“Wir schaffen das”: I admire the cool cheek of Boris Johnson. He spoke those loaded words to Angela Merkel, who had famously spoken them in defence of her open invitation to a million migrants. The massed ranks of the German Press corps were slow to take it in, and there was a brief pause. Then the pfennig dropped, accompanied by a ripple of laughter. Even Merkel rolled her eyes, an expression seldom seen on the countenance of the East Elbian. This was what the Left would term “linguistic appropriation”: Boris had flouted the convention that matters of state must always be referred to with a straight and respectful face. And in the imposing presence of what used to be the Kriegsmarine, he was getting across his point that Britain will find a way of leaving the EU by whatever means. Merkel meant her words; so does Boris.
He followed this up with a hand-grip contest at the Elysees, where Macron and he engaged in handshakes that would have tested the masculine qualities of ordinary men. Handshakes are the politically modish equivalent of arm-wrestling, and it may be that Boris’s body-mass gives him a slight advantage in these brutal encounters. A little later he was photographed with a foot on a palace table, apparently demonstrating that they were too small to be fit for any purpose other than footstool. In all this he made light of a principle stated by Chancellor Kohl: you have to salute the French flag three times. Boris has saluted it perhaps one-and-a-half times. The Franco-German alliance has been served notice that it is not held in overpowering esteem, at least in Angleterre.
No Deal had come a little nearer. And at Biarritz, where the G7 leaders met to reaffirm their stern purpose to keep out Putin’s Russia, they concluded with No Communiqué. Putin was useful; he enabled them to agree on something, however useless. But with Trump’s priorities there was never going to be G7 agreement. Brexit was the focus of everything, and Boris’s tactic seems ever more likely to triumph. He repeatedly says that he wants a “deal” with the EU, while energizing the UK preparations for a No Deal. In other words, Boris is stringing everyone along till he gets what he wants by default. Meantime there are warm words all round, and allegedly a “softening” of positions. This “warmth” is deceptive: Boris spoke of his conversations with Donald Tusk as “deeply glutinous,” a term that swerves two ways. There is in truth no escape from the iron-hard logic of the political situation. The EU durst not for their lives admit to the UK a deal that can be construed as even mildly favorable; the necessity of State calls for them to punish the “deserters.” If Britain signs up to a deal that has the faintest whiff of BRINO, Nigel Farage will destroy the Conservatives. He has the power and he will use it. Meantime President Trump looks on benignly, encouraging Britain to go for a huge Anglo-American trade agreement. That is the future, and it has every prospect of working. As Arthur Hugh Clough put it—in an era when minor English poets could write a great poem—“But Westward, look, the land is bright.”
Ralph Berry writes from England.