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The public were made to wait all day to hear brand new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab’s “Brexit war cry” and in the end it definitely wasn’t worth it.
For two years now, Theresa May and others have made increasingly more painful attempts to claim that Britain will always remain Europe’s “close friend” and “reliable partner”, only for them to be immediately undermined by, for example, Boris Johnson then comparing the EU to Nazis.
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So with Johnson gone, and David Davis having chuckled his way off into the sunlit uplands no one else can see, what better way than for the new Brexit secretary to show how things would be more grown up now than to set up his first day of negotiations in Brussels with an opinion piece in the Daily Mail which he described as his “Brexit war cry”.
When the sole purpose of your visit is to sell Theresa May’s pre-collapsed Chequers “agreement” to the EU, the one that involves convincing the EU we can definitely be trusted to collect their import taxes for them even as we simultaneously threaten not to give them the £39bn we’ve already agreed to pay, why not kick things off with a nice war cry?
Sadly, only one war cry persists in popular culture, and that is the haka performed by the New Zealand rugby team before fixtures. That ends with 15 giant men leaping skyward and sticking their tongues out, which was the way Maori people used to confirm that, yes, they definitely did want to have a fight.
Dominic Raab’s war cry, by comparison, involved stumbling over a pre-written begging letter, issued to his apparent enemy for more “cooperation” in the war he had just declared on him, then looking him directly in the eye and sheepishly declaring, “Michel, we’ve got work to do.”
It all felt rather like one of those weird old episodes of Neighbours, where a new actor slots into an old character’s part out of nowhere and everyone just carries on as if absolutely nothing untoward has happened. That the umpteenth joint press conference between Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit secretary just so happened to have a new Brexit secretary did not change the script or the dynamic one iota.
Michel Barnier again said “no”. This time it was to make clear, again, that British proposals to solve the Irish border impasse are completely unacceptable. That he did so by parroting the old catchphrases of the Vote Leave campaign group, in which Raab was a senior figure, was at least mockingly inventive. The EU, he said, in his almost self-parodical Frenchman-speaking-English accent, “will keep control of its law, its booouurderes, and its monneh”.
And in saying this, he made abundantly clear that plans to keep the Irish border open by having the UK collect import taxes on the EU’s behalf and then send them the money, would absolutely not be happening.
Mr Raab, when it came to his turn, simply read from a sheet of paper an opinion given to him by someone else that Michel Barnier, having said “no”, should instead think really hard about it and instead say “yes”.
That is arguably progress in the Neighbours sense. Theresa May has at least brought in an actor prepared to read out the script. But simultaneously it is a real missed opportunity.
For those of us who’ve been waiting two years for any kind of breakthrough, if only David Davis had made it this far, this really could have been it. Having stubbornly squabbled for two relentless years, agreeing on nothing, here they could have been in complete and perfect harmony over the idea that Theresa May’s plans were a complete waste of time and are never going to work.
We could have had peace in our time. Instead we got a strange war cry, that began with the word please, and ended with undisguised begging.