August 21, 2017

Brexit negotiations: the Davis poker face

Brexit negotiations: the Davis poker face

Commenting on the ongoing Brexit negotiations, Peter Divey presents a more bullish perspective of the British side. Poker is often a game of bluff, he says: you can win without the best hand.

Michel Barnier is not as shrill as Juncker but he does rather well with his own line of piqued dramatis. Things have been “impossible” more than once and items are regularly conditioned with an insistent “will” or “must” as if this declaration in of itself should be sufficient to make it so. It is what the EU have come to expect. They demand, you obey. I thought I knew how the press conference would go, Barnier would engage in sombre grumbling about lack of progress and clarity before exploring once again the sadness of losing old friends over such a foolish misunderstanding. David Davis would be more upbeat trying to emphasise the positive. I wasn’t fully attendant, that is the way when you know what’s coming…so…

I was up off the sofa in a start, walking towards the TV, fumbling for the remote to raise the volume, head turned so that I might better hear… yes, Davis had said it…”Michel is rather angry”… I couldn’t have been more thrilled!  The line put out by The European press and unfortunately further propagandised by too many over here…that Britain was unprepared, clueless, sure to be crushed and humiliated by the mighty, efficient EU, was it dissolving? It was going to be a shellacking went the story, no resemblance to a negotiation at all. Worst of all Britain would be spineless, eager to grasp whatever crumbs were offered up in an effort to appease. There were personal attacks upon Davis…incompetent, out of his depth, poorly briefed and feckless. I never believed this for one minute and the more strident the tone the more certain I was that the EU knew it wasn’t so. It was a brilliant narrative, Davis felt sufficiently pressured to sit with pen and pad on show such was the febrile over-analysis. This was fantastically and fabulously turned around when Davis turned up with 92 advisers, outnumbering the EU mandarins four to one… everyone saw what it was then, games, just silly games, and both sides can play… I hope they all wore bowler hats, swung umbrellas and marched about with their best silly Monty Python walk a la John Cleese, what a fantastic sight that would have been!

The admission by Davis that Barnier was increasingly frustrated is timely and clever. Britain has fortitude and resolve, we are not just rolling over. Barnier, as a barb, had told Davis that the clock was ticking… you are running out of time, feel the pressure… Davis came back a week or so later, cool as a cucumber… the clock is ticking, it is you who are running out of time. We will leave with no deal if needs be… and take our money with us. This strategy will only work however if the EU believes that Britain will walk away over a bad deal. Poker is often a game of bluff… you can win without the best hand. Barnier is very constrained by the EU Commision. Supposedly he has asked for more flexibility but has been told to adhere strictly to his remit… the redlines, the structured approach to talks… “sufficient progress” before the important trade talks can begin. Who thinks that is not about the money? Britain is not wilting as expected, and Barnier now knows that Britain is not Greece.

Poor little Greece, treated so appallingly by the EU. Crushed and humiliated to order. Democracy trampled. Juncker infamously said: “where treaties are concerned there is no democracy”. Article 50 is clear, come March 30, 2019 all political and legal structures cease to apply. Britain has no obligations to the EU post-Brexit. None. Any working arrangements cannot be compelled, only negotiated. When David Davis says that Britain will pay what is legally due concerning the Brexit bill the EU is infuriated because strictly speaking this can be nothing if Britain so chooses. The EU has mistakenly conflated Britain with Greece and it is showing. It is yet early in the process. There will be plenty more bluff and bluster. The unity of the commission and the 27 over Brexit seems solid, but I think, rather like a swimming duck, that serene outward appearance belies frantic activity beneath. The referendum result will have come as a great shock to the republic of Ireland; and their choices have been odd.

Leo Varadkar and the Irish government of course strongly supported the EU, but to do so without any nuance was hasty. You can imagine the conversation in the days following the referendum result… Juncker, patting the Taoiseach on the head… “Leo leave this to us… Brexit won’t happen, it’s only another referendum…we’ll sort it”. The Irish sat back, didn’t work any back channels with the UK and trusted the EU to negotiate on their behalf. Oops. Now the Irish are sniping at the Brits from the side lines, where they have always been having given over responsibility to their masters… but who are they really shouting at? The EU just as much as the UK… ‘please hear us!’ ‘What about our particular needs?’ And so it will be to a lesser or greater extent with each of the 27 sovereign nations. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Any one of the 27 can de-rail an agreement that Davis and the Commission cook up. Then the MEP’s have to pass it…a Ministry of silly walks indeed…

4.98 avg. rating (99% score) - 42 votes
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Peter Divey

Peter Divey’s dormant interest in British and American politics has been reawakened by last year’s Brexit referendum result and Trump’s ascendency to the White House. In his spare time he enjoys playing chess and has a growing collection of vintage wrist watches.

