Friday, 22 September 2017

A day out in Florence

The UK Prime Minister is off to Florence today to give her important speech on Brexit, so important that negotiations were put on hold for a week to wait for her pearls of wisdom.  The EU negotiators have said that they will pay careful attention to what she has to say, although they’ve also said that they won’t actually be present when she gives the speech.
That declaration raised another question in my mind – who exactly will be there to listen to her?  When the speech was first mentioned, I had assumed that she had been invited by some organisation or other to go to Florence and that she had decided to use the opportunity to put forward her views on Brexit.  It seems that I was being too kind to her – it is becoming increasingly obvious that holding the event in Florence is little more than a political stunt.  Not only is the speaker being flown in for the event, but so is the audience – largely cabinet ministers and journalists.  Am I the only one who finds it a little strange that a Prime Minister should drag cabinet ministers halfway across Europe so that they can smile, nod, and clap in all the right places as she tells them publicly what she’s already told them in Cabinet?
This is the expenditure of our money by the government to organise a jolly to Florence for an event which could equally well (and far more cheaply) have been organised in London, but is going to Florence to add a sense of drama and import to the event.  Perhaps they believe that journalists whose employers will be paying their expenses for a few days in Florence – conveniently just before the weekend, should they wish to extend their stay – will be minded to provide better coverage as a result.
According to the hype, the speech will make an offer to the EU side in an attempt to move the negotiations – currently going nowhere fast – along a little.  But if that’s the aim, it’s megaphone diplomacy.  If she has an offer to make, why not make it directly to the EU negotiators at the talks which were scheduled anyway rather than delay those talks to make it publicly at an event where the claimed target audience isn’t even going to be present?  The answer is, in all probability, that the real target audience for this speech isn’t the EU27 at all – it’s for a domestic audience.  Hard reality is starting to bite; the UK needs to give ground in a number of areas, and ‘leaving’ is starting to look more and more like ‘remaining’, in the short term at least.  The drama and build-up to this event is all about trying to carry the leavers in a direction which they’re not going to like, and trying to give the impression that the UK is driving events rather than having to respond to those horrid European types.
Whether it works or not depends on the degree of cooperation by the journalists - and the gullibility of the electorate.

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