Theresa May might have thought she had dodged a diplomatic bullet yesterday by declining to back Poland’s rival candidate to Donald Tusk, but it has left the Polish feeling betrayed. “Where was the UK in Brussels?” foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, fumed in a message to the Telegraph’s Peter Foster hours after Europe voted Mr Tusk back in as president of the European Council by 27-1. The row could not be more awkwardly timed for Britain, as it is days away from triggering Article 50 and will need all the allies it can get. It also threatens to take the sheen off a year-long diplomatic charm offensive, which included an official visit this coming July to Poland by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The diplomatic fallout will be most deeply felt by Poland, but Foster warns that it won’t be helpful for Britain’s Brexit talks. “The risk for Britain is that if Poland continues in this angry and distracted vein, the much-vaunted new UK-Polish relationship may shift from being a potential diplomatic asset in the coming talks, to a something of a liability,” he writes.
In the meantime, the latest European Council summit drew to a close in Brussels with some upbeat talk from EU officials. Jean-Claude Juncker held out the hope that “the day will come when the British re-enter the boat”, adding: “I don’t like Brexit because I would like to be in the same boat as the British”. He didn’t seem too sad to see Britain leaving the EU boat though, explaining that it “is not the end of the European Union, nor the end of all our developments, nor the end of our continental ambitions.” Theresa May had to leave these talks early, so the other 27 nations could consider their future after Brexit. Mr Tusk, fresh from his re-election, confirmed that the EU would be ready to respond within two days of Britain triggering Brexit under Article 50, and declared that the “unity of the 27 will be our most precious asset” in the Brexit talks. Poland’s attempt to oust Mr Tusk showed how the interests of member states can diverge.
The Brexit Bill is on its way into law, as ministers are quietly confident that they could avoid a rebellion by MPs over the Article 50 bill when it returns to the Commons on Monday, which means that the legislation could clear Parliament shortly after. If that happens, Mrs May will soon get to see how united the 27 stay under pressure.
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