ABHI Membership

ABHI Brexit Update: Far From Normal Circumstances

“Tennis? I used to play Cricket,” is a line from perhaps my favourite Monty Python sketch. Although choosing one favourite is a bit like being asked to choose your one favourite rock n’ roll song or the best try you have ever seen – Queen of the Hop by Bobby Darin and Rhodri McAtee for the Pirates (obviously) versus Newbury in 2005/6 at Kenwyn, since you were wondering.

Anyway, in the skit, a man (Eric Idle) is being interviewed for a job in the Secret Service. His interviewer (John Cleese) is more interested in regaling the candidate with tales of derring-do on the sports’ field. (As an aside, Idles’s character ends up being exposed as a Russian spy which is probably another relevant analogy, just not for this article.) The interviewer goes on to recount bowling to an ex county player and repeatedly being hit smack, straight, plumb between the eyes by the ball. On the last occasion, he observes that “of course by now I was getting used to it.”

Theresa May is getting used to losing votes by now. In normal circumstances the number of losses, 11 in 14 months, and the margin of some, would have had serious, probably fatal consequences for the PM. But these, need I remind you, are far from normal circumstances. Her latest loss came last night, on what I told you two weeks ago was likely to be a pivotal day in all this malarkey. It was not. That will come in another two weeks’ time. Although I have written that before. More than once. I should probably look back and give you a number, but I really cannot be bothered. The problem is, of course, that the another two weeks’ times are running out.

I must be honest that last night’s vote has left me scratching my head a bit. And I have written that before and, similarly, I really cannot be bothered. The motion she was defeated on was one that asked MPs to endorse the Government’s negotiating strategy. This is the negotiating strategy the House had asked her to pursue two weeks ago. The sticking point for some Brexiteers was the so-called Cooper amendment of a fortnight ago, which tries to take no deal off the table. Rees-Mogg et al all abstained and other Tories voted with Labour to provide the numbers. Their argument is that taking no deal off the table weakens the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels – actually we did that when we triggered Article 50 for no good reason at all. But, in what I believe is known as a SPOLIER ALERT, people in the EU negotiating team are not stupid. They know that the UK Parliament will not countenance no deal so it is a chocolate tea pot of a bargaining chip. Stephen Barclay will find that out when he actually is forsaken at noon today. That is when he meets with EU 27 Ambassadors, doubtless pleading for mercy. To be fair to my friend from the Fylde, it is a victory for underdogs everywhere that he is actually being allowed out to play with the grown ups after initially being given a damp squib of a brief.

So another big defeat, undermining what is left of the PM’s authority and driving a wrecking ball into her strategy. Curtains surely. Nope. The motion is not legally binding and really only symbolic and Downing Street has said that it changes nothing. I wonder how history will judge this lot. But the amount of time, energy and resources that have been expended on achieving nothing is quite staggering.

Speaking of which. Those of you at the sharp end, and remember I am still basically a sales rep at heart, have probably always had your doubts about PR types. Nothing more than an overhead doing nothing more than preventing you doing your stuff. Well, spare a thought for our Arms’ Length Bodies – these are the organisations which supposedly remain independent of government departments. Government departments, however, have not really fully entered into the spirit and this week the bodies found out that their arms were actually quite short.

The head of communications at the Department of Health and Social Care, and I am not going to name her because then she becomes the story, which is the worst thing that can happen in her profession, has slapped down said Arms’ Length Bodies. To be truthful, she has had a bit of a tantrum, reminding everyone that any communication of any sort using any media which relates to Brexit, has to be approved by her. Now, I am not immune to the odd bit of control freakery myself, but this is really not helpful. The biggest single frustration industry has expressed has related to the lack of communication. Our colleagues across HMG, notably in the DHSC’s contingency planning team, have done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, but have not been allowed to tell anyone. It gives the impression that nothing has been done. It has, and we heard about much of this at this morning’s excellent Brexit workshop with our friends at Baker MckEnzie. Make sure you do not miss the next one.

I would have thought that once the supermarkets had pointed out that we cannot grow anything green in our country from about the 29th March, all the cobblers about “Project Fear” and needing to manage the news media was out of the window. Apparently not. And we have noticed some shutters are beginning to go up again.

We were able to tell you some official things this week. DHSC issued communications to both NHS organisations and suppliers, updating plans for contingencies in the event of no deal and actions required of NHS Trusts.

And finally, if you need some light relief, you could do worse than head to the Netherlands. Amsterdam has always been a good place to relax whatever your chosen vice, and now the Dutch have the Brexit Monster. Go there for half term. Stay a while.