KUENSSBERG’S BBC2 BREXIT PROGRAMME PROJECTS LEAVING EU AS NIGHTMARE OF COMPLEXITY

KUENSSBERG’S BBC2 BREXIT PROGRAMME PROJECTS LEAVING EU AS NIGHTMARE OF COMPLEXITY

Britain’s Biggest Deal, BBC2’s programme about the triggering of the Brexit process, had a prime time slot, and was presented by the Corporation’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg. It was thus a shop-window effort.

Impartial, in line with the BBC’s Charter requirements? No. It was a no-holds-barred attempt to show how literally nightmarish the exit process will be.

Since June 24, as News-watch’s report on the Brexit Collection showed, the Corporation has been on a flat-out mission to show how stupid the British people were in voting ‘out’.

With Article 50 due to be triggered this week, Britain’s Biggest Deal can be seen as a culmination and a summation of those efforts. It ominously presages that for the next two years, as the negotiations unfold, the Corporation – led by Kuenssberg – will be cheering on every effort to undermine them.

Element one was a gross imbalance of speakers who wanted to rake up every conceivable obstacle to the the UK departure. Kuenssberg assembled a diverse and impressive cast-list: Tony Blair bellyaching about how important high volume immigration is to the UK economy; Sadiq Khan warning about the dire consequences of leaving the single market; Remainer William (now Lord) Hague intoning that this was the most complex diplomatic task ever undertaken; a West Country baker fearing major negative impact on his business; EU figures warning of dire consequences, of hard choices, and UK civil servants echoing the same.

Basic programme statistics confirm this gross structural bias. Fifteen of the programme contributors were Remainers, were pro-EU or thought that leaving could not be achieved in the allotted two years. Pitched against them were only five guests who believed otherwise.

In other words, 3:1 in favour of the Remain camp. And no-one from Ukip. Slowly but surely, the party is being air-brushed out.

Remainers spoke 3,700 words; those who were in favour of Brexit only 2,300. That’s a 3:2 imbalance.

Far more important in the equation, however, were the 3,000 or so words spoken by Kuenssberg, her handling of the programme guests, and her decisions on the programme structure.

‘Double, double toil and trouble’ …. springs to mind, and (for once) is here perhaps totally appropriate.  No eye of newt and toe of frog in the programme brew, maybe, but a modern-day equivalent: first of all, the Tory Remainer from hell, Anna Soubry; then Blair, Sturgeon and Farron in full anti-Brexit cry, along with EU Harpies such as Karel de Grucht and Donald Tusk – and finally, an EU law ‘expert’ from Clifford Chance, one of the few legal practices to come out overtly (and aggressively) in favour of Remain (referred to here by Open Europe – link to pay-walled FT article).

Their combined oracle-reading was spine-chilling indeed.

Striking, too, throughout was Kuenssberg’s use of language to describe the Brexit process. It was, she posited at the outset, ‘a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare’, with political danger ‘all around from Westminster to Scotland’ (on high Dunsinane Hill?).

Then, as the programme unfolded, there was what amounted to a a torrent of negative observations and questions: were we, she pondered, ‘hurtling along a collision course?’; there was ‘a lot more to worry about than herring or cod’; ‘divorce was messy, breaking up is hard to do’; ‘could the whole deal be derailed before it’s even begun?’; and of course:

‘But as everyone knows, divorce isn’t only about cold, hard cash. Even if the money is settled, the deal means disentangling ourselves from the hidden ways that we are bound together.’

Followed soon afterwards by:

‘The lights in Whitehall are burning later than usual, with two new departments to cope. Government lawyers are right now trawling thousands of pieces of legislation to work out what’s next. Enough to make even the most brilliant minds boggle.’

And that was only in the first five minutes.

Also true, it must be acknowledged, is that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith were included in the programme mix, and between them made some strong points about positive outcomes.

But here, too, as Craig Byers notes in his blog on the programme, another type of bias was on display: Kuenssberg posed much tougher and adversarial questions to them than to the Remain contributors.  She suggested, for example, to Lord Hague that this was a diplomatic nightmare. His answer simply and obligingly confirmed it.

In sharp contrast, Brexit minister David Davis was dealing with that ‘nightmare’ and there was hard-edged steeliness from Kuenssberg about looming ‘cliff-edges’.

Perhaps the most blatantly biased aspect of the whole farrago was the sight of Kuenssberg brandishing to shoppers a giant cheque for £50 billion, which, she repeatedly posited, could be the cost of Brexit. Rather predictably, they were horrified at the idea, and said so.

The programme can be viewed here. The full transcript is below:

 

Transcript of BBC2, Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, 9 March 2016, 9pm

LAURA KUENSSBERG:        Theresa May is about to press the button on Brexit and head off on a mission.

THERESA MAY:    The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. And my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I can’t think of a more complex negotiation in modern diplomatic history.

LK:          Outnumbered, facing 27 different countries across the negotiating table.

KAREL DE GUCHT Don’t believe that this is not going to hurt you, it will hurt you. And that’s why it is such a stupid decision to take.

LK:          For Brexiteers, the dream is a quickie divorce.

BORIS JOHNSON: I am genuinely optimistic, I really am. I think we should aim to put a bit of a tiger in the tank.

LK:          But there is political danger all around. From Westminster.

ANNA SOUBRY If she doesn’t deliver what they want, they will stab her in the back just as they did with Major and, in effect, with DC – with Cameron.

LK:          To Scotland.

NICOLA STURGEON:           I’ve, you know, been very clear. I think a second independent referendum is highly likely.

LK:          The truth – no one knows where this will end up.

TONY BLAIR:        My anxiety is that the gain is very small and the pain is going to be very large

MICHAEL GOVE:  I think we should be confident, optimistic, pragmatic, open-minded.

