Donald Macintyre's Sketch: David Cameron comes up against a class act


In the comic-strip fantasy “How Dave leapt to freedom in one bound” this is how Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to London goes.

Jacketed in Conservative true blue, she is given the works: address in a packed House of Lords Royal Gallery – a rare privilege, apparently, for a mere head of government, as opposed to a head of state.

Conveniently, one wall is dominated by Daniel Maclise’s vast 19th-century mural The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo commemorating the British/Prussian dishing of the French.

And the Robing Room, where she attends an ultra-VIP reception after the speech, has imported yet more art glorifying Anglo-German friendship – some sketches by Prince Albert, a reminder of the Royal Family’s Saxe-Coburg antecedents.

Then, unlike poor Françoise Hollande – an actual head of state – who was bundled off to a local pub, she is invited into Dave’s flat, where she poses a little awkwardly on the sofa long enough for the PM to tweet a picture, before being whisked off to a Downing Street lunch of beetroot and goats’ curd salad with citrus dressing (you have to wonder about this choice but it may be a Merkel favourite) and Newlyn stone bass.

And later, the coup de grâce: tea with the Queen!

By now she is so overwhelmed with gratitude that she is up for anything our hero needs. Repatriation of powers? Opt-out from the social contract? Kein problem, mein liebe. Major treaty changes to allow domestic parliaments a veto on EU legislation? Naturlich, Prime Minister. Anything you need to win that 2017 referendum and get those rebels off your back!

Except the last part didn’t happen. Instead she proves to be a rather class act, charming to a fault about her welcome and as unlikely as you would expect from the EU’s dominant politician to be deflected by it from her purpose, which, unhelpfully for the current Tory party, includes continued European “unification”.

Where her hosts shrunk from doing so, she mentioned war quite a lot – first to “bow my head before the victims of those two horrible wars” and thank Europe for its “readiness to forgive”, but secondly to recall the EU’s role in embedding 70 years of European peace. Asked at the press conference if she considered Cameron her “naughty nephew” she looked stony faced.

But having tried to be helpful to Cameron on “benefits tourism”, and invited to tell the PM he had no chance of getting what he wanted, she gave a kind of shocked smile, cocking her head to one side, part mumsy, part coquettish. Which was about as encouraging as it got. Asked by a German reporter about her welcome as “the queen of Europe” she deftly pointed out she was going to see a real queen. Which is why she was wearing royal blue. So not even her fashion choice was much comfort to the PM.