For Brexit aficionados, the year has started with a welcome twist. Today, Nigel Farage met Michel Barnier in Brussels in an attempt to balance out the “neverending stream of Remainers” the EU’s Brexit negotiator has met since talks on the UK’s withdrawal began in June.
Farage had requested the meeting in a letter to the Frenchman, in which he promised (or threatened) to “speak on behalf of the 17.4 million voters who did not vote for a transition deal or any further delays and whose resolve is getting stronger”.
Ever the diplomat, he told journalists after the meeting that Barnier had been “civil” but was still “uncomprehending” as to why the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016.
The reason, according to the former UKIP leader, was EU migration to Britain, an issue he says has not been addressed adequately by Barnier or his opposite number David Davis, himself a leading Leave campaigner in the lead-up to the 2016 referendum.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, Theresa May’s latest cabinet reshuffle is set to lead to the creation of a new post: the minister for a no-deal Brexit.
The move is designed to show Brussels that the prime minister really believes what she says about no deal being better than a bad deal… but it says just as much about the UK’s chances of getting a deal worth having in the time that is left (less than ten months, according to unofficial roadmaps that take into account the time necessary for the ratification in 27 parliaments).
Quite what this minister will do – and how long they will survive if a no-deal Brexit turns out to be as disastrous as many people expect – remains to be seen.
The lucky occupant of the post has not yet been announced, but what better candidate could there be than Farage himself? After all, his supporters have been calling for his efforts to be recognised with a government post since the unexpected Leave victory in the referendum.
Farage is perhaps the best-known and most successful British politician never to hold national office. Five times he has failed to become an MP in Westminster – once even losing to a man dressed in a dolphin suit.
For almost 20 years the European Parliament has offered Farage the very best in ultimate comfort: a platform where he can rant and rail to his heart’s content without the slightest risk that he may one day have to make good on a promise. His term as an MEP will end next spring and, having recently pronounced himself to be financially ‘broke’, a ministerial salary would boost his coffers.
Rewarding him with the job of minister for a no-deal Brexit – a poison chalice of his own making – would be a good way to recognise his hard work and a timely cold shower for British Eurosceptics.
Theresa May says her cabinet reshuffle is designed to make the government better reflect the diversity of the country it serves. Several big names are out, but Boris Johnson, David Davis and Philip Hammond are going nowhere.
Angela Merkel, who appears to be running out of options to form a stable government, has started five days of talks with centre-left grand coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD).
Berlin’s next government will face increasing trouble with Eurosceptics unless the EU is seen to punish governments that step out of line. Political analyst Cornelius Adebahr told EURACTIV that Brussels’ lax response to the sins of Poland and Hungary is fuelling anti-EU feeling in the bloc’s biggest country.
Germany’s “debt clock”, a stunt launched by tax lobbyists 22 years ago to shame the government into cutting public spending, has started counting down for the first time – by €78 per second.
The EU will invite Iran’s foreign minister for talks over the recent anti-government protests that saw 21 people killed and hundreds arrested.
Africa’s farmers are looking to production contracts to guarantee their livelihood, whatever the weather.
Italy’s finance minister has said a left-right coalition is still on the cards as the country stares down the barrel of a general election that could see a hard-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi come out on top.
Peter Sutherland, who served as Ireland’s European Commissioner in the 1980s, died yesterday at the age of 71.
Look out for…
Commissioners Andrus Ansip, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Věra Jourová, Julian King and Mariya Gabriel are meeting on Tuesday with representatives from a large group of online platforms, which are at the center of a heated fight over removing hate speech from social media.
Views are the author’s.