Richard North, 06/09/2020  

One can't help but feel that the Telegraph is protesting just a little bit too loudly about the "unacceptable" attack on the "free" press by Extinction Rebellion.

The newspaper has a right, like any, to pursue it business without lawful interference, but it is a bit a stretch to assert that the action of blocking the paper's printing operation was an attack on the right to free speech. No one could possibly accuse the Telegraph of free speech any more than anyone is this country could credibly claim that we have a free press.

Thus one regards the squawking in much the same light as the ritual complaints about the legacy media being the bastion against "fake news". That is especially the case with Saturday's story which claimed that: "Michel Barnier to be sidelined by EU leaders in bid to break Brexit deadlock".

It appears that we were not the only ones to be unimpressed. Saturday afternoon saw a tweet from Clément Beaune, the French Europe Minister who cited the article as an example of "British humour", pledging full support to Barnier and his mandate. Beaune then signed off with the hashtag #fakenews.

Nothing is ever going to change though – not as long as the legacy media can produce garbage and walk away from it, pontificating about the "free press" as if it is doing us a favour by peddling its misinformation.

However, the Guardian did a sort of a job on it, headlining yesterday: "Brussels rules out summit intervention in troubled Brexit talks".

This didn't quite address the Telegraph fiction and it retailed the claim that both Michel Barnier, and Downing Street have lobbied for 27 heads of state and government to seize control of the talks given the current impasse. I've no independent corroboration of that, and there's never been anything other than anonymous sources who have claimed that.

The Guardian is, of course, referring to the European Council – most British journalists being incapable of giving the institution its correct name – and one assumes they are talking about the special Council scheduled for 24-25 September.

Despite the parlous state of the talks, we are told, Council President Charles Michel has decided to focus on the EU's recovery from the coronavirus and relations with China. But then, there is very little the Council could do, especially as the British Prime Minister no longer attends.

Either way, the Telegraph's story is dead in the water leaving us no further forward and, if the Independent is anything to go by, a little worse off.

This paper is telling us that Bernd Lange, the German MEP who chairs the parliament's international trade committee, warns that "a deal has to be done before 31 October", thus ruling out any chance of eleventh-hour negotiations which could bring us a last-minute deal.

Lange's point is that the treaty is not a simple text, and a comprehensive trade agreement has a volume of around 500 pages. This has to be legal script and translated, and then of course scrutinised by the European parliament. This needs time.

Lange warns that time pressures are particularly acute because talks had not progressed to a stage where both sides had their own working legal texts that could be merged into a "consolidated" compromise.

He said: "Normally in trade negotiations, step by step, time by time, we have so-called consolidated texts where we merge the proposal from both sides in one text. This exercise is not there at the moment".

Expressing the pessimism that now seems to pervade these talks, Lange continues: "For us, the parliament has a deadline of 31 October. The text has to be ready otherwise we have no chance to go into the ratification progress. So next week, starting 8 September, probably we will have second negotiation round in October, but it's a really tough timetable and I don’t expect that it’s really possible".

It's really not a good idea to make any predictions, but it is fair to say that the mood music isn't particularly encouraging. This is especially so when we hear Frost talk in terms of not blinking first.

He claims that "We came in after a Government and negotiating team that had blinked and had its bluff called at critical moments, and the EU had learned not to take our word seriously". Thus, he has it that "a lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously".

This is from a Mail interview, which delivers this wodge of prose from the man:
We are not going to be a client state. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws. We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things; we are not going to accept provisions that give them control over our money or the way we can organise things here in the UK and that should not be controversial – that's what being an independent country is about, that's what the British people voted for and that's will happen at the end of the year, come what may.
I have heard it said by people who know him that Frost is not very bright – so we can see why he gets on so well with Johnson. But we shouldn't be surprised where he "appears baffled" that, nine months into the post-Brexit transition period, the EU have still not "internalised" the fact that the UK intends to be an "independent sovereign nation".

"What we want", he says, "which is the restoration of our own sovereignty and freedom as a country, happens whether the EU likes it or not at the end of the year. They are not used to doing that sort of negotiation". He adds: "I think they spend too much time trying to guess what our intentions are and not enough time listening to our words".

But I can imagine Barnier, or anyone equipped with more than two brain cells, struggling with this. The concept of an "independent sovereign nation" is ambiguous at the best of times, and can mean all things to all persons. So if Frost actually believes this embodies a credible description of Britain's post-Brexit status, then he's even thicker than some of his contemporaries think.

And it's not the issue of sovereignty which is so troubling, as the use of the term "independent". In an interdependent world, Frost represents the country which wants the EU to extend the Dublin Regulations, post-Brexit, so that we can dump our illegal immigrants back where they came from. How does he square that with being independent?

Much of what the man says tends to be this sort of dribble, and it is this more than anything which supports the idea that these talks aren't going anywhere. One feels almost sorry for the EU negotiators – they are not dealing with people who live in the real world.

If these talks really do go belly-up, one presumes Johnson will continue to rely on his Teflon-like immunity, and blame any major problems of the EU. Outside his dwindling fanbase, though, I suspect the country will not be sympathetic, when the delays start mounting up, and the costs begin to be felt.

It's then that we will probably see the blinking, which is what one tends to do when certain sensitive parts are squeezed. It will not be a pretty sight.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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