Corbyn Went to Brussels and Forgot to Bring Euros

(Bloomberg) -- Take the most powerful unelected bureaucrat of the European Union, add the socialist leader of the U.K.’s opposition, and you might ask yourself what they’re doing discussing Brexit.

In the full glare of publicity, no less, during the most critical time in the U.K.-EU negotiations. But in the unpredictable world of Brexit everything is possible.

The meeting between Martin Selmayr -- dubbed by the British press the “monster of Brussels” -- and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, who has no role in the talks, held some surprises.

For one, the commission’s chief spokesman acted like it wasn’t happening even when Corbyn was already on the train over. “There is no such meeting as far as I know,” Margaritis Schinas said three hours before it took place.

Then Corbyn was left waiting in his taxi when it arrived at the commission as his aides asked around for cash. They hadn’t changed pounds to euros and the driver refused to accept a credit card.

Contingency Planning

Although Selmayr hasn’t any formal role in the negotiations, he oversees the EU’s contingency planning in case of no deal.

It was hardly a meeting of minds: Selmayr is the epitome of an EU elite, a law professor and long associated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. Corbyn has a history of lukewarm views of the EU and is the most Marxist-leaning Labour leader in a generation.

Corbyn arrived fresh from a speech at his party’s annual conference in which he said his lawmakers would only support Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal -- if she gets one -- if she changes her position and keeps the U.K. in the bloc’s customs union.

With Labour pushing for a snap election, and possibly a second referendum, the party’s stance merely adds to the uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal.

Two Hours

He emerged from the commission’s Berlaymont headquarters after about two hours, during which he also met with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, playing down the significance of the talks to awaiting media.

“We are obviously not negotiating, we are not in government,” Corbyn said.

And with that he returned to London, having given the EU’s Brexit team something else to think about as talks remain deadlocked less than two months before a deadline for getting a deal.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.