Little trust is now evident between the British government and the EU. After Tuesday’s string of outbursts and tantrums from both sides, Brexit talks appear on the verge of collapse. Technical discussions are continuing, however, few hold out any hope of reaching a deal before the EU summit only days from now.
Donald Tusk’s Tweet and Boris Johnson’s phone call with Angela Merkel
Throughout the Brexit talks, all sides have endeavoured to word public statements with care and diplomacy. Press releases and responses to media questions may often have seemed vague, but all parties worked hard not to scupper negotiations with harsh words. That is, until yesterday, when the beans finally spilt over. Donald Tusk took Twitter to vent his frustration, a Tweet later retweeted and supported by the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney.
Hard to disagree – reflects the frustration across EU and the enormity of what’s at stake for us all. We remain open to finalize a fair #Brexit deal but need a UK Govt willing to work with EU to get it done. https://t.co/5tUvb6m2K4
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) October 8, 2019
Meanwhile, conflicting briefs about a conversation between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel emerged. According to a Downing Street source, Angela Merkel “made clear that a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely” and said that “if Germany wanted to leave the EU, they could do it no problem, but the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland in a customs union…”. To most commentators, Dominic Cummings seems rather likely to be the author of this press briefing. Boris’ strategist isn’t known for mincing his words.
Back in Brussels, people who know and have worked with the German chancellor accused Downing Street of spinning the story, insisting that the chancellor would continue to seek a breakthrough right until time has run out. According to the Irish Times, a German government source said that “Berlin would not be spun, provoked or leaked by Downing Street into throwing in the towel or accepting blame for the failure of Brexit talks.”
Brexit talks and Dominic Cummings’ verbiage
In some ways, Downing Street has become synonymous with Dominic Cummings, head of Vote Leave and current adviser to Boris Johnson. Brilliantly portrayed in a TV docudrama by Dominic Cumberbatch, Cummings has introduced a new style to Tory politics, one many traditional supporters are uncomfortable with. Now at the heart of the government, some see him as a destructive force. Judging from some of the strategies and statements, Cummings does have a burning desire to “hack the system” and a deep contempt for parliamentary politics.
Yesterday, the Spectator published extracts of a memo revealing the current Downing Street thinking. The memo made its way to the online media outlet on Monday and although unconfirmed, commentators are certain that this is Cummings’ work.
His strategy, his blame-game, and his contempt for politics are evident, and it remains to be seen whether he can emerge a winner once more. Some commentators have gone as far as to say that Downing Street is occupying a “parallel universe” at present especially when it comes to the Benn Act.
Beyond 31 October
In Westminster, opposition parties have already set their eyes on what happens next. If Brexit talks remain fruitless and no deal emerges, the Benn Act forcing Boris Johnson to seek an extension will come into play, and general election soon after will follow. The UK government is still insisting that the UK will leave on 31 October, some suggesting it has ways to get around the Benn Act. If it does, it may be back to the courts.
Last night, all sides pulled back from yesterday’s spats insisting talks would continue and hopes of a deal prevailed. This morning, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator echoed Leo Vradkar’s words saying reaching a deal before the deadline is “very difficult but possible.”