EU Trump ‘crisis meeting’ a lot of ‘huffing and puffing’: Downing Street
LONDON — Stupid. Ridiculous. Hysterical.
Just some of the words used at the top of the U.K. government to describe Sunday night’s crisis meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, called last week amid widespread shock and alarm in European capitals at the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.
Boris Johnson, the U.K. foreign secretary, moved quickly to distance himself from the informal summit, rejecting the invitation to join the talks within 24 hours and warning his continental colleagues to end their “collective whinge-o-rama” about the U.S. election result.
In Westminster, there is barely disguised contempt at the “panic dinner.” It’s seen as an absurd overreaction, a diplomatically unhelpful gathering and, ultimately, simply as part of a wider move by the EU leaders to push ahead with European integration, particularly in defense and security, according to senior Whitehall sources who spoke to POLITICO Sunday.
Johnson and Number 10 see no value at all showing up on Sunday evening when a meeting of European foreign ministers was already in the diary for Monday morning. One government source said European diplomats should have been preparing for the U.S. presidential election for months — if not years — and any concern about NATO could easily have been covered in Monday’s gathering.
May sees the U.S. Trump’s election triumph as an opportunity for the U.K. and sees no value in setting up early barriers with Trump.
The U.K. has been buoyed by the skeptical reaction in other European capitals, particularly the French decision to stay away. In contrast, there is deep disquiet in the Foreign Office over the role of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the EU’s foreign representative, Federica Mogherini.
After receiving the invitation on Thursday, Johnson discussed whether or not to attend with the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. The pair quickly agreed that he not attend, according to a source familiar with the discussion. Johnson will be replaced by the U.K.’s EU ambassador. May sees Trump’s U.S. election triumph as an opportunity for the U.K. and sees no value in setting up early barriers with the president-elect.
The U.K. government officials privately admit that some of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements during the campaign were disconcerting.
“We just think this is all playing to the gallery,” a Whitehall source told POLITICO. “Why do this on Sunday night when you have a meeting scheduled for Monday morning anyway, unless you want as much media coverage as possible? It’s all about showing they are standing up to Trump. It’s huffing and puffing.”
The U.K. government officials privately admit that some of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements during the campaign were disconcerting, particularly his questioning of NATO and opposition to free trade. Senior figures in the government who spoke to POLITICO even accept that “difficult discussions” may need to be had in time.
However, Downing Street and the Foreign Office are “at one” that the U.K. must show it is open to Trump and willing to engage.
Fears in the EU that Trump will favor dealing with the EU at bilateral level instead of having contacts through Brussels are, emphatically, not shared in London.
The Foreign Office has quickly established good relations with senior figures in the Trump team, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, Senator Jeff Sessions and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he lost “no sleep” over Trump’s election win | Jean-Sebastian Evrar/AFP via Getty
U.K. government officials believe Pence will play a crucial role formulating Trump’s foreign policy. Johnson was the first foreign minister to speak with Pence since Wednesday morning, when Trump became president-elect. Senator Sessions and Gingrich are also in line to replace John Kerry as Secretary of State.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault — who has said he lost “no sleep” over Trump’s election win — has confirmed he is joining Johnson in staying away from the Brussels crisis talks. Asked to give a reason, he told Europe 1 radio that he simply “could not make it,” and that he would be present for a formal meeting of foreign ministers the day after.
“The meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is happening on Monday. For those who arrive the night before, there is an informal dinner. It’s not a ‘crisis’ dinner. I can’t make it,” he said, adding: “I will be in Paris Monday morning to meet the new secretary-general of the United Nations, the Portuguese António Guterres.”
A U.K. foreign office spokesman confirmed on Sunday that Johnson would not be attending the meeting. “There is a regular Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday where a range of issues can be discussed in the normal way,” the spokesman said.
“We do not see the need for an additional meeting on Sunday because the U.S. election timetable is long-established. An act of democracy has taken place, there is a transition period and we will work with the current and future administrations to ensure the best outcomes for Britain.”
Nicholas Vinocur and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.