Peter Divey argues that political instability in Europe means the UK should feel confident in riding the Brexit storm from its position of strength.
The EU will not be mocking Theresa May anymore, at least not for her supposed weakness. Coalition talks have collapsed in Germany. The prospect of another election in Germany looms; a direct result of Merkel’s new found electoral weakness. You eventually reap what you sow.
Options are limited: a minority Government looks less tenable than ever and prospects for a different over-arching coalition seem implausible. Elections seem the only likely route. Another election will be perceived, rightly, as a judgement of her leadership. It is impossible to call, but I will venture two possible scenarios.
The German people may not like the instability of the situation and thus rally round Merkel to ensure a stable leadership. Or her popularity dips further, as she is blamed for the impasse. The Open-Door immigration policy has had a sting in the tail. The full ramifications have yet to manifest themselves.
German weakness has EU-wide ramifications. Will the December summit still go ahead? The EU was already in a stall, waiting for Merkel’s new Government. Brexit has repeatedly been placed on the back burner, under the guise of insufficient progress.
The UK has an opportunity to exploit this confusion. We must not pay more than the £20 billion pledged so far. Instead, we should withdraw completely as it has already been rejected. Stand back and watch the EU spin itself into a proper tizzy. Hammond should immediately stop pressuring May to hike up the Brexit bill payment. If this is a game of poker, May has just drawn a second King. Crank up the pressure.
Macron will secretly be pleased. Am I not the New Emperor? You can be sure that he will put himself forward as the only heavyweight left standing. It is politicking reality. EU wide there will be much jockeying to attempt a re-ordering, which is why any German decision needs to be swift and sure.
The EU response will probably be even more shrill, to prove unity is stronger than ever. We still speak with one voice. Ultimatums and threats about Brexit could ramp up. But the UK should feel confident in riding this storm from a position of strength. Bat the silly EU demands away. Politely but firmly. But will this Government do that? Will they at last recognise that the UK position has always been sturdy? Germany is to move next. Everyone is still waiting to see what the play will be.