Theresa May wields Belgian football shirt in PR blunder | Therese May
They say sport and politics don’t mix, and Theresa May will no doubt agree now. At the start of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, the British Prime Minister was ambushed by his Belgian counterpart, Charles Michel, who presented him with a top from the Belgian football team ahead of the Coupe du England-Belgium world.
May held up the Red Devils gang, before realizing it could be seen as a PR blunder. She tried to hide it quickly only so that the other leaders gathered around her would point fingers at the TV screens showing her reaction live in front of a packed room of reporters outside the leaders’ meeting room. . French President Emmanuel Macron appeared particularly amused by the jape.
The jersey – deployed by Michel in a gift box – had 10 on the back, perhaps a nod to May’s house in Downing Street or Belgium’s best player, Eden Hazard. To her credit, the Prime Minister appeared to take the incident with a good spirit, despite being known to be more of a cricket fan, with a penchant for Geoffrey Boycott’s slow but steady beat.
Michel then circulated Belgian football scarves to some of the other EU leaders. Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who admitted he would cheer Belgium on in their link with England, posed happily, as did Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker beamed as he was handed a scarf, with the match apparently taking on symbolic value at a critical time in Brexit negotiations.
The PM then gave Michel a replica of England’s shirt at a dinner where she addressed the other 27 leaders on her plans for the post-Brexit relationship. Handing over the summit to him, May told the Belgian Prime Minister: “Equalization”. She also brought souvenir T-shirts for her two children, with the flags of the two football nations on the front, and the date on the tie. A UK government source said: “The Belgian Prime Minister has clearly decided that he must intervene before the first whistle blows.
As for support for the England squad, there wasn’t much to see at the top. However, Varadkar later pointed out that a loss for England could, due to the vagaries of the group stage, ease the way for Gareth Southgate’s side to an unlikely second World Cup victory, avoiding a early game with Brazil. “It could be a win-win situation,” Varadkar told reporters of his decision to support the Belgians.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who was also present at the summit, tweeted Varadkar’s comments: “This tells us all we need to know. He is truly the yes-man of Europe.
Ireland, with the backing of 26 member states, is pushing for the UK to come up with a solution that will avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.
UK Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow was tasked with briefing the Prime Minister on the progress of the match with Belgium, host country of the European institutions, as the match clashed with the meal leaders.
Farage, watching the build-up of the match from one of the uprising bars in Brussels’ European Quarter, later described the draw with Belgium as a “grudge match”. Earlier this summer, in response to the MEP’s assertion that Belgium was not a real country, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt had spurred Farage on Twitter: “He’ll see what point Belgium is real when we play against England in the world. Cup!”
Farage told The Guardian: “Losing might be better for England, but the pride and machismo got the better of me.” He added that a victorious Verhofstadt is always “unbearable”.