Expert View

New EU leadership team opposes Johnson-Farage-Hunt ideology

by Denis MacShane | 03.07.2019

The new leadership team put in place to run the EU institutions over the next five years is a bucket of cold water over the exaggerated boasts from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt that, once installed in Downing Street, a new prime minister can persuade EU governments to give the UK a cake-and-eat-it Brexit.

In a major reaffirmation of core European values, the next European leadership team will be led by women and men who are strongly committed to European partnership and opposed to the anti-European ideology of Johnson, Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini , Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen.

The new EU Commission president, Ursula “Uschi” von der Leyen has something in common with Johnson. Both are children of European Commission officials and spent their early years in Brussels.

But unlike Johnson, who has always preferred fibs and fantasy about Europe, von der Leyen is a trained doctor and knows that telling lies to patients and their families is the height of irresponsibility. She described the Brexit campaign last year as a “burst bubble of hollow promises… inflated by populists,” reports the Guardian. “They had promised that Britain would benefit from Brexit. The fact is today that Brexit is a loss for everyone.”

Von der Leyen and her doctor husband, now a medical industry CEO, have close friends in London and she knows British politics.

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She arrives with a new president of the European Council, liberal Charles Michel, the young Belgian prime minister. The new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is Josep Borrell, the Catalan socialist foreign minister of Spain.

Both Michel and Borrell are committed to European partnership and consider Brexit a victory for the Rupert Murdoch anti-European populist nationalism that has gathered strength this century.

Borrell in particular has suffered as a Catalan socialist who believes in maintaining the unity of Spain. He is no friend of those in Britain who want to break up the unity of Europe.

Michel accused Johnson in July 2016 of lacking “the courage to lead” the UK out of the Brexit “black hole.” He has also made clear his opposition to renegotiating the Irish backstop: “Between a ‘no deal’ and a ‘bad deal,’ I prefer a ‘no deal’, which will have the merit of clarity and responsibility,” he said in February. “A good deal is on the table, but the British parliament is trying to take us toward a bad deal. The British parliament’s demands on the backstop would weaken the economic development of Europe, a risk for our businesses and our jobs.”

Christine Lagarde, the new president of the European Central Bank, is French and close to Peter Mandelson. She worked as a corporate lawyer in New York before becoming France’s finance minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and then running the IMF.

Can she talk to the City of London, which will be hit hard by Brexit, and urge UK businesses to come out from under the duvet and campaign actively to give the people the right to take a decision before an amputation from Europe?

For the moment the EU institutions and their new leaders are in purdah until the new UK prime minister is installed in Downing Street. Despite the boast to the contrary from both the Johnson and Hunt camps, no one in either the 27 other EU capitals or Brussels will be ready to give up any core EU rules governing the single market to allow a special exception to be made for a UK that wants a pick ’n’ mix Europe.

In the opening session of the European Parliament, MEPs in Nigel Farage’s new one-man party staged an odd stunt when they turned around in their seats and stuck their buttocks into the microphones.

It symbolised the UK’s approach to the EU. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt can waggle their bottoms as much as they like at the rest of Europe. But all it does is make the UK look smaller and irrelevant.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister of Europe. His new book, Brexeternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain, will be published shortly.

This article was updated after publication to include the quotes from Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

17 Responses to “New EU leadership team opposes Johnson-Farage-Hunt ideology”

  • At least the new president is honest about her EU ambitions for the future.

    A committed federalist and supporter of an EU army and someone who genuinely wants to do away with national sovereign democracies – a gift to all those of us that are desperate to retain true democracy of the nation state.

  • Peter,
    I know that it is largely a waste of time to debate with you, but to think that Johnson , Hunt or Farage’s farters are the representatives of British Democracy that you crave to rule over us you really have some funny values.

  • That’ll be the eu army that was described as a fantasy by eu officials and by some of our own liberalists MPs pre referendum?

  • Peter

    You actually live in a federal state. It’s called the United Kingdom and made up of four countries. The English subjugated the Welsh, Scottish and Irish nations and eventually brought them together under the Act of Union. Presumably, then, you disagree with this and would advocate the break up of the United Kingdom into four independent nation states?
    Spain is also a federalist state with 17 autonomous regions. Presumably you would like to see all of these regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country becoming independent nation states? The more division you have the greater is the chance of conflict and war.
    Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with a federal Europe. In fact I would be around to be a true European.

