Monday, January 23, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 23.1.17

Starting off positively . . .  There's excellent news about Spain's Iberian lynx population. Read it here.

But rapidly changing tack . . . Don Quijones tells us here that the infamous Spanish banking 'community' is still trying to cheat customers out of the money owed to them. With considerable help from the Spanish government, it hardly needs saying. Some of those vast illegal bribes that end up in party coffers and personal pockets must surely come from this large and 'successful' sector of the economy.

A propos . . . . British politicians are demanding that UK banks don't re-initiate charging for the use of ATMs (cajas). I can't see this sort of opposition ever appearing in Spain, where this restoration took place some time ago, without notice of any sort to anyone. Adding millions overnight to the bottom line of the banks' P&L accounts. That's the Spanish way, where companies clearly see themselves as having few obligations to their customers and where - as I've said recently - consumer protection is still relatively weak against the self-serving politico-commercial nexus.

All of which has reminded me of this citation from Lenox in last week's issue of Business Over Tapas:- "The Government would veto any price reductions from the power companies, since the tax income would fall”, says the Budget Secretary. “It’s just incredible”, confirms the Vice-President of the Fundación Renovables, “They penalise any kind of saving, direct or indirect”. 

To say the least, opinions on Brexit differ, lying as the do on a spectrum from one extreme to the other. Equally so in respect of Mrs May's speech of last week. Here's The Guardian on the cold reception of the Spanish media and political world. But – at the end of this post – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that realistic, common-sense attitudes are now being struck by Europe's business and political leaders. As he begins:- The Brexit drama has taken an unexpected twist. Britain's strategy of full withdrawal from the single market and from the EU institutions has been remarkably well-received. If this is true and  if - to be blunt - the Germans are happy to go along with the Brexit, who will care much about what El País or President Rajoy says?

Today's foto: Some rules to live by:-


Finally . . . My younger daughter is possibly not the best-organised person in the world but she does try very hard to be. Exiting the bathroom this morning, I noticed she had a day-today week-planner on the back of the door. Though it wasn't quite up-to-date. Her final entry - under the heading The Best Things of the Week - was the heart-warming Dad here! But this, of course, was a week ago. As they say . . . A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first steps . . .

BREXIT

Europe learns to like 'hard Brexit' and a good British ally: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The Brexit drama has taken an unexpected twist. Britain's strategy of full withdrawal from the single market and from the EU institutions has been remarkably well-received.

Contrary to fears in some quarters in Britain, the pursuit of a 'clean and hard' Brexit has if anything helped to clear the air, greeted with a degree of relief by political and business leaders in Europe.
What has changed the mood - apart from the passage of time - is the parallel pledge by Britain's leaders to stand beside Europe as a close strategic and military ally, playing its full part in upholding a rules-based global architecture. 

There were signs at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the anger of recent months is slowly draining away, replaced by an acknowledgement of Britain's distinctive history and character. The imperative now is to limit the damage for all sides and find a way to make the new arrangement work. Not all divorces end in hostility.

Emma Marcegaglia, head of the pan-EU federation BusinessEurope, said the no-nonsense nature of Britain's decision may prove to be the best outcome even if it is hard to accept on an emotional level.  

"When I first saw Theresa May's speech my reaction was very bad, and I thought this is going to cause serious problems for British companies and for the rest of us," she said. "But after thinking about it I now feel that her position is very straight and clear. In a certain sense it clarifies the situation. There could now be a good free trade agreement, like the Canadian arrangement with access for both sides and social protection," she told the Telegraph. "It is all so sad. We're going to miss the role of the UK in defending free trade and competition. The British commissioner was always a crucial ally for us in Brussels. But it is done now, and we just have to accept it," she said. 

Belgium's ardently pro-integrationist foreign minister, Alexander De Croo, said the die has at last been cast and perhaps this is for the better. "At least the British have made up their minds and we now have some clarity. It was obviously not going to function if the UK had wanted to stay in the single market but seek controls on free movement," he said. "People say we want to punish Britain but that is not the case at all. I don't like the result but it is what it is," he said, insisting that the imperative now is to prevent a destructive rupture that would be in nobody's interest. "If you live in a street with neighbours, you want the next-door house to be well-maintained. It is never good if the building is broken down and in disrepair," he told the Telegraph.

For months the agreed script parroted by EU ministers from across the 27 states was that the UK must not be allowed to "cherry-pick" bits of EU membership that it wants. 

