As Britain gears up to a general election which everyone assumes the Conservative Party will win by a landslide, the British media today is full of a story of a meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, which is said to have gone disastrously badly, and which supposedly led to Juncker reporting to German Chancellor Merkel that May is “in another galaxy”.
An exceptionally detailed account of the meeting has been published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. The Guardian has provided a detailed account based on this article.
The British authorities are currently denying that the account of the meeting published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung is accurate, but there is no doubt it originates from within the EU Commission and the German government. Almost certainly it was published on instructions from Merkel and Juncker, and undoubtedly it reflects their take on the meeting. Note that as of the time of writing neither Merkel nor Juncker have denied its contents, or that Juncker said to Merkel that Theresa May is “in a different galaxy”.
Frankly it scarcely matters whether the account of the meeting is accurate or not. The point about the article is that it shows that the mood towards Britain within the EU is hardening. This was already apparent from comments made by Merkel four days ago to the Bundestag
A third state, and that’s what Britain will be, cannot and will not have at its disposal the same rights … as members of the European Union. I must say this clearly here because I get the feeling that some people in Britain still have illusions – that would be wasted time. We can only do an agreement on the future relationship with Britain when all questions about its exit have been cleared up satisfactorily.
(bold italics added)
Note Merkel’s reference to “some people in Britain [having] illusions” and compare that with Juncker reportedly calling Theresa May “on a different galaxy”.
Compare also Merkel’s comment to the Bundestag about the EU only being able to have “an agreement on the future relationship with Britain when all questions about the exit have been cleared up satisfactorily” with what Juncker is reported to have told Theresa May during his meeting with her
Juncker pointed out that the UK wanted a trade deal, but without agreement on money there would be no desire among the 27 member states to make that happen. The whole exit process would change, the commission president is said to have responded…..
It is also claimed that Juncker pulled out copies of Croatia’s accession treaty and the recently agreed Canadian free trade deal, which is more than 2,000 pages long, weighing 6kg (13lbs) in total, to point out the complexity of what is to come.
Quite clearly Juncker and Merkel are working from coordinated positions, and the fact that all 27 EU member states are reported to have agreed to the EU’s Brexit negotiating strategy within 4 minutes shows that it is Merkel’s and Juncker’s views which have prevailed, and that Britain has no allies or friends within the EU it can count on for help during the negotiations.
What the meeting between Juncker and Theresa May shows is something which in fact has been obvious for months: Theresa May and the British government have no Brexit strategy, and have not even begun to think about one, despite have delayed submitting Britain’s Article 50 notice until March supposedly in order to give themselves time to prepare one.
Indeed the British still do not seem to have any clear idea of what Brexit even means. All the discussions which have taken place on the subject to date have simply amounted to arguments about competing wish-lists cobbling together ideas of the sort of things their advocates would ideally want a Brexit agreement to include. No-one seems to be looking at whether any of these wish-lists is practical or achievable, or what any of them would mean in practice, or what the details involved in negotiating them would involve.
In the meantime, instead of working hard to come up with a coherent Brexit strategy, Theresa May has hidden behind slogans, such as the peculiarly empty one of “Brexit means Brexit” she hid behind for months. To the extent she has articulated a conception of Brexit at all, it is because she has been forced to do so by the courts.
In recent weeks there has been some brave talk in Britain that this doesn’t really matter, because Britain should be willing to embrace a ‘clean break’ with the EU, which amounts to Britain being prepared to leave the EU entirely without any agreement at all if it cannot get the agreement it wants.
Perhaps that is indeed the optimal solution (though I don’t believe it), and may be – as Juncker appears to think – it is now the only realistic one. However no-one in the British government is undertaking a study to try to see what it would mean for Britain’s society or economy if it happened, or to prepare a plan for it if that indeed is what is coming.
