After last week’s party manifesto launches, and the realisation that the one with the real suicide note in it was not the Labour one, the Tory-supporting press has realised that they must move the narrative away from social care. Because the more time the voters who will decide next month’s General Election spend looking at the prospect of not being able to leave their home to their kids spend looking at those proposals, the more the polls move.
So this morning the fallback position was being adopted, and that meant increasingly telling readers to look somewhere else. And, as the election was supposed to be about Brexit, Brexit was now the issue. The problem for the Tory press was what exiting the EU was going to entail. So while the Sunday Telegraph teases readers with “May: We want Brexit refund”, the Murdoch Sunday Times is ready to ‘fess up.
There, it is admitted that the Brexit “divorce bill” will not mean a refund, but a substantial payment in the general direction of Brussels, hence the headline “Davis warns Britain will quit talks if EU demands €100bn”. So the Tories are ready to pay up - as their manifesto admitted, and Zelo Street covered the other day - but they want voters to know that those ghastly foreigners will not be permitted to hit us too hard.
To this end, outgoing Brexit minister David Davis has shared his thoughts, including “Rounding on European Commission officials who leaked details of a recent dinner with the Prime Minister, Davis said Eurocrats had ‘axes to grind’ and accused the other member states of posturing, incoherence and failing to tell the truth”.
So yet more pointless railing at those other 27 member states who have left it all to Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker, then. What else did Davis have to tell the ST? “He made clear the UK was prepared to walk out if the other 27 member states did not moderate their demands”. Why the tough talk? Ah well.
Buried in the ST interview narrative is this: “Davis spoke out as the other 27 countries prepare to sign off on a legally binding negotiating position tomorrow … Senior EU sources say their position has hardened and they will demand more than €100bn, including money they claim is still owed by Britain from the period from 2007 to 2013”.
Whoops! The ST calls this “a dramatic escalation of hostilities”, and goes on to tell “A senior source says the other countries would not back down either”. So where does this needless exercise in comparative swaggering leave the UK? Any falling back on an environment where our industries face both tariffs and customs delays means only one thing - a substantial part of that which can more elsewhere will move elsewhere.
David Davis and his fellow Tories have been reduced to explaining their problem away by telling interviewers “look over there at that dreadful Corbyn chap”, as London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson did when quizzed by Robert Peston this morning. That is because, despite the bluster, all Davis can summon up is empty threats. We can’t just walk out, because if we do, we’re even more stuffed.
Davis has, despite the press refashioning, had his bluff called by Brussels. Game over.