In the words of one negotiator, it is the ‘Lutheran’s distaste for the libertine’ that has pushed Britain to the brink of a No Deal Brexit.
Diplomats say the ‘trust issue’ between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson came to a head during last week’s fraught talks, when British negotiators tried to break the deadlock by proposing a ‘tariffs for freedom’ arrangement.
Under the plan – to have been fleshed out at Wednesday’s meeting between Mr Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over a dinner of scallops and turbot – the UK would have effectively been released from the responsibility to follow EU rules in return for accepting that duties would be slapped on British exports to the bloc.
Despite most of the world’s attention focusing on the noisier objections of French President Emmanuel Macron, it was Ms Merkel – the morally puritan daughter of a Lutheran clergyman – who played the most quietly influential role in the EU’s flat dismissal of the idea.
Diplomats say the ‘trust issue’ between German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and Boris Johnson (right) came to a head during last week’s fraught talks, when British negotiators tried to break the deadlock by proposing a ‘tariffs for freedom’ arrangement
A source close to the British negotiating team said: ‘We thought this would be the moment. But they just weren’t interested. They won’t accept that Brexit means setting our own rules.
‘We could set up all sorts of dispute recognition systems to make sure the new plan was fair, but the root of the problem seems to be Merkel herself: she doesn’t trust Boris. They are very different people.’
Ms Merkel joined forces with Mr Macron to stymie the British negotiations with Ms von der Leyen, with the two leaders refusing to let Mr Johnson enter direct negotiations with them.
Despite most of the world’s attention focusing on the noisier objections of French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured on Saturday), it was Ms Merkel – the morally puritan daughter of a Lutheran clergyman – who played the most quietly influential role in the EU’s flat dismissal of the idea
Under the ‘bad cop, bad cop’ pincer movement, Mr Macron has also insisted on driving a hard bargain with the British, convinced that Mr Johnson would buckle and agree to the EU’s terms rather than endure the double-whammy of No Deal combined with the ongoing Covid crisis.
But the French President appears to have underestimated the influence of the PM’s Brexiteer backbenchers, who have made clear that any compromise on the basic principles of Brexit would lead to demands for a leadership contest.
No 10 officials admit to being taken aback by the inflexibility of Brussels’ position, which they attribute to ‘insecurity’ on the part of the EU. One said: ‘They are being so adamant about the need for us to stay fixed in their orbit, shackled by their rules, that it must mean they fear the UK becoming a nimble, low-tax, low-regulation Singapore-style economy on their doorstep, one which would be far more attractive to business.’
The symbolism of a post-Brexit Britain beating the EU to become the first Western country to approve and release the Pfizer vaccine last week was not lost on the negotiating teams.
Ms Merkel joined forces with Mr Macron (pictured together in July) to stymie the British negotiations with Ms von der Leyen, with the two leaders refusing to let Mr Johnson enter direct negotiations with them
The French and Germans were also bolstered by the Dutch and Belgian governments, which said they didn’t want a trade deal to be ‘rushed through’ without binding review clauses and legal scrutiny.
As the mood in the UK camp turned increasingly bleak, estimates of the chances of No Deal moved from 50-50 to closer to 80 per cent by last night.
Throughout the process, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove – a former journalist at The Times – has been scribbling the most doomsdayish headlines he could envisage at the end of talks.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove (pictured) – a former journalist at The Times – has been scribbling the most doomsdayish headlines he could envisage at the end of talks
One of his most alarming foresaw a ‘new Battle of Trafalgar’ if a No Deal outcome led to clashes with the French over access to British waters for their fishing fleets.
Yesterday – as a direct result of Mr Gove’s projections – it was announced that four Royal Navy vessels, armed with machine-guns and cannon, will be dispatched and given the power to arrest French and other EU fishermen who illegally enter British territorial waters if a trade deal is not agreed by December 31.
Wildcat and Merlin helicopters are also being placed on standby to help with surveillance. The endgame is under way.
DOUGLAS MURRAY: Authoritarian. Unyielding. Merkel gets it so wrong because her arrogance is boundless
By Douglas Murray For The Mail On Sunday
Most of us have been in no doubt over who is to blame for the obstacles and burning barricades blocking our route to a viable trade deal.
Emmanuel Macron, the sharp-suited, sharp-nosed President of France, has been in the vanguard of those wanting to punish Britain for daring to leave. Desperate to preserve the advantages enjoyed by French fishermen. Desperate to be the saviour of the whole European project.
