Well, it was going to happen eventually.
The former Foreign Secretary who extended a UK citizen’s jail sentence in Iran through flippant remarks, who called women who wear hijabs “letterboxes” and described black people as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” went to Europe as our Prime Minister and primary diplomatic figure.
And… erm… actually, it wasn’t that bad. There were tensions, for sure, but these meetings came before the sitting of the G7 (advanced Western states) in Biarritz this weekend, so it was always going to be tense.
Boris was Boris, as you’d expect, but actually toed the line between being charismatic and offensive surprisingly well.
It doesn’t change the monumental challenge he’s about to face, but still…
Well done Boris. Gold star for you.
First up, Boris met Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. Merkel, for all her flaws, has been a truly monumental politician. She will go down in history as a collaborator, a peace-maker, and an ally to Britain.
She is on her last leg as a leader – she is to step down in 2021, having chaired her political party since 2000. However, she will leave an excellent legacy in her wake.
And she dealt so well with Boris that there even seemed to be some chemistry between the two. Boris made a slightly weighted joke at her expense (by saying “Wir schaffen das”, or “we will manage” about Brexit, referencing a speech Merkel made about a controversial policy about Middle-Eastern refugees) and she rolled her eyes.
Rolling your eyes, as a leading political figure, is hard to do correctly. Too much and you inadvertently call the man next to you a moron. Too little and you seem like a snarky little so-and-so.
But it was actually a moment of brevity in what has been a harrowing few months (/years) of diplomatic tension between the UK and the EU.
And, what’s more, Boris seemed genuinely keen to strike a deal, whereas the Cabinet he has formed around him seems to be something of a no-deal Berserker Squadron.
Merkel, for her part, insinuated that if the UK came up with an alternative arrangement to the backstop within 30 days, then there could be scope for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
The backstop, lest we forget, is the controversial part of the Withdrawal Agreement that keeps the UK bound to the EU. Only, it must be said, to prevent a hard border being reinstated between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It is the one major sticking point for many politicians, as it might keep us within a customs union against our will. A way around it would be a major Brexit miracle, so for Merkel to suggest there was a chance was a big deal.
Everything, for once, seemed as though it was heading in a sensible direction. Diplomatic history and respect was being utilised to try and find the best possible deal for Britain, and a way of leaving the EU in an orderly, respectable manner.
And then came Macron.
Yes, I know, this writer once proclaimed Macron as “The Saviour Of Common Sense,” but that was at a time when it seemed as though he might actually be able to affect real change.
Also, shut up.
Actually, as it turns out, he’s just another small, angry Frenchman. And we all know how that ends.
Yesterday, Boris went to meet with Emmanuel Macron, the French President, to discuss striking a deal with Europe and avoiding no-deal.
Remember: the previous day, Merkel had given BoJo a 30-day ultimatum to find an alternative to the backstop,
Macron, on the other hand, said that the backstop was “indispensable.” This, at its core, was a major blow to diplomatic discussions on Brexit.
Why did he undo such positive progress, you might ask?
Well, Macron has an absolute shed-load of domestic issues (the riots in Paris are indicative of this, for a start) and being hard on Britain gains him support in France.
I know, I know: bring on the ‘zut alors, les rosbifs sont merde’ gags.
But, as the perceived “hard man of Europe” he can’t be seen to be giving concessions to the British, just because someone has come along with a firmer negotiating strategy.
It is, at its core, diplomacy – you’d say the same thing if you were the French in this scenario. You know you would.
No really, you would. Think about how angry we Brits get about French fishermen encroaching on our waters. Imagine that, but about life.
So What Changes?
Merkel gave the faintest of hints that Europe might be willing to budge on a few crucial points if Britain gives them alternatives, but the overall EU line (as preached by Macron) is that nothing will change – it’s EU way, or no-deal way.
Either way, with British diplomats about to be pulled out of EU meetings to focus on Brexit, the party-line is very much in keeping with Boris’ slogan: “We are leaving on October 31st, with or without a deal.”
Maybe the first signs were shown of some kind of contrition being made? Maybe, just maybe, we can avoid the no-deal disaster that the Operation Yellowhammer leak has promised?
Or, this may yet prove to be another false dawn – the second that Parliament sits again on the 3rd of September, the fragile promises that Boris champions could be destroyed for good.
Time, as they say, will tell.