The politics of suing the EU - part of a game?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“For as Steve Bannon said in 2016, 'I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’ Theresa May, as well as the EU, stand in his way..”  

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There’s a good reason why UK Prime Minister Theresa May, wore a pained grimace when Donald Trump said at their joint press conference at her residence Chequers that he had given her some special advice on how to deal with the European Union.

And it’s the same reason why a more composed May turned the pressure back on Trump two days later, when she revealed that the advice was for Britain to sue the EU over Brexit.

The reason is that, as Anthony Arnull notes, May realised that the ‘advice’ would have been tantamount to collapsing the talks, almost certainly producing a ’no deal’ Brexit. Within the negotiations, the step is legal nonsense, since such action is for a member remaining within the organisation, not for one leaving it. Politically, it is just as whimsical — what exactly would the UK be suing for? — except for slapping Brussels in the face and walking away.

But May knew something else that she didn’t reveal on that Sunday following Trump’s visit. The Prime Minister knew that Trump’s declaration was part of a game, one in which he and some of his advisors are playing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit — even if that means replacing May in their attempt to weaken and possibly break up the European Union.

Trump’s ‘advice’ was part of an extraordinary attack on May on the eve of their meeting. In an interview with The Sun newspaper, he declared that he would have been far tougher than she, walking away from the negotiations. And, as Trump portrayed May as weak, he praised Boris Johnson — the hard Brexiteer who had resigned as Foreign Secretary three days earlier — as a ‘great Prime Minister’ because ’he’s got what it takes’.

That interview in turn was part of a wider plan. While Trump was at the NATO summit — trashing Germany and deriding other members with the falsehood that they ‘owe’ money to the US — and then meeting May and the Queen, his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was working out of a London operations room. Still allied with Trump, Bannon was meeting right-wing politicians and media outlets, talking about the EU’s depravity and the need for change in the leadership of European states.

Among those meeting with Bannon were representatives of Boris Johnson. The hard-right strategist also reportedly spoke with the camps of hard Brexiteers, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove, as well with Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party — and the British politician closest to Trump.

By Sunday night, as Trump was heading to Finland, Bannon was appearing on Farage’s radio program. The American was blunt in his call for a hard-right rising:

“You’re going to have to fight to take your country back, every day. Whether it’s Italy, France, England, or the United States. If we quit, they [the ’globalist elite’] are going to be in control….This is a war.”

Donald Trump’s call for the UK to sue the EU was not a finely-tuned legal strategy. It was a crudely-made political grenade, thrown into the media to cause smoke, confusion, and damage.

For as Steve Bannon said in 2016, 'I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’ Theresa May, as well as the EU, stand in his way.

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