Leading EU Brexit negotiator warns David Davis of a 'hell' of a meeting


The European Parliament's hardline Brexit negotiator is predicting a "hell" of a meeting with David Davis after the Cabinet minister appeared to compare him to Satan.

Guy Verhofstadt said in a pointed tweet before Tuesday's encounter: "Looking forward to a hell of a conversation with David Davis tomorrow :)", and attached a link to a newspaper report of the Brexit Secretary's appearance before MPs in September in which he said "Get thee behind me Satan!" when asked about the tough-talking negotiator.

Mr Davis later claimed he was not comparing Mr Verhofstadt to the Devil, but telling the questioner not to tempt him into commenting on him.

The Strasbourg meeting comes as it was reported that a bid to block Brexit by Blairite former Cabinet ministers is being offered financial backing by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

A memo written by ex-health secretary Alan Milburn, a key ally of former prime minister Tony Blair, reveals the anti-Brexit organisation has reached an advanced stage of development, and received an offer of at least £25,000 from Virgin, The Independent claims.

A range of major business and communications organisations have given the group extensive backing and help, with leading PR firm Freuds advising on the group's marketing.

Former deputy PM Nick Clegg, leading Labour Remain campaigner Chuka Umunna, and celebrities, such as Bob Geldof, are believed been in contact with the group, according to the report.

The email says: "We have been beavering away over the last few months to get a Europe campaign up and running. I'm pleased to say that substantial progress has been made.

"I have met the Freuds team several times and we are making good progress. I have been in discussions with an excellent potential CEO to lead the campaign.

"Virgin ... are keen to help. Since we last spoke [they] have offered a further £25k, plus bigger office space, help with legal advice and a possible secondment.

"I have held discussions with Stronger In, Chuka Umunna, a new organisation called Common Ground, Bob Geldof and a number of senior politicians across the party spectrum."

The group has funding or more than £1 million in pledged donations, according to the report, and is backed by Blairite former ministers John Hutton and Douglas Alexander, and former Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell.

The group will launch in the New Year and hopes to force a second referendum, according to the report.

A Virgin spokesman told The Independent: "Since the EU referendum, Virgin has not made any payments to any Brexit campaign or organisation.

"It is well known that Richard supported the Remain campaign before the referendum, and as a result people involved in all sides of the debate are interested in Virgin's views on Brexit and its impact on business. Virgin is interested in engaging with different organisations to understand the impact Brexit will have on the UK."

Mr Blair is believed to want to return to the political frontline to fight Brexit, but he is not directly involved with the new organisation.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May will meet her Belgium counterpart Charles Michel in Downing Street for discussions in which Brexit is set to dominate.

It comes after Mrs May's comments to the CBI in which she said the Government would seek to avoid a "cliff-edge" situation when the UK leaves the EU.

"People don't want a cliff-edge; they want to know with some certainty how things are going to go forward," the Prime Minister told the gathering of business leaders.