LK:          It sounds like a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare.

WH:       I think it is. But it’s one the people have voted for, so it has to be carried out.

LK:          When the Prime Minister packs her bags for Brussels, how hard is it going to be?  Is she ready?  Is the country ready to do the deal? (Programme Title, ‘Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal)

UNNAMED ARCHITECT:     I had a secret wish to make a joyful building. To make a building that would relax people coming in and, you know, this is a very limited but still a power in architecture is to influence the mood of people.

LK:          Welcome to the brand-new HQ of the European Council, where Brussels’s power lies. This is where the Brexit talks will take place.

UNNAMED ARCHITECT:     I hope that it will help people respect each other and joyful meetings. I want to give them a homely space, a space where their deep talents can be expressed, like poets.

LK:          But Brexit might mean more stern words than poetry.

ARCHIVE FILM:     This has got to be clear, I’m leaving you for good and all.

ARCHIVE FILM:     Council, if you’ll prepare a judgement of divorce in this matter.

ARCHIVE FILM:     And you’ve got to divorce me.

LK:          But divorce is messy, breaking up is hard to do. Britain wants out of the EU, but we’ve been in for more than 40 years, with our countries, our systems becoming more and more tangled up with each other, more and more enmeshed. And we only have two years to hammer out a divorce deal. British ministers are also all too aware that with a series of elections right around the continent, it could be months before they get down to any serious talking. So straightaway the clock is ticking.

WILLIAM HAGUE: This is the most complex divorce ever, in history. The number of assets and income streams and expenditures that have to be separated from each other, and I think people don’t always realise that, erm, that we have become, over more than 40 years, very integrated into the European Union, so no-one should underestimate the complexity of this task.

SIR SIMON FRASER Permanent Secretary, Foreign Office, 2010-15:         There’s no real precedent for this other than Greenland. Now, Greenland is part of Denmark, which has about 60,000 people, and decided to leave the European Union and, actually, the main industry in Greenland is fish. And it took three years, actually, for the negotiations to be completed. Now, in the case of the UK you’re talking about the second-biggest economy in Europe, with 60 million people. So it is significantly a bigger challenge.

LK:          And we’ve got a lot more to worry about than herring and cod.

SF:          We’ve got a lot more than fish to deal with.

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI Polish Foreign Minister 2007-14:             It’s going to be the mother of all divorces. Some people will do well – lawyers and accountants.

LK:          The bean-counters could have a field day. Because the EU’s likely to make us pay – money, a lot of money is on the table. One of the first things the EU might well do is slap down a bill of as much as £50 billion for Britain to pay in order just to get out. That potentially massive bill is for Britain’s share of existing EU spending commitments like the pensions of EU officials. And if we don’t pay, the other countries will have to stump up.

WH:       There are some liabilities there. It will be very hard to settle what they are and of course whenever you get into money, as in any negotiation in life, that is one of the most vexing and controversial things. Given the sensitivity in the UK to being, for many years, the second-biggest contributor into the EU budget and then the anger that was felt by people about that in the referendum campaign, any such question will be extremely sensitive.

LK:          But hang on – remember this?

BJ:          We can take back control of £350 million a week!

LK:          Wasn’t the campaign based on getting money back from Brussels? What would we all make  of an exit bill? (Carrying large cheque) So we have a cheque here for £50 billion to the European Union that UK taxpayers might have to pay to the rest of the EU to get out.

VOX POP FEMALE:             We’ve been lied to.

LK:          Is that how you feel?

VPF:       Yeah, I don’t think anybody was explained to enough what was actually going to happen.

VOX POP MALE:   I can’t believe it. We would have heard about that before, surely?

VOX POP FEMALE:             Cheap at the price to get out of Brexit, yes. (sic)

VOX POP MALE 2:              Who are we going to pay the money to?

LK:          The European Commission in Brussels potentially.

VPM2:    Exactly, well sod ‘em.

LK:          Sod ‘em?

VPM2:    Yes, and Gomorrah.

LK:          (laughs)

VPF:       We should never, ever have given us a referendum (sic) None of us are educated enough to vote on something so serious.

VOX POP MALE 3:              You just need to be tough, the same as any business deal.

VPM:      I voted Out, so it’s all my fault, I apologise.

LK:          (laughs) (cuts to interview with Michael Gove) You were the chair of the Vote Leave campaign, you gave people a sense of expectation we were going to get money back. Now, won’t it be rather embarrassing for you if instead we end up being asked to shell out to get out of the thing?

MG:       We will get money back. Erm, there’s alway the chance, always the, er, potential that we’ll pay a one-off leaving fee. But that one-off fee having been paid, what will happen is that for years to come, money that we would have given the European Union we’ll now be able to spend ourselves.

LK:          But if we have to pay a one-off fee of some billions, won’t some voters who were persuaded by your arguments have every right to feel pretty cross with you?

MG:       Well, I think that we won’t be paying the enormous sums that have been talked of, in fact, in my view, we should actually be due a rebate. But we will see what happens in those negotiations.

LK:          What does the British government say if Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, slaps down a bill for £50 billion?

BORIS JOHNSON: I think, er, I think we have, er…illustrious precedent in this matter. You will doubtless recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back, and I think that is exactly what we will, we will get. It is not reasonable . . .

LK:          (speaking over) That we will say no, that is what you’re saying?

BJ:          It is not reasonable, I don’t think, for the UK, having left the EU, to continue to make vast budget payments. I think everybody understands that and that’s the reality.

KAREL DE GUCHT EU Trade Commissioner 2010-14:    I can’t see at this moment in time the constructive approach on either side, how do we make the best of this, you know? This is very much now a fight.

