Pro-EU Tory MPs have been in intensive talks with members of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrat party in Germany.
Angela Merkel’s CDU and the British Conservative Party were bitter opponents in the European Parliament after David Cameron disappointed Merkel by taking his party out of the pro-EU conservative group at the European Parliament.
But Tory MPs held meetings this autumn with CDU members in gatherings at Windsor in the Thames Valley and at Essen in the Ruhr Valley.
The Tories appear to have ratted on their old allies in the anti-EU group at the Brussels parliament.
Two foreign-born multilingual Tory MPs, appointed to key posts by Theresa May, travelled to Germany on a charm offensive that coincided with a party conference of the ruling CDU.
Greg Hands MP, New York-born deputy to the arch-Euro-sceptic Liam Fox at the department for international trade, and Mark Field MP, German-born Tory vice-chairman, joined five thousand CDU delegates at a dinner with Merkel staged in a converted aircraft hangar at Essen airport on December 6.
Both men had campaigned for ‘remain’ in the EU referendum and Mark Field had warned that
When the Article 50 talks begin on our exit deal, we would have few, if any, allies.
Mark Field’s German mother Ulrike was a wartime refugee from Breslau and Greg Hands once worked in Berlin as a swimming pool attendant and later at McDonald’s near the Zoo Station.
Field’s chief of staff Julia Dockerill was caught on camera in Downing Street last month holding notes of a Brexit briefing that included the words:
What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.
The Conservative Party used to be allies of Merkel’s German Christian Democrats in a conservative alliance with Ireland’s Fine Gael and the French Republicans, known as the European People’s Party – European Democrats [EPP].
But David Cameron shocked most of his MEPs in 2006 by ordering shadow foreign secretary William Hague to line them up at Brussels with ‘fruitcake’ parties well to the right of the EPP group.
The Tories had been campaigning in Brussels and Strasbourg against Merkel’s party since 2009.
Cameron’s decision to surrender to pressure from hardline Eurosceptic Tories like Liam Fox left the Tory MEPs in a group known as the European Conservatives and Reformists [ECR] along with the ‘racist and homophobic’ Law and Justice Party of Poland and the Danish People’s Party, whose MEP Morten Messerschmidt was convicted of publishing articles linking Moslems with rape, violence and forced marriages.
Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, an MEP of the allied Finns Party was convicted in 2012 of claiming that Islam “reveres paedophilia”.
The German allies of the Tories in the ECR grouping were AfD, Angela Merkel’s right wing opponents.
Ronald Gläser, a journalist and victorious AfD candidate in September’s Berlin elections, has described Winston Churchill as a ‘war criminal’ and asked in 2010:
What would have happened if the English had not declared war on us Germans for no good reason in 1939?
The group expelled the AfD in April for links with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria [FPÖ].
Trade Minister Greg Hands said his visit to the CDU conference in Essen was
part of a long-term relationship between two sister parties, which has been made more immediate by Brexit. We want to continue to have good relations with the German government and with the CDU and CSU in particular.
The international trade minister tweeted a picture of himself at the Zollverein School of Management and Design at Essen, overlooking the preserved winding gear of Shaft 12 of the former Zollverein coal mine, named curiously after the 1834 customs union that preceded German unity. Shaft 12, once the most productive in Germany, is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The winding gear, designed by the architect Fritz Schupp, has been described as ‘the most beautiful coal mine in the world’. Shaft 12 opened in the home city of the Krupp family in 1932, the year before Hitler seized power.
The bilingual David McAllister MEP is a former prime-minister of Niedersachsen and a rising star in the CDU, with a Scottish father. He told the Financial Times:
The British are starting to reach out. They’re reaching out to MEPs for obvious reasons, because the commission and council officials will be talking to them. That’s common sense, a sensible thing to do for the British.
I travel to the UK at least once a month trying to speak with as many politicians as possible. Out position is obvious: that the ball is in the British court. We’ve really closely followed the British debate trying to figure out what their position is. They’ve still got a long way to go.
Remarks by Greg Hands about the CDU and the Tories being sisters triggered suspicion in Berlin, Brussels and London this week that there is
either a very serious split between Hands and his department chief Liam Fox
or Hands has confidential permission from the prime-minister to start looking for a U-turn on Brexit.
That would be the ‘treason against the will of the people’ that the Brexiteers have dreaded since the moment Theresa May was parachuted into Downing Street.
Hans Blomeier, London head of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a political foundation named after the great post-war German chancellor and now funded by the German taxpayer, has also been mending fences with the Tories.
Blomeier invited Mark Field to an English Oktoberfest gathering of German, Swiss and Austrians and members of the Cities of London & Westminster Conservative Association, an event featuring German beer and traditional German snacks and music.
The topic for discussion was described as Merkel and May – Challenges and Opportunities for German-British Collaboration in post-Brexit UK.
For three days in October, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung hosted their annual ‘German British Dialogue’ at Oakley Court in Windsor, attended by British MPs, members of the German federal Bundestag, academics and public affairs professionals. They listed the topics for discussion in a Facebook posting:
The KAS now owns the famous Villa Collina at Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where Konrad Adenauer stayed for long Italian summer holidays when he was chancellor of West Germany.
The 27,000 square metre grounds of La Villa Collina are near the actor George Clooney’s 22-room Villa Oleandra at Laglio.
Adenauer, seen above bowling at La Villa Collina in 1958, sided with de Gaulle to support the fateful French veto that excluded the United Kingdom from membership of the European Economic Community in 1963.
As Oberbürgermeister of Cologne he was twice sacked for his outstanding qualities and independence, first by the Nazis and again after the war by the British occupation forces under Brigadier Sir John Barraclough.
Yet 53 years later, as Britain’s place in the European Union hangs again in the balance, the Adenauer foundation invited Tories to confidential summer meetings with the politicians of Adenauer’s old party on the terraces of his favourite Villa Collina.
The confidentiality of the Cadenabbia meetings has been described by the Tory peer Lord Hunt.
A place of magic and enchantment, where politics for once implies engagement and friendly rivalry rather than animosity and where confidences can be shared in the certain knowledge that they will go no further.
Whether Theresa May knows what was being discussed over Italian wine in the long afternoons at Villa Collina is unclear.
But it appeared this week that David James ‘Mac’ McAllister, bilingual MEP for Lower Saxony, vice president of the European People’s Party and a Hanover lawyer born in West Berlin in 1971, has been better briefed on Brexit plans than any one of the Westminster backbenchers now waiting patiently and fearfully for the UK Supreme Court to decide whether they can have a say in the biggest issue in Britain since 1940.
Pictures of La Villa Collina from the Bundesarchiv and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.