Brexit Britain from Abroad: May’s Populism in the Face of Macron’s Europeanism

May’s Vapid Populism

Mrs. May’s idea that her opponents are merely playing self-interested political “games” is a classic populist trope, one that suggests that constitutional democracy is really an obstacle standing between people and leader. The prime minister’s rhetoric since calling the general election has implied that the best outcome for “the national interest” would be to eradicate opposition altogether, whether that be in the news media, Parliament or the judiciary. For various reasons (not least the rise of the Scottish National Party) it is virtually impossible to imagine the Labour Party achieving a parliamentary majority ever again, as Mrs. May well knows. To put all this another way, the main purpose of this election is to destroy two-party politics as Britain has known it since 1945.

One way in which Mrs. May has aggressively pursued this outcome is in her unusual framing of the choice before the British electorate. We are used to politicians presenting policy proposals and promises to the public. Of course, in practice this involves spin doctors seeking to cast their party’s policies in the best light, news outlets twisting the message depending on their political biases and many voters turning away in disgust because they don’t believe a word politicians say. That’s the routine.

William Davies, The New York Times

Brexit’s Catch-22

Can the Catch-22 that is Brexit still be overcome? Will expediency prevail, or will it be a case of who has least to lose if the deal fails and Britain defaults to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules?

Placating the demands of the EU as a consortium of countries that needs, in the words of EU Commissioner Donald Tusk, a “level playing field” and “a balance of rights and obligations” may just not seem worth the effort, especially to British citizens of a former empire that, according to historian Stuart Laycock, has invaded or occupied at least 90 percent of the world since the second century AD.

So with characteristic sangfroid, the British may finally unite, in full tabloid anti-EU battle cry, behind their belligerent leader and under the mantle of what they have been seeking to regain: Their identity, which lies somewhere between Blitzkrieg bravery, pragmatism and magnanimity toward spectacular failure.

As for incensed Remainers, there is no such thing as a cloth of gold on British soil, and certainly no peace to be made with politicians willing to march them up to and over that cliff edge.

Trisha de Borchgrave, Arab News

Difficult Brexit

It is quite possible that Britain, despite the temporary nationalist fillip May might get from a hard Brexit, will pay a big price in the long term. The idea that Europe is the source of all Britain’s problems is, after all, delusional, and even Thatcher – as her private secretary Charles Powell has recalled of her attitude to the EU – ultimately aimed “to change it not leave it” but ran out of support within her own government. The issues highlighted by former prime minister John Major in February will also need to be faced: he sought to offer “a reality check on our national prospects”. In relation to the US as a replacement for the EU, he argued that despite the view of committed Atlanticists, the “special relationship” between Britain and the US “is not a union of equals . . . America’s size and power means we are, by far, the junior power.”

Diarmaid Ferriter, The Irish Times

Macron’s Win Good News for May

On Sunday evening, as events in Paris unfolded, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, who herself is in the midst of an election campaign, sent word that she “warmly congratulates President-elect Macron.” The warmth, according to cynics, was purely a front, or a diplomatic nicety. Need that be the case? The panic and confusion that would have been sown, across the European Union, by a triumphant Le Pen would hardly have conjured a congenial atmosphere in which to proceed with the hard grind of the Brexit negotiations. Nor would a figure as unshowy as May, who is inherently allergic to extremes, political or emotional, have wished for one minute to be bracketed with the National Front. The fact that Le Pen—who has not, whatever her supporters say, shaken off her party’s racist inheritance—had promised, if elected, to hold a referendum on France’s membership in the E.U., thus aping the British example, was a tribute that Brexiteers could happily do without. Macron may be a convinced European, and the snatch of Beethoven’s Ninth to which he strode from the Louvre is, yes, the official anthem of the E.U. Yet he seems more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, and, when it comes to discussions with the U.K. on border controls, the single market, and other laborious concerns, he will not—in contrast with the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker—be spoiling for a fight. If the British err, in the matter of Macron, it will be in forgetting that he has other and bigger things than Brexit to fret about.

Antony Lane, The New Yorker

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