LK:          Are we hurtling along on a collision course?  If the EU tries to insist the cash is agreed upfront, cut the whole deal be derailed before it’s even begun?

KDG:      I believe it will be a very tough negotiation and it could very well be that after a couple of weeks, everything breaks down because there is no agreement on the principal itself of a cheque to be paid here.

ANNA SOUBRY MP Conservative:    I think the EU will indeed deliver that bill and I’ll tell what I think will happen, is in that event, part of the media will whip up even more a storm of anti-EU feeling and so even more people will come to the conclusion that the sooner we are rid of this ghastly bunch of people the better. And that will drive the cliff-edge scenario. Because “they’re unreasonable, you can’t do business with them,” it’ll be whipped up and you can’t get a deal and the sooner we’re out the better.

LK:          But as everyone knows, divorce isn’t only about cold, hard cash.  Even if the money is settled, the deal means disentangling ourselves from the hidden ways that we are bound together.

JESSICA GLADSTONE Lawyer, Clifford Chance:             The EU and the UK have been intertwined for more than 40 years and that will take a lot of unravelling. If you like, you could picture it as a huge Jenga tower, and the task here is to remove or replace the elements that connect us to the EU without having the whole fall apart. It’s going to require, erm, a lot of concentration, a lot of skill, and it’s going to need a real appreciation of how the two interconnect.

LK:          Since 1973, much in our daily lives has been governed by EU law.  The quality of the water that we drink . . . the farms where our food is grown. And what happens to the law. All the rules and regulation. It all has to be worked out in a two-year deadline.

JG:          One good example is the European Medicines Agency, which supervises the safety standards for all medicines that are available in the EU.

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE OF DOCTOR:     I’m going to give you something new that we use with good results. You’ll be alright in a few days.

JG:          Once the UK has left the EU, there’ll need to be something in place of that, make sure that the products available in the UK meet requisite standards.

WH:       Even the way we do our air traffic control is now on an EU basis, you have to separate that out so that you know when aircraft can land, where people can fish, how farm subsidies are paid, and you could imagine talking for months about each of them.

LK:          It sounds like a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare?

WH:       I think it is. Erm, but it’s one that the people have voted for, so it has to be carried out.

LK:          Our skies right now are governed by the EU, with a myriad of European legislation. It’s in both sides’ interests to sort it out, but it will take a lot of officials a lot of time.

JG:          It’s the sheer scale that will be so difficult to manage, because there may be some tasks that in themselves are not particularly difficult, but when you add it to the huge to-do list that the government will have, to make sure that Brexit runs smoothly, then it becomes in itself a real challenge.

LK:          The lights in Whitehall are burning later than usual, with two new departments to cope. Government lawyers are right now trawling thousands of pieces of legislation to work out what’s next. Enough to make even the most brilliant minds boggle.

PROFESSOR STEPHEN HAWKING:    I deal with tough mathematical questions every day, but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit.  (laughter and cheering)

LK:          Remember, Theresa May doesn’t just have to sort out the money and, well, the whole legal system. But the hardest thing of all is how do we do business with Europe in the future?  And for months she dodged the question.

THERESA MAY:    Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it.  (in another clip)People talk about the sort of Brexit that there is going to be – is it hard, soft, is it grey, white – actually, we want a red, white and blue Brexit. That is the right Brexit for the United Kingdom.

JOURNALIST:        Are we going to get a detailed plan, Prime Minister?

LK:          Finally, in January, she laid out her vision of what the referendum result really meant, and what kind of deal that would entail.

TM:        The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union and my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do. But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear – Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe, and that is what we will deliver.

LK:          Gaining control over our borders and our laws meant losing something else.

TM:        We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, but I want to be clear, what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the Single Market.

LK:          In one phrase undoing nearly three decades of British history. Since 1992, we’re done business in Europe largely without tariffs or barriers in the Single Market. Remember who used to think it was a good idea.

MARGARET THATCHER:    The combination of a Single Market in 1992 and the Channel Tunnel in 1993 is going to make a historic difference to the future of the whole of Europe and its place in the world and our place in Europe.

LK:          For many big British businesses the Single Market has been hugely beneficial. (in interview)We are walking away from the biggest trade partnership that exists. Will you admit there will be losers as well as winners? We cannot get a deal that is going to be as good as our current relationships inside the Single Market.

BJ:          Well, with great respect, I think it’ll be considerably better. I don’t want to pretend that there won’t be difficult questions, because there will be challenges. By the way, I don’t want to pretend that this country doesn’t have economic challenges, of course we have challenges, but we can meet all those challenges, and I think the government is setting out a very positive programme for doing so. And we can do a great free trade deal with our partners.

LK:          So what would a free trade deal with the EU look like?

JG:          If you have a look at a free trade agreement – although I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on anybody – you’ll see at the back of the agreement there are schedules, and the schedules have, in minute detail, every different sort of product in every different form that that product might come in. And there is detail as to what tariff will apply in that case, and it’s line by line for literally hundreds, thousands of pages.

LK:          So Theresa May has set herself a huge task. Any new trade deal will require the agreement of 27 other nations and to be approved by 38 different national and regional parliaments.  But Britain is isolated. In Brussels it didn’t start well.

DONALD TUSK (unnamed) The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us. There will be no cakes on the table for anyone, there will be only salt and vinegar.

UNNAMED FRENCH SPEAKER:         Today, Britain wants to leave but does not want to pay anything.  That is not possible.

KDG:      The mood is a little bit like you’re having a divorce, you know? They feel betrayed, this is not proper, you know – that’s the mood in Brussels at this moment in time. And nobody’s showing any flexibility.

LK:          (referring to Theresa May) She knows Europe’s leaders feel the survival of their union is at stake. They fear a good deal for us would tempt this to leave.