This EU holding strategy was never coherent, given that Britain has deep military, security, and cultural ties with Europe that go far beyond the single market. It has now been overtaken by events. The new script - with some discordant notes from Malta, Slovakia, and others with limited experience of global statecraft - is that the EU has no intention of retribution.

Italy's new premier Paolo Gentiloni said Europe will approach the Brexit talks in a spirit of "solidarity and friendship with the UK", while is his Italian compatriot Mario Monti - Europe's elder statesman - said the air had finally cleared over recent days. "We're getting down to business without any residual acrimony. So much in common remains," he said in Davos.  Mr Monti argued in the aftermath of the Brexit vote that it would be "collective suicide" for the EU to let the UK get away with Europe 'a la carte'. This concern has not entirely gone away, but is now fading. The likelihood of "British contagion" has diminished. 

French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, insisted that "we don't want to punish the UK. That is not the position of France." Whether or not he means this, his government will soon be gone, probably replaced by 'souverainiste' leaders with less purist views about the EU Project.  
Europeans listened with some scepticism to Theresa May's speech in Davos: a 'recycled' version of her Lancaster House talk two days earlier, was the verdict of the Suddeutsche Zeitung. She assured them that Brexit was not aimed at the break-up of Europe. "I want the EU to continue to be strong and I want to continue to have a close and strategic partnership with the EU. With the threats we face it’s not the time for less co-operation.”

Some sniffed insincerity. But these doubts are lessening as it emerges that Mrs May really does intend to champion the cause of Nato and the integrity EU itself in her forthcoming talks with US President Donald Trump.

Suddenly the value of Britain as a mid-Atlantic interlocutor has acquired some currency again, and in the most surprising way. Her promise to champion the EU cause from the outside is being seen in European capitals as the first step in a new British-EU relationship that could conceivably be better than at any time in recent years.

While Mrs May's speech to the global elites won only polite thin-lipped applause, her pitch for a free-trading Britain open to the world did succeed in shifting the needle of perceptions. The Chinese media - heavily present in Davos - wrote widely about her 'charm offensive',  lavishing praise on her defence of globalisation. 

The American media has been slower to grasp the point, in many cases misled by a reflexive conflation of Brexit and the Trump phenomenon. Yet the penny is slowly dropping. Chancellor Philip Hammond stressed in Davos that there was "no anti-trade rhetoric, no anti-globalist rhetoric" in the UK campaign. "One of the tenets of the Leave campaign was more trade with the rest of the world. It was absolutely the opposite of what happened in the US," he said.

Mr Hammond was something of a hit in Davos, gamely taking part in two hard-hitting seminars. He avoided the common error by WEF novices of posturing, instead getting into the spirit of a soft-spoken intimacy that plays better at this unique venue . His reassuring manner helped to dispel lingering worries that Britain has been taken over by Poujadistes and tribalist nutters.   

Most striking was the friendly tone from Germany, doubly so coming from the famously irascible Wolfgang Schauble, the country's super-finance minister. He has clearly found a soul-mate of sorts in the British Chancellor. They are both serious men.

"Phil Hammond and myself, we totally agree,  we have to manage this decision by the British people in the best way. The UK remains a very important partner and we will do whatever we can," he said. 

"We have to minimize the damage for the United Kingdom and Europe. The German government will work in the negotiations always in this direction, to minimize any risk for both of us," he said. 
Mr Schauble is scarcely a man given to shallow romanticism. He is doggedly determined and hard-headed. He warned that the coming talks with Britain will not be a bed of roses. 

What looks hopeful, however, is that the worst poison of Anglo-European relations may at last have been drawn.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 22.1.17

Maybe if you live in the UK you're inured to it but every time I visit I'm angered to be asked in bars, in respect of my wine order: "Would you like a large or a medium glass". Always in that order, to make you feel pathetic for going with the latter. I sometimes ask if there's a Small option but usually stop after a while as no one realises it's a piss-take. They just see me as even more pathetic. And poor. Of course, even a medium-sized glass of wine is already phenomenally expensive by Spanish standards.