  • Mary Robinson

    They may realise they’re better off exiting the Germanic-France alliance and come in with us.

  • wolfhound

    Officially they do.

    It might be a bargaining tactic for the UK to tell the RoI to come on side over Brexit or take Ulster if they continue to kowtow to Brussels.

  • Mary Robinson

    There is no way the South wants the basket case up North.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    You’re very welcome 🙂

  • Otto von Bismarck

    ???

  • getahead

    Non-Tariff Barriers cost the UK tax payer £10 billion a year. Too expensive.

  • getahead

    WTO tariffs will be cheaper than the current £10 billion a year we pay in EU contributions, though a free trade deal would be preferable.
    Walking away, however, is not a problem. It’s win- win for the UK.

  • getahead

    It would simplify the map of Ireland though.

  • getahead

    Anna, “chaos in the EU will have a negative impact on us”. I’m sure Europeans will survive without the nonsense of Brussels.

  • Vera

    This quote from JFK needs to be shoved under the noses of quite a few of our MPs & ex MPs – Anna Soubry, Nicki Morgan, Vince Cable, Clegg, Heseltine, Bliar, Hammond,, Rudd, etc, etc. So many, who would in normal circumstances be considered as clever and well-educated but yet favour us being subservient to a German-led undemocratic bureaucracy which cares nothing for EU countries and its peoples, cares only for the German elite and the EU project.

  • Vera

    Thanks for your brilliant answer to that twerp. Far better than any I would have come up with.

  • Androsupial

    According to Wikipedia there are 195 countries in the world. After the UK leaves the EU we will be able to conduct trade with the, er, 168 non-EU nations. Remoaners should remember that we have been in the EU for just over 40 years: can that short period really have erased the global trading capabilities of a nation that has been a viable entity for over 500 years? It’s not that we’re closing the door to Europe: we’re opening the door – a bigger one – to the rest of the world.

  • Malcolm

    If you really think that they will prioritise a political project over their bottom line then you must be deluded. I don’t happen to believe that we need rescuing.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    You’ve completely ignored the problem of Non-Tariff Barriers.

  • BigMach

    leavehq are not credible. Its leader is throwing his toys out of the pram because his idea called flexcit is not being adopted. He prioritises trashing those who disagree. WTO will be fine, although it won’t be that good for Irish beef farmers or German car makers and French wine sellers.

  • Mike Thomas

    Otto, if we walk about without a deal – we pay nothing. That means, France, Italy and Germany are going to need to find the £18bn a year, that’s their people, their government paying much more in taxes. Next, the tariffs, the Germans alone (automotive, white goods, etc, etc) are going to find a cost of doing the same business go up by some £20bn. The EU total is some £40bn per annum.

    Meanwhile, in the UK, tariffs on things like electrical goods and cars from other countries will come down in price. Yep, many of those WTO tariffs are lower than those of the EU customs union. Also, as a net EU importer, we could respond to our exporters with a tariff credit scheme paid for – yep, by those import tariffs. We could really rub the salt in the wounds and use the import tariffs to slash corporate tax (my personal favourite) and bring the world to our shores.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    The German car industry (and the Japanese one and the French) all said they would abandon the UK if we voted Leave. What did they do since the referendum? Well, virtually every one of them isn’t just staying but increasing their investment in the UK, most notably BMW in Birmingham and Renault-Nissan in Tyneside.
    Honda BTW promised to quit the UK if we didn’t join the single currency 20 years ago. Strangely, they’re still here.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Otto, that is an argument for not leaving the EU. Unfortunately for you, we had a big vote on that matter over a year ago. The British people, by a clear majority, voted to leave regardless of the economic arguments made by Remainers. We can speculate that they may have been too stupid to understand clever people’s arguments or that they valued democratic control of their country, which is the biggest long-term guarantee of wealth, more highly than short-term economic arguments.
    Perhaps it’s time you faced up to the fact that we’re leaving the EU come what may. We’d prefer a deal but we’re leaving either way. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/af188b3b9a4887655d8ac25ebcc71effb04d23db3380c9b9b59ce2f9c492c2a6.jpg

  • wolfhound

    The threat of reunification of Ireland is sometimes used as a threat to the UK over the Brexit deal. If this happened it would lift a large burden off the UK taxpayer and bankrupt the Republic, as well as incorporating a large number of angry and hostile Protestants into the new state.

  • Dougie

    The UK is the 4th largest market for German luxury cars after Germany itself, the US and China. Every fifth BMW that rolls off the Bavarian production line is exported to the UK. If the EU insists on creating barriers to trade where none currently exist, we can all buy Jaguars instead of BMWs and Mercedes. But what will the German car workers do?

  • Hoot_Gibson

    Beat the clock !