Whatever her many faults as a leader – and I have written about them extensively – Angela Merkel is a stickler for detail, and in this she is typical of the entire German establishment, both its economic and its political wings. It will be this German establishment which will be in ultimate control of the EU’s side of the negotiations, and which will provide the muscle behind it. Any British government that goes into a negotiation with Merkel – or with any conceivable successor to her as German Chancellor – unprepared and without a plan is going to be cut to pieces. That however is precisely the outcome Britain is looking at, without anyone however having any idea what to do if it happens.
I have repeatedly written in The Duran that the common impression of Theresa May – that of a strong and decisive leader – is completely wrong. On the contrary her conduct since becoming Prime Minister has been characterised by drift and indecision and by a dangerous lack of ideas, which she has hidden behind a wall of secrecy and clichés.
Possibly the single most revealing thing that happened during the meeting between Juncker and Theresa May was Theresa May’s attempt to get Juncker to collude in this by agreeing to hold the entire Brexit negotiation in secret. Juncker’s incredulous reaction to this bizarre proposal speaks volumes. More to the point, this proposal shows that Theresa May has not even taken the trouble to inform herself about the most basic facts of the negotiation she is about to enter into. Had she done so she would have known her proposal was an impossible one. Almost certainly that is because she is too frightened of the prospect of the negotiation to look at even the most basic facts about it.
The events of the last few weeks – ever since Theresa May called an election she repeatedly said she would not call, and the reason for calling which she has never explained clearly – the emptiness at the heart of her leadership has become increasingly apparent.
Her refusal to meet with ordinary voters or to take part in debates with other party leaders has attracted increasing criticism, and is starting to win for her from the media the unflattering nickname “Kim Jong May”.
On the one occasion when Theresa May has submitted herself to what in Britain passes for a heavyweight media interview – with that most courteous and gentle of interviewers, the BBC’s Andrew Marr – she again hid behind clichés and empty slogans, and came close to getting dangerously unstuck.
The fault however does not lie just with Theresa May. Ever since the Brexit referendum the entire British political class – Conservative and Labour – has been at sea, with its chronic amateurism exposed increasingly to view, as it persists in playing the game of party electoral politics, which it is increasingly clear is all it knows.
I recently said that in Britain, as in the last days of the Habsburg empire, administration had replaced government.
That may have been too generous. Increasingly, as they battle it out in an election the result of which everyone knows in advance, Britain’s leaders look more and more like the crew of the Titanic, busy rearranging the deck chairs even as the iceberg drifts into sight.
President Trump’s interview yesterday with CBS Face the Nation showed him retreating both on his threats against North Korea, and on the over optimistic claims he has made about his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On the possibility of military action against North Korea President Trump’s language was subdued.
JOHN DICKERSON: Mr. President, you and the administration said to North Korea, “Don’t test a missile.” They have tested a missile. Is the pressure not working?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I didn’t say, “Don’t test a missile.” He’s going to have to do what he has to do. But he understands we’re not going to be very happy. And I will tell you, a man that I’ve gotten to like and respect, the president of China, President Xi, I believe, has been putting pressure on him also. But so far, perhaps nothing’s happened and perhaps it has. This was a small missile. This was not a big missile. This was not a nuclear test, which he was expected to do three days ago. We’ll see what happens.
JOHN DICKERSON: You say, “Not happy.” What does that mean?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would not be happy. If he does a nuclear test,. And I can tell you also, I don’t believe that the president of China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either.
JOHN DICKERSON: Not happy mean military action?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see…..
…..I think you know me very well, where you’ve asked me many times over the last couple of years about military. I said, “We shouldn’t be announcing we’re going into Mosul.” I said, “We shouldn’t be announcing all our moves.” It is a chess game. I just don’t want people to know what my thinking is. So eventually, he will have a better delivery system. And if that happens, we can’t allow it to happen.
Despite the attempt to preserve the appearance that the option of military action is still on the table, this is very different language from the language of a short time ago, when President Trump was talking about the US being prepared to take action unilaterally, and when he boasted about the mighty “armada” the US was sending to North Korea.
The change in tone in Trump’s comments again all but confirms that the idea of military action against North Korea has for the time being at least been ruled out.
What is also striking about President Trump’s comments is the element of caution he has belatedly introduced into his discussions of his relationship with President Xi Jinping of China.
