Back in 1975, after then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, leading a Labour Party that was split over Europe and with a Commons majority in single figures, agreed to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the then EEC, he told the world that he had secured membership terms that were “Renegotiated”. These were therefore better than the rotten Tory terms secured earlier by Sailor Heath.
The reality was that Wilson’s membership terms were so little different to the terms negotiated by Heath and his team as to make no difference. It was a magnificent display of style over substance, and Theresa May’s alleged concessions from her latest pointless last-minute dash to Strasbourg were in the same vein. Not that you would guess this from the falsehood and misinformation peddled by our free and fearless press.
The increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph tells readers “May keeps deal afloat after last-minute Strasbourg dash … PM believes she can get agreement through Commons as she wins legally binding concessions on permanent Irish backstop”. But the joke paper still known as the Express is more cautious, with “PM wins ‘legally binding’ changes on backstop to clinch Commons vote today”. Note the quote marks.
There is no such caution at the Murdoch Sun, though, as readers are told “Brexit Breakthrough … BACKSTOP FROM DEAD … PM’s last minute deal secures legal guarantees”. Note the wording, however: “legal guarantees”, not “legally binding”. And in the country where the backstop matters the most - Ireland - it is clear they believe, to quote another of Ms May’s happy phrases, nothing has changed.
As the Independent has reported, “The controversial Brexit backstop has not been rewritten or ‘undermined’ by new clarifications secured by Theresa May on Monday evening, the Irish prime minister has said”. The Withdrawal Agreement, whisper it quietly, has not been reopened, let alone revised - as EU negotiators had repeatedly warned.
Those still paying attention were not convinced, with Rosie Robertson musing “This latest edition of May’s ‘deal’ is like when a small child refuses to eat his lunch and his mother re-presents it - having added a pea. Around the table, the rest of the family assure the child that it’s *definitely* not the same lunch”. And the BBC’s spin was fooling no-one.
As Paddy French at Press Gang observed, “Watching BBC news channel last night fascinating. Katya Adler in Brussels was saying that nothing had really changed while @bbclaurak was giving a much more positive spin in London. Two news channels in one”.
Worse came from Jon Snow of Channel 4 News: “A Lawyer contact tells me that the legal world is aware that the Attorney General said NO last night to the validity of Mrs May's 'new EU deal'...he been told to go away and find a way to say YES: A cohort of lawyers has been summoned”. Geoffrey Cox disagreed. But it all sounded a bit Iraq 2003.
And David Allen Green summed up what had been achieved, or not. “Being able to go to an arbitration, which you may then *lose* … is *not* a unilateral right to leave. Think about it … It is instead a right to elect to start a process where a third party may or may not let you leave. More fool any MP who falls for this”. Nothing has changed. Theresa May has come back with nothing. The deal is the same. Except that the UK is closer to disaster.
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