Brexit: Tetchy tit-for-tat at the EU summit
Two small incidents at this week's EU summit in Brussels shed light on how ridiculously delicate the Brexit process is.
Dude, where's my shirt?
The cameras caught a magic moment at the start of the first working session, when the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel presented Theresa May with a Red Devils shirt.
It was to celebrate his national team playing against England in the World Cup on Thursday night.
Cue a hundred newspaper stories about the PM being caught with no gift to give in return.
Or being tricked into holding up an item of clothing with the word "Hazard" on the back (because it was No 10 - which is Eden Hazard's position.)
It turns out to be much more complicated.
The plan all along was for BOTH sides to swap shirts. Theresa May even had multiple shirts for members of Mr Michel's family.
But the Belgian jumped the gun and handed the present over earlier than planned, when Mrs May was empty-handed.
An apparent British own-goal had travelled round the world before the truth had even laced up its football boots.
Then the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier arrived at the summit on Friday morning, saying that he had invited the UK for a round of Brexit negotiations "next Monday" as part of a plan to speed up the talks.
After a few texts confirmed that he meant Monday 2 July and not Monday 9 July, there was another friction-filled episode.
Two possible versions emerged of what might have happened:
- The UK had already turned down that date and it was an exercise in humiliation by the EU to invite them to a meeting they couldn't make
- The government had never received an invitation
The second is not true. An email was sent on 26 June. I've seen it with my own eyes.
But even reports that it might be the case caused outrage at the Commission.
And then came claims that the reason the last round of Brexit talks wasn't more productive was because the EU side was under-prepared.
"We always suck it up when the Commission says it's our fault for not making any progress, but not this time," a British source complained.
None of this has a substantive impact on the Brexit talks but it's juicy evidence of a relationship that's rocky rather than rosy.
And neither side seems to mind if you know about it.