Wednesday 19 July
While the Brexit secretary has quietly and shrewdly gone about his business during Article 50 talks this week, the media has been revelling in a game of misdirection.
Amid all the cabinet leaks at home and the mudslinging in Brussels, it is easy to be distracted by the noise and continue to despair at this supposedly Brexit government’s lost majority. But appearances can be deceiving. As this week, the first spent at the negotiating table in Brussels, progresses, a different picture to the one spun by the media has emerged.
Oh, how they rejoiced when, on Monday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator was photographed with a folder stuffed with notes opposite David Davis with nothing but his hands in front of him. There was more to come, Davis then had the audacity to leave Brussels at the earliest opportunity. It goes without saying, the pointless motion put forward by Labour that Davis was able to help defeat shortly after alighting from the Eurostar did not get the same level of coverage. Equally, little consideration was given to the plain and simple fact that government ministers do not preside over the nitty gritty of treaty talks.
That evening, Politico gleefully reported a warning from unnamed ‘EU diplomats’ that Barnier was willing to stall on the negotiations if the UK did not come forward with its own plans for the loathed financial settlement the EU is desperately angling for.
An incontrovertible truth no member of the press corps seems compelled to say out loud is the EU’s preference for conveying all meaningful information via back channels. The EU would argue to the contrary, citing its published preference for the European Court of Justice to continue to preside over EU citizens’ rights, but that was entirely predictable.
Given that the UK Government has met the EU’s citizens demands nearly word for word, by far the most important information to come out of Brussels over the past twelve months have been whispers of a Brexit bill starting at €30bn before escalating rapidly to €40bn, €60 and then €100bn. Barnier did intervene, on the record, saying the EU and the UK should work towards a methodology towards calculating the total amount, which was totally meaningless.
In view of the EU’s opaque communications, it is entirely sensible for Davis’s negotiating team to simply sit and listen attentively to how much the EU believes it is owed and why. A tactic that should be celebrated, but there are no cheers to be heard from the media.
As for Barnier’s tactics, the common understanding is that he will use disagreement over the bill to put a squeeze on the precious negotiating period towards a replacement trade deal, forcing the UK into a bad deal and weak government into a second referendum. Contrary to the state of affairs presented by the media, trade negotiations have in fact already begun. The ground is being laid this week for the WTO to recognise the UK and the EU as separate entities. And running down the Article 50 clock will do no-one any favours. As this campaign has stated on many occasions, the UK’s trade deficit with the EU is just too large to put in jeopardy. Barnier knows this.
All of which explains why the EU and Remainers’ main line of attack has been limited to propaganda. In Brussels, hopes of a second referendum have turned to expectations. British voters are far more realistic in their outlook, but the Establishment clearly intends to rock confidence to breaking point. Last week it was Blair sounding off on his website and being interviewed on Sky News, this week it was Davis’s supposed hopelessness at the negotiating table, the onslaught will continue – balanced out by victories at the negotiation table? Forget it.
The Remainers should consider what happened last time a line of experts and all-powerful leaders were thrust into the campaign spotlight one-by-one to tell the British electorate what to believe, they lost.