" for Northern Ireland. They issued a statement stressing that they hope it would not be used, or if it were for only a very short time.

But that has failed to satisfy critics of May's plan, who say it opens the risk of Britain being bound into EU customs and other regulations indefinitely, unless the two sides can agree on another way to keep their borders almost totally open.

 

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