You can only play the team in front of you. The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May wanted the centre right contender Francois Fillon to win the French presidential election. A thoroughbred pragmatist, he was considered the best bet for Brexit negotiations. After his elimination in the 1st round, Downing Street expected, rightly as it turns out, and hoped, that the centrist, and political newcomer, Emmanuel Macron to be President. He is considered more palatable, and less of a wild card, than the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
Mrs May took the precaution of meeting Macron at No 10 Downing Street during his campaign, he even popped next door to see Chancellor Philip Hammond. She now hopes that will pay off with a constructive dialogue.
It won’t be easy, Mr Macron has described Brexit as ‘a crime’ an incentive to kill the EU, promised ‘tough consequences’ for the UK, and hopes to lure big companies from London to Paris. All is fair in love and diplomacy, so he will also have a direct line to the EUs steely chief Brexit negotiator – and fellow Frenchman – Michel Barnier.
Despite this, the UK’s Brexit team will not have their heads in their hands.
Firstly Macron is likely to be a weak President. His newly formed party ‘En Marche!’ (Onwards!) will have few MPs in Parliament after the June general election. This means ‘cohabitation’ – a sharing of power with the biggest party, probably the centre right Republicans. This restricts his choices for Prime Minister and other positions and thus makes the Cabinet, in practical terms, his equal in many decisions. So we must wait to see that team.
Both President and Prime Minister will have their hands full domestically dealing with a crisis ridden France. Internationally, saving the Euro takes precedence over the Brexit deal. We don’t know who the Chancellor of Germany will be after the autumn elections there, and as the dominant partner in the Franco/German relationship, the Chancellor will be the driving force in the end result of Brexit.
Finally, overlooked, due to flamboyant language such as Brexit being a ‘crime’, are his pragmatic statements such as looking forward to defending the ‘special relationship…..between Great Britain and France’. Sound familiar? – there’s a faint echo of Mrs May’s ‘deep and special relationship’.
There will be a way forward, but it will be tough. The other thing they agree on is that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. That cuts both ways, and if it takes ‘punishing’ the UK to save the EU that is the probable route Macron will support.