In a Downing Street address of extraordinary high drama, the Prime Minister made the incendiary allegation that EU insiders were attempting to manipulate the outcome of the June 8 general election.
She also accused Eurocrats of plotting to wreck the Brexit negotiations and undermine Britain’s prosperity.
The “bureaucrats of Brussels” were trying to “run over us”, she said.
Her blistering rhetoric, recalling Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War, dramatically raised the stakes in her battle to win a Brexit deal.
It followed a series of increasingly vicious briefings from sources close to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker since the EU departure talks formally opened last week.
And relations between Downing Street and Brussels were further soured when EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier claimed Britain should be braced for a “painful” Brexit and other Brussels sources indicated that the demand for a divorce fee from UK taxpayers could soar to £85billion.
Delivering a scathing verdict on the EU skulduggery, the Prime Minister said: “All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”
Mrs May spoke out shortly after meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace to confirm the dissolution of Parliament for the general election campaign.
Speaking at a lectern in front of the door of Number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said the victor in the June 8 poll will face one “overriding task” of seeking “to get the best possible deal for this United Kingdom from Brexit”.
She said: “In the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be.
“Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press.
“The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.
“Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.
“All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”
The aggression from Brussels contrasted with her promise, in a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, that Britain’s departure from the EU meant “no harm to our friends and allies on the continent”.
Mrs May wanted a deal with Brussels that would guarantee “a deep and special partnership” between the UK and the bloc.
“But the events of the last few days have shown that – whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed, who do not want Britain to prosper.
“So now more than ever we need to be led by a Prime Minister and a Government that is strong and stable.”
Her broadside was being seen last night as particularly targeted at Mr Juncker, whose aides have been blamed for a poisonous account published in a German newspaper of a Downing Street dinner with Mrs May last week to kick off the Brexit negotiations.
He yesterday insisted he respected Mrs May. “I deeply respect the British Prime Minister – I like her as a person,” Mr Juncker said. “I have noted that she is a tough lady.”
In her statement yesterday, Mrs May declared that making a success of Brexit was “central” to Britain’s national interest and to the security and prosperity of its people.
“While there is enormous opportunity for Britain as we leave the European Union, if we do not get this right, the consequences will be serious and they will be felt by ordinary, working people across the country,” the Prime Minister said.
“This Brexit negotiation is central to everything. If we don’t get the negotiation right, your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk and the opportunities you seek for your families will simply not happen.”
She said the next government had to “stand up and get this negotiation right” on order to secure well-paid jobs for “our children and our children’s children”.
“If we don’t get the negotiation right, if we let the bureaucrats of Brussels run over us, we will lose the chance to build a fairer society with real opportunity for all,” she said.
Mrs May issued an urgent appeal to voters to back the Tories to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations.
“As we face this critical time for our country – five years that will determine the course of this United Kingdom for generations to come – we must do so together with a unity of purpose to make a success of Brexit and to build a stronger, more secure country too,” she said.
“Give me your backing to speak for Britain,” she said. “Give me your backing to fight for Britain and give me your backing to deliver for Britain.”
Mrs May’s address came after EU sources sparked anger by suggesting Britain could face an up-front bill of 100billion euros (£85billion) as the price of leaving the bloc.
And Mr Barnier, will lead the EU negotiating team, further raised the heat in the row with a warning that Britain could not escape financial pain on leaving the EU.
“Some have created the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly. This is not the case.
“We need sound solutions, we need legal precision and this will take time,” he said.
Mr Barnier did not rule the exit bill hitting the 100 billion euro figure.
“This is not a punishment, nor is it an exit tax of some kind – the Union and the United Kingdom have mutual commitments,” he said.
“Basically, we have to close the account, and it is no more and no less – no punishment – there is no Brexit bill.”
Tory EU Exit Secretary David Davis immediately hit back.
He said: “We have said we will meet our international obligations, but there will be our international obligations including assets and liabilities and there will be the ones that are correct in law, not just the ones the Commission want. We will not be paying 100 billion.”
Opposition politicians condemned Mrs May’s statement last night.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Theresa May is playing party games with Brexit in the hope of winning advantage for the Tories in the General Election.
“By winding up the public confrontation with Brussels, the Prime Minister wants to wrap the Conservative party in the Union Jack and distract attention from her government’s economic failure and rundown of our public services.
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “Making a bogeyman of EU is all about distracting attention from Tories’ wider record.”
But campaigners for a full break with Brussels welcomed the Prime Minister’s remarks.
Richard Tice, co-chairman of pressure group Leave Means Leave, said: “The way that EU leaders and bureaucrats have behaved over the past week has been like a bully from Tom Brown’s schooldays.
“Threatening the British Prime Minister for enacting the democratic will of the people is yet more evidence of why British voters were right to vote Leave on June 23rd 2016.
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s robust position ahead of negotiations.
“If the EU isn’t willing to act responsibly – and crucially, in the best interests of the citizens it claims to represent – then that is their issue.
“Britain can walk away from the table at any point – no deal with the EU is substantially better than a bad deal.”
May 4th, 2017: Express