Brexit Diaries 27: Speech week and the return of George Soros

Theresa May and her ministers are aiming to heal Tory divisions with a series of speeches. Meanwhile, George Soros was hounded on Brexit in the UK press and the EU's chief negotiator has issued a stern warning to London.




This will be the great week of speeches. Whether they will be great speeches remains to be seen but this oratory excess is meant to heal Tory divisions about Brexit. This is mission impossible before anybody in London has even opened their mouth.

A civil war in the Conservative Party about nationalism, Britishness, immigration and other intractable notions cannot be ended by a couple of speeches. Hatred runs deep and it is tribal. In the end the political landscape will be devastated and nothing will be solved.

Read more: How a hard Brexit could hurt Germany

One winner in the upcoming war of words, however, is already known. Among the ministers slated to talk this week, including Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson is the only talented speaker. The foreign minister will preach to the nation about optimism and hope, one of his aides announced. Viewers can expect a number of learned quotations, soaring rhetoric and lots of "alternative facts." Boris earned a reputation for never letting the truth get in the way of a good story way back when he was a young journalist in Brussels. And Brexit is Boris' biggest story to date.

George Soros will not give up easily

Last week billionaire investor George Soros gave 400,000 pounds (450,000, $550,000) to the anti-Brexit group "Best for Britain." This should be not particularly noteworthy, as the Leave campaign had received over 24 million pounds from some of Britain's richest people: Among them right-wing UK Independence Party financier Arron Banks, investment billionaire Peter Hargreaves and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. The ultra-rich detest the European Union, probably because its rules impede their quest to become even richer.




Soros has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling government in Hungary

So what is a few hundred thousand from Soros? The finance tycoon is of Hungarian and Jewish descent and that seems to change everything. When Nick Timothy, former adviser to Theresa May, kicked off a campaign in Brexit-supporting newspaper The Telegraph, a heated debate ensued over whether or not he had used anti-Semitic tropes, prompting comparisons with the smear campaign against Soros in Hungary.

Read more: Who's bigger on benefits, Germany or the UK?

Hungarian Prime Minsiter Viktor Orban clearly uses the EU and Soros as punching bags and an excuse for his increasingly right-wing radical politics. But British headlines triggered by Soros' donation did not fall far short in venom, either: "Man who 'broke Bank of England' backing secret plot to thwart Brexit" wrote The Telegraph, which described him as a "rich gambler accused of meddling in nation's affairs." And the Daily Mail called it "tainted money." So why is Soros' money more tainted than that of other, Brexit-supporting billionaires? The suspicion is all too obvious.

Soros, however, is not defeated that easily. Instead, he donated another 100,000 pounds to "Best for Britain" and in the Mail on Sunday deplored "the toxic attacks" against him and his foundation. Welcome to the wonderful new world of global Britain after Brexit.



Nothing is ever easy

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier sent a pointed message to London last week. If the "substantial disagreements" on the transition period persisted, reaching a deal at the EU summit in March was "not a given." The disagreements concern EU laws coming into force during the transition period, and the rights of EU citizens arriving in the UK at that time after the transition ends. The legal question might be solvable, but citizens' rights remain a hot potato.

Theresa May has a fixation on immigration. She wants to deny the right to remain to people who arrive in the UK after Brexit happens in March of 2019. Brussels has said that if the political and legal status quo is kept in place until the end of the transition period in 2020, a change in rights would not be condoned.

Read more: UK and EU on collision course over residency rights

The two sides are at a stalemate. May wants an easy success after Brexit. The EU side cannot let her change the rules as she pleases. There are four weeks left to find a solution. British business organizations have announced they would trigger contingency plans if no transition agreement is in place next month. But let's hear the speeches first. Maybe all questions will be answered.

Brexit Diaries 27: Speech week and the return of George Soros - DW