A week ago, Article 50 had not been moved. As a new week begins, it finally has been. This means that we now move into the negotiation proper between Britain and the EU27. Which makes this as good a time as any to say: don’t believe everything you read about it in the media.
Leaks and briefings are the stuff of which political journalism is made – and thank goodness for that. Where would ConservativeHome be without it? But one be more than usually suspicious, during the weeks ahead, of being stampeded or spun, for three good reasons.
First and inevitably, Ministers will seek to manipulate public opinion. That is par for the course. But take what you read with a handful of salt – particularly if it involves threats to pull the plug on or walk out of the negotiation. Ministers know that Brussels and the EU27 read our newspapers. What they brief will be part of the game of bluff and counter-bluff. We saw that last week with the to-and-fro over security policy.
Second, there will be genuine leaks at our end. Today’s Sunday Telegraph story about a Cabinet committee discussion of that policy, apparently based on leaked minutes, looks like one such, though one cannot be sure.
Third, Eurocrats and EU27 Ministers will seek to manipulate public opinion, too. For while our Ministers will feed information to journalists, they will want to keep most of their negotiating position under wraps: remember how long it took Theresa May to deliver her big speech setting out the Government’s position on Brexit. Our interlocutors will have no such inhibitions. They will brief anyone willing to listen about May’s position, if they think it is in their interest – and garnish what they deliver with their own threats and counter-threats. The BBC, the Guardian, the Financial Times and Remainers everywhere will lap it all up.
Fouth, tales will surface that are, frankly, triumphs of wishful thinking. We hate to single out particular instances, but today’s Sun on Sunday yarn suggesting the return of blue passports post-Brexit is unsupported by its content.
Fifth, stories will appear whose projection is more impressive than their make-up. The rumpus over Gibraltar is a classic. If Spain wants to use its veto over the matter, or push for support via QMV, or both (depending on what sort of deal is under discussion), it will – at considerable cost to its own growth, by the way. If it doesn’t, it won’t. What Donald Tusk put about Gibraltar in his letter is simply one of the negotiation’s opening shots.
It is this site’s duty to link to anything significant reported each morning in our newslinks. If we’re not entirely convinced by it, watch for the use of “appears” or “claims”, or the swathing of entire chunks of texts between quotation marks.
We are no more or less prone to being spun, or caught up in the excitement of the moment, than anyone else. But we will try to keep a cool head during the two years or so ahead, especially since the negotiation is unlikely to begin in earnest until the autumn, when the French and German elections are over.