Today in TCW’s Brexit Watch, Timothy Bradshaw reviews and comments on the last week of Brexit coverage.
FRIDAY’S Express caught up with Michel Barnier’s offer of an ‘ambitious’ free trade deal, covered in extreme and unprecedented demands for EU controls over UK trade and regulation that we’d reported on TCW here.
As TCW commented, it was very concerning that Boris and Michael Gove both said that if the negotiations failed, then the UK was safe with the savage ‘Withdrawal Agreement’. Alarm bells should be ringing.
On Sunday, Sherelle Jacobs of The Telegraph remarked that Barnier had morphed into snake-oil salesman mode and was selling a mess of regulation and control disguised by the name of a free trade agreement.
She said that this was a sign of EU panic and lack of strategy, that the UK has the upper hand now. We probably would, if we had the guts to play that hand!.
It wasn’t surprising to read that the public is not convinced that Boris is getting Brexit done as promised, probably because his actions are not matching his ebullient rhetoric. A poll reported in the Standard shows one in six say he has not got Brexit done, while the Express reported that confidence that he will manage it is wobbling.
The Telegraph’s Juliet Samuel was one of the first to detect wobble. In her column last week, she rightly said that if he loses his bottle now, he will pay heavily later.
Though she began the year confident of a new and better phase of Brexit and sees the EU’s latest spray of ludicrous demands as a sign of panic in a bad economic context, she detects drift and a reversion back to a kind of Tory autopilot by Boris – instead of acting for a positive Brexit and, for example, work at the Dover Calais customs facilitation.
On Monday, Michael Gove ‘confirmed’ that post-Brexit trade barriers would be imposed and on cue the Food and Drink Federation raised concerns about the lack of time to deliver the plans, adding that ‘any additional friction into the UK-EU trading relationship will inevitably have a cost for businesses, consumers and shoppers’.
Given Mr Gove’s record of inconsistency on the matter of customs barriers, it is at least questionable whether this is part of a stratagem to persuade the public to accept continuing closer alignment with the EU in order to alleviate the risk of the disruption that he appears to be threatening.
The Independent’s ‘Project Fear’ headline suggests as much. What about, too, previous confirmations by customs experts that existing techniques and processes can ensure a frictionless borders – not as a backstop for Northern Ireland, but as a durable, long-term solution? How has work been progressing on these?
All this leaves me worrying that, Whitehall is indeed anaesthetising Boris and Dominic Cummings into Brino – Brexit in name only. No one it seems is keeping Boris focused. The European Research Group appears to have disappeared into the deep freeze of Tory Party control.
It is reported that peerages are to go to two arch-Remainers, Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, the first being the one-man roadblock to Dover customs preparations. Boris is also rewarding Gavin Barwell, who continues to help the EU by warning Boris that it will ignore his World Trade Organisation plan B.
Like Barwell a deep Remainer, Hammond can do damage from the Lords. Why is Boris taking this risk? To appease Sir Humphrey again?
The last word goes to Harry Western who, writing in Briefings for Britain, says ‘On the terms being offered, the EU deal is not worth it.’ It has to be read as widely as possible. Send it to your MP.