by Frank Schnittger
Fri Sep 21st, 2018 at 12:48:05 AM EST
The Guardian has been excoriating Theresa May for her Salzburg performance: Macron puts the boot in after May's Brexit breakfast blunder:
The spin from Downing Street had been that Theresa May's meeting with her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, shortly after breakfast in the margins of an EU summit in Austria, had been "relatively warm", albeit "frank". The dawning truth later that evening was that, in a premiership littered with missteps, May had made one of her worst errors of judgment as the two leaders and their teams met in a private room in Salzburg's Mozarteum University.
For weeks the working assumption in Brussels had been that, on the Irish issue at least, a major step forward would be made by the next leaders' summit in October. But over the coffee the prime minister dropped a bombshell. She did not believe it would be possible for the British government and Brussels to come to a solution by then. Six months after promising to come up with a fix that would avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in all possible circumstances, the British appeared to be stalling for time again.
The message reverberated around the Salzburg summit and reached the ear of the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
The intention had been that this would be a good summit for the prime minister, giving her something to work with on the eve of a difficult Conservative party conference. "Things didn't happen as we expected," an EU official admitted.
The French president ripped up the plan to offer Theresa May warm words along with an extraordinary Brexit summit on 17 and 18 November in order to finalise the terms of a Brexit deal. During a two-hour Brexit discussion over lunch among the EU27 heads of state and government, Macron told his fellow leaders that the prime minister should not be allowed to drag her heels. The pressure for a result needed to be increased.
May was to be set a threshold that she would have to reach if she wanted a deal. The EU's leaders were instructed to increase their preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Viktor Orbán, the populist Hungarian prime minister, who had bowed and kissed May's hand the previous evening before dinner, and boasted to reporters on Thursday of being part of a growing camp of leaders opposed to "punishing the British", did not demur. "He did not say a word," said a source.
Parliamentary sketch writer John Crace is no less damning:Theresa May in denial after her Salzburg ordeal. "PM pretends nothing has changed as EU leaders take turns to rubbish her Brexit plans..."
If it hadn't all been so numbingly inevitable, it might have been possible to feel sorry for Theresa May. Back in the UK, both remainers and leavers had pronounced her Chequers' proposals to be dead in the water, but the prime minister had still travelled to the informal EU summit in Salzburg hoping for a stay of execution. A few luke-warm words and some insincere air kisses at the very least, until after she had survived the Conservative party conference. Her current range of vision really is that limited.
Instead she got a lesson in plain-speaking brutality. No attempts to sugar the pill, as EU leader after leader took it in turns to dismiss Chequers and to mock the UK over its lack of progress in its Brexit preparations. Even the Dutch thought they were better prepared for a no-deal Brexit than us. It was left to Donald Tusk, president of the EU council, to deliver the coup de grace. The Chequers' deal was unworkable because it undermined the integrity of the single market. And, by the way, its solution to the Northern Ireland border was just fantasy.
Moments after being given the bad news in person, May had to face the UK media. The room in which the press conference was held was small and airless, but the prime minister was already sweaty when she walked in. More than that, she looked angry and terrified. Alone and out of her depth, her eyes darting across the room, searching for one friendly face. There wasn't one. There hadn't been one in the two days she had been in Austria.
There were a few seconds of silence as everyone took this in. It almost felt intrusive to observe the prime minister visibly falling apart. A public humiliation on the epic scale of both her refusal to accept the reversal of the dementia tax during the general election campaign and her car-crash leader's speech at last year's Tory party conference. Then May composed herself as best she could and invited the kicking she knew was coming her way. Bring it on. Everyone else had had a go so she might as well let the media have theirs. The martyrdom of St Theresa.
The digging became ever more fevered as her facial expressions became more contorted. Too much more of this and she would have become a dead ringer for Munch's The Scream.
It doesn't get any better... Dan Sabbagh, Daniel Boffey and Pippa Crerar continue: May humiliated by Salzburg ambush as she fights to save Chequers plan
A clearly nervous and angry May told reporters that EU leaders were engaged in "negotiating tactics" designed to throw her off course. "I have always said these negotiations were going to be tough," she said. "And at various stages of these negotiations, tactics would be used as part of those negotiations".
The assault on May's plan came shortly after a lunchtime meeting of EU leaders in the Austrian city, where they discussed the Brexit talks in May's absence. EU council president Tusk declared that Chequers "would not work" while French president Macron said it was "not acceptable".
A combative Macron accused British Brexiters of lying about how easy it would be to negotiate an exit from the EU on terms favourable to the UK.
"Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it's going to bring a lot of money home are liars," said Macron. "It's even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it."
But fear not: Ian Duncan Smith rides in to the rescue:
Leading Brexiters have criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for his extraordinary break in diplomatic convention in which he branded prominent leavers as liars who had misled the British people.
While Theresa May's Chequers plan was left hanging by a thread after an ambush at the Salzburg summit, her French counterpart launched an unprecedented attack on Brexiters, warning that leaving the EU was "not without costs".
Furious leavers immediately hit back, accusing Macron of trying to distract from his own domestic woes, with the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith telling him he should "butt out" of British politics.
There! That will put those Frenchies in their place!
The Guardian has never made any secret of its opposition to Brexit, and it hardly speaks for the whole of the UK. However it is difficult to see how Theresa May can recover her authority when her own side is so dismissive of her performance. Bridges have been burned, and both sides appear to be moving further apart at the very time they should be closing the deal.
EU leaders have lost patience with her procrastination and appear not to care any more whether or not she survives as Tory party leader and Prime Minister. If she can't negotiate seriously with the EU, they might as well deal with someone who can. The Salzburg summit was meant to give her a boost heading into the party conference season. Now EU leaders have all but dismissed her signature Chequers plan on which she has built her premiership and for which she lost two senior cabinet ministers.
Theresa May had a pretty disastrous Conservative Party conference last year. A repeat performance this year, and her leadership is over:
It appears that Brexit madness has finally reached its logical conclusion...
(A not entirely accurate geographical metaphor).