However, Macron is by no means alone in conducting this unpleasant campaign of sabotage. For, as The Mail on Sunday explains today, his sensibly-suited counterpart in Germany, Angela Merkel, has played her own discreditable role.
It is Chancellor Merkel who has consistently presented herself as the voice of common sense and compromise.
Emmanuel Macron’s sensibly-suited counterpart in Germany, Angela Merkel, has played her own discreditable role in conducting this unpleasant campaign of trade deal sabotage, writes DOUGLAS MURRAY
Yet it is Merkel who has completely failed to understand Great Britain and misjudged it – and it is she who must take prime responsibility for the EU’s calamitous negotiating stance. It is, in part, a personal matter.
Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.
Known as Mutti – or Mummy – to voters, her formative years were in East Germany, the Communist state ruled over by the Stasi.
Like others, she belonged the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth movement.
Rectitude and certainty pour from her. And she has no time for Boris Johnson, a man she dismisses – with remarkable condescension – as no more than a dissembler and a libertine.
Emmanuel Macron, the sharp-suited, sharp-nosed President of France, has been in the vanguard of those wanting to punish Britain for daring to leave, writes DOUGLAS MURRAY
Despite his huge parliamentary majority and the certainty that he speaks for millions, she refuses to trust the Prime Minister or believe him. And, however calmly she projects herself before the cameras, she has been utterly unbending behind closed doors.
We have seen Merkel’s handiwork before.
In 2016, our then Prime Minister, David Cameron, paid a last-ditch visit to Brussels to negotiate a better arrangement with the EU ahead of the referendum.
Cameron begged his European counterparts to give him a meaningful concession, one that would allow him to argue that remaining within the bloc would be to our advantage.
But Merkel and the EU sent him packing. Months later the UK voted to leave entirely.
We can’t blame Macron for these events, which all happened a year before he was seriously in the running for the French presidency.
The only major player from that disastrous episode still in post today is the Chancellor herself, the great survivor of European politics now into her 15th year of rule.
In 2016, Merkel believed that the EU must be seen to be rigidly inflexible and that David Cameron (pictured with Merkel in 2015) must be given no new concessions for fear that other nations might demand flexibility in turn, writes DOUGLAS MURRAY
Then, as now, Merkel had a reputation for hard-headed efficiency.
But, while it is true she helped guide the continent through the Eurozone crisis, she did so with an authoritarian rigidity which still sees her loathed in much of southern Europe.
Despite its vast trade profits, Germany refused to bail out the ‘feckless’ Mediterranean neighbours who had been stupid enough to buy its products.
Then, in 2015, it was Merkel who made the calamitous decision to open the borders of Europe. She did not consult her counterparts.
She simply did it, single-handedly turning a migrant challenge into a migrant crisis.
Even now, an unrecalcitrant Merkel continues to try to punish those countries in Central and Eastern Europe which refuse to pay for her errors and accept large quotas of migrants themselves.
For all her reputation as a pragmatic political performer, her flaws have been obvious for years: Unyielding when she ought to yield.
Merkel has no time for Boris Johnson (pictured on Saturday), a man she dismisses – with remarkable condescension – as no more than a dissembler and a libertine, writes DOUGLAS MURRAY
Authoritarian while presenting herself as a champion of liberty. Feted as uniquely insightful, yet wildly off-beam in her most basic political calculations.
In 2016, Merkel believed that the EU must be seen to be rigidly inflexible and that Cameron must be given no new concessions for fear that other nations might demand flexibility in turn.
But – and not for the first time – it was a huge miscalculation. Despite mounting evidence that British voters were fed up, Merkel refused to believe that we would leave. A major error and a dereliction of her duty to understand her counterparts.
Today we see the same pattern – bad advice combined with belligerence. Once again, the German Chancellor has started from the assumption that Britain will not leave the EU without a deal. Once again, she has refused to believe the clearest possible assertions from the Prime Minister that we will.
The advice that Merkel received from her side was that Boris was bluffing. And so she resumed her role as unbending negotiator.
Doubtless, she believes that Britain will move her way. Doubtless, as in 2016, she is completely wrong.
This is not the first time she has been accused of behind-the-scenes manipulation. According to a 2013 biography, Merkel was no mere cultural officer of the Free German Youth, but a higher ranking ‘Agitation and Propaganda functionary’ – claims she has never openly denied.
