Brexit made an unlikely hero of Angela Merkel for Britain’s remainers | Rafael

Angela Merkel is used to being unimpressed by British prime ministers. She was appalled by David Cameron’s casual surrender of influence in Europe, all to placate fringe elements in his party. She was stunned, on first sitting down with Theresa May, to discover that there was no plan and no substance behind the “Brexit means Brexit” platitudes.

With Boris Johnson there was no danger of disappointment. His style and methods were known in advance to be everything Merkel is not. He is a bumptious improviser; she is a systematic problem-solver. She sifts evidence and builds consensus. He tells lies and divides to rule.

Johnson is also the last of five Downing Street occupants that Merkel will have dealt with over 16 years in office. A successor will be identified in elections on Sunday. When it comes to getting the measure of successive prime ministers, only Queen Elizabeth II beats the current German chancellor for depth of experience.

By the length of her reign, Merkel has acquired something like regal status not just in Germany but across Europe. She has been an anchor of continuity in an age of extraordinary volatility. She has helped navigate the EU through cascading crises, usually with tactical patches that defer hard strategic choices. The merits of that technique, and whether it can continue without Merkel’s personal authority, are disputed on the continent.

But in Britain Merkel represents something different, based on a more selective reading of the record. She is an icon for remain-voting liberals, who have experienced the past few years as something more traumatic than normal electoral defeat: more like exile.

That feeling derives in part from the fundamentalist dynamics of Brexit. The leavers denied it at first, but there was no way to accomplish their ambitions without banishing pro-Europeans and burning the things they held sacred. It was a domestic cultural revolution in which definitions of “Europe” were not always connected to international realities, or the actual EU. That was especially true of the paranoid hallucination of Brussels as a colonising oppressor. In reaction, many remainers fell into romantic embrace of the European project’s founding ideal – integration as insurance against war and the antidote to nationalism. That principled pro-European narrative informed Ted Heath’s determination to sign Britain up, but did not feature much in political debate thereafter.

Merkel makes a handy figurehead for that conception of Europe. She exudes rationality and pragmatism, which casts her as a natural opposite to demagoguery and populism. In 2015, she gambled on hospitality to Syrian refugees. In 2016, she greeted Donald Trump’s election victory with a barely coded rebuke, offering cooperation on the basis of shared values: “democracy, freedom and respect for the law and human dignity independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views”. He repaid her with venom. She has been the world’s most powerful woman on a global stage groaning under the weight of swaggering men. She was the grownup in the room when Britain and the US looked like twins having a transatlantic…

Read More: Brexit made an unlikely hero of Angela Merkel for Britain’s remainers | Rafael

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