Theresa May’s dispute with the European Commission president has dominated the final day of a summit in Brussels.
The prime minister, who has continued to promise seeking “legal reassurances” on her Brexit deal, admitted she had a “robust” discussion with Jean-Claude Juncker, captured on camera as leaders sat down for private talks.
Mrs May was seen walking up to Mr Juncker and confronting him, with a lip-reader telling Sky News she pointedly asked: “What did you call me?” and accused him of calling her “nebulous”.
The word was used by Mr Juncker in a midnight news conference hours before, as he demanded British leaders say “what they want instead of asking us to say what we want”.
Urging Mrs May to explain how she wanted to approach dealing with MPs’ concerns about the Northern Irish backstop, he said: “This debate is sometimes nebulous and we would like clarification.”
Mr Juncker addressed a clamour of questions about it as the summit wound up today, joking “we were not dancing”.
He said: “She thought that I did criticise her by saying yesterday night that the British position was nebulous… I did not refer to her but to the overall state of the debate in Britain.
“I was not addressing her, and in the course of the morning after having checked what I said yesterday night, she was kissing me.”
Calling for a cooling of tensions, Mr Juncker added: “We have to bring down the temperature.”
The bizarre dispute caused a spike in the amount of Google searches for “nebulous”, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “in the form of a cloud or haze”.
Speaking alongside Mr Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk said he treats Mrs May with “the greatest respect” as he called out British MPs for not doing the same.
He added: “We have treated Prime Minister May with a much greater empathy and respect than some British MPs.”
Earlier, Mrs May said she had got a promise from Mr Juncker he had only been talking about “a general level of debate” – not her personally.
She left for London without the legal assurances the backstop will not last indefinitely, which Brexiteer Tory MPs are pressuring her for.
But she has until 21 January – the deadline Mrs May set herself for the Brexit deal to be voted on in parliament – to convince them.
“We will be working expeditiously over the coming days to seek those further assurances that I believe MPs need,” the prime minister said.
Shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU Keir Starmer told Sky News: “This is becoming a farce.
“The prime minister pulled this important vote last week on the basis that she was going to get meaningful changes to her Brexit deal.
“She’s obviously not. She needs to come back, she needs to make a statement on Monday and answer questions and she needs to put that vote back to parliament next week and let us vote on it.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair has given a speech backing the People’s Vote campaign and calling for a second referendum.
He told Sky News’ deputy political editor Beth Rigby: “There’s no point in her thinking she’s just going to batter the MPs, just sort of keep driving at the brick wall and saying, ‘Guys here’s the brick wall and we’re going to crash out with no deal’.
“Because parliament in the end will take the steering wheel off her and avoid the brick wall. So that’s why she would be better to steer off the brick wall herself.”
This evening, Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage and Kate Hoey were among a number of speakers at a Leave Means Leave event held at the QEII Centre in London.
Sky News’ Lewis Goodall, who was at the event, said: “There is absolutely no way whatsoever that any of the people on this stage are going to be softening towards Theresa May’s deal.”
He added: “This is the week that we finally saw – and maybe they haven’t realised it in Downing Street yet – the hope for concessions being wrought and actually having an impact on this deal, really going out of the window.”
Labour MP Kate Hoey told the audience: “We didn’t spend 30 years suffering IRA killings of soldiers and civilians in Northern Ireland to see a united Ireland imposed by a few jumped up EU bureaucrats and a complicit prime minister.”
Earlier, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson told Sky News: “Nobody likes to see their prime minister being humiliated in the way in which Theresa May has been humiliated.
“It’s a reflection on our nation as well as on her as an individual.
“I think it says a lot for the leaders of the EU, that they feel they can toss her around like some kind of political rag doll.”
He went on to tell the Leave Means Leave rally: “It was thought we 10 DUP MPs could make or break this deal. We have become an irrelevancy – because there are that many MPs against it, we might as well sit at home.”
Beth Rigby rounded off the day following the Brussels summit saying that nothing has changed “apart from Theresa May is slightly weaker now, as a prime minister”.