Another day, another non-trivial area of politics where Theresa May’s campaign has progressed not necessarily to her advantage: although details of her dinner at 10 Downing Street with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last Wednesday have not been made public, and certainly not by the British side, the whole horror show has been revealed to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ).
As Frances Coppola at Forbes has noted, the complete FAZ article has been published only in print, and only in German. So the realisation of just what a disaster it was is only slowly dawning in those parts of Britain where speaking foreign languages all too often means declaiming the English version very slowly and very loudly.
Coppola continues “Jeremy Cliffe, The Economist’s Berlin bureau chief, tweeted the salient points from the FAZ article. They are absolutely damning. No wonder the Commission is angry. Here they are, transcribed”. Cliffe may have needed to look twice before committing his transcriptions to Twitter. That’s because it was, well, really bad.
“May had said she wanted to talk not just Brexit but also world problems; but in practice it fell to Juncker to propose one to discuss … May has made clear to the Commission that she fully expects to be reelected as PM … It is thought [in the Commission] that May wants to frustrate the daily business of the EU27, to improve her own negotiating position”.
That was a mere hors d’oeuvre. “EU side were astonished at May's suggestion that EU/UK expats issue could be sorted at EU Council meeting at the end of June. Juncker objected to this timetable as way too optimistic given complexities, eg on rights to health care … Juncker pulled two piles of paper from his bag: Croatia's EU entry deal, Canada's free trade deal. His point: Brexit will be [very very] complex”.
And our PM wanted the whole negotiating process to be kept quiet. “May wanted to work through the Brexit talks in monthly, 4-day blocks; all confidential until the end of the process. Commission said impossible to reconcile this with need to square off member states & European Parliament, so documents must be published”. Nope.
There was little meeting of minds. “EU side felt May was seeing [the] whole thing through rose-tinted-glasses. ‘Let us make Brexit a success’ she told them. Juncker countered that Britain will now be a third state, not even (like Turkey) in the customs union: ‘Brexit cannot be a success’ … ‘The more I hear, the more sceptical I become’ said Juncker (this was only half way through the dinner)”. Could it get even worse? It certainly could.
“May then insisted to Juncker et al that UK owes EU no money because there is nothing to that effect in the treaties. Her guests then informed her that the EU is not a golf club. Davis then objected that EU could not force a post-Brexit, post-ECJ UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal”. You want hardball? You got it.
What happened next? “Next morning at c7am Juncker called Merkel on her mobile, said May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself. Merkel quickly reworked her speech to Bundestag to include her now-famous ‘some in Britain still have illusions’ comment”. But it was Cliffe’s conclusion that should set alarm bells ringing.
“Obviously this leak is a highly tactical move by Commission. But contents deeply worrying for UK nonetheless. The report points to major communications/briefing problems. Important messages from Berlin & Brussels seem not to be getting through. Presumably as a result, May seems to be labouring under some really rather fundamental misconceptions about Brexit & the EU27”. Coppola then adds to these thoughts.
“Cliffe's analysis … implies that May has made a terrible mistake. She has put hardline Brexiteers in charge of negotiating the UK's exit from the EU and its new trade relationships after Brexit. They appear to be systematically deceiving her. As a result, she is not in possession of the true facts”. There is more.
“Presumably these wrecking tactics are intended to further the Brexiteers' real aim of a no-deal exit from the EU - the so-called 'clean Brexit'. But the cost of such an exit for the UK would be terrible. Such behaviour from the Brexiteers is unbelievably irresponsible. And it undermines May's own credibility … If the UK is to secure the smoothest possible end to the UK's membership of the EU and the best possible relationship between the UK and the EU in the future, the British team must conduct the negotiations in good faith and with good will. The Brexiteers have demonstrated neither. May must sack them”.
But in the run-up to a General Election, the idea of sacking the likes of disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox - who Ms May should not have appointed in the first place, and who is highly likely to cause trouble among Tory back-benchers if demoted - is not going to be entertained. Also, her press pals will do their best to keep the lid on this.
If the story does achieve widespread coverage, then the usual carpet bombing of abuse and faux patriotism will be wheeled out. Who do these ghastly foreigners think they are? Who are they to push the (for the time being) United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland around? Dammit, we are British! Hoist the flag. Summon forth warm beer.
Meanwhile, business leaders, Trades Union principals, EU citizens in the UK, and British citizens in other EU member states will be looking on in horror. Not only is Theresa May a repetitive, unconvincing and wooden media performer, she is frighteningly deluded as to her knowledge and abilities. But she is the one in power.
Everyone and anyone who cares about the future of the UK should now be very worried indeed. It is unforgivable that much of the media is not yet awake to that concern.
[Judith Knott has also transcribed the relevant bits from last Wednesday’s dinner - her analysis more or less coincides with that of Jeremy Cliffe]