Trump, Merkel and Brexit
“At the time of writing it is Mrs Merkel, rather than Mr Trump, whose authority is falling away”
Our cover picture for this summer double issue is inspired by a memorable image of the Quebec G7 summit, showing Angela Merkel confronting Donald Trump. This snapshot was actually a brilliant piece of propaganda from Berlin, taken by an official photographer and intended to depict a German chancellor dictating terms to the American president. Leni Riefenstahl could not have done better. But Mr Trump’s look of defiance is no less striking. In our version, by Michael Daley, he is flanked by his formidable National Security Advisor John Bolton, while Prime Minister Abe of Japan looks quizzically at Mrs Merkel. Sic transit gloria mundi.
At the time of writing it is she, rather than Mr Trump, whose authority is falling away. The insubordination of her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is undisguised: “I cannot work with that woman,” he tells colleagues. Rubbing salt in the wounds inflicted by her own colleague, President Trump tweets that “the people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition”. Undiplomatic, certainly, but true.
Having bought herself time to seek concessions from her EU partners, Mrs Merkel may yet survive, as she has done so often before. But Mr Seehofer’s threat to close the borders to most asylum-seekers is very popular — and not only in his stronghold of Bavaria, the migrants’ first port of call. A tough line on migration represents the consensus among Germany’s southern and eastern neighbours. For them, the war is over. They are less afraid of Nazi aggression than of anti-Nazi Angst — because the latter implies an open border and demographic disorder.
From a British perspective, there is a certain Schadenfreude at the prospect of Mrs Merkel being hoist by her own petard. Years ago, when David Cameron repeatedly sent alarm signals to the Chancellery in Berlin about unsustainable levels of migration from Eastern Europe, they went unanswered. Freedom of movement was non-negotiable. She threw Cameron overboard, as the tidal wave of Brexit approached. As border anxiety began to grip Europe too, Mrs Merkel opened the floodgates, thereby undermining allies at home and abroad. Her counterparts in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Prague and Madrid have all fallen, mostly replaced by leaders who take a harder line on migration. Mrs Merkel is Europe’s last woman standing. She may survive, but only by demanding for Germany what she refused Cameron: a restoration of national sovereignty to allow an emergency brake on uncontrolled freedom of movement.
The conflicts within Europe and between the EU and Anglo-Saxon nations over migration are merely symptomatic of a deeper crisis. Western societies seem wary of responding to challenges to our way of life by the tried and trusted method of civilised public deliberation, followed by democratic choice and executive decision, enshrined in law. Instead, the elites have refused to submit to the verdict of the court of public opinion.
The British are no longer governed by an establishment: instead, we have acquired an oligarchy, not unlike the “Whig ascendancy” that ruled Britain under George I and George II. An establishment defends the status quo, even if this sometimes means surrendering its own privileges; an oligarchy defends its own privileges, even if this sometimes means engineering a coup d’état. One proof of this is the conduct of unelected peers, and their shadowy allies, in attempting to frustrate the result of the EU referendum. As Brexit now represents the settled will of Parliament as well as the people, reversing it at all costs amounts to a putsch. Only an oligarchy that neither knows nor cares for rest of society would be so reckless as to threaten the constitution.
What takes the Remainer coup into uncharted waters is the barely concealed collaboration between its leaders and an alliance of the Brussels authorities and the international financier George Soros. Michel Barnier appears to be coordinating his negotiations with the Remainers, as does Mr Soros, whose Open Society foundation is funding their campaign. It is true that evidence has also emerged of Russian interference on the side of Leave before the referendum. But a possible attempt by the Kremlin to tilt public opinion in a referendum, though serious, is less grave than the present conspiracy to subordinate British democracy to the interests of an oligarchy working on behalf of the European Union.
The leader of the Remain faction in the Tory party — and, by default, of the entire movement to reverse Brexit — is Dominic Grieve. As a former Attorney General, he is well-versed in the legal and parliamentary complexities that are involved. He is a man of high principles and unimpeachable integrity. Yet he lacks the historical imagination and elasticity of intellect to understand the forces he is unleashing by seeking to thwart the constitutional order. The aim of Remain is to box in Theresa May so that she has no alternative but to recommend an execrably bad deal to the electorate, causing public opinion to swing back against Brexit. But this strategy is unlikely to succeed: its purposes and motives are too transparent. The country would see through the machinations of the oligarchy. The denouement may be even more dramatic than the 2016 referendum. No deal may yet prove to be the best deal on offer for Britain. It is the ultimate nightmare for Europhiles and by no means optimal for the rest of us. But the blame will lie primarily with Dominic Grieve and others who have deliberately sabotaged Mrs May’s attempt to smooth the path to Brexit. The European Union is holed below the waterline. The British cannot be blamed for abandoning ship. Better an end with horror than a horror without end.