ConservativeHome readers perhaps do not make the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung their second port of call. But Jeremy Cliffe of the Economist has helpfully tweeted its account of Theresa May and David Davis’s recent Downing Street with Jean-Claude Juncker. As Cliffe indicates, the story is clearly Juncker’s version of what happened, and will have come directly from sources close to him. Three conclusions follow.
First, as we have written previously, don’t believe everything about the Brexit negotiations that you read in the media (not that you would anyway). Both sides are manoeuvering for position, and briefings are all part of the game.
Second, the British side is no less capable of leaks than the Commission or the EU27: that’s obvious. But Theresa May will none the less approach the talks in a particular way. We know that her favoured method is to work within a tight circle, starve the media of information, and seek to preserve confidentiality – or secrecy, if you prefer. Juncker’s account of what happened at the dinner is being disputed (unsurprisingly), but one detail that rings true is that May wants confidentiality during the negotiations to be preserved: after all, she will have more to lose than the Commission does from stories that the Economist, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the BBC (and others) will pick up and run with. (P.S: ConservativeHome is conflicted here. The more leaks there are, the better for journalism – but the worse for the country.)
Third, it follows that if the more the Commission leaks, the slower May will be to put anything on the table. And the slower she is to do so, the slower the negotiation will proceed.
And it duly follows that the slower the negotiation proceeds, the less likely it is that any deal at all is agreed by March 30 2019 – on money, EU and British nationals, heads of agreement on trade, or anything else. Britain will be a loser if this is the case. But so will the EU27, and the EU as a whole. Argument about who will loses more is irrelevant to the point that all alike will be losers. If Juncker wants this outcome, he should carry on leaking. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t.