  • Hoot_Gibson

    A great article.
    I would love to see David Davis go into a meeting with oh ! So cool, ” look at me I am not gorgeous and suave ” Barnier, Davis with his hair super gelled straight up Jedward style that would really throw Barnier off his brief.

  • geordieboy

    The German car industry is going to be in deep S**t as Trump is going to flood Germany with Tesla’s and raise tariffs on all deisels ,Merkle is not a happy bunny.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    “…how do you reverse 45 years of political and economic integration?”

    Leave the EU. How much more simple do you need it to be?It took 45 years for them to think up all the bullshit, a couple of years and some re-writes, then a few more years to iron out the issues. Job done son.
    You want to be an EU citizen, no problem…I hear Germany is taking people in…don’t forget to hand in your passport on the way out.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    Thats what they’re saying…now. But what will they be saying when it begins to become apparent that prioritising the “integrity” (haha) of the single market is going to leave them out of pocket? We’ll see, won’t we.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    The question is how do you reverse 45 years of political and economic integration? If anyone claims to have an easy answer to that then they’re lying.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    The German car industry has already said it’ll prioritise the integrity of the single market. They’re not riding to the rescue.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    You didn’t ask one…

  • Otto von Bismarck

    That doesn’t answer the question.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    Haha…like it!

  • anna

    Yes, I read Varoufakis’s book and it turned me from a reluctant remainer into a repentant one. It is interesting to see that Varoufakis’s prediction that the EU would use the same tactics with us that they tried with Greece – negative briefing, lies, delaying tactics, bullying, manipulation, divide and rule – have come true.

    But we are not Greece. And the EU is not the happy, united family the High Command in Brussels would have us believe. There is seething discontent in many EU countries at the erosion of democracy, the corruption and high-handedness of Brussels, the unfairnesses within the Eurozone which are not being addressed. If the 27 suffer as a result of the tactics of Barnier and Co, the collapse of the whole rotten system might happen sooner rather than later. It gives me no satisfaction to say so, because chaos in the EU will have a negative impact on us. Let’s hope against hope that sanity prevails and a mutually advantageous deal is struck.

  • Malcolm Marchesi

    The story goes that , during the 90’s when David Davis was Minister for Europe , he acquired the nickname of M’sieur Non . Perhaps we are beginning to see why . As to whether or not the Eurocrats in Brussel are prepared to cut off their noses to ” teach us a lesson “. If the German economy were to suffer the loss of a large chunk of it’s trade with us , how long would it be before Brussel’s finances took a large hit ? Not very long I suspect !

  • John Standley

    Have We Got News For EU.

  • Malcolm

    You, as ever, are far too pessimistic about all this, Otto. Trade works both ways and there is no way that the German car industry bosses, to cite just one example, would allow it to dry up. The EU insiders may well be prepared to put their ideology before a sensible deal, but even they would very soon recognize that should they do so it will put the whole thing at risk. There are enough strains within the EU structure at this time without opening up a rift between the political establishment and the industrial giants that fund them. Sense will either prevail or there will be no EU left to strike a deal with anyway. The clock is ticking for everyone, but it is only an existential threat for one side – and that isn’t the UK.

  • Vera

    So pleased to hear that David Davis has the measure of the EU bureaucrats. I’ve nearly finished reading Yanis Veroufakis’ book Adults in the Room. The shameful shenanigans that went on during the Greek negotiations for debt restructure show us how wise we were to vote Leave. The EU is not interested in negotiating even to their own advantage – their first priority is to crush the country they are dealing with – it is all about power and control, spite and fury. Their only objective is the enlargement of the new German empire.

  • Vera

    A disaster is remaining in the EU and thankfully we are not.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    If the UK walks away without a deal it’ll be a disaster since we’ll be defaulting to WTO rules:
    http://leavehq.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=128

    The threat is therefore not credible and it is the UK that is pressed for time.

  • Major Plonquer

    I’ve been inspired enough by this article (10/10) to design a new TV Game Show.

    The game show works like this: There are two contestants and a ticking clock. The contestants each have to overcome problems until one can’t go any further. The winning contestant wins the clock. Or is it a bomb? That’s how the suspense continues until the very last minute of the show with the final ending at Midnight, March 31st 2019. Simon Cowell might be interested in buying it.

    What should I call this Game Show?

  • Great Briton

    Well done Peter, we need more articles like this.
    At times it seems as if the EU has the whole of the British media behind them with the BBC leading the charge.
    There are two sides to every story but the Beeb can only see poor little Britain (one of the biggest economies in the world) being pushed around.
    Do you remember the story about us turning up with no papers. We were doomed because we hadn’t taken our homework with us, Ridiculous.
    Even the “clock is ticking” story is thrown against us when in reality it is the EU who should be cacking their pants. We’re quite happy to walk away without a deal

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