Cameron and Merkel fail to progress

The pair's smiles couldn't disguise the level of disagreement.

After this week's war of words over an EU Robin Hood Tax, David Cameron and Angela Merkel were all smiles at their press conference in Berlin. But their avowals of friendship ("we are very good friends," said Cameron, protesting rather too much) couldn't disguise the level of disagreement between the pair. On the Tobin tax itself, Merkel admitted that while they both favoured a global transactions tax they had made "no progress" on a European version. Unlike the German Chancellor, Cameron and George Osborne, who has described the proposed EU tax as "a bullet aimed at the heart of London", remain unwilling to introduce it without the agreement of China and the US.

Worse, Merkel restated Germany's opposition to the use of the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort. She spoke of the need for European leaders to use all available "weapons" to defend the single currency but added: "one should also not pretend to be more powerful than one is"

Cameron spoke simply of the need for all eurozone countries to show a "commitment to fiscal discipline", refusing to acknowledge that austerity has failed in Europe. As historian Richard J Evans argues in his magisterial essay in this week's New Statesman: "German-style fiscal discipline is all very well but it is not going to solve anything in the short run." But both Cameron and Merkel remain unwilling to grasp the nettle.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.