Chris Moncrieff: EU’S bully-boy tactics may be blessing in disguise for Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit

The disgraceful way in which the EU bully-boys treated the prime minister at the Salzburg summit will have won her some sympathy from her Tory Brexit critics - but that sympathy will not morph into support for her Chequers proposals.

But it does signal a far more belligerent approach towards the stubborn and grasping EU negotiators. Dominic Raab, the splendidly outspoken Brexit secretary, has served notice that Britain will not be dictated to by Brussels.

In short, the deplorable behaviour of the EU leaders, which was insulting to the UK as well as the prime minister, may well have been a blessing - in that the UK is already serving notice that it will not tolerate any more high-handedness from Brussels and metaphorically, at least, start to thump the table more robustly, as the intensity of the negotiations steps up in their final stages.

A lot, of course, depends on the response the prime minister receives at the Tories’ conference in Birmingham.

I suspect it will be a lot warmer towards her than most of the Conservative anti-Brexiteers would have hoped. That should spur the prime minister on to demonstrate forcibly to Brussels that they cannot run rings round her or the UK. Let us hope so.

Labour have every right to demand an early snap general election over the Brexit debacle, but I suspect it will fall on deaf ears.

Do they really believe they will persuade Theresa May to repeat the same grave error of judgement as last year? She assumed, catastrophically, that the Tories would emerge from that snap election with a Commons overall majority in the 60s, but finished up without a majority at all.

She had foolishly ignored the advice of some of her wise advisers not to hold an unnecessary election, and had also under-estimated the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn with voters.

The prime minister has now learnt her lesson. And Mr Raab has firmly rejected the idea of an early election. “It’s for the birds,” he said. “It is not going to happen.”

However, it is more refreshing to see Labour at last attacking the party’s natural enemy the Tories - certainly at the start of its conference in Liverpool - than to see them tearing themselves to bits.

The country needs a battling opposition, rather than one that is inward-looking and obsessed with self-harm.

The withering description by David Cameron of Ukip as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly” seemed to some people a little harsh at the time. No doubt the then prime minister was seriously worried about the extent to which Ukip would attract into its ranks otherwise potential Tory voters.

After all, in those days, Ukip represented the views of what turned out to be the majority of voters at the Brexit referendum. In fact, Ukip played some part in getting the referendum to happen at all.

But since then, when the party appeared to be a useful and serious addition to the British political scene, Ukip has degenerated into a ragtag and bobtail outfit, sliding dangerously towards the extreme right of British politics. If this continues, it will gain a reputation like that of the National Front and the English Defence League, and disappear from the landscape.

Politicians and their speech-writers spend hours of agonising,brain-wracking thinking up startling sound bytes to find their way into the headlines of the following day’s newspapers.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and his team were patting themselves on the back when they thought up “erotic spasm”, which they thought was a marvellously derogatory description of Brexit.

But alas, poor old Vince, failed to get his tongue and his larynx around the phrase and, he spat out something which sounded like “exotic sprezm”.

He was mortified, especially as the newspapers splashed on his gaffe and paid relatively scant attention in many cases to the rest of what he regarded as a massively important speech at their party conference.