RS:         Well, I hope the continental negotiations EU-27 will do everything in their power to make it a friendly process – although it’s going to be very difficult. But I think those who imagine that Britain will be able to dictate to the rest of the European Union will be disappointed and they might find it humiliating.

LK:          The strategy in Brussels is clear: for every single one of the 27 EU member states, apart from Britain, to stick together along with the European Council and the European Commission. But Britain knows they all have some different interests and some different agendas, so the British strategy: pick them off. Divide and conquer. And that means working not just with national governments, but powerful groups inside their countries too, and using them to apply pressure for a deal. Our fancy tastes might help. We drink more prosecco from Italy, and more champagne from France than anyone else. Surely the EU won’t want tariffs on those?  Even more importantly, Britain is the biggest export market for Germany’s mighty car industry.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:        The UK needs to identify very quickly every single nation’s real stake in this game and the number one thing that politicians react to is jobs? What happens when that million car workers in Bavaria, whose jobs rely on British exports, that’s one million people who are in work because they sell a large number of cars to the UK, what happens when they start saying, “Hang on a second, are you saying that my job will go because you will refuse to have an arrangement with the United Kingdom because you think, for political purposes, that’s best?” We should be talking and will be talking to the very people that make things and get people jobs and they pay their taxes because that’s where politics really sits.

LK:          And there’s the City of London.

ARCHIVE NEWSREEL:         Britain has one of the most highly developed banking and financial systems in the world.

LK:          The UK will also try to persuade Europe it’s in everyone’s interests to give London’s massive financial services industry a special status in any deal.

SADIQ KHAN Mayor of London:        I’m quite clear, I’m pragmatic, I’m trying to work with the Government to ensure when it comes to them doing a deal with the European Union, it doesn’t make us poorer. That means, for example, recognising the importance of privileged access to a single market. That means recognising the importance of our ability to attract talent. I think the reality of a so-called hard Brexit is we would lose, so would the EU, because the jobs that would leave London wouldn’t go to Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt. They’d go to Singapore, Hong Kong or New York. A so-called hard Brexit means we lose as a city, our country loses, but so does Europe.

MG:       It’s certainly the case that if the current negotiators on behalf of the European Union try to penalise the City of London, they would actually be penalising themselves because the depth and breadth of the capital market that is the City of London helps sustain European industry.

LK:          So, we should ignore sabre-rattling from European capitals at the moment, should we?

MG:       I think we should be confident, optimistic, pragmatic, open-minded.

LK:          Aren’t you gambling that the European Union will put economics ahead of politics? I mean, when has the European Union ever put economics ahead of politics.

BJ:          Well, I mean, I think, the answer to that is that I think the EU leaders will be very responsive to their electorates and to their business communities, who can see the advantage of striking a deal with the UK, where you have a strong EU supported by a strong independent UK, but where you maximise trade between them.

MARIO MONTI Italian Prime Minister, 2011-13  I know there is the view in the UK with many that economics ultimately trumps politics. Erm, I wouldn’t rely too much on that. Britain, on the 23rd of June, the economic argument for staying was overwhelming and yet it was the political set of arguments, however disorderly, which trumped the rather clear economic arguments.

LK:          And a key ally of Angela Merkel warns we cannot have it all our own way.

DAVID McALLISTER MEP Chairman, European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee:              Cherry-picking – that cannot really be an option. A state which isn’t a member of the European Union and which isn’t a member of a single market can’t be better off than a member state of the European Union, so whatever the new relation, the new agreement between the European Union and the UK will be, it will have to be less than the current EU membership of the European Union.

LK:          But the real Brexit-enthusiasts believe the costs of leaving will be swept away by the trading opportunities with the rest of the world.

BJ:          You’ve then got the FTAs, the Free Trade Agreements with the rest of the world that we will now be able to do. We’ve got an embarrassment of choice because a lot of people want to do a free trade deal and so the task will be how do we prioritise?

MG:       If you look at other countries which have been outside the single market, they’ve managed to secure for themselves not just trade deals worth far more than the European Union has been capable of negotiating for itself, they’ve also been able to pursue economic policies which have fostered growth, creativity and innovation.

LK:          But before any new deals can happen, we have to tie up the arrangements with the European Union. And it’s even more daunting, because there’s a deadline. Can we really move that fast? (in interview) How long do you think it will actually take?

SIR SIMON FRASER Permanent Secretary, Foreign Office, 2010-15:         The average accession negotiation to join the EU, for example, is about seven years and if you look at the negotiation of the trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, that took about seven years to negotiate.

JG:          So, I think the quickest one the EU has ever agreed has been within a period of about 4 years.  Typically, 8-11 years is not uncommon for negotiating trade deals.

LK:          But couldn’t we just put our foot down? Lawrence Tomlinson owns a string of businesses, including Ginetta Cars, and is a man used to doing deals. You might just remember him from the referendum campaign.

LAWRENCE TOMLINSON:   Well, actually, Boris took me out for a spin to start with, which was quite disconcerting, but I was really surprised, he drove it very well and then we brought him back and we did a few doughnuts and it seemed to catch the imagination of the campaign.

LK:          And now around here, you call it the Borismobile.

LT:          We do, we call this old girl the Borismobile.

BJ:          We’re taking back control.

LK:          In terms of the length of time it’s going to take, you know, some people say this might take as long as a decade, it’s going to be very complicated and that delay is going to mean uncertainty and that can be really damaging.

LT:          I think the Government will just plough straight on. I mean, it’s just utter bollocks that it should take ten years.

LK:          Why?

LT:          Well, World War II took just over five years and, I mean, in fact, I think it shows the reasons why we should leave, you know, that things like this could perceivably take ten years. It’s ridiculous, so let’s get on, let’s get a nice clean hard Brexit and let’s dictate it.

