Merkel and Macron slip out for beers – without The Man Who Made Brexit
EU summit: Nigel Farage dispenses his brand of bluster; Leo Varadkar is in his element
If there’s one man who enjoys a European summit, it’s Nigel Farage MEP, erstwhile leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip), and The Man Who Made Brexit.
Farage is in his element over here, conducting an unending series of interviews in the cavernous five-storey atrium of the Justus Lipsius building, temporary home to the several hundred visiting journalists.
He flits from camera to camera, microphone to microphone, dispensing his signature brand of wit, bluster, triumphalism and warnings to “get on with it, Mrs May!” to a dizzying array of interviewers, foreign and domestic.
During lulls in media engagements, he stands at the entrance to the hall, inviting further attention – which arrives, inevitably, before much time has elapsed. On Thursday he was also being followed about by a dedicated television crew who seemed to be filming a day in the life of Nigel, or something. (Watch out for it.)
Nigel’s TV crew spend the morning filming him being filmed by his interviewers.
His only break from constant media duty is an intermittent dash to the smoking cabin for gaspers and muttered confidences to his Irish confidante, sidekick and media booker, Hermann Kelly, who is also, as it happens, the mainstay of the Irexit movement. The best you can say of that is that it is an idea whose time has not yet come.
You feel that he’s going to miss all this, is Nigel. There was a poignant moment on Wednesday, when he arrived at the summit venue only to be refused access by security, due to a mix-up, wilful or otherwise. Security is ever-present at the summit, with the 4,000-5,000 attendees – staff, diplomats, journalists, officials, hangers-on, Nigel, Hermann, all the greats – subjected to security vetting, airport scanners and long stares from gentlemen with earpieces and short haircuts. They gave Nigel an especially long stare and told him his papers were not in order.
“Fifteen years I’ve been coming and it’s never happened before,” an outraged Nigel told reporters. “I’m hardly a security risk.” You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.
But there’s another chap in Brussels who loves summits as much as Nigel. Far away from the being hounded in the Dáil by Micheál Martin, or pestered by Shane Ross in the Cabinet room, Leo Varadkar exudes a glow of industry and satisfaction at these meetings of European leaders.
This wasn’t just one summit, Varadkar explained at his press conference on Thursday. There were actually several individual summits: the article 50 summit, the regular meeting of the European Council, the Euro area summit and the Asia-Europe summit. Actually, he left out the tripartite social summit (which preceded everything on Wednesday), and then there’s the Korea-Europe summit.
No wonder Varadkar, in his best blue shirt and green tie (green for Ireland, blue for the blueshirts) looked so happy.
After the summit dinner, the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the French president Emmanuel Macron, along with the leaders of Belgium and Luxembourg, slipped out for a few beers. (Not the only ones with this idea, it is true.)
Asked by a passing drinker how Brexit was going, Merkel replied: “Please, it’s a wonderful evening – let’s not spoil it with that!” They should have invited Nigel. He’d have livened things up.
Assuming he could get past the bouncers, that is.