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1 December 2016

It’s not the press stuffing up Britain’s Brexit hopes – it’s the government

The Prime Minister and her Cabinet are weakening Britain's chances of a decent deal. 

By Stephen Bush

One thing that’s easy to forget here in Britain, where most of us are fluent in just one European language – our own – is that what gets written here doesn’t just get read here.

There are real diplomatic consequences to the frequent eruptions of Conservative backbenchers about European intransigence, to tabloid hit jobs on European politicians, to the right-wing press soft-soaping Donald Trump.  The government’s silence on what Brexit  actually means also means that European politicians are relying on our largely anti-European papers for a readout as to what it is that Theresa May’s priorities are.

There’s an irony that one of the biggest barriers to a good Brexit deal are those who most sincerely believe that there will be a good Brexit deal. They have sapped away at European goodwill and complicated the diplomatic picture.

That’s why Downing Street is stepping up its briefing of the European papers’ London correspondents, in a bid to restore some of the damage to the UK’s soft power before the Brexit negotiations get underway. (George Parker and Kate Allen have the story in the FT.)

Will it help? Well, it won’t hurt.  But the diminution in Britain’s stock around the European table doesn’t mostly reside on Fleet Street – and not just because most of the papers have long since moved away from that famous address – but in Whitehall. It’s not the papers’ fault that Boris Johnson’s jokes are putting the backs up of European diplomats, or that he is now embroiled in a row over whether or not he has been telling ambassadors he privately backs the free movement of people. (His spinner says he hasn’t, but four ambassadors disagree.) 

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It’s not the papers’ fault, either, that the Home Secretary’s conference speech mooted drawing up lists of foreign workers – a subject that irritated the political class here and did even more damage on the Continent. Nor is the media to blame for the Prime Minister’s “citizens of nowhere” zinger and all the damage that’s done.

So it’s a good move to start briefing the European papers. But if Downing Street really wants to tackle Britain’s increasingly lonely international position, changes are going to need to start closer to home. 


Polls are open in Richmond Park, where the Liberal Democrats are confident that their candidate, Sarah Olney, will narrowly defeat Zac Goldsmith. I’d be surprised if they didn’t – and my wider thoughts on the shape of the contest are here.


Laura Kuenssberg has got hold of leaked papers from Theresa May’s time at the Home Office in which she urged for schools to carry out immigrant checks and for the children of illegal immigrants to be “deprioritized” as far as their school choice was concerned, resulting in them being sent to worse schools. The change was resisted by the Department for Education and its then-Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan. Downing Street’s policy is not to comment on leaks.


Keir Starmer tells the Guardian‘s Heather Stewart that Theresa May should make a unilateral offer to those EU nationals already living here in order to boost Britain’s bank of goodwill before talks start in earnest. 


…is brought to you by the City of London. Their policy and resources chairman Mark Boleat writes on Brexit and the City here.


John McDonnell has told the FTthat Labour will keep the triple lock for pensioners in place until 2025, as well as committing to continue other universal pensioner benefits, like free bus passes, TV licences and the winter fuel payments until then as well. 


Mark Carney had harsh words for practically everybody at the launch of the Bank’s latest Financial Stability report. For Theresa May – the government needs to tell business much more about its Brexit plans. And for her EU counterparts, he warned that mistreating the City of London., “the investment banker of Europe” would be bad news for everyone. 


Antonia Quirke meets Matt Kaner, Radio 3’s new in-house composer, who has to write  a new piece every week.


George on how the Remainers hope to beat Brexit

Richmond Park is a glimpse of the future, says Anne Perkins

Anoosh meets Gisela Stuart

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