  • Firstly, its pretty much a given then at any Commission president will be ambitious for what Europe can achieve. It would be surprising if , for example, a Marks & Spencer Chief Exec., didn’t have any ambitions for M & S. But, ultimate power is with the Heads of Government, not her. Based on the he who pays the piper, calls the tune principle.
    Secondly, she was chosen ahead of other candidates because she has the widest support under the 28 PMs. That obviously includes Governments of a fairly eurosceptic nature in Italy, Poland, Hungary, Czech republic. They would not have supported her without assurances she was going to respect their views.

    Finally, having special experience of defence, as the latest German Defence minister, can’t be a bad thing. If that means greater European input into defence, that would be what Donald Trump has been requesting. The extent to which that is more or less separate to the US, will be mainly down to US defence policy

  • I think it’s shocking the way these people refuse to give us everything we want for free, all the benefits of being in the Single Market while we flog the NHS off to American health insurance. Don’t they know we had a vast empire, and they should fear us?

    See, that’s the problem. They don’t RESPECT Rupert Murdoch like they should either, because he hasn’t turned their tabloids into cultural-sewage to make the population as dumb as possible.

    They even think Europe should be proud and defend itself, rather than cowering under the Mob Boss arms of the US. Although generally that meant picking on pre-industrial countries with natural resources our rulers wanted to steal.

    And they don’t respect lying charlatans just because they went to Eton and sound confident even when they don’t have a clue,

    I mean – what do the Europeans and English have in common?

    Well, for a start, the AEnglish are German immigrants.

  • To William D Taylor,

    None of what you have said has any reference to democracy. If Scotland, Wales or Scotland truly want to be independent then I have no doubt that through a referendum that would happen. Scotland had one in 2014 and voted to stay in the UK (no doubt in the future they may have another one), Wales has shown no appetite as yet to have a referendum and Northern Ireland is a bit more problematic. In the long term I am of the opinion that a united Ireland would be the best outcome but only when the historical hostilities are fully consigned to history. We did have a referendum on membership of the EU in 2016, and guess what we voted to leave!
    I have completely the opposite view with regards to conflict and wars – truly democratic countries don’t go to war with each other. And the creeping imposition by Brussels of a European superstate will and is causing rising nationalism and hostility.

  • A united Europe doesn’t mean the end of national sovereignty or democracy. We have been in the EU for 47 years (incidentally, the referendum of 1974 was a thumbs up for the Common Market – the EU as it was then, so yes, you CAN rerun the referendum) and we have prospered. The fact that some parts of the country have “been left behind” is the fault of Parliament and the executive, not the EU. (In fact Wales has done particularly well out of the EU, odd, considering they voted to leave).

    As for sovereignty, Parliament’s own website defines it as “a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK constitution”. Being in the EU doesn’t change any of this. Such EU laws that affect us are drafted into UK law (52000 in the last 25 years). And none of them have been stupid or irrelevant, despite the ravings of the Poison Press. The basic relationship between UK and EU law has been clear since 1972 – Parliament remains sovereign but recognises the binding nature of EU law. Fair enough, given the benefits that flow from membership, such as The Working Time Directive: Giving workers the right to a minimum holiday entitlement each year and limiting the working week to 48 hours. Do you want to give that up ? The Brexiteers would love to have you work more for less and have the sort of holiday entitlement as the USA (i.e. none). But over this is the security of being a club of 28 members. The whole idea of the EU to start off with was to bind Germany into a framework she couldn’t break without ruining her own economy – and that’s worked, despite the rise of the neo-nazis. BTW, there won’t be a EU army still less a federal Europe, trust me.

  • A lot of good info here that needs to get a wider reading.
    I have concluded that many of us far spend too much time trying to convince a number of ardent brexiteers to see things differently. Can I encourage you not to waste too much of your time with this. It would be better to write to your MP, or even respond to a newspaper article that you would rather not read as at least you will be making other people think, some of whom will be only too grateful for having something explained more clearly for them. Remember that the referendum result was decided by a swing of just 1% of the population, which is pretty remarkable given the bare faced lying of the Leave campaign. Many people now realize they were conned and we should concentrate on folks whose minds are open to persuasion.

