Hold your nerve and don’t believe everything you read in the papers about Brexit

Hold your nerve and don’t believe everything you read in the papers about Brexit

Negotiations by their very nature need to be private – relatively cagey and secret affairs – otherwise inevitably you’re going to be on the back foot. And so it is that the Brexit negotiations are a news vacuum.

There’s no sense in giving away our hand, or letting the EU take the wheel. This can be incredibly frustrating, because in truth we all know that within the Government or the Civil Service there will be some who know the reality of exactly where things are and how things are really going – but they can’t say, and rightly so.

This process is more important than headlines. Tempting as it might be to silence some critics or put a particular spin on things, Brexit is more important than just winning the short-term PR battle; we have to hold our nerve and ensure we secure the best outcome for the long term.

Those of us who are committed to delivering Brexit and ensuring that the democratic voice of the country is heard – and that’s practically every single member of the Conservative parliamentary party by the way, although we may disagree sometimes on exactly what that looks like – have been more desperate than anybody to be able to bite back with some exciting statistics or some big news; something to silence the continuous negativity of both the Opposition and the media. But the reality is that we won’t get to know the details until they are agreed. Neither side, the UK nor the EU, would risk its future by giving away the game.

So bearing that in mind, the first and most important thing to know about Brexit is that you shouldn’t always believe the Brexit “news”. Unless it’s confirmed by the Government or DExEU or David Davis himself, the chances are it’s probably not true. No doubt in the near future we’ll get some real news from those channels – something that is firmly agreed and written down and understood by all sides – and perhaps it will be about a ‘divorce bill’ so that we can move on to talking about the future relationship. The papers put it at £20 billion, then £60 billion, and the next day it’s £40 billion. The truth is they have no idea and nor does anyone else outside the negotiating teams – and even then it’s certainly not as simple as just sticking a random figure down on paper. There will be lots of clever maths and algorithms about who owes what to whom.

Until then, gossip and conjecture reigns in the absence of real news. Journalists I speak to will freely admit that they are sick of having to find things to write about Brexit, and that most of it is comprised of rumours or musings from commentators. To be honest I think that the country is pretty sick of hearing all of the chuntering and grumbling, in the absence of facts. “Just get on with the job,” I hear a lot, and I totally agree. The Government is doing that – in fact the Government is just about the only source that is actually not tossing out line after line on this subject. The Government is just cracking on behind the scenes and doing the job.

The facts will come, and the timeline is clearly set. During the debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill I asked, along with other colleagues, for our leaving date to be fixed to the front of that Bill, to be written in law for all to see: 11pm on 29th March 2019 and we’re off. Adios, au revoir, see you soon, let’s stay friends. With that in mind there’s no rushing it. For all the talk of ‘no deal’ as an option – which it has to be of course in any negotiation – the best thing for all sides is most likely a credible economic deal that allows us to trade freely.

We owe it to all involved to see that through and get the best possible deal for Britain, and then Parliament can decide if it’s good enough or if we walk away. There’s no question, however, that we have to have a deal on the table, whether we end up taking it or not. But there’s no delaying Brexit, the date is fixed. Frustrating though the timeline may be for many who would like to see us leave yesterday, it is what it is. There’s no speeding it up, or slowing it down.

That means we have another year or more of this media vacuum. Another year until we reach a firm point where Parliaments, both British and European, have to go off and get all the forms signed and dated and votes passed on a final deal. Along the way there will be big announcements. We’ll agree a ‘divorce bill’ if we have to. We’ll agree the terms of access to each others’ markets. We’ll agree terms for sharing intelligence and co-operating on security. It will all get announced along the way, so look out for those big press releases from the people who really know.

In the meantime, don’t take anything you see, read or hear for granted: the guesswork, the rumours, the leaks. There are lots of players on the Brexit pitch and each has their own agenda and their own angle – especially those in the media – but very few have the facts. There are no wiser words ever spoken than “don’t believe everything you read in the papers”.