I haven’t the foggiest notion what the difference between foggy and nebulous is in the context of the confrontation between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker which occurred on camera at the European Council summit. She accused him of calling her nebulous and he responded that he had been referring to the debate in the House of Commons, not her, and that the word he had used was “nebuleux” in French which had been miss-translated as nebulous whereas he had meant foggy.
Both mean vague, ill-defined or unclear, and that is precisely the accusation leveled at Theresa May by several heads of government after her one hour presentation which is said to have alienated and annoyed many on the Council. She told them to trust her judgement, when that is precisely what they no longer trust. You don’t wrap up a legally binding deal after a long and complex negotiation only to come back looking for more changes a couple of weeks later and hope to keep your credibility intact.
EU Heads of government were quite clear that any concessions they make now – without cast iron guarantees they will enable the passage of all required legislation through parliament – will simply be “banked” by UK Brexiteers before they come back looking for more.
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, on his way out of the late-night meeting, made the leaders’ message clear: “Someday, somebody needs to say it . . . and you have to say – openly – that it is necessary that you get some homework done in the British parliament, which has handled this challenge very differently to Denmark, when the Danes voted No to Maastricht, or the Irish, when they voted No to Lisbon.
“In both countries someone took responsibility to decide what do we do. In both Denmark and Ireland somebody took it upon themselves to say what can unite us in our country and what should we ask from Europe.”
In the wake of a 2016 Dutch referendum defeat for an EU treaty on relations with Ukraine, prime minister Mark Rutte came to fellow leaders with proposals for a “clarification” of the treaty, but with a clear assurance that his parliament would endorse the treaty if they agreed to the clarification.
The EU leaders accommodated him, as did his parliament.
Mrs May can offer no such assurances. And EU leaders, who read newspapers, are only too well of that reality. They will not buy a pig in a poke.
So unless Theresa May can come up with some concrete assurance – such as a motion passed by the House of Commons – that a certain concession would guarantee the passing of all Brexit related legislation, there is no point in even talking to her further. In fairness the DUP have been equally clear in their opposition to the current deal:
What – if anything – would satisfy the DUP in Brexit negotiations?
He [One senior DUP party source] asserted, “If Theresa May tries to railroad through a withdrawal agreement against our will then we would have to review the confidence-and-supply agreement, and she can’t get the agreement through without our votes.”
That was putting it up to Theresa May to extract a new deal from Brussels, regardless of the fact that the word so far from the EU is that while there can be assurances that it is unlikely the backstop ever will be used, there can be no legal changes to the agreement.
To make this even clearer, the EU27 stripped out all emollient language out of the Council conclusions:
Back inside things were taking a turn for the worse. Mrs May’s presentation to the 27 heads of government was not going well. They wanted to know two things, according to subsequent briefings – what did she want, and if she got it, could she get the treaty through Westminster?
Satisfactory responses to the questions were not, it seems, forthcoming. After Mrs May left the meeting, the EU 27 took out parts of the draft conclusions, including a promise to provide further help and clarifications to Mrs May – a move inevitably interpreted as an aggressive move in British reports.
At his press conference on Friday, Varadkar explained the move by saying the leaders felt there were enough assurances already for Mrs May. But the London Times quoted a senior EU official as saying that the UK needed to “feel the bleak midwinter”.
“The feeling is that EU leaders will have to do more for her!” bellowed one British journalist down the phone. That wasn’t the sense that they had. Not yet, anyway. The ebbing patience with the British is almost palpable in Brussels now
Whatever about Theresa May, the EU27 are not going to be held hostage by 10 DUP MPs whose hostility to the EU and it’s remaining member, Ireland, could not be clearer. So Theresa May has to find a majority for the deal without the DUP, or it will be no deal, or no Brexit – her choice.
The EU is clearly prepared to wait until this realization drips into the body politic in Westminster and it is Theresa May, not the EU27’s job to come up with a decision as to which it is going to be.
Anger in Tory circles is growing at the pivotal role being played by Ireland in all of this. Ex Tory Cabinet Minister’s Priti Patel’s comments about using the threat of Brexit related food shortages in Ireland as a means of forcing the Irish to give way could not have been more incendiary. Ireland lost more than a million people to starvation and a million more to emigration while food exports continued to Britain reducing the total population by c. 25% in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Then, in the 1920’s the border with N. Ireland was created as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty causing a civil war in Ireland which has shaped the political landscape ever since. Ireland is not going to cave on the backstop just to appease some DUP MPs.
So May is down to really only one choice. The DUP, Corbyn, the SNP, and many in her own party have made it clear they cannot support the current deal and no one will be mollified by some “clarifying” declarations outside of the legally binding text. She herself has ruled out leading the Tories into another general election and she has lost all credibility with the EU27. So she either resigns and makes way for a Brexiteer Prime Minister who will pursue the no deal option, or she puts her proposals to the people in a second referendum.