Known as Mutti – or Mummy – to voters, Merkel’s formative years were in East Germany, the Communist state ruled over by the Stasi, writes DOUGLAS MURRAY
Whatever the truth, we can be certain that Merkel has received provably wrong advice at every step of the way in the Brexit negotiations – and acted upon it. And it is her failure to understand this country that now makes a No Deal departure so likely.
Were she truly a pragmatist, she would have tried to make these negotiations work. A good and workable UK-EU trade deal would be to the benefit of the whole continent.
Millions of people across the EU work in businesses which need access to our markets. Any reasonable and pragmatic EU leader would have the livelihoods of those people in mind and negotiated on their behalf.
Instead, the EU stance is both immoderate and unstable. And that derives from the qualities for which she has been so often lauded. An inflexibility. An authoritarian efficiency. An instinctive distrust of her negotiating partners.
Push them and they will crumble, is the advice she has been doling out to the EU leaders. And they have pushed. But there is no evidence that we will crumble.
What has crumbled is the reputation of the Chancellor as the fair-minded pragmatist. She is no such thing. Mutti is an ideologue who destroys the very things she is meant to be protecting.
10 ways YOU can help make No Deal Brexit a success for Britain
1 The road to recovery
Buying cars made in the UK will avoid any import taxes, and help support a vital industry which employs 180,000 workers.
2 Have a little lamb
Your Sunday roast is about to become a lot cheaper if you buy lamb, as a surplus of quality British meat will likely flood the market. We produce more lamb than we consume, but punitive EU tariffs mean that farmers will face export taxes of up to 40 per cent.
3 Escape to the country
Holidaying in the UK next year is likely to be cheaper and less hassle than going abroad (you may need extra insurance and driving documents in the EU). Plus you’ll be helping a homegrown travel industry battered by the pandemic.
Your Sunday roast is about to become a lot cheaper if you buy lamb, as a surplus of quality British meat will likely flood the market (file image)
4 Suck it up!
With no ‘level playing field’ agreement, Britain will be able to ditch EU rules, such as the one that limits the power of vacuum cleaners to 900-watts. So if the UK repeals such red tape, you’ll be able send a message to Brussels about their regulations by buying a model up to the old 1,600-watt limit.
5 Buy, er… Japanese
If Brussels intransigence leaves us without a UK-EU trade deal, we can reward those countries that DO want to do business with us. Our new trade deal with Japan will make goods such as bluefin tuna, Kobe beef and udon noodles cheaper here, while 99 per cent of UK exports will benefit from tariff-free trade, too. We also have a favourable trade deal with Canada.
By eating more mussels (file image), mackerel, sardines and pollock, UK consumers could provide a massive boost to the nation’s fishing industry which employs 12,000 people
6 Flex your mussels
Dozens of fish species live in UK waters, but unadventurous diners tend to eat just salmon, tuna and cod – most of which is imported from abroad. By eating more mussels, mackerel, sardines and pollock, UK consumers could provide a massive boost to the nation’s fishing industry which employs 12,000 people. A No Deal Brexit could allow British boats to catch more fish in UK waters, too, leading to cheaper prices.
7 Buy a second home
That might be economically impossible for many, but it’s a good time to invest in UK property as record low interest rates are likely to continue because of the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit. The market is currently booming, but you have to be prepared to weather its ups and downs, as house prices are expected to fall next year before staging a recovery later in 2022.
No Deal tariffs could hike the price of French cheese by 40 per cent, but that’s the perfect opportunity to try British alternatives, such as Somerset brie (file image)
8 Don’t worry, brie happy
No Deal tariffs could hike the price of French cheese by 40 per cent, but that’s the perfect opportunity to try British alternatives, such as Somerset brie and camembert, Baron Bigod cheese from Suffolk, Stinking Bishop from Gloucestershire or good old cheddar or stilton.
9 Raise a glass to Britain
English wines have a fast-growing reputation, picking up awards in record numbers thanks to producers such as Roebuck Estates in West Sussex and Simpsons in Kent. Foreign alcohol could face import tariffs of 18 per cent, making UK booze even more appealing.
10 Rags to riches
British-made fashion could undergo a renaissance in the event of No Deal, which could mean the prices of EU imports rising 12 per cent thanks to tariffs. Buying British would also cut carbon emissions from transport, already cited as a big concern among customers.