Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,
Like a moth drawn inexorably to the flame, it’s hard to resist a Nigel Farage press conference and we were not disappointed. Revelling in addressing a packed press conference, he joked that he would miss the theatre and drama of Strasbourg, but not the travel or long voting sessions.

And they would miss him, the “pantomime villain”, sitting in seat number 20 next to his old sparring partner Jean-Claude Juncker. On resigning as UKIP leader, Farage famously said “I want my life back”. From all his anti-business, anti-big banks rhetoric you can only assume this is not his old life as a City commodity trader. No, Nigel is re-inventing himself as Mr Referendum, willing to tour Europe to ferment revolt against the remote elites and vested interests and hammer in the final nail in the political Union coffin. The press conference ended with a nice touch of irony. Journalists had been asked to give the names of their media organisations and whether they received any EU funding. The final questioner said his paper received no EU funds – unlike the millions pocketed by UKIP!

Given his press commitments, Farage didn’t feel it necessary to turn up to the set-piece plenary debate on the Brexit summit and was therefore spared the hostile reaction to his resignation. Political group leaders basically stuck to the same metaphor of the rats leaving the sinking ship and Jean-Claude Juncker called the Leavers “retro-nationalists, not patriots”. I’m sure Boris and Nigel have been called worse. Perhaps the best line belongs to Lithuanian MEP, Antanas Guoga, better known in international poker circles as Tony G, who argued that he was best placed to be the new UKIP leader as he always left the table after he had won a hand. Given the Brexit negotiations are going to resemble a game of poker, I’d have him on my team every time.

The final votes had hardly been counted before the vultures were circling over London, eyeing up the rich pickings that could be had. A long line of countries have already indicated their willingness to host the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority – or both in the case of Italy. One can only hope Matteo Renzi has studied the Silvio Berlusconi hand-book on how he beat the Finns to win the European Food Safety Agency. “When you see a result, it’s necessary to use all available weapons and therefore I brushed up all my playboy skills, now from the distant past, and I used a series of tender pleas to the Finnish president”. Ah, if only the referendum campaign had been fought in the same gentlemanly manner. Just to add to Britain’s woes, France have now leap-frogged over them to become the world’s 5th largest economy – and are in the football final to boot!

The prospect of a smooth trade deal between the UK and EU was always likely to be difficult but suffered a further setback with the last-minute concession by the Commission to allow national parliaments a vote on the Canada Free Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA has already suffered interminable delays because it’s seen as a precursor to TTIP and now it has fallen victim to the post-Brexit desire of political leaders to reassert national sovereignty over the EU institutions. Getting a future UK trade deal passed 40 national and regional assemblies, as well as the European Parliament, will be a tall order. Whether it’s Martin Schulz who signs off CETA on behalf of the parliament is the subject of much corridor talk, with the EPP keen to claim the presidency next January for one of their own. Alain Lamassoure, Antonio Tajani and Mairead McGuinness remain the front-runners but if the Tory leadership battle has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. Tony G for President? Worth a small wager.

Allez les bleus


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Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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