"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
Yesterday, two significant political entities collided with the inevitable sparks, fury and fire. Trump landed in Brexit Britain. Of course, Trump had to have his say. He criticised Prime Minister Mrs May, offered support for Boris Johnson and in the process broke every diplomatic rule in the book. Welcome to Trump world.
On Brexit, like much of what Trump says, there is a central truth. Arriving from the NATO conference, he’d admonished the Europeans asserting the US pays 90% of the costs. It’s 67%, but the truth of the assertion is there. 67% is a staggering figure when the primary beneficiary is Europe. The Europeans needed to be told that. Last month I stood in the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy. You can't fail to be struck at the human costs of attaining freedom. No one should only add up the money when the US has paid in blood and bones.
Trump let rip that Prime Minister May failed to follow his advice on Brexit. Be tough is his mantra. Her soft Brexit he warned wouldn’t endear the US to making trade deals. He could have pointed out that May’s Brexit is so soft all the shenanigans appear worthless. Again, he’s too keen on the rant. Having said that, the truth of a weak Mrs May is unavoidable.
I’m no Brexiteer. Nonetheless, the vote stands. Plus people voted for many things under Brexit. At the top of that list is border control. It’s not clear how this is going to work, with the devil in the details. That’s the issue with Brexit at every level. The details are crucial, and ordinary folks aren't bothered enough to understand the machinations.
You could claim Mrs May won a victory this week by seeing off big beast Boris from her cabinet. Along with him went other hard Brexiteers. As such, she strengthened her control, steadied the ship and set a course with her ‘white paper’. Yet, she's not won the war, only a battle. And the next salvo is likely to fall soon. Her enemies are awaiting the departure of Trump. After all, this is England, so certain rules of etiquette apply. Anyway, he’s consuming all the media oxygen. Distracted by him, the Brexiteers are unlikely to garner the coverage needed to build momentum.
On a side note - Trump isn't getting the full British smoochy treatment. Instead, he’s shuffled around the back-door. A parade at Blenheim Palace, which is not even a proper palace; meet the Queen at Windsor and then off to golf in Scotland. No parade up the Mall in an open carriage to Buckingham Palace for him. No adoring public, and no address to Parliament. Every effort is being made to keep protestors away.
In Hong Kong, we are watching this with interest. British politicians delight in alleging that demonstrators here face heavy-handed policing. Strange, they are silent when British police act to block freedom of expression on London's streets.
Anyway, once Air Force One’s wheels are up, the game restarts. The Brexiteers will take to the field of battle to assert May has sold Britain out. Still, they face a dilemma. They can’t on principle agree to May’s soft Brexit. But, an all-out assault on her may trigger a leadership challenge, then a general election. That could see Corbyn elected as Prime Minister.
Between a rock and a hard place, the Brexiteers need to step with care. They can continue to snipe from the sidelines to win a few concessions. Beyond that, options are few. Mounting a full assault on Mrs May without a foreseeable positive outcome is high risk. And she knows it. If she gets through the next two weeks, this will go down as a most remarkable political survival act.
If nothing else, Mrs May is a tough lady and for that deserves credit. Trump could have recognised that tenacity. Although, I agree she's weak on negotiating with the EU. Why? Was this always the plan, a covert effort to scuttle Brexit? If so, it’s working.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.