Brexit Diaries 7: The Summer of magical thinking | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.08.2017
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Brexit Diaries 7: The Summer of magical thinking

Why negotiations are going incredibly well, about the Honorable Member for the 18th century and the Chapman mystery

"Brexit negotiations are actually going incredibly well." About two weeks ago the Minister for Brexit shocked the listeners of the BBC's Today program out of their morning stupor when asked about the talks in Brussels. Because it was radio, you could not see the interviewer's jaw drop. Was David Davis under the influence of substances or did he reach this startling conclusion by auto suggestion? It must be a case of magical thinking.

Roll up sleeves!

The UK's chief negotiator also explained why it took them so long to put anything on the table: "The simple truth is that it took us 12 months to work up policies which are incredibly complex." And if it was sometimes still difficult to read from the proposals what the government intended, this was deliberate: "That's constructive ambiguity." You have to keep them guessing in Brussels, otherwise they might think we have a plan. But at least we have a strategy and that is to keep EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his minions on their toes.

In Brussels Davis then proposed to roll up his sleeves and get down to work for the third round of negotiations. The week will show whether that remains an empty threat.

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The contender

While Prime Minister Theresa May was on a walking tour in Switzerland, her party was thinking about possible contenders for her job. And activists came up with a fresh face, a truly unusual proposition: Jacob Rees-Mogg, a conservative MP who is referred to as the Honorable Member for the 18th Century. Son of the equally traditionalist Tory parliamentarian William Rees-Mogg, he is of exquisite politeness, holds pre-Stone Age political views and sports double-breasted suits. A poll saw him go from zero to third place behind David Davis and Boris Johnson in a possible leadership contest against Theresa May.

Even in the conservative Times newspaper, a commentator said that this blast from the past might send out the wrong political message. But what makes for the astonishing success of Rees-Mogg Jr. on social media is his position as a real hardline Brexiteer. He is untainted by compromise whereas even Boris has now acknowledged, that Britain will have to pay a bill on leaving the European Union and DD has published papers that reek of possible deals.

One of these indicates a compromise on the European Court of Justice. While a year ago Theresa May had drawn her line in the sand and said the influence of the ECJ must end with Brexit, life in the meantime proved to be more difficult: Neither future citizen rights, nor an interim agreement or border arrangements could be implemented without the EU Court having some say. There is no kind of Brexit deal without clarification of judicial oversight.

The solution could be found in a UK affiliation with the Efta Court, which rules for instance on cases between Norway and the EU. It bases its findings on the rulings of the Luxembourg court, but is of course a different institution. London has indicated it could be open to compromise only to find the Brexit campaigners use the issue to rally support for alternative leaders like Jacob Rees-Mogg who firmly denies any role for European judges after Brexit. He uses the European Court of Justice as a proxy for the issues of sovereignty and control and galvanizes opinion in the Brexit camp where this is seen this as a decisive issue. The internecine battles in Theresa Mays government and party make the Middle East look peaceful.

Further magical thinking

There were of course more position papers over the summer. One on the future customs Union with the EU for instance, which proposes a continuation of the current arrangement without the nasty bits. Britain would be let off EU regulations and could create many more nice customs agreements with the rest of the world. But cross-border traffic would be "frictionless”, of course.

Or there is a proposal for the future of Ireland. London wants no borders between the Republic and Northern Ireland in order not to disturb the peace process. But a sea border between Ireland and the UK as suggested by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is equally inacceptable for the British side. Would this not suggest a reunited Ireland? A proposal that would  be killed by the DUP, junior partner in Mays government, within minutes. 

London therefore proposes a border running through Ireland, which is invisible and has no customs or immigration checks. Some IT marvel will take care of the registration of trucks and presumably people without anybody noticing the process. It's clearly magic. 

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The Chapman mystery

James Chapman was the most spectacular traitor of this summer. David Davis former chief of staff had come out with a blast of tweets, denounced his ex-boss as a lazy twit and Brexit as a stupid idea. For a year he wrote, he had done his best to make Brexit work. But project fear – the remain campaign - was really project fact. The economic development was showing the increasing likelihood of those negative expectations. A week later, Chapman wanted to found a new party called the "UK Democrats." And then was heard no more. He disappeared from the face of the earth and social media.

The Remain camp of course is now speculating wildly:

Has Chapman's twitter account been hacked, has the DexEu Ministry invoked a super injunction against him, does he have a mental breakdown?  It seems a plot for a new political thriller.

And finally:

Make that five months now.

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