What is happening in Number 10? Last Monday we had some astonishing revelations about the thinking in Downing Street via the Spectator. The negotiations were going to come to and end, the informed source (read Dominic Cummings) told the magazine’s James Forsyth, and the Conservative Party was going to go off and fight a general election on a platform promising an even harder Brexit, which they would win. And what about the Been Act? Well, the source continued, we have all kinds of different ruses up our sleeve. Countries that would oppose an extension would be given preferential treatment in future cooperation and Britain might even prove to be a less than willing partner is security and defence matters.
This wasn’t the end either. While the Spectator blog was still sending ripples around Westminster, more briefings issued forth from Number 10 the following day. This time it was to tell all and sundry that Angela Merkel had given the British negotiating position the thumbs down. So, no more negotiations. This was the end of the road.
Except it wasn’t. To everyone’s surprise, Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar had a fruitful meeting on Thursday in the Wirral, during which they began to see a ‘pathway to a possible Brexit deal’. Ever since, everyone on the British and EU sides have been hard at work trying to get something on paper for the European Council meeting on the 17th and 18th of October. In the meantime, Number 10 has gone very quiet.
It is a curious series of events, specially since the resumption of serious discussions seems to have been initiated with British concessions. The truth is that it is very difficult to judge what has happened until we see the detail of the new Withdrawal Agreement. One reading is surely that there has been a shift in strategy or the balance of power at the heart of government, the other is that it is part of a fleet-footed strategy which we are yet to fully understand.