Richard North, 27/08/2020  

The Guardian seems to have got itself an exclusive, although not for long – it's already been copied widely and is being spread by Reuters.

Its piece, headed: "Germany scraps plans for Brexit talks at EU ambassadors summit", has Brussels lamenting a "completely wasted" summer, while Berlin has taken Brexit off agenda due to lack of "tangible progress". The print copy is more direct, with the front-page banner headline, "Germany scraps Brexit talks after 'wasted' summer of no progress".

From the article itself we learn that Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, had planned a "high-level diplomatic meeting" on 2 September with EU ambassadors, to discuss Brexit. But, says one of these diplomats, "Since there hasn’t been any tangible progress in EU-UK negotiations, the Brexit item was taken off the agenda".

EU officials, it seems, now believe the UK government is prepared to risk the end of the transition period without a deal, and will try to pin the blame on Brussels if (or when) talks fail.

The reason this matters, we are told, is because Angela Merkel was billed as a potential dealmaker when talks on the UK-EU future relationship reached a crucial stage this autumn.

Last week, Merkel met Emmanuel Macron at the French president's summer retreat at the Fort de Brégançon, near Toulon on the French Riviera, the first time she had been invited there, and the first German Chancellor since Helmut Kohl.

They had discussed the UK's withdrawal from the EU over dinner, but Merkel's office does not seem to have issued an online comment, although the Guardian says that, following last week's inconclusive round of negotiations, both governments issued near-identical statements calling for "concrete answers" from the British government.

From this, it is inferred that the Franco-German motor is in good form, and another of those EU diplomats says that, "Over the recent months Franco-German cooperation has gained new traction". The two countries have "realigned" on issues including Brexit. "Given this new reality it would be futile to wait for a white knight from Paris or Berlin to come to the rescue", this person says.

Generally, comment seems to be downbeat. Sandro Gozi, an Italian MEP who was Italy's Europe minister during the early phase of Brexit talks, says: "I doubt even Merkel or Macron would be able to transform a stalemate into a positive outcome".

"I have always thought – that is my personal position – that no-deal was a real option especially on London's side … Every day that passes without concrete progress is a day closer to no-deal Brexit".

The Guardian sees dropping Brexit from next week's diplomatic agenda as a sign of "deepening pessimism" in Brussels. "People underestimate how bleak the mood is in the EU negotiation team", says an EU official who added that time was running out .

This official, however, doesn't stop with the view that the whole summer has been completely wasted. This source thinks that the UK has "a cabinet that doesn't understand how the negotiations work, a prime minister who … doesn't understand how the negotiations work – because he is under the wrong impression that he can pull off negotiating at the 11th hour".

Referring to Barnier's statement last week when he complained about "wasting valuable time", the the EU official said: "If they (the UK government) see it's not going to work out they are just going to try and make it really acrimonious".

Then, the document leaked to the Sun on Sunday, warning of possible public disorder, shortages and price hikes in the event of a no-deal Brexit, is seen in Brussels as a sign of the government's seriousness about leaving the EU single market and customs union with no agreement.

"More and more people have come to the conclusion that Brexit ideology trumps Brexit pragmatism in the UK government", the diplomat tells the Guardian. "If the UK really wanted to jump off the Brexit cliff for ideological reasons, there would be no way for the EU to stop this". 

 And yet, if the UK's negotiating stance became "more pragmatic and realistic", there is still a chance to save the talks. But "pragmatism" means accepting that tariff-free access to the single market necessitates common standards on environment, state aid, worker and consumer protection – a position already rejected by the UK.

There is then a not-altogether complimentary comment about Frost. With talks due to resume on 7 September, EU sources are increasingly frustrated with the him. "The feeling is that David Frost acts more as a UK messenger then a UK negotiator. If he doesn't get more negotiating space, talks will remain in dire straits",” says the Guardian's loquacious EU diplomat.

The paper, however, isn't content to leave it there. In a pointed editorial, it complains that the Johnson government is too often caught unawares by events that were not only predictable but scheduled.

The pattern set by the prime minister, therefore is one of a man dealing in grand ambitions but not plans for their realisation. When things go wrong he shifts the blame.

The problem, it says, is most extreme in relation to Brexit. Every stage of the UK's uncoupling from the EU has been mapped out by treaty, including the expiry of transitional arrangements at the end of this year. By then, a free trade deal is supposed to have been negotiated and ratified. But that is getting harder with each passing week.

Now. with Johnson leaving everything to the last minute, testing the fixity of deadlines, the paper observes that this is a method that might have worked for Johnson when he was a newspaper columnist, but it is no way to run a government.

Johnson, it says, operates one day at a time, stumbling from one problem to the next, with no sense of a strategic horizon. Such a man cannot safely settle the UK's long-term relations with its neighbours. Nor, for that matter, should he be trusted with many other tasks required of a prime minister.

Even for the Guardian, that is pretty damning, but it should come as no surprise. I've certainly never believed that Johnson was fit for office and maintain the view that the Conservative party should never have chosen him as leader.

That the electorate was then confronted with a choice between Corbyn and Johnson is entirely down to these idiots who, apparently, thought he would be more fun. They now have to deal not with "fun" but serial incompetence, at a time when the nation needs skilled political leadership.

Now the idiot is blathering about "mutant algorithms", we are having to add embarrassment to the downside list. But at least, if that is the best Johnson can do to explain away his failures on the exam results, the EU need not bother too much about where the blame goes after a no-deal TransEnd.

If his excuses are as pathetic then as they are now, even the dimmest Tory Boy might finally realise that they have a train-wreck for a prime minister. But, by then – sadly – the damage will have been done.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few