Monday 16 September 2019

John Downing: 'Boris will mount PR blitz across EU but is shy of hard negotiation'

  

British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire
British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

It's 90 days and counting to our potential Brexit Halloween nightmare and, while it seems longer, it's only day nine since Boris Johnson became UK prime minister.

There is a sense that there has been more activity in the past nine days than there was in the previous three months. But activity to what effect is entirely unclear.

We have had Johnson tours to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a move of itself pointing up questions about the future of the United Kingdom under a man who has added "Minister for the Union" to his job title. Late on Wednesday we learned that up to £138m (€151m) could be spent on a UK-wide "information campaign" about Brexit.

Some marketing gurus reckon that is the equivalent of the marketing budget for a blockbuster holiday movie expected to gross big at the box office. There are already questions about spending taxpayers' cash on a political advocacy campaign.

But the PR blitz will not stop at home. Ironically, while Johnson resolutely refuses to talk face-to-face with other EU leaders on Brexit until they drop the backstop, his government is planning a Europe-wide media blitz to convince everyone the UK will leave on October 31 with or without a deal.

The prestigious Brussels news magazine 'Politico' reports UK officials are examining prospects of taking out page advertisements in major European newspapers. UK officials are also thinking about online advertising targeting European citizens and directing them towards UK government online Brexit information.

It will include targeting the 3.8 million UK citizens living in other EU states, some 300,000 of whom live in the Irish Republic. But the big aim is to "ram home" the message that, come October 31, the UK is out of the EU, "no ifs - no buts".

But here's the rub, Johnson is also reportedly beginning a diplomatic overture to Brussels and the other EU capitals amid reports yesterday that his new chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, will be active here, as will the Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay.

The reality is that Johnson actually cannot avoid face-to-face talks with some of his EU counterparts for too long.

He is due to attend a G7 nations summit in the marvellous city of Biarritz, in the French Basque region, on August 24 involving meetings with French, German and Italian leaders.

The new frenzy of Brexit announcements is accompanied with dizzying sums of money. On Wednesday night, UK Finance Minister Sajid Javid announced an additional £2.1bn in Brexit funding to prepare for a no-deal departure.

Time is a major issue with serious doubts about how the various plans - including hiring and training staff - can happen within deadline.

The "home and away PR blitz" is expected to be launched in the second half of this month, a tall order in itself as much of mainland Europe is already on holiday.

Irish Independent

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