Richard North, 19/09/2017  

One of the stories the gutless legacy media simply hasn't dared tell is the way the Legatum Institute has taken over MixBrex, in what effectively amounts to a palace coup. Having the help of inside man Steve Baker and Crawford Falconer in the Department of International Trade has also helped them plant their own agenda, directed mainly at killing the EEA option.

For Oliver Robbins, head of the Brexit negotiating team, then to be transferred out of MinBrex, beyond the reach of Legatum, is not a coincidence. Initially, it was reported that he was to work in Downing Street with the Prime Minister. But he actually goes to the less tainted atmosphere of the Cabinet Office in a move that some are calling a counter coup.

Despite the claims though, this is not Mrs May tightening her grip over the Brexit talks. No Prime Minister is directly responsible for the deployment of civil servants, not even at senior levels. This is a battle between departments. Politicians' blood has yet to be spilled.

On the other hand, Mrs May's dismissive treatment of Foreign Secretary Johnson is her own play, carried out at a political level. Less popular in the country at large than he thinks, he is said to have "slit his own throat" with his ill-judged intervention in the Telegraph last Saturday. He is now beyond the help of even his most influential friends.

Johnson, however, is unrepentent. He is convinced that "nobody ever beats the EU in a negotiation" and expects the "Brussels élite" to succeed in grinding down the Prime Minister, forcing her to accept "bad terms".

This, apparently, is why he is pushing for a hard line and no concessions on the financial settlement. A close confidante says of him, "He always makes a point of saying 'no deal is better than a bad deal’ because he thinks it will be what we have to do". Johnson's view is that: "They [the EU] want to punish us", something which, to him, "has now come abundantly clear from the negotiations so far".

Meanwhile, Cummings has stuck his oar in. Although almost single-handedly having screwed up the leave campaign with his refusal to adopt an exit plan, he now has the unmitigated nerve to accuse the Government of making an "historic, unforgivable blunder" by triggering Article 50 without a plan.

This is being happily retailed by a gullible media which is either ignorant of, or indifferent to, what is really going on. But then, actually to do their jobs properly they need to do something more than sit on their backsides and read Twitter posts.

Nevertheless, the BBC's village idiot, Nick Robinson takes the Cummings tweets as evidence of a "Brexit civil war" in the Tory Party – a variation on the perennial "Tory splits" narrative that has sustained political correspondents for generations. The hacks are now so locked into this narrative that they cannot see anything beyond it.

As always, though, there are more shades of grey than in Erika Mitchell's first book, with Mrs May standing loftily above the fray, occupying that other galaxy that Juncker so presciently observed.

But, if from that lofty (and isolated) height, she no longer has a grip on events, for the first time in a very long time she has managed to impose a total block on leakages from No.10. Not the slightest hints of the substantive content of her Florence speech have made it into the public domain.

This is to a very great extent a reflection of the Prime Minister's insistence on working exclusively within her tiny "inner circle" and not consulting beyond it. There are so few people in the loop that any leak would be instantly detected, bringing down a wrath that is terrible even to contemplate.

For all that, the very fact that Mrs May is keeping the contents of her speech so secret sends its own message. Whatever she intends to say is going to be controversial and will have few friends. An early leak could enable her opponents to muster their forces and render any plan stillborn – before she even gets a chance to announce it.

But the other certainty is that she will have the Conservative conference in her sights. She needs to walk away from Manchester as the hero of the hour, the applause ringing in her ears and the length of the standing ovation breaking new records. Nothing short of that will save her political career.

This suggests that she is looking to be the Brussels-killer, making a stand against the demons. That leads one to expect a "take-it-or-leave it" offer, backed by a stern threat of a walk-away unless she gets everything she demands. In that scenario, it will be softened by a few carefully-crafted concessions, which might include a promise of cash – hints of which brought the sociopath Johnson into the fray.

Whatever Mrs May intends to do, though, could well remain unknown right to the point of delivery. Her primary purpose, though, is to get her out of Manchester and still in command of the Party. If she gives Brussels an ultimatum, it will not expire until she gets back to London, leaving her to hope that it is not rejected immediately, or in the next round of Brexit talks.

As for the speech, there will, at least, be one pleasant change: we will see the media reporting it after it has been delivered, instead of days before. And without it having been comprehensively previewed, there might be something for the Sundays to chew on as well.

The nature of the precise bombshell Mrs May delivers – and the direction in which it is lobbed – will then dictate how the factions line up and who goes to war with whom. Unable to see beyond its self-imposed binary narrative, the media will miss – or misinterpret – most of the fight, but we can see several parties joining the fray.

One of those will be an uneasy coalition of "remainers" under the loose guidance of the Lib-Dems. As noise-makers, they will get considerable media attention. Vince Cable is set to launch a scathing attack on "infantile" ministers behaving like dictators over Brexit, accusing the Government of descending into a "full scale school riot" over in-fighting. That is buying him a few headlines. 

Once Cable has finished, it will be Corbyn's turn. But Labour's pitch is too incoherent to make any significant impact on the battlefield, leaving the centre stage to Mrs May. If she has thrown the "Ultras" a meaty bone, they will be expecting her to deliver on her ultimatum and walk away from the Brexit talks.

But there is another "big beast" in the game ready to dominate the ground. This is Hammond, mustering the Treasury, with power so mighty that it is akin to a state within a state. Only he really has the ability to depose the Prime Minister and make a credible leadership bid. A walk-away option might be enough to push him into making his move.

Below the radar, though – and invisible to the media – is the Civil Service. Fractured and politicised on functional rather than party political lines, it is nevertheless a player in its own right.

An isolated May – dependent entirely on her inner circle – cannot match the breadth and reach of an élite which sees as its task the salvation of the nation. It can make things happen, or not happen, which could tilt the balance sufficiently to decide the winner.

For a long time, we have been convinced that the referendum would prove to be a catalyst of change, but no one could ever have predicted how drastic those changes might be. This has the potential to rip apart the entire fabric of our politics, with devastating effect on society.

However, if the UK political classes cannot resolve the situation Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive and Chief Economist at the European Policy Centre (EPC) suggests that the EU could take a hand.

First, to ease the negotiations, it should break with the principle that the UK must come up with the solutions as it has created the problem. It should help the UK by fully defining the different scenarios and options: the content of a withdrawal agreement, the nature of a transition period, the options for the final relationship – a trade deal versus staying in the Single Market and Customs Union.

Essentially, he says, the EU-27 should set out how off-the-shelf solutions like the EEA could be adapted to the UK. With these details on the table, it should become clearer for the UK what the trade-offs are and it would ensure that the options, if approved by the UK, are implementable.

Second, the EU should protect itself from the blame game. The most effective way is to make a grand gesture: to unilaterally guarantee the rights of UK citizens currently residing in the EU. This would show that the European Union is not willing to put political interests over the well-being of citizens, not using them as pawns in the negotiating game.

Finally, Zuleeg says, the EU must prepare for the worst-case scenario. No deal is economically nonsensical but politically possible, maybe even likely for some. There must be contingency planning to minimise the impact on the EU-27 if the UK chooses to throw itself over the cliff edge.

This would entail looking at how to deal with assets and liabilities, what legal mechanisms in private, European and international law would be available and how the EU would diplomatically engage with third countries and international organisations.

Most likely though, the situation is too far gone even for that. What is happening none of us bargained for when we voted to leave the EU. It was not what any of us expected. Yet, none of us is in control, so the game will have to play out. And, if the worst happens, vive la revolution.

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