Theresa May went to Brussels to see for herself the calm and rational world that Britain will be leaving behind when we Brexit….

In England on Friday, Theresa May racked up that most de rigeur of political milestones – her 100th day in office. Day 99 had been spent in Brussels where the Prime Minister had arrived amid assurances from Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, that she would be “quite safe” at her first European leaders’ summit. If it had been Donald Trump vouching for her safety, Mrs May would have known not to have gone to Belgium without a detachment of the SAS and some pepper spray in her handbag. Yet, without really knowing very much about him at all, one senses that Donald Tusk is a gentleman, from the old-school Polish aristocratic tradition.  If he says he will protect our leader from Matteo Renzi making inappropriate suggestions about sanctions on Russia, Viktor Orban backing her into a corner to talk about Hungarian casual labour on East Anglian fruit farms or even Angela Merkel trying to give her a Chinese burn, we should take him at his word. Certainly, Mrs May returned for her centenary celebrations unmolested, although equally, it must be said, unacclaimed. Her little after dinner speech on Brexit – delivered, as it happens in the first wee small hours of day 100 – was met, by all accounts, with total silence.

The Daily Mail’s Brussels correspondent thought that that was a good thing. At least she hadn’t provoked a riot. The Mail must remain relentlessly jaunty about whole Brexit business. If the foreigners had started to throw bread rolls, it could have called for war to be declared. If they said nothing, it must be because the silence was stunned by the force of the Prime Minister’s inexhaustible common sense. Another theory is that the other European prime ministers and presidents were under strict instructions from Mr Tusk to say nowt, for it is axiomatic across European chancelleries that there should be no negotiation before notification, that is the triggering of Article 50. Another theory is that they were all asleep. They had drunk and eaten well. Pan-fried scallops, reported the Independent, followed by crown of lamb. As to the pudding, Mrs May was the iced vanilla parfait that went with the roast fig, which is precisely what her colleagues didn’t give for her speech.

What the Prime Minister would have discovered, if she did not know it already, is that that group of politicians whom we are obliged to call our European friends and neighbours are not nearly as obsessed by Brexit as we are ourselves. No negotiation without notification is as much a coping strategy as a petulant one. It has the effect of putting the whole horrid thing to one side while they work out what to do about Russia, migrants, Calais, the euro, Italian banks, Deutsche Bank and, a relatively new entrant onto the slopes of the European impotence mountain, Walloonian intransigence.

The Walloons, for the sort of narrow-minded, self-interested reasons that European integration is supposed to have eradicated, are blocking an EU trade deal with Canada. This caused the Canadian trade minister to retreat back to Ottawa in a hurt and flustered fashion. “It seems evident”, she said, “that the EU is now not capable of having an international deal, even with a country which has values as European as Canada, even with a country as kind, as patient”. Taking on Putin’s megalomania is one thing, but if Europe is going to set itself up in opposition to the sheer global force of Canadian kindness, then diplomats need to be on their mettle. Still, credit to these French-speaking Belgians: seldom can a part of the world so meagre and underestimated have done more to puncture a pomposity as awesome as the smugness of Canada – a level of self-satisfaction that has grown ever more insufferable since they elected Trudeau.

Our own homegrown smug-detectors were on high alert after the Witney by-election; but although the Liberal Democrats increased their share of the vote at the expense of the Conservatives, their failure to capture the seat meant that smug levels were kept within acceptable bounds. It would still be possible to walk about in West Oxfordshire without gas masks after all, even at the expense of sending yet another Tory barrister to the House of Commons. The vote was variously interpreted as a personal repudiation of David Cameron, the departing MP, or as a consolidation of the forces of Remain. In the referendum, Witney had voted to stay, thus establishing itself as a small rural island of pro-EU sympathies in a turbulent sea of Leave.

In that respect, it has a lot in common with the Treasury. Whitehall itself has fallen to the barbarians. Its high-ceilinged salons and marble corridors are now the desmesne of Foxes, Davises and Johnsons, prowling around and looking for something to do. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, sits surrounded by these creatures, phalanxed by an inner wall of like-minded, pro-Remain mandarins. These were the men who once fashioned the bullets about the economic costs of Brexit that George Osborne so ineptly fired. (Mr Osborne was, himself, of course subsequently fired, though in his case eptly.)

This is not good for Mr Hammond’s reputation. He has been set upon by his fellow Tories for being insufficiently messianic in his desire to leave the European Union. One backbencher – believed to be the Vulcanic John Redwood – described him as a risk-averse accountant, which is not necessarily the cruellest thing you can say about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is not even the most influential Philip in the government, says another source – a reference to Philip May, the Prime Minister’s husband.

Philip II was still with us by the end of the week – something of a relief since earlier on “friends” had been reported as saying that he might be about to do something silly. But what does a risk-averse accountant do that is silly? Let the batteries run down on his calculator?  The Treasury and the Foreign Office, the two most important departments of  State, are thus occupied by men of strikingly different characters: Mr Hammond may be about to do something silly;  Boris Johnson never is, on the grounds that he is doing something silly already.
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