Statements made by Conservative leadership candidates threaten to shatter the brittle calm achieved by the extension - Jean-Claude Piris, former head of the European council’s legal service, has been quoted by Brexit Central media outlet as saying EU top brass are “fed up” with British politicians, who seem to have “gone a little bit crazy”.
Following a record drubbing in the May’s European Parliament elections, with the fledgling Brexit Party topping the poll by some margin, top Tories are desperately scrabbling to demonstrate their EU-bashing credentials.
Boris Johnson, who just escaped standing trial for misleading voters during the Brexit referendum campaign, being the frontrunner is surely particularly troubling for apparatchiks.
European Commission Secretary-General Martin Selmayr made similar comments in May 2016, comparing him with Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, and referring to the prospect of a Johnson premiership as a “horror scenario”.
Adding to their anxieties, Johnson’s far from the only 'no deal' advocate in the race - fellow frontrunner Dominic Raab is likewise a supporter of simply crashing out of the bloc, but that’s not the only reason he’s unpopular in Brussels. His acrimonious four-month run as Brexit Secretary saw him be accused by the Commission of making “fake, fraudulent” statements and spreading “pure disinformation” after claiming the aforementioned Selmayr said Northern Ireland was the price to pay for Brexit.
Raab wears such opprobrium with pride however, telling the BBC 9th June their attacks on his character merely showed he “was doing my job in terms”, by “pressing them hard and making sure that Britain’s interests were resolutely defended”. He has also refused to rule out suspending parliament to prevent lawmakers blocking the UK from leaving the EU without a deal.
Nonetheless, even candidates with less incendiary stances on seceding the EU are also intimidating to bloc chiefs. For instance, Sajid David, while rubbishing Raab’s suggestion of proroguing parliament if MPs refused to back a Brexit deal and claiming a compromise between both sides would be his “absolute preference”, has said he’d opt for a no deal exit if forced to choose between that or “no Brexit”.
While claiming he would “try very, very hard” to get a deal by 31st October as leaving without one would be “political suicide”, and told Johnson to “get real” on the issue of Europe, he’s also warned the next Prime Minister might not be able to start renegotiating until 1st November as the new Commission only starts then.
While a successful support-winning strategy (the party’s chief Remainer Amber Rudd and leading Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt have both backed him), his irresolute sentiments raise the prospect of a further Brexit delay, which the EU is keen to avoid - French President Emmanuel Macron has consistently argued against further extensions on the basis it would be a vast distraction for the bloc, and member state chiefs are increasingly supportive of that view.
It’s been suggested several EU Council members now regret acquiescing to President Donald Tusk’s entreaties to allow a delay - Tusk himself seems to be lacking in optimism in the UK’s abilities to pull its collective self together, saying in late May he’d “nothing promising” on London’s side so far.
“As Europeans see what Brexit means in practice they also draw conclusions. Brexit has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda. We’re all aware what is the state of things there today,” he explained.