Why a bill will be paid, why Brits need to learn about Europe and why Yanis Varoufakis is a dubious teacher for strategy. But that leather jacket may prove a perfect fit for Britain's chief negotiator.
There is a market for political commentary on Brexit every weekend, said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, "and we're not buying there." What he actually meant was that he is not offering his wares. Even though temptation must be strong to add another layer of spin to the flurry of interpretations on Brexit that regularly emerge on weekends. Increasingly, these talks are becoming a game of smoke and mirrors, where the negotiators push their take on events into the media.
So what did actually happen last week when David Davis and Michel Barnier tried to thrash out divorce proceedings between the UK and the EU?
How smart is it to call your opponent silly?
It was in the confessional that is Andrew Marr's Sunday politics show on the BBC where UK chief negotiator David Davis tried to set the record straight. Is it true that there had been no discernible movement in these talks? "Mr. Barnier wants to put pressure on us (…) I think it looked a bit silly, because there plainly were things that we had achieved." There was indeed an agreement on social security payments after Brexit and discussion of a moot point on cross-border workers.
What the EU wants, however, is agreement on a Brexit bill, on expat citizens' rights and on Ireland. Even those with their most heads in the sand should know that by now. But Davis swears he will not back down and pay some double-digit billion sum just because time might be running out for talks. The UK's legal position was that there is no enforceable basis for financial demands. "But we are a country that meets its international obligations … those may not be legal ones, they might be moral or political ones."
So the Brexit minister has after all understood the name of the game. He can deny the legal basis for the divorce bill until he turns blue in the face - but in the end London will pay up, because it is a political necessity. And Theresa May knows this. The longer the denial goes on, however, the angrier the former spouse becomes and the more the bill rises. It's just like in real life. So how smart is that?
And how clever is trying to teach the UK a lesson?
Over the weekend, Michel Barnier was also in defiant mood. He said he wanted to "teach British people what leaving the single market means." On tour in Italy he threw caution to the wind and talked about an "educational process" for the British public and particularly the Leave voters. David Davis and his tactics of denial and procrastination are clearly making Barnier angry. But how clever is it for diplomats to show their emotions?
Having slept over his indiscretion, Barnier promptly backtracked.
And, dear Michel, is it not a bit late for education? The Leavers did not listen to the voice of reason before the referendum and don't seem to be doing so now.
However, some advantages of the EU, its single market and its treaties seem to have gained traction in the circles of Westminster. Ideas emerge such as wanting to stay in the EU science program "Horizon 2020." Because otherwise, the UK would lose its place in the international scientific community. And there is talk about staying in the Erasmus student exchange and in the European satellite program Galileo. And in the Euratom treaty on the provision of nuclear material. And in the European Investment Bank, because that's where billions for British house-building programs come from. Only that the statute of the EIB says it's a members-only club. But surely Brussels would love to make an exception?
When in doubt ask Michael Leary
It was the pugnacious boss of Ryanair who told the British government a few home truths about one particular consequence of Brexit: If a follow-up for the EU Open Skies agreement is not reached by summer 2018, there won't be many flights from the United Kingdom to the rest of Europe the following summer. Flight plans are made a year in advance, and if airlines don't know what regulations will be in place, they can't plan. British Prime Minister Theresa May should not be swanning around Japan "drinking sake" with Prime Minister Abe, Michael Leary suggested, but staying home and taking care of Brexit business in order to save Ryanair's flight schedules.
The PM however created a moment of real mirth when she suggested on the sidelines of her Japan trip that she would not only stay on till the next elections, but live to fight them. The laughter was heard throughout her party and beyond. This "dead woman walking" thinks she will be striding around after 2019. Let her survive the Tory party conference in four weeks' time and then we'll know more.
Bambi's blue eyes
Much ado was made of a short visit by Tony Blair to Brussels. And because it took place at the same time as the last round of Brexit negotiations, conspiracy theories were swirling. "Blair is derailing Brexit talks," the tabloid The Sun immediately assumed. And the former PM was asked "to stand up for Britain" instead of undermining UK talks by kissing European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker. But Juncker kisses everybody who crosses his path, and is "Bambi” Blair not rather a spent political force? Questions remain about what the two were doing together. But maybe some things in political life should remain hidden, be it simply for their sheer irrelevance.
Liam Fox and his tanks
Trade Minister Liam Fox is undoubtedly one of the brightest lights of Brexit. His idea is now to do piggyback trade agreements. Just copy and paste the deal the EU is making with a country and Bob's your British uncle. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe politely asked for more time in order to consider this generous offer, but South Africa was less discreet. They want at least better conditions for their agricultural products. And that is just the beginning.
Fox, however, made headlines with yet another announcement: He said he would park his tanks right on European lawns. Behind the martial declaration is a brilliant plan to put a stand with British products bang in the middle of the Eurostar Terminal in Brussels. That will show them who is master of teabags and marmalade.
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How to learn from a real winner
Rumor has it that many Tory politicians have taken a book by Yanis Varoufakis to the beach. The former Greek finance minister made the bestseller lists with "Adults in the Room," where he praises his own all-or-nothing strategy when negotiating with the European Union on the last Greek rescue program. And he maintains a strictly partial view of events. Namely in leaving out that it took his departure in order for talks to succeed. Instead, he paints himself as a master of strategy in pushing Europe's establishment to the brink and showing up its lack of revolutionary credentials. Now he is advising the Labour Party to stay in the EU and radically reform it from within. They are on to a sure winner there.
Lead on, Yanis! If David Davis models himself on you, he'll buy a leather jacket next and then we'll have to wait for his successor in order to get anywhere with talks.