Why do the British turn to the Germans in their moments of European trouble? It never works. When Jacques Delors conceived his single currency plans, Mrs Thatcher over-relied on Karl Otto Pöhl at the Bundesbank to squash them. Dr Pöhl preferred to side with Helmut Kohl. When Britain was struggling to stay in the ERM in the late summer of 1992, the Major government put faith in what they thought were German promises to help them out. These failed to materialise. When David Cameron sought a new EU deal which would win him the 2016 referendum, he placed his greatest hopes in Angela Merkel, who offered him concessions so feeble that even he quickly gave up trying to sell them.
Last week, Mrs May flew to Berlin. There is nothing wrong, of course, with trying to reach over the head of Brussels to do some bilateral diplomacy with a great European power, but what seems to have happened is that she shared her forthcoming negotiating plan with Angela Merkel before unveiling it to cabinet colleagues at Chequers. She even confided more in the German chancellor than in her then Brexit secretary, David Davis. This slight contributed to his resignation. At Chequers, I hear, one of her responses to suggested changes in her blueprint was to say, ‘No, that’s not possible, because I’ve already cleared it [the existing text] with Mrs Merkel.’
You do not have to be anti-German to think this a foolish way of behaving. You have only to reverse the situation and imagine how odd we would think any Germans who came asking us for help with their political problems. On Brexit, the Germans are against us — not out of malice, but because they are determined to see their national interest and the EU interest as the same thing, whereas we see them almost as opposites.