Brexit means Brexit but not as we know it – Britain's EU divorce and the media
If a week is a long time in politics it does not take the digital dexterity of our favourite figure fudger Diane Abbott to work out a year is even longer.
So one year on since the nation voted to Leave, what of the Brexit negotiations which started last Monday, 19 June?
Visual gag of the week was undoubtedly Her Majesty delivering her Brexit Queen’s Speech wearing her EU hat.
I have had the honour of meeting various members of the royal family on several occasions. I’m delighted that their sense of humour, warmth and compassion is finally being acknowledged by the media.
The last few years has seen a seismic change in the media coverage and resultant public reaction to the royal family. In complete contrast to 20 years ago around the reaction to the death of Princess Diana when the media was critical of the Queen's initial lack of public response, the Queen is now portrayed as the nation's chief consoler. The royals are powerful advocates helping raise money and awareness for many worthy causes from mental health to food waste.
All credit to Prince Harry for continuing to show the human side, pointing out that they only do the job out of a sense of duty: “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so.”
Her Majesty clearly appears to have learned the lessons from history, whereas Theresa May and her advisers have ignored them and now suffer the consequences.
Having lost her majority as a result of the snap election, May’s mantra of a hard Brexit is no longer viable. Instead negotiations started with a u-turn on the initial demand for the divorce settlement to be negotiated at the same time as discussions on a future trade deal.
It has been agreed to set up working groups on EU citizens’ rights, the amount of Britain’s “divorce bill” and borders. Talks will now only move on to trade as and when the EU decide “enough progress” had been made on these three priorities.
Brexit secretary David Davis emphasised, however, that “it’s not when it starts but how it finishes that matters” and offered an olive branch, saying “there’s more that unites us than divides us”.
A weakened May took the opportunity to announce plans to grant 3.2 million EU nationals who have lived in the UK for 5 years the right to stay subject to other EU states guaranteeing UK citizens who are long-term residents of other EU countries the same rights. This number is estimated by ONS to be 900,000 this year down from the previous UN estimate of 1.2million
The government has also announced that Britain would unilaterally maintain duty-free access for goods – other than arms and ammunition – from 48 poorer countries across the globe after Brexit.
As always, the devil will be in the detail.
Progress is being made and both sides realise the benefit of a deal. Andrea Leadsom is, however, unhappy with the media coverage.
The media has had a hot and cold relationship with Leadsom.
Leadsom went from obscurity to notoriety in the Tory leadership race against May. She faced challenges over her CV – in particular on some of the roles she previously held in the City – eventually pulling out of the race after telling the Times: "Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake."
The media don’t like people seeking to capitalise on others’ misfortune. May had previously been open about the effect of being unable to have children had on her and her husband, Philip.
On Grenfell, however, Leadsom initially outshone May In spite of angry crowds. Leadsom “as Leader of the Commons, on behalf of the Commons” was one of the first to visit victims of Grenfell.
…and then she went and messed it all up again...
Questioned on whether May was in a position of strength in dealing with EU counterparts, Leadsom told BBC Newsnight: "It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic …The country took a decision, this Government is determined to deliver on that decision."
Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis hit back: "Are you accusing me of being unpatriotic for questioning how negotiations are going, questioning whether you have the position of strength that she said she wanted,"
Leadsom replied: "I'm not accusing you of anything, Emily. I'm simply saying we all need to pull together as a country. We took a decision a year ago today to leave the European Union, we have a very strong hand and we are very well prepared for the negotiations."
Resigned leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, seized the opportunity to score a few political points: "This is a sinister threat to the free media… How dare Andrea Leadsom tell the press what they should think, this isn't a George Orwell book. She needs to apologise for these comments and realise what she said was frankly stupid."
The media does not take kindly to any perceived attempt to control or silence it, from Donald Trump saying "Media amongst the most dishonest people I have met" to Peter Thiel funding litigation to silence Gawker to billionaires having interests in publications.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Currie on 28 January 1786: "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. To the sacrifice, of time, labor, fortune, a public servant must count upon adding that of peace of mind and even reputation."
Jefferson goes on to point out: “And all this is preferable to European bondage. He who doubts it need only be placed for one week on any part of the Continent of Europe.”
Attack the media at your peril.
Reporting is the only job listed in the bill of rights as protected. Even the most disagreeable publications are protected by the first amendment.
Our society needs strong, independent and adversarial journalism and without that will be much the poorer and very much endangered.
If there are particular stories you feel should be subjected to a pressure test to find out whether they really stand up to serious scrutiny or you want help to avoid the predictable errors and omissions of others get in touch...