Here, in Spanish, are the 25 things which an American visitor found odd about Spain. Briefly:-
  1. Everyone smokes
  2. There are bars everywhere
  3. People have social security and can see a doctor without private medical insurance
  4. There are red-haired Spaniards
  5. No one has a clothes-drier
  6. Names are confusing. A Spanish tortilla is not the same as a Mexican tortilla.
  7. Everyone still has their friends from childhood
  8. There are a lot of car and taxi lanes
  9. There are lots of older people. 'It could be these are hidden away in the USA'.
  10. There are lots of small shops. And no Walmart.
  11. Plane tickets are very cheap. And public transport works well.
  12. There are various official languages in daily use.
  13. The check-out people in the supermarkets are sitting down!
  14. The Spanish pronounce US brand names totally differently from English speakers [Witness the audio]
  15. Every city has its own saint and virgin
  16. Joder is used here much more than fuck in the USA
  17. Spaniards have an awful lot of public holidays and vacation time.
  18. In many places in Spain, people turn to look at a black person
  19. Clothes are very cheap. Zara is an expensive store in the USA
  20. There are no such things as bank (savings) books - libretonesin the USA
  21. Football is practically a religion here
  22. There are jamones hanging in bars!
  23. There is a much greater variety of meat and seafood than in the USA
  24. The people are much more liberal and open than in the USA. They easily accept other people. Your origin is not so important here.
Of course, this list says rather more about the USA and its differences with every European country than it does about Spain.

I rather liked this retort, despite the absence of a comma after 'you'. And the comma that should be at least a semi-colon. Plus, in my view, there should be a hyphen between 'whiny' and 'ass'. Which should, of course, be 'arse'.:-



So . . . someone's parents raised a semi-literate.

Finally . . .  A nice comment on President Trump, from my elder daughter:-



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 21.1.17

Well, there was snow in Torrevieja this week, for the first time in over 100 years. I suspect the residents won't feel there's been much global warming going on there this winter.

What would I do without The Local?:

Spain's unemployment news continues to be both good and bad. 

Regular readers will know not only that Spanish utility prices continue to soar ever upwards but also that the government stops you compensating by using the sun via solar panels on your roof. And that: The price of actual power to the end consumer is only around 35% of their bills, with 40% being the standing charge and 25% taxes and charges, meaning it is very difficult to save money by reducing use. It's interesting to hear there'll be an official inquiry into the possibility of a cartel. Though you'd have to be a supreme optimist to think it'll do any good.

I was delighted to read last night that a film about a surfing trip in Galicia had won first prize at a British festival. Until a friend pointed out it was only the London Surf Film Festival. But anyway, here's something on it, including a nice 7 minute video extract. It's called Road Through Galicia. And the scenery and sunsets look as great as they are.

To be even-handed . . .  Here's a few fotos of Asturias, where I was Friday and Saturday. Given the hills and  bends, you never know what's around corner in this adjacent region. Sometimes the town of Tineo. This is especially true if you go in the right direction, i. e. towards it:-

From the same place I took  a foto of verdant scenery last spring:-


Ditto, but looking upwards at a wooden floor that doesn't look any safer a year on:-


For those not familiar with the images I mentioned yesterday . . .  Here's The Madonna and Child:-

And here's La Pieta.


The difference is not terribly subtle . . . .

By the way . . .  My son-in-law later made the same mistake as my daughter and he's just as religious as she is. What on earth is the Catholic world coming to? I'm forced to ask. It was far more knowledgable when I was a part of it. Which stands to reason I guess. And reason is good enough for me.

Finally . . . An apt true story:-

A ship ran into trouble in the Persian Gulf.  
The captain ordered the crew to gather round. 
"Anyone one know the correct prayer to Allah to save a sinking ship?" he asked. 
"Yes, I do!" said one earnest-looking young man. 
"Good", said the captain. "You pray while the rest of us put on life jackets. We're one short".

Friday, January 20, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 20.1.17

As in other Western countries, Spanish partners are not procreating enough to secure the future of their grandchildren. One near-term result is the plummeting of primary school numbers. See here on this. This is a huge reversal from the Franco subsidised 'large family' era and, if you want to read a jeremiad(realistic?) view of how this and other nations will be affected, read this book.

The growth of the Spanish economy last year was 3.2% but it's forecast to fall to around 2.3% this year. If you believe this sort of thing, it'll fall further to 2.1% in 2018. Macroeconomically speaking, this is impressive relative to the rest of the EU but, as I keep stressing, down at the micro level things are far from good - structural problems, sky high unemployment, continuing corruption, etc., etc. Nonetheless, President Rajoy is adamant it's time for Spain to return to the top table and to tell everyone how to do things as successfully as he's done. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

In the political arena, the great hope of the (far?) left - Podemos - continues to suffer from a very public spat between its No 1 and its No 2. Which must make said Sr Rajoy smile a bit.

