Theresa May looking embarrassed and awkward as European leaders appear to make a point of ignoring her at last night’s EU summit is such a good symbol of Britain’s place in the world that Number 10 is going to struggle to shake it. The footage, of course, was rather selective, with other clips showing the Prime Minister deep in conversation with European colleagues. But the picture plays in to anxieties about Britain’s standing after Brexit, and also anxieties about whether May will really be able to sweet talk EU leaders into giving her the deal that she wants.
The Prime Minister told leaders that she wanted an early deal on the status of Britons who live in Europe and EU citizens who live in the UK. But she left without giving a press conference, which didn’t exactly help diminish the impression that things weren’t going her way. The selective footage of an awkward Prime Minister is one thing that Number 10 can’t control, but press conferences are entirely within Downing Street’s purview. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was left giving a read-out of what his British counterpart had told leaders. This is an odd lack of control from an operation that has already frustrated ministers and the press alike for being rather more controlling than that under David Cameron. And it is odd that May wouldn’t want to give a public statement having raised an issue that so many people in this country are deeply anxious about.
Number 10 cannot really control the talks between May and EU leaders, and neither can it control the way EU leaders receive the Prime Minister when they are peeved by the Brexit vote.