As the Brexit deadline looms, Europe remains wary of the poker player behind the clown mask
He is clever, cultivated, charming; witty, self-deprecating, wildly entertaining and oh so terribly British. Also dissembling, dishonest, dark, duplicitous, and a danger to his country and to Europe a poker player whose bluff is about to be called.
As Boris Johnson settles into his new role, vowing, do or die, to take the UK out of the EU without a deal in 90 days unless the 27 nations ditch an accord that took two years to negotiate, European politicians and commentators are both fascinated and appalled.
Like many people, I was easily charmed by his demeanour, his self-confidence, his intelligence, said Han ten Broeke, a former Dutch MP specialising in EU affairs. Hes a pleasure to listen to. I have a soft spot for Britain, and Boris was one reason why.
Ten Broeke has since revised his opinion. The charm, the intellect, the confidence it all now looks a lot like over-confidence, he said. A promise of simple solutions to complex problems. And it could have disastrous consequences.
The EU27 will give little, if any, ground on the withdrawal agreement, he said, and the costs of no deal are many times greater for the UK than for the EU. So I can see only one reason Johnson might pursue it. A cynical, dark reason: new elections, to win a new mandate – putting party before country, at a truly existential moment.
Another lifelong anglophile, Andr Gattolin, the vice-president of the French senates European affairs committee, said the new prime minister had carefully cultivated a caricatural image the hair, the gags, the flags, the zip-wire, the provocations.