GLEN OWEN: How Boris Johnson struck Brexit gold inspired by Bismark’s dictum


It was the diplomatic chat-up line from Boris Johnson which signalled {that a} deal was lastly imminent. 

‘You look contemporary,’ the Prime Minister informed Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Fee, ‘for somebody who has been counting fish all night time.’

The remark got here on Christmas Eve morning after Mr Johnson had simply accomplished a run along with his canine, Dilyn, and marked the top of 11 months of tortuous negotiations over mackerel quotas and automotive tariffs. 

The talks lastly concluded with the £660 billion commerce settlement which has lifted the Covid-induced gloom in Downing Street.

It was the diplomatic chat-up line from Boris Johnson (pictured) which signalled that a deal was finally imminent

It was the diplomatic chat-up line from Boris Johnson (pictured) which signalled {that a} deal was lastly imminent

Mr Johnson has informed allies that he credit the ‘hardball’ technique of UK chief negotiator David Frost and his deputy Oliver Lewis for the profitable consequence, and specifically the controversial choice in October to interrupt worldwide legislation by legislating to override the Brexit divorce settlement’s restrictions on Northern Eire.

The transfer was condemned by 5 former Prime Ministers – however is seen in No 10 because the second when the EU’s granite-faced strategy began to crack. 

Shortly afterwards, Mrs von der Leyen moved to sideline the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and took over efficient management of the talks.

As they labored by way of lengthy days and nights in dreary Covid-compliant convention rooms in Brussels and London, Lord Frost’s staff sought inspiration from nineteenth Century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who as soon as mentioned of his diplomatic technique of that mixed allure and menace: ‘With a gentleman I’m at all times a gentleman and a half, and when I’ve to cope with a pirate, I attempt to be a pirate and a half.’

'You look fresh,' the Prime Minister told Ursula von der Leyen (pictured), the president of the European Commission, 'for someone who has been counting fish all night'

‘You look contemporary,’ the Prime Minister informed Ursula von der Leyen (pictured), the president of the European Fee, ‘for somebody who has been counting fish all night time’

The UK’s ‘pirate’ second got here when No 10 launched the Inner Market Invoice to cope with the Northern Eire situation, which was described by Tony Blair and Sir John Main as ‘irresponsible, unsuitable in precept and harmful in observe’. 

Theresa Could, David Cameron and Gordon Brown quickly added their voices to the criticism. 

However Frost and Lewis had calculated that as a result of the Brexit divorce deal imposed new forms for commerce throughout the Irish Sea – by protecting Northern Eire within the EU single marketplace for items – Brussels would be capable to blackmail London into accepting a deal on its phrases by deploying the specter of tariffs on items coming from the mainland.

Inside weeks of the Authorities introducing the Invoice, the EU had caved: Cupboard Workplace Minister Michael Gove secured settlement with European Fee vice-president Maros Sefcovic that, within the occasion of No Deal, 98 per cent of products crossing the Irish Sea can be tariff-free. Now {that a} deal has been struck, it’s 100 per cent.

A supply on the British negotiating staff mentioned: ‘The EU have been threatening to sever Northern Eire from the mainland. 

‘Michael’s deal eliminated their leverage, and ensured that we achieved significantly better phrases within the last deal on points comparable to fish and EU guidelines.’

When the Cupboard met final week to debate the deal, Mr Gove echoed the Prime Minister in saying that the Inner Market Invoice was a tactic which had ‘unlocked the outcome’.

Downing Avenue officers are filled with reward for the ‘calm, composed {and professional}’ Mrs von der Leyen – or ‘VDL’, because the negotiators referred to her – for breaking the deadlock attributable to the stubbornness of Mr Barnier and the bare self-interest of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

The supply added: ‘October was after we broke down the intransigence. VDL had already wounded Barnier by vetoing his insistence that the European Court docket of Justice ought to stay the final word authority over the UK, however after we landed the Inner Market Invoice on them, she killed him fully.’

It was a sophisticated courtship. 

No 10 had hoped that Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen’s dinner of scallops, turbot and pavlova in Brussels on December 9 would offer the breakthrough, as Britain proposed a deal primarily based on accepting sure tariffs in return for freedom from EU guidelines.

However behind the scenes, French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel resisted the thought, fearing the UK would seem as a dynamic and enticing ‘Singapore-style’ market on its doorstep.

That concern was behind the willpower to make the UK ‘crawl on damaged glass’ – as one negotiator phrased it to The Mail on Sunday – earlier than getting a deal, and explains why the ‘tariffs for freedom’ plan acquired a cool response.

After they eliminated their masks to pose for the official pictures earlier than that ill-fated meal, Mrs von der Leyen informed Mr Johnson to ‘hold your distance’, prompting the Prime Minister to mutter in response: ‘You run a decent ship right here, Ursula. And fairly proper too.’

The chemistry between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen was positioned beneath even higher pressure on Monday, when the EU deployed its ‘hammer’ – the specter of billions of kilos of tariffs if the UK reneged on any of the settlement on fishing rights.

Mr Johnson informed her that he would by no means settle for such a punishment clause, saying: ‘I can not signal, and I can’t signal.’

He added in her native German: ‘Viel hummer, kein hammer’ – ‘numerous lobster, no hammer’.

However when Mrs von der Leyen despatched her extremely regarded consigliere, Stephanie Riso, deputy head of Cupboard, to attend final week’s talks, it was seen as an indication {that a} deal was again on the desk.

Through the last hours of the negotiations, it got here right down to a straight haggle between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen over the size of the settlement on fish. 

Mr Barnier’s authentic demand for a 14-year deal was whittled right down to the purpose the place Mr Johnson was asking for 5 years and Mrs von der Leyen for six years. 

It’s why a compromise was reached at 5 and a half, throughout which EU boats should hand over 1 / 4 of the catch landed in our waters.

Mr Johnson’s ‘contemporary’ flirtation with Mrs von der Leyen got here after a protracted night time of splicing and dicing quotas for cod, herring, mackerel and tuna, mixed with reassurances for EU fishermen over a mechanism to cease the UK backtracking on its guarantees.

After gruelling shifts by which some negotiators mentioned they needed to resort to ‘washing their underwear within the resort room sink’, by Wednesday night a deal seemed sufficiently sure for Thursday’s papers to be briefed on the main points. 

Nonetheless, it was to be delayed once more due to a last-minute hitch over a 3 per cent discrepancy in estimates of UK fish shares.

When a relieved Mr Johnson introduced the deal at a press convention within the afternoon, the world was handled to flashes of the outdated, buoyant Boris as he wisecracked his approach by way of the questions.

After months of unrelenting distress from Covid, the Prime Minister again in his political consolation zone.

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