LK:          The government wants to get cracking. They’ve set themselves a target of negotiating a new trade deal in two years. On top of all that tricky divorce. (in interview) Every European diplomat, pretty much every expert, is very cynical about this being done within two years, why are you sure it can be done?

BJ:          Well, it certainly can be done in two years and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, and I think we should aim to put a bit of a tiger in the tank. As I say, the deal with the EU, that negotiation, I think, should be fairly straightforward because we are in line with the rest of the EU when it comes to our standards and our, our trade arrangements, we just need to perpetuate that agreement.

LK:          What do you say to many supporters of leaving the EU who say, “Look, We could just repeal the act, we could just walk out. It could all be done in a couple of years”?

SF:          My answer to that is you could do that, but you need to think about what you’re left with and if you’re left with not a very good relationship with other European countries and no clarity about the future arrangements in our biggest market because, after all, almost half of our trade is with the European Union, then I don’t think that’s a very satisfactory position to end up in.

LK:          So it’s a kind of crash and burn? You could do it fast, but we’d burn ourselves on the way out?

SF:          So you could do a quick deal, the question is could you do a good quick deal?

LK:          Everybody agrees that getting it done in record time is a challenge of historic proportions. This is Down Street Station, hundreds of feet below the posh streets of London’s Mayfair and, during World War II, the government used to come down here for secret meetings. Churchill used to spend time in these warrens, trying to decide what to do in the war. (in interview) Some people compare it to the biggest job for any leader since the Second World War. For you, is it right to compare this to a challenge as great as the Second World War?

WH:       In its complexity, it is right to compare it. This is nothing like as grave a challenge as the Second World War. It’s not even the gravest moment since the Second World War, but it is the most complex.  That is certainly true. I don’t think ever before has a government had to negotiate over so many subjects with such a . . . a complex set of negotiating partners on the other side and so many competing demands on their own side. I can’t think of any parallel to that for any British government in history.

LK:          Are ministers being straight with us about how hard it might be? One former Prime Minister doesn’t think so.

JOHN MAJOR:      I’ve watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic. Obstacles are brushed aside as if of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation. My own experience of international negotiations makes me doubt the rosy confidence being offered to the British people.

LK:          Should you not just level with people and manage their expectations, because it’s one thing . . .

BJ:          (speaking over) Okay, it’s a very important . . .

LK:          . . . saying, “It might be a bit difficult, there might be some bumps in the road,” . . .

BJ:          (speaking over) I think, I think that’s a very, very legitimate question.

LK:          There are millions of people who are worried about what might happen here.

BJ:          (speaking over) Yes, I think it’s very important, it’s very important to understand that, I mean, I mean, I am genuinely optimistic. I really am. I think it’s a fantastically exciting moment. I think we’re going to do brilliantly well, but it’s also important, at the outset of any negotiation, not to go into it with a sort of Eeyore-ish hesitancy about how things are going to turn out, but to, to, to recognise and to communicate to our friends and partners that this is going to be good for both of us.

LK:          But, just as you suggest, Eeyore might have been a bit gloomy, Tigger might have been a bit naïve.

BJ:          All of us who are working on this – Liam Fox, the Prime Minister – we all understand, the Chancellor, we all understand there are challenges and there are problems. None of them, individually, is by any means an insoluble problem and there are ways of taking advantage of the position we’re in, too, which will be greatly to the benefit of the UK economy, UK consumers and people in this country.

LK:          This is Theresa May’s deal. Can she get it done. She has a wafer-thin majority, but, so far, she seems pretty much unstoppable. Her bill to trigger Article 50 and start the Brexit process passed through the Commons easily. (footage of vote passing Commons)

MG:       It certainly felt historic, but I was also conscious that, in a way, this was the easy part. It was easy to make the case in the House of Commons that we should honour the referendum and respect the result. The difficult part is making the individual decisions that will ensure that Britain is in a stronger position in the future, but there are going to be, inevitably, difficult days ahead.

LK:          What there hasn’t been yet is intense political pressure. The referendum turned everything upside down.

JEREMY CORBYN: Mr Speaker, it’s not so much the Iron Lady, as the Irony Lady.

TM:        I’ve got a plan, he doesn’t have a clue.

LK:          It’s left Labour divided and confused.  (in interview) Do you think we are potentially at the start of a really fundamental reshaping of British politics.

TB:         I just don’t think you can tell at the moment. I mean, what is clear to me is that, if the choice is between a sort of hard Brexit Tory Party and a hard left Labour Party, there will be millions of people who feel politically homeless. The fact, at this moment in time with this issue of Brexit, that you don’t have an opposition capable, or looking as if it’s capable of winning, is a problem. I mean, that is a problem for our democracy.

SIR KEIR STARMER MP Shadow Brexit Secretary:         Brexit has clearly been difficult for the Labour Party, but I do think the worst is over and now we can hold the Government to account in a much more united way. The difficulty for us as a pro-European party was whether to give the Prime Minister permission to start the process. Now, we’ll hold her to account every step of the way.

LK:          But one party has seen an opportunity in crisis. Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat leader, and he’s calling for a second referendum, but this time on the Brexit deal.

TIM FARRON:       I think you kind of keep fighting for what you believe in. You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions and I think that what politicians tend not to do is say stuff that is uncomfortable. (leaving taxi) Thank you very much. Thank you, bye-bye.

LK:          He’s off to Doncaster, where 70% of people voted to leave, to thrash out his plan with some of them.

TF:          The bottom line is eventually she’s going to come back with some kind of a deal and the question is do you trust her and Parliament Our point is that people should be able to have one last look over the cliff and say, “I’m going over,” or, “Do you know what? I’d rather not.”