Firstly, in the above comments, Trump says that Xi Jinping “would not be happy” if North Korea carried out another nuclear test. That is undoubtedly true, and the Chinese have repeatedly said as much. However he says that he only “believes” that Xi Jinping has putting pressure on North Korea not to carry out a nuclear test.
As a matter of fact this belief is almost certainly correct. Not only have the Chinese repeatedly made clear to the North Koreans that they strongly disapprove of the whole North Korean nuclear weapons programme, but the Chinese have also repeatedly made it clear to the North Koreans that they strongly disapprove of any further North Korean nuclear tests, and there is no doubt this message is being conveyed with unambiguous clarity to the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang.
However in his comments President Trump seemed to signal for the first time a realisation that there are limits to the degree of understanding that he has forged with the Chinese President, and that there are limits to how far Chinese pressure on North Korea will go, and that the Chinese will not take steps that will put the survival of the North Korean regime in jeopardy
JOHN DICKERSON: The Chinese, our allies, have been allies with North Korea. How are you sure that they’re not using this as a way to test you?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You can never be sure of anything, can you? But I developed a very good relationship. I don’t think they want to see a destabilized North Korea. I don’t think they want to see it. They certainly don’t want to see nuclear on — from their neighbor. They haven’t liked it for a long time. But we’ll have to see what happens.
The relationship I have with China, it’s been already acclaimed as being something very special, something very different than we’ve ever had. But again, you know, we’ll find out whether or not President Xi is able to affect change.
(bold italics added)
It seems that the warning the Chinese President gave him a week before has sunk in, and that President Trump is now starting to pitch his play towards North Korea at more realistic levels.
There is one further point to make.
President Trump appears to credit his diplomacy – or to be more precise the Chinese pressure on North Korea that he feels his diplomacy has achieved – with the fact that there has not been a North Korean nuclear test in the last few weeks.
The first point to say about this is that we do not actually know for a fact that the North Koreans were planning another nuclear test these last few weeks, and that they have postponed it. North Korea never announces its nuclear tests in advance, and the reports it was preparing another test may have been wrong.
Since 2006 North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, of which the last was conducted on 9th September 2016 ie. just 7 months ago. The first three of these tests took place at three to four year intervals. If North Korea really was planning another nuclear test last month, then given that there were two North Korean nuclear tests in 2016, that would represent a dramatic acceleration in the tempo of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Possibly reports of a sixth test being prepared were however wrong, and no such acceleration is taking place.
The second point is that if the North Koreans really were planning another test last month, then the decision to postpone it may have been due to technical reasons rather than Chinese pressure. According to RT North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that North Korea is intent on developing its nuclear weapons programme “at maximum speed”. If so then that may suggest that a fresh nuclear test is still being planned and may still be imminent, in which case Chinese pressure would obviously not have achieved anything.
The third point is that if the North Koreans have indeed decided to postpone a planned sixth nuclear test, that that would not necessarily be a sign of weakness or a response to Chinese pressure, but might instead be a sign of astuteness. With the Chinese and the Russians now calling for a suspension of joint US-South Korean military exercises in return for a continued suspension of North Korean nuclear tests, the North Koreans now have the diplomatic advantage, and by postponing whatever test they may have planned they would actually increase Chinese pressure on the US to have the joint US-South Korean military exercises suspended.
Whether the North Koreans are able to make these sophisticated calculations is another matter. The next few days might make that clear.
For all the changes Donald Trump has gone through during his first 100 days in the White House, his ability to go after mainstream media, even directly to an msm journalist’s face, hasn’t change.
When speaking to John Dickerson of Face The Nation, Trump said that he calls the show ‘deface the nation’.
Now, watch The Donald doing what he still does best.
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump loves to bash the mainstream media. Nary a day goes by when he doesn’t call the press “fake news.” So, there should be little shock that during an interview with CBS News’ John Dickerson that aired this morning on Face the Nation, the president took to ridiculing the program right to Dickerson’s face.
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