The UK Government Is Completely Deluded About Brexit
Forbes Magazine, by Frances Coppola
The UK’s eventual exit from the EU is looking more and more likely to be a train wreck. The Brexiteers in Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration are living in a fantasy world. And although May herself comes across as sensible and pragmatic, it now appears that she is as deluded as they are.
Last Wednesday, April 25th, May met the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for dinner in London. Senior members of the British and EU negotiating teams were also present.
The dinner was a total disaster. But just how badly it went, at least from the European Commission’s point of view, has only just been revealed.
As is its wont, the Commission has expressed its anger in the press. Although it has previously used the British press to communicate its views on Brexit, this time it has opted to use a German newspaper. An article in the print edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ) reveals details of the proceedings at the dinner. It is in German. There is no English translation. Nor is there a complete online version of the article.
Releasing details of the dinner to a German newspaper for printing in German only is a slap in the face for May and her team. The Commission, it seems, is very angry indeed.
Jeremy Cliffe, The Economist’s Berlin bureau chief, tweeted the salient points from the FAZ article. They are absolutely damning. No wonder the Commission is angry. Here they are, transcribed.
Today’s FAZ report on May’s disastrous dinner with Juncker – briefed by senior Commission sources -is absolutely damning.
May had said she wanted to talk not just Brexit but also world problems; but in practice it fell to Juncker to propose one to discuss.
May has made clear to the Commission that she fully expects to be reelected as PM.
It is thought [in the Commission] that May wants to frustrate the daily business of the EU27, to improve her own negotiating position.
May seemed pissed off at Davis for regaling her dinner guests of his ECJ case against her data retention measures-three times.
EU side were astonished at May’s suggestion that EU/UK expats issue could be sorted at EU Council meeting at the end of June. Juncker objected to this timetable as way too optimistic given complexities, eg on rights to health care.
Juncker pulled two piles of paper from his bag: Croatia’s EU entry deal, Canada’s free trade deal. His point: Brexit will be v v complex.
May wanted to work through the Brexit talks in monthly, 4-day blocks; all confidential until the end of the process. Commission said impossible to reconcile this with need to square off member states & European Parliament, so documents must be published.
EU side felt May was seeing whole thing through rose-tinted-glasses. "Let us make Brexit a success" she told them. Juncker countered that Britain will now be a third state, not even (like Turkey) in the customs union: "Brexit cannot be a success".
May seemed surprised by this and seemed to the EU side not to have been fully briefed. She cited her own JHA opt-out negotiations as home sec as a model: a mutually useful agreement meaning lots on paper, little in reality. May’s reference to the JHA (justice and home affairs) opt-outs set off alarm signals for the EU side. This was what they had feared. I.e., as home sec May opted out of EU measures (playing to UK audience) then opted back in, and wrongly thinks she can do same with Brexit.
"The more I hear, the more sceptical I become" said Juncker (this was only half way through the dinner).
May then insisted to Juncker et al that UK owes EU no money because there is nothing to that effect in the treaties. Her guests then informed her that the EU is not a golf club. Davis then objected that EU could not force a post-Brexit, post-ECJ UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal.
Leaving EU27 with UK’s unpaid bills will involve national parliaments in process (a point that Berlin had made repeatedly before).
Jeremy Cliffe’s thread continues:
"I leave Downing St ten times as sceptical as I was before" Juncker told May as he left.
Next morning at c7am Juncker called Merkel on her mobile, said May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself. Merkel quickly reworked her speech to Bundestag to include her now-famous "some in Britain still have illusions" comment.
FAZ concludes: May in election mode & playing to crowd, but what use is a big majority won by nurturing delusions of Brexit hardliners?
Juncker’s team now think it more likely than not that Brexit talks will collapse & hope Brits wake up to harsh realities in time.
What to make of it all? Obviously this leak is a highly tactical move by Commission. But contents deeply worrying for UK nonetheless. The report points to major communications/briefing problems. Important messages from Berlin & Brussels seem not to be getting through.
Presumably as a result, May seems to be labouring under some really rather fundamental misconceptions about Brexit & the EU27.
Also clear that (as some of us have been warning for a while…) No 10 should expect every detail of the Brexit talks to leak.
Sorry for the long thread. And a reminder: full credit for all the above reporting on the May/Juncker dinner goes to the FAZ.
Cliffe’s analysis (third paragraph from the end) implies that May has made a terrible mistake. She has put hardline Brexiteers in charge of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU and its new trade relationships after Brexit. They appear to be systematically deceiving her. As a result, she is not in possession of the true facts.
Presumably these wrecking tactics are intended to further the Brexiteers’ real aim of a no-deal exit from the EU – the so-called ‘clean Brexit’. But the cost of such an exit for the UK would be terrible. Such behaviour from the Brexiteers is unbelievably irresponsible. And it undermines May’s own credibility, just as she is seeking a new mandate from the British people to strengthen her hand in the negotiations.
If the UK is to secure the smoothest possible end to the UK’s membership of the EU and the best possible relationship between the UK and the EU in the future, the British team must conduct the negotiations in good faith and with good will. The Brexiteers have demonstrated neither. May must sack them.