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP:               I don’t agree with another referendum. You know, the country’s made a decision. Why are we having the bickering, so let’s go forward together, we will get there.

UNNAMED FEMALE IN FOCUS GROUP:          It’s going to happen so, everybody, get behind it and make it happen in the best possible way.

TF:          I don’t think it happens in the best possible way if there’s no resistance and no challenge to the Prime Minister.

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP 2:            The trouble is it’s not a football match, it’s not like we’ve scored one goal, yeah, okay, you come in now, Tim, you get your referendum, you score another one and then we take it to a penalty shootout.

TF:          I know it’s not best of three, I get that. Although we’ve had two . . .

UMFG2: But you get one crack at it, you see.

TF:          What she’s doing by saying you’re out of the single market without even arguing our place is settling for a poor deal and that’s why, you know, amongst the things we’re saying is that the people should decide at the end. So, no, I think the job of a good opposition is to challenge the Government so that they’re better.

LK:          For many voters though, here and round the country, immigration was the priority.

UMFG2: Right, the reason why they come here… The reason why they come here is because of…

TF:          You’re about to say benefits, aren’t you?

UMFG2: Yeah, of course.

TF:          It’s not. Honestly, it’s not. They’ve never heard of benefits.

UMFG2: Oh, come on!

TF:          Honestly, they haven’t. Honestly, they haven’t.

UMFG:   What’s in that coffee, I’ll have some of that! Your average European in Britain is youngish, working, paying taxes. They are. And we have a kind of misconcept of the value or the damage that European labour is doing here.

UMFG2:               Democracy has spoken. Do you not believe in democracy?

TF:          Yeah, I do. I think, I think democracy means two things. One is having the grace to accept when you’ve not won and the second is you don’t flipping give up. You stake out a case and you argue people to follow you, and you may succeed or you may fail. A referendum on the deal is not just democracy – It’s about closure. It’s about the country agreeing that, yes, this deal, we’re content with it. The danger of there not being a referendum at the end is the Government decides and three-quarters of the country say, “I didn’t vote for that,” and there is simmering resentment, and there’s no closure.

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP 3: I can see why, as a politician, he has a lot of personal charm. He is a very persuasive speaker, but did he change my mind? Not for a moment.

UMFG:   We’ve got to take it on the chin and move forward as a United Kingdom and, actually, let’s make this happen, okay, let’s stop the rot, stop the circle, let’s just on with it.

LK:          Theresa May’s calculation is that most Britons would agree with that. They just want her to get on with it. And it’s the decision to control the country’s borders that has defined the Prime Minister’s plan.. But will she actually be able to cut the numbers of people who come here?

CHRIS ORMORD:  We’re seen as a brilliant business making brilliant cakes. We’ve been in Taunton since 1865, I’d like to think we’ll be here for another 150 years.

LK:          Chris Ormrod owns and runs a bakery in the heart of Somerset.

CO:         We employ 400 people locally, 200 of them British, and the other 200 are from a mixture of nationalities from the EU and in some cases beyond. So, if you suddenly give me a very hard Brexit and say, “You can’t employ unskilled labour,” I kind of worry where I’m going to get my staff from to do the sort of things that we do and to carry on growing the business for the future and that one, that is a sleepless night kind of question and I don’t know how to answer that properly at this stage.

LK:          Chris isn’t the only person worried here. Chef Lubo has been in Britain for eight years.

LUBO ROTAK:       When we first moved here, my daughter was five months old, and er, now she’s eight. My son is six so both my children were raised here. They went to kindergarten, they went to school here, they feel they belong here. If it was going down the hard Brexit way, then the worst case scenario for us would be to move, me and my whole family, over to Slovakia. That’s not what we planned, that’s not the future we planned for our children, so it’s not just about us, it’s about our children and it would have a massive impact on their lives as well, yeah.

LK:          The fate of the three million or so EU citizens who live here, as well as more than a million Brits who live on the continent, will be on the table when the Brexit talks begin. But this business and many others depend on them.

CO:         I suspect most people would say, “Why don’t you just hire Brits locally?” Believe you me, we have tried. As I stand right now, we’ve got 30 vacancies. That’s very nearly 8% of my workforce and I can’t fill them and the simple truth is there just aren’t enough local people that want to come and work in the factory.

LK:          Fears shared in very different industries, in very different parts of the country.

SADIQ KHAN:       Let me give you one simple statistic. 12.5% of London’s workforce – that is more than 600,000 Londoners and they’re Londoners, by the way, who were born in countries in the European Union. They work in construction, they work in finance, they work in tech, they work in the professional services. They help our city thrive and flourish. If we can’t continue to attract them, we’re going to struggle and suffer.

LK:          But Theresa May has been absolutely clear. We’re not staying in the single market and she’s determined to bring immigration down and that means an end to freedom of movement.

SK:          I accept the argument there are parts of the country that don’t want immigration. There are parts of the country where the voters there voted to leave the EU because they thought it would lead to less immigration. I’m quite clear in relation to London – if we’re going to continue to flourish and thrive, we need to continue to be able to attract talent.

LK:          Since the referendum, the government’s tried to reassure individual industries they won’t lose their workers. But does that mean immigration won’t fall?

TB:         Right now, on what the Government is telling us, we’re going to still be bringing the majority, probably the large majority, of these people in from Europe, yet that was the main reason people gave for pulling us out of Europe. So, all I’m saying is a very simple thing: you know, when people start not just to see the pain, but start to realise in terms of the gain, we’re not going to be pulling those European numbers down to a few thousand, people are going to carrying on coming because we want them to come.

LK:          For how long should voters expect to continue to see significant levels of immigration from the European Union? Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? There was a political promise of us being able to bring immigration down, leaving the European Union . . .