As noted yesterday, the UK bought into the EU for very different reasons from the old war-mongering, invasion-devastated enemies, Germany and France. And so has never been, to say the least, a comfortable subscriber to the political dream of a European federal superstate. The Brexit article at the end of this post starts with this premise but moves to stress that the factors which have finally driven the UK out of the EU will continue to have an impact on the remaining members. So, it should reform or die. But history doesn't justify much optimism as regards the former. Though you never know. Imminent death, as they say, concentrates the mind. Or should do, even among bureaucrats as well as politicians.

Today's cartoon, forwarded to me by an Anglo-German friend after it appeared in a German newspaper this morning:-


Finally . . . 

Kids! 1 : My lovely neighbours, Ester and Amparo, bought me a scarf for my recent birthday. I thought this was very sweet of them but worried it was a tad . . . well, feminine. But I checked with the staff of my regular bar and they all poo-poohed this notion. So, imagine my surprise when almost the first thing my daughter said to me when we met was: “I think you should ditch the scarf, dad. It's rather gay”. Kids, don't you just love 'em. Fortunately, my son-in-law disagreed with her but I suspect he was primed.

Kids! 2: Conversation with said daughter:-
Han, I love this foto of you with Gracie asleep in your arms. It reminds me of paintings of the Madonna and child.


Wasn't Jesus dead though? 
No, sweetheart. You're confusing it with the 'Pieta'.
Oh, yea.
The clue was really in the word 'child'. In the case of the Pieta, Jesus is very adult. And dead.
I hope you're not going to put that in your blog tomorrow!
Don't worry.

By the way . . . I'm the atheist; she's the Catholic . . .

Brexit Article

Eurocrats think Britain is an exception. But the forces that drove Brexit are coming for them too     Jeremy Warner, The Telegraph.

Rewind 50 years: it was 1967, and for the second time that decade, the French President, Charles de Gaulle, had said “non” to British membership of what was then the European Economic Community. Politically and economically, Britain was incompatible with the structure and ambitions of the common market, he said, and he warned that if British membership was imposed, it would lead to break-up of the EEC.

His fears look today to have been more than prescient; indeed, he was right on all counts. It might have saved everyone an awful lot of trouble had his view prevailed. What’s more, his suggested alternative of a purely commercial relationship with Britain – “be it called association or by any other name” – looks very much like what the May Government is asking of Brussels today.

For Britain, membership of the EU was never anything more than a pragmatic, or economic, endeavour; it was about little else than free trade and getting along with the neighbours. Few Brits ever shared the federalist vision of the project’s founding fathers. That’s always been a problem for the EU. For many Europeans, Britain has long seemed a difficult and reluctant partner, constantly frustrating the ever closer and deeper union of “manifest destiny”.

The loss felt by Europe’s established elites over Brexit is therefore mixed with a certain sense of relief, that finally after all these years a troublesome and disruptive cousin is about to leave the room. The lesson they are inclined to draw from Brexit is not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the EU, but that Britain had never properly bought into it in the first place. The fault is seen to lie with the UK, not the EU.

This is a huge mistake, if also an entirely predictable one that reflects the still delusional levels of self-belief prevalent in much EU thinking. Like the House of Bourbon, the EU establishment seems blind to the discontents massing at its doors. There has been no obvious attempt even to understand what led to Brexit, still less to act on the lessons. The same concerns – immigration, economic failure, distant government and increasingly alien law making – are common to the whole of Europe, and yet the EU simply ploughs on regardless. Making Britain suffer for leaving is seen as more important than answering underlying concerns. It’s an almost wilfully self-destructive approach.

Even in Germany, which arguably benefits more than any other nation from the European Union, the pressure for change is at boiling point, with the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland achieving 16 per cent support in recent polls. If sustained in an election, it would destroy the post-war German political contract, which has thus far made the emergence of any significant Right-wing threat to the centrist Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union party all but impossible.

The dangers are even more evident in France, where exactly the same forces that gave rise to Brexit and Trump are present in magnified form – de-industrialisation, increasingly insecure employment prospects, loss of national identity, and growing alarm over immigration. In Britain, the Tories have cleverly managed to harness these complaints to their own purposes. Theresa May calls it “change and conserve”, a long-standing Tory approach to upheaval which helps explain why the Conservatives have proved such a durable force in UK politics. There is no party more pragmatically adaptable than the Tories. Hey presto, a vote which was at least in part a scream of rage against globalisation, put through the Prime Minister's mangle, becomes reinterpreted as a vote for “global Britain”.

