Redwood throws spanner in works of “special relationship”

Senior Tory MP attacks Barack Obama, says he is “less popular than Bush”, and that the president sho

David Cameron should not even seek a "special relationship" with Barack Obama, given the president's politics, a senior Tory MP has said as the Prime Minister prepares to fly to Washington to meet with the US leader.

John Redwood says that "I don't think Mr Cameron should expect or even seek a 'special' relationship with Mr Obama". He adds that Obama "belongs to the US school of thought which wants to ring one number to talk to 'Europe'. So let him talk to Baroness Ashton all he likes and see how he gets on."

Redwood hits out at a series of positions held by the president, and claims that "Mr Obama has lost much of his star dust in the USA. He is now a much more unpopular president than Mr Bush at a similar stage, and faces a difficult fight in the next Congress elections."

Below are the full comments, which appear on Redwood's blog today:

As someone who has in the past been an enthusiastic Atlanticist, valuing our relationship with the USA, I don't think Mr Cameron should expect or even seek a "special" relationship with Mr Obama. I want us to maintain our close ties with the USA. but think they are stronger at the moment people to people, business to business and with a wider range of US actors than the current beleagured administration.

Mr Obama has intensified the war in Afghanistan, and judges his allies by the extent of their commitment to this endeavour. All are found wanting, as his allies do not share his view of the conflict. They also suspect that he is looking for the exit himself. His decision to intensify the conflict and increase the number of US troops was born of his election campaign when his positioning required this statement on Afghanistan. Today it appears that he will need to show progress in bringing the troops home for a future election.

Mr Obama probably belongs to the US school of thought which wants to ring one number to talk to "Europe". So let him talk to Baroness Ashton all he likes and see how he gets on. She may be amassing an unwanted army of diplomats at our expense, but I am relieved to say she still does not command our troops.

Mr Obama has declared war on BP, and sought to represent this global company as some kind of British destructive force in the USA. The president is getting a reputation for being anti-business, and seems to like having a foreign business whipping boy. His interventions have not helped control the leak or deal with the disaster.

Mr Obama has been critical of the policy of controlling large and growing public-sector deficits. Just because the USA has so far got away with a high spend high borrowing strategy does not mean smaller countries are able to do, as Ireland, Greece, the Baltic states and others have discovered to their cost.

Mr Obama has lost much of his star dust in the USA. He is now a much more unpopular president than Mr Bush at a similar stage, and faces a difficult fight in the next Congress elections.

At some point the polls will tell Mr Obama he has to revisit his policies in several key areas. How much longer can he go on increasing spending? How far can he take the socialism in a largely free-enterprise country? When will he find a new approach to the Middle East? Is his relationship with China good enough to ensure they carry on buying US debt? Is he going to duck being the climate-change warrior he promised in the election?

Mr Cameron should speak up for British interests without fear or favour. He should tell the president privately that all the allies need to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. They should work on a way of ensuring the Afghan forces can take over more quickly. In wartime the US and UK trained many troops in a matter of weeks or months. The idea that it will take another four years to train enough Afghans to patrol their own country is a strange one. It is also unlikely that the west might be able to handle the politics of that difficult country and make a political breakthrough in the next couple of years, given the experience of trying over the last eight.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.