The plan unfolds

David Davis

It’s fairly safe to assume that an experienced operator such as Michel Barnier doesn’t indulge in idle chat. When he says something, it’s for a reason. Generally, post-meeting statements will be about controlling what these days is called the ‘optics’ – the way things are presented by the media and, hence, how they are perceived by the public. Or, at least, that small subset of the public which is taking the slightest interest.

Sometimes, however, the signals being sent in these statements may be intended, not for the media/public, but for the other side in the negotiations. The intent may be as much about steering the internal dynamics of discussions as controlling how things are perceived by the outside world.

Interpreting these signals can be tricky. The messages may be subtle. They may mean different things depending on whether or not the recipient is privy to what went on in the closed sessions. Context, as always, is paramount. But it is always safest to assume that even the most innocent-sounding utterances are laden with meaning. Unravelling that meaning, or speculating about the possible significance of words and phrases, is likely to the best we can hope for in terms of squeezing some entertainment value out of the Brexit talks.

Take, for example, Michel Barnier’s rather pointed remarks stressing that Brexit is the UK’s choice. He seems to be making a particular effort to emphasise that Brexit is something the UK is doing, not something that is being done to it. As he says,

“The United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union, it is not the other way around.”

This might be interpreted as an exercise in optics management. An attempt to create, or reinforce, the impression that the EU is being reasonable. That it regrets the break-up, but is determined to be reasonable about the practicalities. Perhaps even an attempt to portray the EU as the ‘injured party’ in an effort to elicit sympathy.

But the language used can also be heard as a response prompted by the attitude of the UK in private talks. It may be that, even this early in proceedings, David Davis has revealed his intention to seek to treat the EU as a hostile actor and to make sure that blame for the ‘unfortunate’ consequences of Brexit is shifted to the EU. Barnier’s words can be seen as a warning to Davis that this blame-shifting tactic will be resisted.

Taken together with the Davis’s insistence that the UK had obtained everything it wanted from this first meeting, despite having been knocked back on pretty much all its demands, it looks like the broad strategy is very much as predicted. Hail every development as a triumph for British diplomacy. When that fails, blame the foreigners. Rely on the loyal British media to manage the favourable optics.

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9 thoughts on “The plan unfolds

  1. Simon

    I love the way the media and individuals use terms like, don’t buy foreign muck, but drive a Skoda car and eat Dutch cheese. Blind, like ruth d’s unionism 😀

    No responsibility and blame shifted onto others is the sick ego doing what it does best, projecting!

  2. Bugger le Panda

    BBC State R 4 this morning said that the EU had “seized” the initiative and laid down the Brexit procedures.

    So UK is at a disadvantage to the big bully boys?

    Barnier to Davis.

    “You are leaving our club and here is what you need to do. As follows…”

    Davis to Barnier

    “OK”

    See Davis is in Madrid today selling Scottish fishing right at this early stage?

  3. TheStrach

    But surely Ruth wouldn’t lie to us?

    Those who voted for the British nationalist parties at the GE will welcome the Scottish opt out provided by ScotRef as the Brexit shambles unfolds. There is no soft Brexit available and soon everyone will know. Many people don’t want to make a decision about our future but in the next few months they’ll realise they have to do so.

  4. Bibbit

    Barnier yesterday stated simply that the EU’s priorities were its citizens in the UK, (no surprise there), the Irish question and the EU’s POLICIES. The word ‘policies’ rang out like a bell.

    The ‘policies’ Barnier was alluding to, are the Common Agricultural Policy and, most importantly for the EU, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

    The EU does not, of course, rely on the UK for its agricultural products but it DOES rely almost entirely on the UK, and in particular, Scottish fisheries, for its seafood products.

    The all encompassing aim of the CFP is to secure “a safe and stable supply of seafood”.

    Access to Scottish fisheries will, without question, be included in the ‘bartering’. Indeed it’s the only leverage the UK has!

    This is why the UK is so terrified of an Indyref2 taking place before Brexit takes place as any deal the UK strikes will be entirely dependent on the UK controlling our fisheries. If Scotland votes for Independence, the rUK and in particular, the the City of London is very vulnerable to an all out flight.

    That is why BBC propaganda mode is ratched up to permanently screaming SNPbad overload. The BBC never stops hammering home how bad Indyref2 would be for Scotland, as the rUK knows without our fish, London is stuffed.

    It’s that simple.

    That too is the reason Davis et al are desperate that all Brexit talks are top secret for as long as possible. Let’s hope Barnier does not go along with the UK’s plans to dupe its Scottish Tory voters .

  5. Ayrshirelass

    Meanwhile back at base there will be further ‘reforms’ of Holyrood based on recommendations of a report of a comission chaired by a former BBC employee.

    You could not make this up. Someone thought it acceptable that someone from the BBC a deeply dsitrusted otgansiation in Scotland, should be in anyway involved in the constitutional reforms of our parliament.

    Unionist parties having found they have lost power at Holyrood because the public dont trust them are going to meddle with Holyrood.

    I have absolutely no doubt that the aim of these so called reforms will be to dilute the power of the executive and make it easier for opposition parties ro delay bills foing through parliament, perhaps conveniently till after the next Holyrood election.

    This is happening just at the time we are going to need a strong Scottish government to fight for Scotlands interests with the Great Brexit Bill coming down the line in the next two years.
    Holyrood has been in place for aproximately 18 years and apparently now it needs reformed whereas the UK parliament has been in place for hundreds of years and it is sacrosanct.

    The strengths of the Scottish Parliament are going to be used to weaken it as Labour has no further use for it.

    1. Robert Graham

      Nicola should politely accept this unionist demand list then file it under ( in yer dreams ) , everything she has done to try and include unionist parties in committees giving them more say in the running of the parliament should be quietly removed , they dont deserve respect and they abuse it at every turn , so f/k them all , they are just there to gum up the works and impede progress .

  6. michael boyd

    I couldn’t help but notice the English negotiating team looked befuddled, disheveled and abjectly clueless whilst the EU team looked cool, suave and erudite. It doesn’t bode well. Barnier’s CV is as frightening as a public appearance from May and he’s not even the brains of their team!

  7. commonoldworkinchap

    The EU negotiators must be incredulous. The UK team must seem to them like something off
    of Monty Python.

    It is like one of they wee jack russel dogs barking at a rottweiller.

    Truly pathetic.

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