This type of bend-with-the-wind leadership is proving much more problematic for the established centre ground of Continental politics, wedded as it is to fulfilment of the European project. Angela Merkel, the German leader, has been quite visibly traumatised by the election of Donald Trump, a political leader who seems to desire the destruction of the European Union almost as much as Vladimir Putin.

Friendless and increasingly isolated, she is like a rabbit frozen in the headlights, incapable of answering the now evident insurgency sweeping the continent around her. Religious adherence to the EU’s “four freedoms” rules out any move backwards towards a Europe of more sovereign nations; by the same token, fear of the electoral consequences make it impossible to move forwards to the politically-integrated Europe necessary to salvage the Continent’s ill-advised experiment in monetary union.

Into this void step the vehemently anti-EU Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and France’s Marine Le Pen. We are told there is little chance of either of them gaining power, but exactly the same thing was said of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In both countries, there is a sneaking admiration for Britain’s willingness to grasp the nettle, as well as a growing belief that too high a price is being paid for European solidarity.

Something big is happening. For better or worse, the established political and international order, born out of the ravages of the Second World War, is drawing to a close. Only the EU’s high command seems stubbornly unwilling to listen, and change course accordingly.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 19.1.17

Life in the UK 1: I go to the coffee machine in the café of a large department store. There is no decaff and no 'regular' coffee. But there is a 'White Americano', which is a an oxymoron. An Americano is long and black. (No tittering, please). And there's the inevitable Latte. So, I take take a White Americano and this, of course, turns out to be a regular coffee. Or café con leche.

Life in the UK 2:  I go to pay the (exorbitant) bill for 2 coffees and a scone and, when the lady is giving me my change, this conversation ensues:
Ah, while you have the till open, could you give me a 5 pound note for these 5 [ridiculously heavy] pound coins, please?
No, I can't do that. I can only take out what I put it. [???]. And - pointing to the ceiling - there's a camera up there watching me.

Life in the UK 3: Being more positive . . . I was able to get large prints of a foto on my camera via bluetooth from a machine in the cobblers-cum-key-maker's shop in the lobby of the store. And there was free internet throughout the store. And in the supermarket next door.

As it's Thursday morning, I can hat tip Lenox of Business Over Tapas for the following 3 items:-

Being badly treated as a guiri in Spain. See here for an example of this. I have to say that my experience is the very opposite. Most obviously because I'm a nice guy but also, I suspect, because we Spanish-speaking guiris are still rather exotic in Pontevedra. Or even in Galicia as a whole.

The Spanish Traffic Police: To regular readers of this blog - or even to those who only started on it a week or two ago -  it'll come as no surprise to read here - in Spanish - that the traffic police these days are far more interested in fining you than in helping you in any way. Or even just letting you off with a warning.

Good news here on discounts in Spain for those youngsters who are 65 or more

Is it only me or does anyone else keep sending watsap messages to the wrong person, because it's stuck on the last person whom you wrote to and not the person who's just written to you? Or vice versa. Perhaps.

Today's foto. Rolling Asturian hills:-


Finally . . . Mrs May's Monday speech on Brexit has been scorned throughout Europe and a vast array of negative adjectives has been chucked at it. Indeed - as I said yesterday - even such an avid Brexiteer as Richard North has dismissed it in very strong terms. But there is another way of looking at it and here it is. Surprisingly, perhaps, by Simon Jenkins of The Guardian. The unvarnished truth is that Brexit is a gamble and no one but no one has any idea whatsoever how the negotiations will go. It may well be that, if things look really bad in 2 years' time, Brits will be asked to vote again on exit. Meanwhile, though, all the dire predictions about the British economy after the referendum shock have proven wrong. Which, to say the least, is interesting. The pound fell, of course, but rose this week. It's all about sentiment. And that's what Mrs May was bent on affecting, in my view.


This is Brexit poker - and Theresa May was right to up the stakes

The siege of Harfleur was a disaster for the English. Henry V was humiliated and had to abandon his march on Paris, turning instead to confront the French cavalry at Agincourt. Here he faced overwhelming odds but decided to rely on bluff, cunning and Welsh archers to rescue a shred of glory from his European venture.

Theresa May must hope she is somewhere between Harfleur and Agincourt. She is embarked on a seemingly life or death project, its outcome wholly unpredictable. It was not of her making, but that of David Cameron and the British electorate. She has two months to go to invoking article 50, at which point she will find herself between 27 European Union devils and the deep blue sea. Small wonder that on Tuesday she decided on bravado and Shakespeare, goading her ministers “like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot.”

