I understand from yesterday’s comment posts that many of you spend a lot of time reading Brexit blogs and may indeed ‘know it all already’, so that for you this column is redundant. Many other readers however do not have the time to read everything on the internet, nor do they have paid for access to paywalled articles from which I always quote at length. That’s why I’ll continue with the ‘Daily Brexit Soap Opera’, as a comment poster called it. Today there are some juicy bits to ponder, making the reading worthwhile.
I am referring to the reports of yesterday’s visit of a group of Parliamentarians to Brussels, for ‘talks’ with the new Head Man, Mr Selmayr. Depending on the editorial stance on Brexit – Leave or Remain – what was said in these talks has been given a different spin which is fascinating.
In the DT (paywalled) there’s this headline: “Brexit latest news: EU chief tells UK ‘nobody is considering’ offering legal assurances on backstop in hammer blow to Theresa May”. In The Times (paywalled) it’s “Brexiteers reject EU concession on backstop”. Remember: these reports are about the same visit of MPs of the Brexit Select Committee to Mr Selmayr!
Here’s what the DT wrote:
“The EU is not considering offering the UK legal assurances on the backstop, a Brussels powerbroker has said in a major blow to Theresa May’s hopes of salvaging her Brexit deal. Mrs May wants the EU to reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement and agree to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements”. But Martin Selmayr, the secretary general of the European Commission, said adding on legally binding assurances was being considered by “nobody” in the bloc – let alone a more substantial reworking of the original deal. And in a sign of worsening relations, Mr Selmayr said it was a good thing the EU had started its no-deal Brexit preparations in December 2017. ” (my bold)
As usual, the main stinger is hidden in the text which I have bolded. If the EU has been preparing for a no-deal-Brexit since 2017, why do they and our Remainers still maintain that a no-deal is the ultimate catastrophe? And why indeed are they giving us this daily show of “WA + Backstop or we all die”?
Let’s now compare the above quote to the report in the Times:
“Europe’s top official offered Britain a legal guarantee that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop last night but was immediately rebuffed by Brexiteer MPs.Martin Selmayr, the European Union’s most senior civil servant, spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee, who emerged saying that he was prepared to make significant concessions on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. Mr Selmayr offered to give the prime minister a legally binding assurance that the backstop would not lock Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, the MPs said.” (my bold)
It’s all in the detail: this offer means there’ll be a ‘legally binding’ time limit to the Backstop – a time limit about which more negotiations will be needed ‘for the duration’ – but the Backstop is not removed. Of course, only the hardline Brexiteers would ‘rebuff’ this generous (hah!) offer, thus providing material for the Remainers’ ‘blame game’, so loved by The Times.
It’s a nice case of selective hearing and selective reporting. Have they not noted the contradiction between this offer of an – allegedly ‘legally binding’ – letter and the statement in the quote from the DT above? This also contradicts a later report (DT, paywalled):
“Brussels is ready to reopen the withdrawal agreement to get the Brexit deal through the House of Commons but won’t change the substance of the Irish border backstop, it emerged after a meeting of MPs and senior EU officials. Rather than accept British demands to time-limit the backstop, the European Commission would simply add a protocol that would repeat the promises made in letters already sent by Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Theresa May, MPs said. […] Stephen Kinnock, a Labour member of the committee, said, “The Juncker-Tusk letter would be, in essence, copy and pasted and shoved into the withdrawal agreement. It is definitely reopening the withdrawal agreement but only to slip something in and close it again very quickly,” he said, describing it as a protocol. Once the letter was translated into a protocol it would have legal weight, Martin Selmayr, the powerful secretary-general of the European Commission, told members of House of Commons’ Brexit select committee at a 90-minute meeting on Monday in Brussels.” (my bold).
Is ‘legal weight’ the same as ‘legally binding’? Non-Lawyerly Brexiteers would like to know! I cannot believe that this is just a slip of the tongue by Mr Selmayr, but it may well be a slip in comprehension by our MPs … we’d also like to know what the difference is between ‘no more negotiations’ and ‘softly open negotiations a little bit’ …
You might like to read this report by one MP ‘who was there’, just published in BrexitCentral. I like his conclusion, that “the answer is always £39 Billion” …
At the same time that Mr Selmayr chatted to our MPs Mr EU Barnier told the Dutch PM something completely different (here), namely that Ms May’s WA ‘deal’ is not open to renegotiation. No ‘softening of stance’ there. Confusion in Brussels? Or power struggle between the old French guy and the young German guy? Who knows!
There is one cloud on the Backstop horizon though which both Brussels and the Government ought to heed (here). Lord Trimble, one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), said that he and his fellow negotiators will take the Government to court because the Backstop breaks the GFA.
Will such court case be used to extend article 50? Or will it lead to the No Deal Brexit?
I hope some clever legal minds have the answer …