With the General Election campaign now under way, Theresa May was clearly in need yesterday of more and better excuses to put out there and deflect attention from her inability to get out and meet real people. What was called for was a good old dead cat to sling on the political table, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel unwittingly provided it, as she told the Bundestag that Britain had “illusions” about its Brexit negotiations.
That was all that was needed: the rotten German woman said something rotten! It wasn’t fair! Soon, this had become “all the other 27 EU member states are ganging up on us and so it’s even more not fair”. Ms May had deployed her dead cat. But this was at the expense of even more good will on the part of the 27, among whom there is precious little time being devoted to bothering about a country that is on the way out.
This reality was underscored when the BBC’s Europe Editor Katya Adler journeyed to Lisbon, where we saw a red tourist tram in the Praça do Comércio (wonder where the Beeb got that idea?) before the serious business began, an interview with Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa. The country was an old ally, wasn’t it? So did Senhor Costa have some kind and friendly words for us here in Britain?
Ah, but the response Ms Adler received was very much as it would have been in any other capital city of an EU member state: Portugal was leaving the Brexit business to the folks in Brussels. Costa has enough on his plate keeping his centre-left and left coalition Government focused on maintaining the country’s economic recovery; there would be no separating member states and picking them off.
Praça do Comércio, Lisbon. With red tourist tram
That, after all, was the whole point of being in the European club: one team of negotiators deals with trade, and one team deals with Brexit. There was nothing more for Ms Adler to do, save to send back some shots from the Belém waterfront and perhaps stop off at the Pastéis de Belém custard tart shop, before heading to her next assignment.
It got worse for Ms May: as David Allen Green pointed out, “The unity of EU27 on Brexit was put in place from June to September 2016, and sealed at Bratislava summit (weeks before Tory conference)”. In other words, the idea that the others are ganging up on Britain is not one of sudden realisation. It’s something that has been known for several months. That underscores the opportunist nature of the PM’s outburst yesterday, and confirms that it was indeed the throwing onto the table of the day’s dead cat.
Got the attitude in one
Theresa May will get precisely nowhere by blubbering about the jolly rotten foreigners ganging up on Britain. And if the country’s oldest ally - it goes back to the late 14th Century - isn’t going to break ranks to do us any special favours, then the only point of her dead cat throwing is to give her pals in the press something with which they can encourage their readers to vote Tory. That’s how cynical and pointless it is.
Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations await. Whatever the nature of today’s dead cat.