by John Ward
Just when you thought that, if nothing else, we had control over the decision to extend Article 50, Barnier told key European press titles yesterday that it was inevitable…thus rendering at least two UK Parliamentary votes before March 29th irrelevant. Setting aside that unpardonable interference in our affairs, it is noticeable that the MSM has completely blanked the big question: why did he do it? The Slog examines the evidence.
Somebody needs to tell young journalists that most of the press releases they’re given aren’t news at all….if the non-event stories on Brexit last week are anything to go by. The amusing thing is that most of them missed the biggest story of all…and probably, the Sprouts in Belgium were taken in too.
On Tuesday, the FT ran a story saying some Brexiteers were ‘softening’ on the March 12th May Deal vote. The BBC ran a little more on it during Thursday, and Metro had the story on Friday.
On Saturday, however, the Indie suggested that the ERGs were genuinely beginning to get behind Mrs May and bring off (if you’ll pardon the expression) a firm vote for Her Deal and serious talk with ERG lawyers were under way.
The story was obviously starting to gain some traction – and the ERG denials of a split were, shall we say, a little limp.
This apparently caused mass panic in Brussels: what if the ERGs really were prepared to eat humble pie? This meant the UK would leave on time.
Donner und Blitzen! Mon Dieu! Ciel! Achtung!
Accordingly, yesterday Michel Barnier gave interviews to four influential european papers – Les Echos, Die Welt, La Stampa and El Mundo.
He said various things to each one, but the gist of his approach was clear: the UK had already run out of time, and even if the MPs voted for the deal there would still have to be an extension. “I have suggested to Mrs May an extension of two months,” he told the German newspaper.
This morning (Sunday) the UK’s Express newspaper said yes, there was going to be a deal with Mogg & Co, and the PM and her Attorney General must get three things out of Brussels to ensure their votes:
- A “treaty-level clause” to escape the backstop.
- This must be built upon a unilateral UK codicil or a clear time-limit.
- The language used “must go beyond simply re-emphasising/re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop”.
The language used by the Commission would have been “fuck off” to all three, because the demands are the same ones made by the DUP and the UK previously.
It was a non-story…and probably always had been. It was all designed to make it look like Theresa the Toughie could bring the ERGs to heel. But she can’t. To quote the Maybot herself, “Nothing has changed”.
There are two important points to ponder here: did Barnier tell May she’d run out of time before he told the media? And second, if May did know, when did she know it?
That’s the real story here – not some empty cock and bull spin from the Number 10 press room.
The timeline on all this offers some striking clues.
Until last Friday, it seemed clear to most media consumers that the decision on an extension to Article 50 was very firmly in the British Prime Minister’s court. Last Monday, Donald Tusk “encouraged” her to use an extension. The next day, Japan did the same. On Wednesday, Juncker gave May similar advice. At PMQs the same day, for the first time, having accepted the possibility of a delayed Brexit, May called the March 12th vote “crucial” and said that, in the event of its failure, there’d be a vote on March 27th to say yes or no to WTO ‘no deal’ Leave.
So as of Wednesday, Theresa May allegedly knew nothing about Barnier’s decision – which, by the way, was not his to make anyway.
On Thursday, however, George Eustice resigned on the subject of “delaying Brexit” – perhaps a sign that he had wind of something definite….it’s impossible to say. During that day, however, both Verhofstadt and Macron were already busy turning the screws and saying they wanted a longer extension. So it seems rather unlikely that Barnier had told them.
Two other things are also worth noting. On Friday morning, Number Ten was giving out a line that May might go for two votes – one on 6th March, and one on the 13th. It seems odd that she would approve that release if she thought the exercise was now academic. And second, Barnier was still being quoted as saying time was tight, but we are working round the clock.
So if he was still rocking round the clock, chances are it hadn’t run down. Tellingly, in an interview on Friday with Die Welt, Barnier publicly suggested that the parliamentary arithmetic might be moving in the Prime Minister’s favour.
The evidence strongly suggests that (as usual) Brussels gave undue credence to a bubbling UK political story (given the opaque sentence construction of the “Three Points” in The i piece, that isn’t too surprising) and panicked. Hence the multiple interview splurge on Saturday.
Today at 8.30am the Mail on Sunday updated its story of 3.30pm Saturday. It confirms that ‘A Brexit delay is now unavoidable even if MPs back a deal next week’. So unless some astonishing event (like Spain invading Gibralter) occurs in the meantime to sway MPs into leaving with No Deal, for the EU it is now official: there is going to be an extension.
As for when Theresa May knew, well – you know, it’s a funny thing: until facts suggest the contrary, I always assume with her that she is lying; she has yet to let me down. But I can tell you that Dublin sources say Irish leader Leo Varadkar told his senior Cabinet colleagues yesterday afternoon.
The obvious conclusion from the broader timeline (that Brussels was keen to trap Britain into an extension “just in case”) will of course be lost on the pond life keen for us not all to die from lack of medicine, water, sex, dead people and badgers by crashing out on WTO rules.
Needless to say, this evening the course of events I’ve outlined is entirely missing from the UK’s “news” platforms.
But for those who use their IQ to bolster up common sense and wisdom, it is yet another sign that, for all their bluster, the European Commission’s strategy on keeping us moored to the SS Eutanic is ‘comme il faut’ – do whatever it takes.