Before the Welsh countryside walk that apparently triggered the election, Theresa May promised to engage with EU leaders during two years of Brexit negotiations. What she sought, she insisted, was a “deep and special partnership”.
But that was then. Now she’s on a war footing, fighting an election called out of narrow self-interest. That means she needs to position herself as a strong defender of British rights, charging across the Channel to give Johnny Foreigner a damned good thrashing.
And that’s how we ended up with a British Prime Minister accusing EU officials of trying to interfere in the outcome of the General Election, of briefing against Mrs May in the hope someone else will win and make the whole thing go away.
Leave aside that fact that, to foresee any other outcome than a Tory landslide would require a total absence of political nous. What impact will the Prime Minister’s allegation have on those Brexit talks? How much goodwill do you earn when you accuse your nearest neighbours of engaging in Russian-style interference in domestic politics?
We don’t know if Jean-Claude Juncker’s version of last week’s dinner in Downing Street is true, if he really did tell Mrs May she was living on a different planet. But, given Number Ten would only say the talks were “constructive”, his remains the most comprehensive account available.
True or not, his posturing has played straight into the Prime Minister’s hands. Central to her election campaign is the idea that the scheming Brussels bureaucrats ranged against her plan to punish the British people, and only Theresa May can stand up to them.
Mr Juncker could not have done her a greater favour if he’d spent a weekend handing out leaflets in marginal constituencies.
She is now able to contrast her “strong and stable” approach to the EU to Jeremy Corbyn, inviting voters to imagine him sitting across the table from 27 other leaders.
Were it not for Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservatives wouldn’t have risked this election. And it’s thanks to his failings as a leader that Mrs May is able to throw around accusations like the ones aimed at the EU without electoral consequence.
The sweeping gains the Conservatives seek will have to come from towns and cities in the north, Midlands, south Wales and Scotland — places where the Conservative name often remains toxic.
That’s why it’s missing from so many Tory leaflets and posters. Instead, candidates announce that they “stand with Theresa May”, whose face and name dominate the campaign.
This putative personality cult is aimed squarely at working class Brexit voters, natural Labour supporters, who probably rather like the idea of a British Prime Minister bopping Fritz on the nose.
Declaring war on Brussels may be lousy diplomacy, but it’s very good politics.