Yesterday morning we were offered two speeches on the forthcoming negotiations between us and the EU. The two combatants were Boris Johnson PM in London and Michel Barnier in Brussels. The contrast between them, between their speeches, could not have been more pronounced had some script writer set the whole thing up.
Not only was the presentation and content of those speeches hugely significant, the way they were reported in our MSM was so as well. I must mention, as appetiser if you wish, that the changed attitude of the PM to our sacred MSM came out earlier in a spat between No10 and the representatives, a.k.a. journalists, of said MSM.
Briefly, they walked out of No10 en masse when some of them were refused attendance. Well, they were not invited, but that didn’t matter. Here is a non-paywalled report, but the one in RemainCentral has some noteworthy, revealing quotes. Firstly, here’s their No10 ‘source’:
“A Number 10 source said that David Frost, the prime minister’s Europe adviser, had been due to speak to “senior, specialist members of the lobby” — a so-called “inner lobby”. The source added: “We reserve the right to brief journalists which we choose whenever we wish to, and that is not something abnormal.” The source said that around eight or nine organisations from “across the political spectrum” were invited to the briefing. “No one is banned — people are invited for an additional briefing, so that sort of language in itself is wrong.” (link, paywalled)
Those journalists who walked out ‘in solidarity’ – comprising the BBC and ITV reporters Ms Kuenssberg and Mr Peston – seem to believe that politicians, the PM included, have to jump when the MSM want them to. The next quote makes this obvious:
“Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “As ministers are now regularly refusing to be accountable for their actions by boycotting certain programmes and journalists, this represents another very dangerous step. Johnson’s government must stop this paranoia and engage with all the press, not just their favourites.” (link, paywalled)
Since when are ministers and the PM “accountable for their actions” to the MSM? Perhaps I’m hopelessly old-fashioned and naive, but I always thought that Ministers and the PM are accountable to our elected representatives, the MPs in Parliament.
Haven’t the last three years shown us that, by having dropped the distinction between factual report and opinion piece, the MSM have been pushing their agenda rather than actually holding the PM to account? The terrestrial TV stations gave a brilliant example of that in their ‘reports’ during the evening of Brexit Day last Friday!
Now to the two speeches … paywalled reports are here and here, a non-paywalled one is here. If you just check the headlines you’ll note that the reports are giving equal space to both Johnson and Barnier.
So let us disentangle the two events, and providing you all with the actual material, here is, firstly, the link to M Barnier’s performance, containing the video and providing helpful links to download various texts. They will be important in the coming negotiations, but I invite you to have a quick look at the video, never mind that M Barnier speaks French. It’s to get a taste of the atmosphere of this speech: cold and managerial in presentation, spoken by someone who is accustomed to talk down to the audience.
If you desire a critical assessment of the proposals made by Barnier, you can do no better than read the comment by the invaluable Sir John Redwood in his Diary today. It has the title “The EU has learned nothing from the negotiations so far” (link). This is how to be scathing in a most polite form … until he lets rip at the end. Enjoy!
And so to Johnson’s speech. If you were unable to watch it live, here it is, including the Q & A session at the end:
A transcript was helpfully put online by The Spectator – here – which you may be able to access even without a subscription. However, I strongly suggest you set aside the roughly 50 minutes it takes to watch the whole thing. The transcription cannot reproduce the tone, the atmosphere, the gestures which made this speech come alive. Reading the selective reports make Johnsons’ speech look as dry as that by Barnier.
I can assure you, it was not! The hard-boiled colleagues with whom I watched the speech live and who are definitely not BoJo fanbois, were slowly coming to the agreement that this was a brilliant speech – vintage Johnson on the one hand, but hard-hitting and steely as well. The audience, including the equally hard-boiled anti-Johnson and anti-Brexit journalists, gave him a standing ovation – you’ll find this about 30 minutes in. What a difference to the speeches by his predecessor …
I also suggest strongly that you watch the ensuing 20 or so minutes of Q & A because the floundering of our terrestrial TV stations’ top political presenters was a joy to behold, as was the fact that, contrary to the convention of calling the BBC correspondent first, Johnson did not do so. I wonder why … When he did call her – ‘twas Laura Kuenssberg – she got herself into a tangle and then tried for a gotcha question, to be slapped down with a curt sentence by the PM. We liked it!
Johnson made a number of important points, especially in regard to that ‘level playing field’ demanded by the EU, and about those ‘standards’ which Brussels and Remain believe we’ll now lower. It’s an issue beloved by Remain politicians and MSM to cudgel the PM and his Leave ministers with.
From Green issues (yeah, he did have to go there …) to animal welfare to working conditions to state aid Johnson gave example after example of how we in the UK do better than the EU – something which journalists ought to have been familiar with, had they done their homework.
For me, the key point Johnson made was that we in the UK would not demand the EU to ‘level up’ to us if they want to trade with us, so why should we ‘level down’ to Brussels! How far all that will translate into reality remains to be seen. In regard to Trade however we reported yesterday that things are already happening – from taking up our place at the WTO to having installed top negotiators and staff (see here).
This hugely optimistic speech by Johnson should not blind us to the pitfalls in store. It is however encouraging to note that our negotiations are not going to be dictated by the EU, that M Barnier will not be able to force us into the straightjacket of ‘level playing fields’, of making Fisheries the one negotiating point where we have to cave in so that the rest of the EU’s wish-list can be agreed according to Brussels’ wishes.
As for our Remain MSM, the video clips the various papers have selected indicate their Remain attitude, as do the selected quotes from those two speeches. It is interesting that RemainCentral picked up this one item and went with it in an extra article. It’s about ‘Johnson snubbing people’, journalists and industrialists alike. First, the ‘shock-horror’:
“The prime minister blackballed business groups from his keynote speech on the future of EU trade talks yesterday, accusing them of failing to prepare their members for the “reality” of post-Brexit Britain. The CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute for Directors were excluded from Boris Johnson’s speech to business leaders in Greenwich.” (link, paywalled)
How dare he snub Remainers! At least, we get to read why that happened:
“His [Johnson’s] aides later accused the groups of “neglecting their duty to prepare their members” for the “realities” of a Canada-style free trade deal. They had been “wasting their time lobbying government to abandon the promises made to the British people”. […] “Business groups have a responsibility to their members that they are not fulfilling, and until they do, it is unlikely any conversations they wish to have with government will be productive. Individual businesses might consider if they are getting the best representation from the umbrella groups which they are funding.” (link, paywalled)
Ouch! The wind has definitely changed! On this ‘morning after’ we can finally see that there is a light at the end of this particular tunnel – and it’s not the headlights of the Barnier express coming in our direction. To have a government buoyed by optimism rather than doom and gloom, to see that this government will not kowtow to the vested Remain interests is certainly a most welcome change.
I’m still not a BoJo fangirl and shall criticise what needs to be criticised. Also, I don’t accept Johnson’s dictum, that ‘Brexit’ must no longer be used because it has receded into the historial distance. Until the last day of this year, when we will have left in truth, I shall use ‘Brexit’, and will of course