Here be civil serpents
Today, ministers of the 27 remaining EU member states will rubber-stamp the mandate for M Barnier’s negotiations. Our response will be finalised by the end of the week. In the run-up to these mandates, the first shots in the expected war of the words were fired by France.
There are however two other aspects to these talks which are slowly surfacing. One is the still ongoing election of the new Labour Leader – the result to be announced on April 4th. The other is the still ongoing war of the Mandarins against Ms Patel which has now received a new and potentially deadly twist. Below, we’ll connect the dots.
Firstly then, France. It’s a response to Johnson’s ‘Red Line’ which was announced from No10:
“In a significant toughening of the Government stance ahead the talks on a future trade deal, officials said the Prime Minister is to make “taking back control” from the bloc and ending the meddling of EU courts his non-negotiable “red line”. He will refuse to accept any deal that compromises the country’s “political and economic independence”, according to Whitehall insiders. Number 10’s unequivocal warning comes ahead of a crunch meeting of EU ministers today to try to settle on chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s mandate for the trade wrangle due to begin next month.” (link)
That ‘tough stance’, which is nothing but a reaffirmation that we will be out on January 1st 2021, seems to have triggered the French EU minister mightily. “We will not be blackmailed”, she declared. Joe Barnes (is he the only Brussels correspondent worth his salt now?) of The Express reports:
“Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin said the bloc wouldn’t strike an agreement “at all costs” because of the Prime Minister’s refusal to extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 31. Paris will not allow Brussels to “sacrifice” its farmers, fishermen or businesses in order to match the timetable set out by the Government. Ms de Montchalin made the intervention ahead of an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels to rubber-stamp Michel Barnier’s negotiating guidelines.” (link)
You can read a non-paywalled report on Ms de Montchalin’s outcry here. RemainCentral, under the click-bait headline – “We will not be blackmailed for sake of trade deal, French warn Boris Johnson” – raises expectations that we might read more about Ms de Montchalin’s words. Instead there’s a swipe at Johnson:
“Boris Johnson has said that he is prepared to sacrifice the interests of British business and walk away from trade talks with the EU if Brussels insists on a deal that compromises the UK’s “political independence”. Yesterday Amélie de Montchalin, France’s European affairs minister, said Paris would not be “blackmailed” into accepting a poor post-Brexit trade deal because of the threat of no deal.” (link, paywalled)
While I understand that France wants everything to remain as it is, especially the power to keep the Brussels boot on the UK’s neck, I do find it puzzling that now, at the end of February, the French regard the deadline of December 31st as blackmail, as threat. Wasn’t this agreed to in Brussels last year? Does France really believe they can somehow manage to get that deadline extended? Is this their secret instruction to M Barnier?
There’s more. Johnson is allegedly planning to get round those border checks for NI demanded in the WAB. These are only allegations, rumoured about in Whitehall, but they certainly have the EU in a tizzy:
“The European Commission warned the Prime Minister “respecting our legal obligations is very important for establishing trust” during future negotiations. A spokeswoman said: “The Withdrawal Agreement has been signed and ratified by both sides. It must effectively be implemented. In this context, as in all others, we’d expect our partners to respect their international obligations under national and international law. Obviously respect to the future and how this plays in the negotiation respecting our legal obligations is very important for establishing trust between two partners in a negotiation.” (link)
I note with amazement the repeated use of the expression ‘respect’, indicating to me that the EU has in realité got no counter arguments. The background to the EU moan is based on another leak from ‘senior sources’ in Whitehall, according to which:
“David Frost’s Taskforce Europe is working on secret plans to ensure there do not need to be checks on goods passing from British to Northern Ireland. A senior source told the Sunday Times: “There is deadly serious internal work going on about not obeying the Northern Ireland protocol.” (link)
I note in passing that this was leaked to RemainCentral where, it seems, looking after our interests as opposed to those of the EU is a heinous crime.
Meanwhile, the Mandarins of sieve-like Whitehall were trying to extinguish the flames of their war against Priti Patel. Some Remain MSM are however valiantly trying to keep the war alive. They report that, shock horror, another ‘official’ has been ‘forced out’ by that Home Office hard woman:
“A second senior senior civil servant has been forced out of the home office after falling foul of Priti Patel. The official, who was in charge of the department’s oversight of the police, is understood to have left in recent weeks. He is to take up a role in the Department for Transport while another official outside the Home Office has been drafted in to replace him.” (link, paywalled)
It doesn’t matter that this is perfectly normal, as they report in the same article. After all, wasn’t Sir Philp Rutman moved from Transport to the Home Office? The DM has dug up another ‘source’:
“A Home Office source predicted Sir Philip would see off Miss Patel. ‘Officials will not stop until they have got rid of Priti,’ they said.‘When Amber Rudd was home secretary she did all she could to win over the department, but she was the one who lost her job when it all went wrong. Priti may be safe for now, but when it next goes wrong they’ll make sure she is the one who ends up out of the door.’ (link)
Doesn’t this make it even more odd that Ms May survived in the Home Office for six years? You might find this report interesting, the title certainly caught my eyes: “The inept hit job on Priti Patel is the hallmark of an officer class in revolt”. You might also like to read Sir John Redwood’s entry in his Diary today (link) where he makes some inconvenient points – inconvenient for the Home Office Mandarins.
Meanwhile, Labour had a go at Ms Patel in the HoC yesterday (link), about her immigration policies. Labour – in bed with Big Business to keep cheap labour flooding in? Perish the thought! Or rather – don’t, not when we read that the front runner in the Labour leadership race is Sir Keith Starmer. Asa Bennet in the DT ponders:
“Sir Keir and his comrades cannot hope to reverse such a Brexit outright, but they stand a chance of getting somewhere by arguing for a closer relationship with the EU than what the Prime Minister wants. […] Could Sir Keir’s pursuit of a softer Brexit pave the way for Labour to one day argue for all-out Rejoin?” (paywalled link)
Given all these posturings, negative briefings, screams about blackmail and red lines, I cannot help wondering if our politicians and MSM, if the EU and France, are living in a fool’s paradise. This whole debate about ‘Free Movement’ and immigration has turned into a dangerous, even deadly farce when we see the latest reports about the spread of the Corona virus.
Is it even rational to bicker about this, trying to score political points, when people are dying, when industries are shutting down, when towns in Italy are put in quarantine? No one knows where COVID19 is going to spread to next, no one knows how badly the world economy will be hit, nobody knows how deeply this will affect the coming recession in the EU. But let’s talk about the sensitive civil serpents instead, let’s talk about poor France being ‘blackmailed’, let’s talk about ‘respect’!
It’s the duty of governments, even, I assume, of the EU “government” in Brussels, to safeguard their citizens. That seems to have vanished from the consciousness of Brussels, of Remain, of Whitehall. Do we have to die of COVI19 as sacrifice on the EU Altar of ‘Free Movement’?