In setting out the terms of engagement, May had no option but to hang tough. That is what her EU opposite numbers have been doing for six months of virtual denial of Brexit. Much of Brussels still does not believe it will happen, while Europe’s elected politicians at least sense that anti-EU sentiment is growing in their backyards. There are stirrings of a peasants’ revolt, with votes for pitchforks. The last thing they want is a crowing, preening British leader seeking “to have my cake and eat it”. Hence their cursory treatment of May in her few EU encounters so far. To them, she is toxic.

That is why the prime minister clearly felt the need to lay the revolver of “hard Brexit” on the table, to tell the Brexit deniers that Britain would be just fine on the deep blue sea. She threatened them with a trade war and fiscal blitzkrieg. She threatened an offshore Singapore, a Grand Cayman, a 51st state of America, a thousand City traders unleashed on Europe’s banks if “passporting” is denied. Much of this was bravado, but jingoism was the tactic of the moment.

There is no way Brexit can avoid going “soft” in the course of negotiation. As the veteran historian David Marquand said last week, Britain is “part” of Europe in so many ways that amputation is not an option. But there are reckless forces behind hard Brexit, on the right in Britain and among EU finance houses that might benefit from it. The fanciful timetables in May’s speech, notably on trade, may serve to spur her troops into battle, but the spectre is not of hard or soft Brexit but of shambles.

Behind the poker table bluff is realism. The prime minister has already indicated flexibility on migration, on which topic all Europe, left and right, is in a state of panic. She regards membership of the single market, even of a customs union, as going beyond her referendum mandate. But she still wants a “comprehensive, bold and ambitious trade agreement”, something called “associate membership of the customs union”. This sounds like a one-sided Platonic affair, which is nonsense. And it will soon have to be resolved.

Britain will need to avoid a “cliff edge” in two years’ time on matters such as finance, fishing and agriculture. This means markets that may require British payments to join. It may mean European court judgments Britain will have to accept. May knows this. Nor is it realistic to rely on a deal with Donald Trump as substitute for open trade with Europe. Britain will need some association with the EU. Beyond that platitude, all is up for grabs.

The reaction of Europe’s leaders to May’s speech was significant. Most welcomed a sight of even vague red lines. The EU’s Donald Tusk acknowledged her speech as “realistic” and “pragmatic”. The official response from the president, Jean-Claude Juncker, was full of bland words such as fairness, respect and hope for “good results”.

The chief EU negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, warned against cherry-picking, but it depends which cherries he is talking about. Picking cherries is precisely what May feels she has been told to do. If she gets none, the British people will eat their own. But deals there will be, slithering backwards from hard towards soft, not as far as the single market, towards what I imagine will be called an “accommodation”. Wheels are starting to turn. Money talks. [As it always does]

Commentators pretend to clairvoyance. They supposedly come unencumbered by prejudice or tribe, confronting the options of those in power with fierce scepticism. They can seem glib. But I have never thought politics easy. Elected politicians must forever wrestle with “the crooked timber of mankind”. For them to succeed is rare, to fail normal. I admire them for it.

In that light, I cannot recall a tougher peacetime task for a modern politician than now faces Theresa May. Europe had blighted British leaders for six centuries or more. The most successful, such as Elizabeth I, Walpole, Pitt the Elder, Gladstone and Salisbury, struggled to avoid its snares and were stronger for it. The EU ultimately wrecked three recent prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. It would have done the same to Tony Blair if Gordon Brown had not saved him from the euro.

Membership of the EU was never necessary to British prosperity. The country’s overall trade in goods with the EU is not large, and the much larger trade in services is mostly unregulated by Brussels. Britain could survive hard Brexit, and if some of the gilt is shaken off the flatulent City of London it might be no bad thing.

The politics of Europe are a different matter. They have always been fragile, and are more so today than for a long time. I voted to remain in the EU because the eurozone is a disaster and Germany needed an active British presence to help rescue Europe from this ghastly mistake. The threat to Europe is not of war but of nastiness, of a fractious turning in of states on themselves and degenerating into poverty and anti-German hostility. Europe needs Britain’s diplomatic engagement never more than now.

For all the drum-banging, May’s performance on Tuesday was not unfriendly to Europe. It was the first sign she has shown of coherent leadership. No one – I doubt if even the prime minister – can know where this leadership is heading. That is the curse, and the glory, of referendums. 

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