  • Trust you John – I don’t think so.

    You seem to suggest that the referendum vote of 2016 should just be ignored because you and a lot of other ardent EU supporters don’t like the outcome. Correct me if I am wrong but I believe you are a Scot in favour of independence? So would you have been happy if in 2014 the vote had gone 52% to 48% in favour of independence to then have the Scottish government spend the next 3 years stalling and scaremongering to try to stop independence from happening? Oh and by the way, the first thing that would have happened would have been Scotland being booted out of the EU.
    If we do eventually break away then we will be able to hold political parties and politicians to account and hopefully start to get rid of these useless EU obsessed careerist types – Yvette Cooper springs to mind. do you really think we need the EU to tell us what our workers rights etc should be. That is what voters should be able to decide.

  • To Peter
    I wasn’t attacking you on a point of democracy.
    Your assertion that ‘true’ democracies do not fight each other can be debated for a long time. Also, there are many types of democracy and it is not a perfect system. It can be manipulated and be very unfair. When you have a referendum that is split almost 50-50 the argument continues and it is dangerous to rebuke people for ‘losing’.
    However, I was angling more at your point about federalism. How can you reject supposed EU ‘federalism’ when you, yourself, live in a federal state?
    Tony Evans has a good point. Best to debate with people who are open to persuasion rather than waste time with those who have made up their minds. The referendum was an insult to democracy and now we are going to have PM chosen by 160000 mainly white, middle class middle England Tories. You can see the problem when you take the high moral ground when talking about democracy, can’ t you Peter?

  • William,
    A few things here. I agree no democratic system is perfect but when the democratic rules are decided upon then we have to abide by them. Certainly those rules can be changed through the democratic process but not to just change a result because a large number of people don’t like the outcome. Secondly I agree that we are a union of countries but as I said before those relationships can change if any of those countries want to leave the union. Scotland had their go in 2014 and decided to stay in the UK. We as the UK then voted to leave the EU and I would strongly argue due to the direction of travel that the EU is taking – that is towards a federal super state. If after we leave Scotland wanted to have another vote then I would respect that regardless of the result.
    With regards to the leadership contest (and I am no great fan of the Tories) they know they have to pick a leader that is determined to deliver leave as otherwise they know they will be toast electorally. I do also agree that a general election should be called after a new leader is in place.
    Oh and Tony Evans suggestion that anybody who disagrees with him are not to be bothered with is laughable (he does have form on this), that is the way to dictatorship. This has nothing to do with the moral high ground but it is all to do with politics.
    At the end of the day I do want to congratulate Hugo and Luke for allowing proper debate on a site that is dedicated to the remain cause.

  • The problem in Britain from the start has been that newspapers have continually slated the EU. Furthermore, was the EU ever discussed as part of the curriculum in schools? Has anyone ever extolled its virtues? I may be old and forgetful, but I don’t recall reading anything positive, ever. The population has not been educated on this subject. Poor areas that feel left out have blamed the EU because the newspapers have told them to, and no Government has ever admitted that this had nothing to do with the EU. Even during the referendum campaign the Remain politicians’ arguments were feeble. We have had 40 odd years of wasted opportunities and this is the result.

  • Peter,
    My opinion is that its not worth spending too much time (not no time) talking in circles with someone whose argument is little more than “I am a proud Brit” and puts his fingers in his ears when confronted with a substantial amount of evidence that Brexit is an act of national self harm. The average pensioner pays about £5 per year to the EU via taxation, that’s not made up, just a straight forward calculation. If you can demonstrate any form of Brexit backed up from a reliable peer reviewed economist who supports your belief that it will be alright on the night and the same pensioner will not be significantly worse off then I am listening.

  • Very elucidating Mr Morrison! And thank you. Oh that current politicians and other economically illiterates who pose to govern the UK to best advantage were brought up short; and that might focus their inanimate grey cells. In my immaturity in civil life in 1974, following 15 years RAF (greatly enjoyed in the main), even I was able to work out that such an organisation could offer much that was missing in the political class of the era: perspicacity, ambition, integrity and concern for citizens, their health, education and opportunities – and little appears to have changed save for a few dozen men and women of stature across the political fermament and some elsewhere.
    For now, political activity surrounds their own best interests and Party.
    Who will rid us of this clamorous mob.
    The People.