It is not only Boris Johnson’s proposal which is falling apart. His strategy (handed down to him by Dominic Cummings) also seems fragile.
By Dr Richard North and cross-posted from EUReferendum.com.
Eighteen hours after I remarked on the speed at which Johnson’s mad plan seemed to be unravelling, we have the Guardian making what amounts to a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, as it reports that Johnson’s Brexit plans “look to be falling apart”, with the Daily Mail using the same line.
Anything more, you might say, is simply detail, but what a lot of detail there is, not least of which is the Anglophile Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying that the UK proposal “at best” could form a basis for further discussions. They raised “many questions” Rutte said. “We can’t simply say ‘yes’ to them”.
That is seriously bad news for Johnson as the only way he was going to come away with a deal in time for the October European Council was if the “colleagues” rolled over and gave him what he wanted. And that, clearly, ain’t going to happen.
What got the Guardian excited, alongside dozens of other media titles, was the response of the Commission to a request from David Frost to conduct “intensive negotiations” over the weekend. Frost, it appears, along with a team of a dozen British officials, had failed to convince their EU counterparts that they had a mandate from Downing Street to compromise on what the EU saw as major flaws in the proposals on the table.
Frost, we are told, had been seeking to rescue Johnson’s proposed deal after it had been heavily criticised from many different quarters, but the Commission wasn’t having it. A spokeswoman said: “We have completed discussions with the UK for today. We gave our initial reaction to the UK’s proposals and asked many questions on the legal text”.
The plan is to meet again on Monday, when the UK will be given “another opportunity to present its proposals in detail”. But, in line with Rutte’s comment, the spokeswoman added that the proposals did not “provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.
In a damning indictment of Johnson’s initiative, an EU official said that the UK often asked for meetings to keep [the] process going. On the part of the EU, they agreed that no stone should be left unturned. But, he said, “there is nothing useful that could be done this weekend”.
One of those ever-helpful anonymous “senior EU diplomats” then pitched in to tell us that: “If we held talks at the weekend, it would look like these were proper negotiations. The truth is we’re still a long way from that. We need to work out quickly whether there is the opportunity to close that gap”.
That was more or less confirmed by still more anonymous sources, their collective view being that the EU would not pretend to negotiate when there appeared to be doubt over any basis for progress…