The Brexit dinner: delusion at every course

Last Wednesday, 26 April, Theresa May invited Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker to dinner at No.10. Tim Shipman’s report (May is living in another galaxy) in yesterday’s Sunday Times gave an insight into some of what went on and is well worth a read (I downloaded without £). But the full horror becomes apparent in the German-language account (Das Brexit-Dinner) in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Last night I did a speedy read-out of the key points on Twitter – focusing on what wasn’t in the Sunday Times article – and I’ve repeated this below. Jeremy Cliffe from the Economist’s Berlin bureau has done a fuller read-out which is well worth a read.

  • Juncker isn’t easily shocked (think his experience with Greece) – but was clearly visibly shocked by dinner at No.10. “Ten times more sceptical than before.”
  • Some context: UK has blocked agreement of EU’s mid-term budget review, pleading election purdah and inability to bind successor government. This hasn’t gone down well.
  • Some light relief: Davis over dinner recounted [three times!] his recent success in ECJ against Theresa May on data retention. His boss was not amused. He won’t last after election?
  • First big shock: May wants to start with discussion of EU citizens’ rights as early as end of June. “For May there’s no problem: they should simply be treated as 3rd-country citizens under British law.”
  • On process: she wants secrecy. EU can’t do that. [Jeremy Cliffe has more detail here on process and ordering of discussions]
  • May’s attitude: “Let’s make Brexit a success”. Juncker: “Brexit can’t be a success”. She seemed surprised – seemed she hadn’t heard this view so plainly before.
  • Very interesting point: May views Brexit as similar to “protocol 36” to Lisbon treaty – a paper exercise with little practical change. This rang Juncker’s alarm bells (“siren”): Brexit is a very different exercise. [Protocol 36 is summarised in an EU press release from 2014: UK opted out but then opted back into many of the detailed elements. Stewart Wood (Baron Wood of Anfield) has also recently blogged about this as a possible reason for May’s delusion.]
  • On the money question: May argued the UK doesn’t owe a penny – there’s nothing about a bill in the treaty. Davis added that UK would no longer be within jurisdiction of CJEU so EU couldn’t enforce a debt anyhow. [Prize for most crass comment of the evening?]
  • Juncker countered: OK then no trade deal. And the process will have to be different from what’s been envisaged, with every Member State having a say.
  • All of this explains Juncker’s profound shock, and phone call to Merkel at 7am the next day. He now thinks it’s >50% likely there’ll be no deal.

One caveat: this has clearly been briefed by European Commission, and it’s part of their strategy to communicate Juncker’s shock so openly.

But, stepping back from the detail, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this sorry affair is the cavalier attitude shown by May and Davis: a caricature of Brexiteer amateurism.

PS: thanks to Simeon the Stylite for the tip-off on the German article and to Brigid Fowler for jogging my memory on the Stewart Wood blog. In conversation with Simeon last night on Twitter, I drafted the government’s response for them: “we don’t recognise this account of the dinner”.

[Update: The government has indeed used the line I suggested in responding to the story. They’ve been using variations on this theme for months, as I blogged back in September.]

11 thoughts on “The Brexit dinner: delusion at every course

  1. Many thanks for the linguistics report. Nuts in May Is all I can think of. This really is a dangerous delusional position she’s taking.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As any skilled business negotiator will tell you, Mrs May’s approach is absolutely correct, unlike the EU ‘professional’ politicians who couldn’t negotiate the proverbial in a brewery. As for “no trade deal”, remember we buy a Hell of a lot more from the EU than we sell. I think the French cheesemongers, or the Italian vineyards or the Spanish farmers or the German car and white goods manufacturers will have a lot to say to their respective governments about that. If it does happen then we might find some of those German manufacturing industries building factories in the UK: a win win result for Brexit!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. historian1936 May 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm: “… remember we buy a Hell of a lot more from the EU than we sell.”

      One would think that suggests that we are more reliant on the E.U. than the E.U. is on the U.K.! That will work well once tariffs are imposed on the U.K.importers!

      Besides, the remaining E.U. 27 have agreed – unanimously by the way – to present a united front in these Brexit negotiations. There will be no independent agreements behind closed doors – the kind Mrs. May and her Tory wunderkinds think they can drum up behind the backs of other E.U. 27 countries.

      You – just like the Tories – are completely delusional, historian1936.


      1. Hi, I allowed the earlier comment because I don’t like to exclude comments on the basis simply that I disagree with them. However, I don’t wish my blog to become a slanging match so I’m not inclined to approve your response.


  3. I can’t say I have experience in every field of business, but I have spent my career since 2001 working in the City of London, at a Law Firm and since 2005, a financial institution. The approach adopted by May isn’t one I recognise as a successful approach.

    Rather I would have expected the dinner to focus on elements of likely agreement and some testing of the water around points of like disagreement. Sketching out a termsheet if you will. Instead this reads like the engagement of an (actually or nearly) insolvent debtor (the UK) with its creditor (the EU), in a moment of distress. That kind of approach/discussion is rarely resolved on the “side” of the debtor.

    My take would be that May is badly out of her depth.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The really wild thing in the FAZ article is the reference to protocol 36. I can see, why the european commission has leaked this dinner event. Even the idea of piggybacking brexit on a procedure like protocol 36 would trigger the question whether your PM has lost her sense for reality. Essentially this says: “We suggest to do a deal where we lie to the UK press and people about the conditions of Brexit, we sell this as the hardest of all Brexits, but – under the hood – we re-establish all EU regulations/rules we both can find mutual agreement for. .. and do Brexit a la carte”

    I believe the EC thinks that the UK government is in a severe echo chamber crisis, the mere suggestion of this idea is sufficient. I think that dinner report should be read by more people.

    Greetings from germany.

    Liked by 1 person

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