DAVID DAVIS MP Brexit Secretary (speaking over) It will come down. Listen, make no bones about it, I mean, the Prime Minister, ex-home Secretary, is determined that it will come down, but it’ll come down in a way that doesn’t do harm.

LK:          For swathes of voters, though, shouldn’t you be preparing them for something that feels rather different to what they think they were promised? I mean, might we not end up with a bad compromise here where significant level of immigration remain over time so that business doesn’t lose out, but then also a new bureaucratic system of dealing with work permits and visas for business? That’s not going to be a great compromise for anyone, is it?

DD:         Look, it’s going to be a good outcome, (words unclear) compromise. It’s going to be a good outcome because A – we’ll control it, that’s the first thing. We’ll decide and we’ll make decisions on economic, and also on social grounds and so on. Secondly, the bureaucracy can be overstated, it doesn’t have to be bureaucratic, it’s very plain what we want to do, we want to keep our economy running at the same time as bringing immigration down, and we’ll do both.

LK:          And how long should it take, how long should people expect?

DD:         Well, it’ll take what it takes because the economy will drive it.

LK:          But there’s another fault line, a fundamental one: the tension between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Just listen to this, from the Prime Minister’s very first speech on the steps of Number Ten.

TM:        It means we believe in the Union – the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

LK:          Yet more than 60% of those who voted in Scotland chose to remain in the EU. That’s encouraged those who believe in independence to push for a second vote.

NICOLA STURGEON First Minister of Scotland:             Theresa May, in deciding to play to the hard right Brexiteers of her own party rather than trying to find maximum common ground, is in danger of making a decision to leave the EU, which I already think would have been damaging, potentially quite catastrophic for the UK.

LK:          Your opponents would say, though, you’re trying to use this situation to revive the independence arguments.

NS:         I deliberately didn’t, the morning after the EU referendum, say, “Right, that’s it, we’re off and we’re having a second independence referendum,” because I wanted to see if we could find that compromise ground. I’m not hugely optimistic about it at this stage because we’ve been met with a bit of a brick wall from the UK Government, but I’m honouring the commitment I made in this very room on the 24th of June to exhaust all possibilities. But equally, you know, I’ve been very clear, I think a second independence referendum is highly likely.

LK:          You just dispute the sense, the claim that the case for independence has been strengthened fundamentally by the fact that the UK is leaving the EU?

MG:       No, the case for independence is weaker now.

LK:          It’s weaker?

MG:       The truth about the Scottish Nationalist Party is that they have one aim – they want to destroy the United Kingdom and they will bend and twist any aspect of politics in order to fit this preordained ideological goal. And we should call them out.

LK:          In Westminster, some politicians think you’re bluffing about holding a referendum.

NS:         I’m not, and I never have been. And, you know, I always think that sometimes kind of says more about them than it says about me because it suggests that there are politicians in Westminster who think Brexit and all of this is some kind of game. It’s not a game, it’s really, really serious and the implications for the UK are serious and the implications for Scotland are serious.

LK:          Some of your colleagues now talk about autumn 2018 as a likely date?

NS:         Within that window, I guess, of when the sort of outline of a UK deal becomes clear and the UK exiting the EU, I think, would be the common sense time for Scotland to have that choice, if that is the road we choose to go down.

LK:          Just to be clear, you’re not ruling out autumn 2018?

NS:         I’m not ruling anything out, no.

LK:          It seems the government in Scotland is deadly serious about another vote on independence. It means when Theresa May is up to her eyes in trying to get a good deal from the European Union, she might also be grappling in a fierce fight to keep the UK together. There are serious issues for Northern Ireland, too. The peace process which ended the Troubles partly depended on an open border with the Republic in the south. But Theresa May’s decision to leave the single market and what’s called the customs union could force a return to a hard border, with echoes of the past.

TB:         The risks to the peace process, I think, are substantial. If you start putting a hard border down there, quite apart from all the disruption and the difficulty, you will change that context in a way that is profound and adverse.

LK:          Tony Blair has told us in this programme that there is a real risk to the peace process while the border issue is unresolved, that things could be very unpredictable in Northern Ireland. Is he right?

DD:         Well, no, I don’t think he is and the reason he’s not right is because everybody is seized of the issue so we, all of us, want to solve it and what does solve it mean? It means having a frictionless border. It means not going back to the borders of the past. I am confident we can actually get a resolution which is comfortable for the people of Northern Ireland and also comfortable for Ireland, the Republic of Ireland as well.

LK:          By the end of the month, Theresa May will press the button on two years of Brexit negotiations. They’ll be as complex and tortuous as anything that’s been attempted since the European Union was born.

TOM FLETCHER Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy Adviser, 2007-11:          This time, every leader in that room is negotiating not just with their foreign counterparts, but with their own media, with their own parliament, with their own party and with their own public and that is a very, very tough negotiation to get right, that multi-dimensional chess game.

LK:          There are crucial elections in France and Germany this year. With Europe’s most powerful politicians distracted, it may be autumn before any serious talks begin in this town. With so much to negotiate, no-one doubts one thing: there’ll be long days, late nights, it will go to the wire.

WH:       In a negotiation which is relatively fixed in time, why would you make a major concession, once you’ve started the negotiations, half way through?  You would save that all up for when you’re getting to the 11th hour, for when you’re approaching the end of the two years and that will make it an agonisingly difficult process. It always does, there’s always somebody holding out for a bit more. Most European deals, in the end, are settled either at the last minute or after the last minute.

LK:          David Cameron learnt that lesson the hard way, in previous battles in Brussels.

DC:         And it’s frankly not acceptable for the way for it to be left to this last minute and then attempt at reopening it and the sort of ambush at 1am at the end of a European Council meeting. I just think this is no way for an organisation to conduct itself and I find it immensely frustrating, but, you know, in this town, you have to be ready for an ambush at any minute and that means, you know, lock and load and have one up the spout and be ready for it, and that’s exactly what I did.

