He may be Mr Brexit, but Europe is rooting for Boris Johnson

One thing is certain as Britain’s voting day finally arrives: Europe is rooting for Boris Johnson.

The more seats, the better. Nobody in high office will say it. A few Commission diehards might still hope to overturn Brexit – or still imagine that such a reconquest would be digestible – but the overwhelming view in the great capitals is that further years of British civil war and cross-Channel brinkmanship risks a strategic debacle.

They can only roll their eyes at the naïveté of actor Hugh Grant and the Beautiful People, as if tactical voting can surgically deliver the right hung parliament: that is to say a revocation referendum, without that little extra problem of an anti-Nato Marxist – one who thinks that Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a success, finds no fault with Vladimir Putin, and excoriates Western self-defence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in full flight at the east London stadium.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in full flight at the east London stadium.Credit:AP

“If they wake up on Friday morning to a Corbyn government, the mood in Brussels will be close to panic,” said Andrew Duff, a veteran EU insider and president of the federalist Spinelli Group. “It would be a disaster. They don’t want a time bomb thrown into the European security system.


“They are praying for a government with a big majority that can end this bloody nonsense, and that means Boris. They don’t have any respect for the Remainer coalition.”

It is the same message from Sir Ivan Rogers, the former chief Brexit negotiator: “Remainers who think the clock can be put back are, I think, in denial about where mainstream continental elite opinion is.

“Most of the EU elites now see a Johnson outright victory as the quickest route to getting the Withdrawal Agreement through,” said Sir Ivan. “If he wants to overstate what changes he achieved… so be it.”

They are praying for a government with a big majority that can end this bloody nonsense, and that means Boris.

EU insider Andrew Duff

They think a fat majority allows Boris to pull off another of his conjuring tricks. It lets him jettison Jacobite troublemakers – in EU eyes – and clear the way for the great pivot back to Europe: a customs union by the back door, dressed up as a patriotic victory.

Europe is in any case exhausted. It has paid a higher economic price than it expected by pushing Theresa May too far on the Irish backstop and precipitating her downfall. That misjudgment caused another year of cliff-edge showdowns, frozen investment and a depressed sterling that has undercut a weakened Germany already in industrial crisis.

Britain has got its condign punishment, of course, but so has Deutschland Inc, vulnerable because of its reliance on Anglo-Saxon demand to stay afloat. German industrial output has dropped 5.3 per cent over the last year, and not just because of China. Over the last seven quarters the UK has grown by an accumulated 2.1 per cent (bad, yes) but Germany has grown by just 0.9 per cent.

Political drama

Every major country in Western Europe is facing an internal political drama of one kind or another. France is in the grip of an open-ended general strike, a test of whether the modèle Français can be rendered fit for the globalised 21st century.

Germany’s Social Democrats have lurched hard-Left, voting for a wishlist of fantasy demands under a puppet leadership controlled by the militant Juso [youth] tendency of Kevin Kühnert. They want a wealth tax, a rent freeze and the reversal of the Hartz IV labour reforms, among other things. The coalition with chancellor Angela Merkel limps on but in a state of ideological divorce and on borrowed time. The post-War political centre in Germany is crumbling.

A second vote this year in Spain has failed to deliver a government. This time the raw Vox party has vaulted to 15 per cent calling for a Falangist liquidation of Catalan rebels (nota bene, Nicola Sturgeon). Italy is preparing to rescue the huge ILVA steel plant in Taranto – a postcard of Mezzogiorno distress – after having already rescued Alitalia, both in breach of EU state aid law.

Europe can only dread another Brexit marathon, with a neophyte Corbyn team, ending in a second referendum on stitched-up terms that would never be accepted as legitimate by 17 million Britons. But there is an even larger reason why they now need Boris: they are in dangerous territory, preyed on by Putin and Erdogan, urgently trying to revive a “brain-dead” Nato. They need to hug the UK closely to the Continental defence family. Boris Johnson is happy to oblige.

Security matters shape everything. Specifically, they have shaped French policy towards Brexit ever since that first moment of bonhomie between Boris and Emmanuel Macron, that foot on the Élysée table in July.

Cambridge historian John Keiger, a specialist on French diplomacy, says this Entente Cordiale was firmed up in president Macron’s annual address to French ambassadors a month later. It is now foreign policy doctrine. He stated that the new European order “must include very deeply Great Britain. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, we must continue to think in affinity with Great Britain. On the military front, on the strategic front, on all issues. History and geography have their reality”.

‘Always keep Britain on side’

Prof Keiger added: “Macron thinks in great sweeping terms of history, the way the French do, and for him Brexit is mere froth.” This is a foreign policy reflex dating back to the 19th century. Always keep Britain on side.

France went through its own “Frexit” at the height of the Cold War when it withdrew from Nato’s integrated command. Nato was careful not to overreact. France got away with some cherry-picking but it also sought to be an even better ally by way of recompense. The lesson has not been lost on Mr Macron – a student of Charles de Gaulle.

The Macron-Johnson friendship does not surprise me. A camera caught them at a UN summit working over Iran’s Hassan Rouhani almost as a double act. They were caught again jostling amicably at the G7 in Biarritz, where it was duly noted that Boris backed Macron – not Trump – on the large strategic issues of the day.

We can only imagine what a Corbyn-led government would do to Nato and the anchoring role of Britain in the rickety trans-Atlantic alliance. As his own shadow cabinet laments, he is a “security risk”.

By all means vote Labour if you want free tuition, free broadband, a 32-hour week, or Seventies nationalisation. But don’t do so thinking it will lead to better relations with Europe.

The Daily Telegraph, London

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