1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Theresa May begs for the UK's trust

Barbara Wesel
May 15, 2018

Theresa May wants the rest of the British public to put on her rose-colored Brexit glasses. Meanwhile, the prime minister has missed another chance to fire Boris Johnson and the UK has been left out of the Galileo fun.

Großbritannien Symbolbild Brexit
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Akmen

It is true that nobody forced Theresa May to take her job. But still one might feel a touch of pity for the prime minister and her desperate plea for trust in the Sunday Times. She described her mission in the Brexit negotiations, at the heart of which was taking back control — of borders, money, legislation, farming and fishing, taxes, trade, and life as such. Without of course disrupting the Northern Ireland peace process, the supply chains between the European Union and Britain, and economic growth, as well as tolerance, diversity and innovation in the UK.

Never mind that a recent UN report noted a rise in racism and nationalism in the UK after the Brexit referendum. May promised nothing but sweetness and light after Brexit and wants to deliver the best of all worlds: "I will not let you down."

The lady doth protest too much. And why on earth does she again promise things she cannot possibly deliver? May cannot achieve frictionless trade across borders and leave the EU customs union, do her own trade deals worldwide and not have a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and/or the rest of the UK. This is logically not possible. Somewhere there will be the EU's future exterior border after Britain has left the bloc. And no amount of blue sky thinking and desperate pleading can change that fact.

Brussels EU summit  | Macron, May and Merkel
Time is running out for May to reach a favorable Brexit deal with her European colleaguesImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/F. Lenoir

Still negotiating with itself

Negotiators in Brussels are twiddling their thumbs, leaving chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier free to travel to Ireland while May's Cabinet in London still can't get its act together. With a majority of one, ministers rejected the PM's plan for a "customs partnership" with the EU. It's a complicated model where the UK would collect tariffs for the EU and maintain some regulation in order to prevent border checks. Brexiteers are calling foul and want "Max Fac" instead, a technological solution that does not yet exist and may never be feasible.

May retaliated by dividing her cabinet into two working groups tasked with creating a solution. This left ministers free to speculate in the media about treason in the other camp — going aginst the will of the people and so on. Never mind that the EU has turned down both of these variants for the future of the customs union as unworkable — London continues to furiously negotiate with itself. Brussels can do nothing but wait.

Another chance missed to fire Boris

Among all the Brexiteers rejecting May's proposal, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was the most strident. "If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the UK frontier," he explained. The PM's plans were not only crazy but also "unacceptable."

NATO summit in Brussels
Boris Johnson's diplomatic efforts, including his overtures to the current US government, have not always been successfulImage: picture-alliance/AP/V. Mayo

This is certainly not the first transgression by Boris, but it should have been the last. It was another brilliant chance for May to fire the man, who is a chaotic diplomat and a divisive Brexiteer. But for reasons unknown she let it pass again, be it from weakness, secret fondness or sheer lack of political capability. And so Boris can continue to wreak havoc at home and on the international stage. A country gets the government it deserves, as the 18th century French diplomat and philosopher Joseph de Maistre said.

Meet Her Majesty, Mr. Erdogan

Global Britain after Brexit as promised by May in her Sunday sermon was to be observed in action this Tuesday in London. And alas, it had the face of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president was received by the Queen and given ample opportunity to promote himself for the upcoming elections as a big player on the international stage. He criticized the US and the "bleak" global outlook of a collapsing world order, called the EU accession process "overly politicized" and spent most of his time in London seeking trade ties with Britain after Brexit. The UK was a "valuable and reliable" strategic ally, he said.

Read more: Young Europeans believe in the EU, fear Donald Trump

If you repel your closest friends and neighbors and the largest economic bloc on earth, it's largely tin-pot dictators and self-styled autocrats you are left with. Never mind that Erdogan has thrown thousands of journalists, opposition politicians, dissidents and human rights activists in jail. Who can deal with details like that when future trade for global Britain is at stake.

London presser Erdogan May
In Erdogan, May perhaps has a new post-Brexit friendImage: Reuters

We are not kicking you out, you are leaving us

As with other EU programs and agencies, the British government was totally surprised to hear that with Brexit it would stop participating in Galileo. The EU's global positioning satellite system is supposed to make Europe independent from US-controlled GPS. The first bout of anger came when British firms were not invited to the next round of Galileo contracts, even though the UK had been at the heart of the project from the very beginning. "EU Commission is excluding us," ran the angry headlines.

The next round of fury emerged when EU officials noted that the UK would probably not be included in shared secret information related to Galileo. This is endangering our security, media and government figures fumed. How can they dare to kick us out? And London retaliated by prohibiting UK companies from bidding further on Galileo contracts, even if they were invited.

Now EU negotiator Barnier has set the record straight: "We are not kicking the UK out of Galileo. The UK has decided unilaterally and autonomously to withdraw from the EU. This implies leaving its programs as well." And the same holds true for the European City of Culture, Open Skies, the EU Medicines Agency, the Horizon 2020 Science program and everything else. The UK is unilaterally leaving and therefore will not be part of any EU plan, program or agency any more. This holds true until new agreements have been made. But we have not reached that point yet. They still have to agree on the terms of the divorce.