The Hulk, Dead In A Ditch

When Jean-Claude Juncker seemingly insulted Theresa May, by allegedly stating she was nebulous (which he didn’t), she made a beeline for Juncker, confronted him right there and then, and settled the issue.

Xavier Bettel empty-chairing Boris Johnson (source: The Independent)

When Xavier Bettel seemingly insulted Boris Johnson yesterday, by refusing to move a press conference to a more tranquil setting, BoJo made a beeline for the exit, not once looking back.

Maybot vs. Hulk. Who’s a badass prime minister now, huh?

Pengovsky wasn’t really going to pay this much attention to Johnson’s visit to Luxembourg yesterday. In part because there’s a shitload of work that needs to be done, in part because other people do it so much better and in part because this whole Brexit charade is becoming painfully predictable.

It begins by London working up expectations at home, talk of “deal being virtually within arm’s reach” getting traction even among journos who really should know better, then the PM (whoever that may be at any given time) flies to one of EU capitals where yet again simple questions about how to replace the Irish backstop and achieve the same functional goals are not answered. Rinse, repeat.

As a result, patience is wearing thin.

Xavier Bettel is not the first EU prime minister to lecture Boris Johnson in recent weeks. Ireland’s Leo Varadkar did pretty much the same the other day in Dublin.

But apparently the ignominy of being told off by a foreign leader, while his own citizens were protesting Brexit was too much for Boris “I’d rather die in a ditch” Johnson. So he stood Bettel up and the Luxembourgish PM did the presser on his own, reiterating basically the same points as his Irish counterpart days ago. Only Xavier really let it rip.

Did we mention patience was wearing thin?

But while the UK side is pretending to be flummoxed and full of faux high-brow diplomacy (“we didn’t want to embarrass our hosts“, Johnson said minutes later atop of the scenic Casemates), fact of the matter is that senior UK politicos still expect some form of fealty being paid to them by other European countries and the EU as a whole.

To be sure, it didn’t start with Johnson.

David Cameron in his Chatham speech which started this whole Brexit shitball rolling, was very clear that he expected a vastly different and vastly more flexible set of standards for his country than it was in place for smaller ones, who should, well, just suck it up.

It went on with Theresa May and most of the brexiteering Westminster class which somehow expected Ireland to simply roll over and do what it is told.

And now Johnson, trying desperately to save face claiming that he acted in the best interest of his host?!

The condescend-o-meter just broke.

Lately, this sort of patronising is par for the course for whatever object of ridicule happens to be engaging in top level UK diplomacy.

Less than a year ago, then-FM Jeremy Hunt was visiting another small EU member state and was equally condescending. The difference being that his host (a friend of Xavier Bettel’s, by the way) was much more docile, but even Slovenian foreign minister Miro Cerar eventually had a few harsh words for the historically and geographically challenged Tory.

And that was Slovenia, a country where the political class is still struggling with the concept of EU as an instrument of augmenting political strategy.

Luxembourg, being a founding EU member and whatnot, naturally understands these things on a much deeper level. The EU is central to the country’s prosperity and influence. And while there is a lot of maneuvering space inside the agreed parametres of the union (which is precisely the point of this whole EU thing), there is a finite amount of room available for political shenanigans at the EU’s expense.

This was perfectly and likely unintentionally demonstrated by Luxembourg officials when they responded to accusations of ambushing Johnson with the press conference this close to the small-but-loud anti-Brexit demo.

Translation: we can do a lot, but there’s a limit to what we can do for you. Push us beyond that and we’ll do what we have to do for us.

Even let the Hulk die in a ditch.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.