David Frost, ‘our man’ against ‘Mr EU’ Barnier
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the small change in today’s title for this column! It’s because today we’ll report about Brexit and the Brexit trade negotiations as the latest talks ended yesterday – with no results. There will be some CV-19 ‘news’ further down, but for once we can take a break from the endless little reports about this pandemic.
RemainCentral this morning ‘dedicated’ just one report to this event. Perhaps even their Brussels correspondents are a bit stunned by the posturing of ‘Our Michel’. Perhaps they were as surprised by David Frost and his team’s press conference as the Brussels correspondents of the other papers were. The DT yesterday afternoon reported in one of their live blogs on the Barnier pronunciations, swamped later by the government daily COVID-19 press conference (link, if you’re interested – you have to scroll down a lot).
However, for once even the hard-core Remainer Brussels correspondents seem to concede that Barnier was, well, block-headed. Asa Bennett (not a Remainer) in the DT points out that this time round the EU negotiator was out-played by David Frost:
“If Michel Barnier thought his update on the state of post-Brexit negotiations would go in similar fashion to last month, when he was able to freely wax lyrical about the wisdom of the EU’s demands and deplore the audacity of what the British wanted, his British counterparts sorely proved him wrong. Rather than leave the EU’s chief negotiator to give his take on the talks first, so that the media can spread it far and wide for hours before any holes can be picked in it, David Frost rained on his parade.” (paywalled link)
Mr Frost did this by holding his PR conference first. You can read his speech here (scroll down a bit). Mr Frost also said that his team will now publish all the text and papers they’ve been working on (link). You might recall that non-publication of papers and texts was one of the conditions on which these trade negotiations were started earlier this year. The EU has not kept to this rule.
It has now become obvious even to the Remain Brussels correspondents that the negotiations won’t end well if Barnier keeps being pigheaded. The Times describes the irreconcilable positions, pointing out that there are now only six weeks and one more round of talks before the deadline of 30th June – the date when Johnson would have to ask for an extension if “we” want to avoid that infamous ‘cliff edge’ of leaving with no deal on December 31st. See this:
“We made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues,” Mr Frost said. “It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. We very much need a change in EU approach for the next round beginning on June 1.” Mr Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator, said there was “incomprehension on the British side of the conditions for access to our market”. He added: “I’ve invited the UK to change tactics, to change strategy if they really do want to strike an agreement. There seems to be a real lack of understanding.” (link, paywalled)
As usual, it’s the UK which ‘must change tactics’, according to Mr Barnier who of course doesn’t need to do any such thing! The lack of understanding he bemoans is however to be found on the side of Barnier and the EU. They keep playing the same records of ‘level playing fields’ and ‘cherry picking’, and how we Brits don’t understand Brexit. James Crisp (DT, Remain) cherry-picked some Barnier remarks which demonstrate nicely this Barnier-Think:
“The EU’s chief negotiator, who said he was “not optimistic” about reaching a deal, added: “To make progress in this negotiation – if it is still the United Kingdom’s intention to strike a deal with the EU – the United Kingdom will have to be more realistic. It will have to move beyond this lack of understanding and, no doubt, it will have to change strategy. You cannot have the best of both worlds.” (paywalled link)
‘One cannot have’? Ooh – the stern EU daddy has spoken! Actually, the ‘best of both worlds’ which we cannot have always means ‘best for the EU’. Then again, if one part of a negotiating team keeps saying ‘no, non, nein’, repeating their tired old phrases, we have to ask ourselves if Brussels actually prefers the negotiations to crash. See this:
“Mr Barnier suggested Britain could not have the same benefits as countries within the EU’s Single Market “without the same rights and obligations”. He listed UK demands for “virtually full freedom of movement” for short visits, recognition of professional qualifications for lawyers, auditors and accountants and recognition of UK-based labs to test products to ensure they match EU standards as examples of cherry-picking.” (paywalled link)
This is cherry-picking because it’s not the whole bang shooting match of ‘level playing fields’ Barnier wants! In contrast, see David Frost’s comment, as reported by Asa Bennett in the DT, noting that Mr Frost is throwing some of Barnier’s usual complaints straight back at him:
“Despite sharing legal texts and fleshing out British demands with relevant precedents made crystal clear, the UK’s top negotiator lamented that “we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues between us.” The chief sticking point cited by Mr Frost was the EU’s beloved “level playing field” proposals, which he said needed to change for any deal to be done: “As soon as the EU recognises that we will not conclude an agreement on that basis, we will be able to make progress.” He indicated that the UK would continue plugging away in search of a deal, with the next round of talks looming in June, “for as long as there is a constructive process” – which risked being scuppered the “ideological” approach taken by Brussels.”(paywalled link)
The issue of our subjugation to the ECJ has been left out, carefully, because it’s a money-spinner for Brussels. We recall that the EU threatened us with ‘daily fines’ should French travellers be exempt from quarantine when/if Johnson imposes this on June 1st. They’ve found another issue:
“British taxpayers will be lumped with the bill for Brussels’ legal costs from the lengthy trial at the European Court of Justice. The Luxembourg-based court ruled the UK had breached an EU directive by failing to notify eurocrats of a zero-hand of VAT given to commodities traders. The legal action reinforces Boris Johnson’s argument for leaving the post-Brexit transition period when it expires at the end of the year.” (link)
Bad timing, this! These are the nit-picking Brusselocrats in full flow. It’s worth mentioning in passing that they’re also keeping their beady eyes on Germany – see this wonderful report in facts4eu. Brussels desperately needs to get more money! Back to the Frost-Barnier duel, with the rather interesting conclusion by Mr Bennett:
“Perhaps the increasing anger between the UK and EU is part of an elaborate pantomime to hide a massive cave-in over the coming weeks that will seal a last-minute deal. This rancour will certainly not help either side consider what concessions they could make. Mr Barnier is never going to get the British to change tack by issuing orders, while European leaders are instinctively going to rally around their negotiator in order to hold the Brussels line. The big question around the transition period has been lately, due to the chaos caused by coronavirus, whether to delay Brexit again. But […] the bigger question is fast looking like whether any deal can be done at all.” (paywalled link)
Yes – that ‘cliff edge’ is back in play! Since ‘that virus’ has been mentioned, I’ll segue elegantly into mentioning two COVID-19 news items. One is rather ominous, namely that council taxes will have to rise because councils are losing income thanks to Lockdown (link, paywalled). There is of course no question of council ‘CEOs’ taking a haircut to their extraordinary salaries and pension schemes! Pay up, peasants, even if you are going to have less money in your wallets because of the Lockdown consequences!
The other item is that ‘medical sniffer dogs’ twill be trained, to sniff out ‘asymptomatic CV-19 carriers’. I love dogs and I’m sure they can be trained to do just that, but the reasoning made my blood boil! LSHTM who will train these dogs said that:
“the scheme could form a highly efficient and non-invasive means of singling out the most dangerous people for spreading the disease.” (link)
I am speechless! This is the perfect way of setting people, already fearful, against each other by making them ever more suspicious about who might ‘give’ them that virus. What has happened in our country that people, scientists even, can think of such schemes, using language which aims to make people suspicious of invisible, ‘dangerous carriers’ everywhere.
There are days when it’s really difficult to
Photo by UK Prime Minister