Extraordinary. It truly is. Its three weeks to Brexit and the writers and editors across the board of our MSM apparently have given up Brexit for Lent. Alternatively, of course, it’s entirely possible that they’ve decided, collectively, not to publish anything about Brexit for the coming days because there’s nothing happening …
Well, all right, there was one happening: the Attorney General had to present his adventurous trip to M EU Barnier in the HoC – but that was only good for some ‘parliamentary sketches’ (here and here, both paywalled).
I simply cannot resist to quote from one of those sketches:
“Despite days of talks with him on Brexit, EU sources claim that they still aren’t sure what Geoffrey Cox wants. If so, this raises some very serious questions. The first one being: are they deaf? It’s the only explanation. Because otherwise, they would surely be in no doubt. After all, the Attorney General has a voice that makes Brian Blessed sound like Frank Spencer. It BOOMS, BOOMS like a mighty VOLCANO! It ROARS with the WRATH of a conquering STORM! Strong men COWER like tremulous RABBITS, while FOES seek REFUGE and pray for the DAWN! […] MPs sought reassurance on the Irish backstop. What progress had there been, if any, in securing a legal codicil? Mr Cox replied in his inimitable fashion. “It has come to be called COX’S CODPIECE!” he boomed, with unsettling relish. “What I am CONCERNED to ENSURE is that what is INSIDE the codpiece is in full working ORDER!” MPs blinked and stared. For a moment, a dazed silence reigned. “Well,” said the Speaker, at last. “I hope everybody heard that.”
And now you know why using CAPITAL LETTERS in text is deemed to be SHOUTING …
Apologies for this piece of levity. Back to ‘normal’ – for example, that the EU yesterday demanded Ms May present something new by the end of business today (paywalled, here):
“EU officials have reportedly given the Government 48 hours to table fresh proposals after talks between Geoffrey Cox and Michel Barnier failed to find a solution despite the fact MPs will vote on the Brexit deal on Tuesday. […] A senior figure in Emmanuel Macron’s French government claimed the UK had not actually made a formal offer to the EU on proposed changes to the backstop. EU officials are open to working over the weekend to break the stalemate but it is thought new ideas must be received from the UK by the end of Friday.” (my bold)
Well, good for the EU – if they’re working over the weekend, we can look forward to nice gossipy leaks from ‘sources’ in the weekend papers … Personally, I wonder if that ‘senior figure’ was one of those visiting Mr Grieve yesterday. Closer to home, Ms May however is allegedly showing the hint of a spine, sort of:
“Theresa May will today tell European Union leaders it is in their interests to agree a new divorce deal as she battles to keep Brexit on track. […] “It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.” (source)
I did say ‘hint of a spine’ … one might also say that it’s a bit late for her to point the finger at the EU.
Far more worrying are two reports, one on Ms May’s Remain ministers, one on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Phil Hammond. RemainCentral, i.e. The Times (paywalled) writes that said Remain Ministers have warned Ms May that she will lose ‘control of Brexit’ next week unless she holds “a series of humiliating votes on alternatives to her deal if it is defeated a second time.” Yes, well, we know that, so why does it need reporting? Because these ministers think one mustn’t blame the EU, perhaps? As always, the meaty part is somewhat hidden:
“British negotiators claimed last night that the EU was exaggerating the remaining obstacles and said they had already won significant concessions. Martin Selmayr, the EU’s most senior civil servant, hinted at an eleventh-hour deal.” (paywalled link, my bold)
Perhaps the deathly silence in our MSM about Brexit which I mentioned above might be due to a sort of unofficial D-Notice?
In an opinion piece today (paywalled, DT) Fraser Nelson points the finger at the largest obstacle to Brexit, Mr Phil Hammond:
“Hammond has always regarded Brexit as a disaster – and a no-deal Brexit as the worst outcome of all. […] Rather than make no-deal sound viable, he wishes to make it sound a terrifying act of national self-harm. A few horrifying Treasury “scenarios” would do the job nicely – and the Prime Minister would have no choice but to sign whatever deal the EU offered.” (my bold)
Hammond’s and the Treasury’s attitude – to thwart Brexit any which way possible, but especially by stymying no-deal-planning – has been well documented. Therefore it surely is just a ‘most unfortunate coincidence’ that the Head of “No-Deal-Planning” will leave on March 31st:
“The civil servant in charge of Britain’s no-deal Brexit preparations is to leave the civil service two days after he may have to put those plans into effect. Philip Rycroft is to take early retirement from his job as permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union on March 31. A senior Whitehall source admitted that the timing of Mr Rycroft’s departure was “not ideal” but that it was a decision that had been taken months ago when it was assumed a Brexit deal would have been finalised.” (paywalled source)
If this retirement was ‘already planned’, with Mr Hammond doing all to thwart a no-deal-Brexit, then this means that Whitehall has been certain for months that they had the WA-BRINO in the bag. Keep that in mind in the coming days, when Ms May will be twisting in the wind, with another defeat in the HoC.
Mind you, I bet even the Whitehall top civil serpents are now in a bit of a panic because an extension to Article 50 is not really what they want either. We’ve learned from Martin Howe QC that this is preferable to Ms May’s WA (here), which apparently upset Cabinet ministers. Use the points made in that original article – and don’t forget to firmly blame Whitehall. It’s not just the MPs who want to abolish our 17.4 million votes!
21 days – three weeks – to Brexit.