TF:          The reality of these negotiations, particularly at three o’clock in the morning, is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. You can have spent months preparing the perfect game plan, but, just as in a military campaign, it will all come down to those fine, minute judgements you make on the spot.

LK:          In this diplomatic game, the questions: who has most to lose, and who blinks first? This is Brussels’ most famous chippie and Angela Merkel even popped down here from a summit when things got a bit fraught late at night and round here, things do get very, very late and very, very tricky and the closer we get to the end of the two year deadline, the more pressure there is on Theresa May.  Her opponents across the table, they know full well she doesn’t want to walk away with nothing. If the deadline looms and there’s deadlock, one option for the Government is to seek a temporary arrangement but that’s not what ministers want.

SF:          What does that transitional arrangement look like? If it consists of more or less staying in the status quo in terms of access to the single market and everything that goes with that in terms of respecting the rules of the European Court of Justice, allowing freedom of movement of labour, then I think there are many people in this country who would find that very difficult to accept.

ANNA SOUBRY:    Look, this is the reality. There’s a bunch of people. They have lived, eaten, drank, slept, everything for this moment and they are not going to let anybody snatch it away from them, and Theresa May knows that, you can’t appease them, and if she doesn’t deliver what they want, they will stab her in the back, just as they did with Major and, in effect, with DC, with Cameron.

LK:          Ministers don’t want to extend the talks beyond the two years.  So if there is no deal, that only leaves one option: the cliff edge.

JG:          The cliff edge describes the reality of one day being in the EU, with everything that that means and the next day being out of it with no deal. And the level that you switch between, between those two worlds is very dramatic, which is why it’s described as falling off a cliff edge.

TB:         There is a risk of no deal. If we get no deal, I think business would regard that as a pretty severe outcome so, you know, you’re playing for very high stakes in this for sure because there are a myriad of technical questions, all of which actually impact on jobs and business and industry and trade and commerce so . . . Look, I think no deal is a bad deal.

LK:          If you are so optimistic about getting a good deal, though, why did you warn your Cabinet colleagues that the risk of us having to walk away and not getting a deal at all is very real?

DD (laughs) Be careful. What I said to them was they’ve got to do the, they’ve got to do the work for the so-called plan B or C or whatever it is. It’s not plan A.

LK:          But you acknowledge it is plan B, plan C, plan D, whatever you call it, the risk of not getting a deal . . .

DD:         (speaking over) Where, where, wherever it goes in the list, it’s our responsibility as a government to make preparation for all possible outcomes, right, we’re going into a negotiation. We don’t control the whole thing. By far and away the highest probability is plan A or some variant of it, namely a comprehensive free trade deal.

LK:          You are acknowledging, very publicly, there is a real risk of what’s known as the cliff-edge? We walk away without a deal and some people say that’s a catastrophe even to contemplate that.

DD:         If you . . .  No, it’s not a catastrophe to contemplate things. You contemplate things so you either avoid them or mitigate them.

LK:          (speaking over) But were we to walk away, would that not be a catastrophe?

DD:         (speaking over) If you went out on the street today and said to the ordinary member of the public, “Should the Government prepare for all outcomes?” They would say, “Of course.”

LK:          If you had to describe the chances in percentage terms of us getting a deal, what would you do?

DD:         I don’t intend to go down that route.  The aim of my department is to deliver plan A.

LK:          In two years’ time, the world’s eyes will be on this building in Brussels.  Whatever the outcome for Britain and the EU in March 2019, it will make history.

MG:       There are both short- and long-term economic factors, which mean that Britain is likely to thrive and to succeed, provided we take the right decisions, provided we approach these negotiations and indeed provided we approach the world with the right attitude.

KDG:      You will see the results, the negative results, one would say, sooner or later, but I believe rather sooner than later. Don’t believe that this is not going to hurt you. It will hurt you and that’s why it is such a stupid decision to take.

KS:          I think this is a defining moment and Brexit has been a crossroads for politics and what matters now is the way ahead and I think the political divide will be between those that believe in a collaborative, cooperative approach with our EU partners, in other words changing the relationship, not severing it and those that want to sever it and walk off completely and that’s the real battle that now lies ahead.

BJ:          We want the best for Europe, we want a new approach. They want us there at the table for so many reasons. There are so many things that we do together that we will continue to do together.

LK:          Whether we crash out or sail smoothly, think of this. Theresa May will almost inevitably be the last British Prime Minister to sit at a European table like this. There’ll be no more – no Thatcher handbaggings, no Blair-Chirac bust-ups, no Sarkozy telling David Cameron to shut up – allegedly. It’ll be it. Probably one night in March 2019, probably one very late night, Theresa May will walk out of here, taking Britain out of the European Union with her. What she achieves, or does not achieve in this room will define her record and change our country.

1 comment

  • I fully agree with David’s analysis of Laura Kuenssberg’s programme. I also found it helpful to see the transcript, which clearly establishes that her treatment of the topic was biased. Dear old Auntie BBC of course does not agree. I made a complaint to them about the programme’s bias and have just received one of their customary condescending responses (naturally, it does not address my specific points, as it was apparently sent, in their own words, ‘to everyone’). The BBC’s standard response to any criticism, whether it is of political bias or poor judgement or inaudible actors, is to deny any fault on their part. They never offer any objective or credible evidence: they merely assert that they are blameless. Until such time as the Corporation is willing to contemplate the possibility that it can and does get things wrong, this farcical complaints system will trundle on unreformed. Unless, of course, we could get a truly independent complaints commission/ombudsman to hold them to account. Well, one can always dream…

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