Another week, another Brexit rollercoaster for Theresa May. She started the week on a high, enjoying her ‘unexpected’ success in bringing to a close phase one of the talks. She ended it ‘humiliated’, with Parliamentarians forcing a vote on the eventual deal she will do. The newspapers have worked themselves up into their usual lather. If you believe all you read, the Government is reeling.
But none of us should believe what we read. In fact Mrs May carries on, if not sailing serenely then at least staggering stoically. The standing of the Tories in the polls remains high, particularly given that voters hear about little else other than stories of chaos. She faces no obvious threats from within her own party ranks. The Brexit talks are actually exactly where she said they would be. The reality does not match the media hype.
The media this week opened a new front in their efforts to spy weakness in Government ranks, questioning the competence of Brexit Secretary David Davis. According to the Times he is “worryingly cavalier” and “must begin to take his job rather more seriously”. Whilst there is some substance to this – undermining the status of the deal done over Northern Ireland was a silly mistake – the charge overall is misplaced. What some people seem to find unbearable is that Mr Davis is determined to deal with the broad sweep, the direction of travel, and not with the minutiae, while his EU counterpart, M Barnier, wants to delve into the detail. It feels like they are mismatched.
But why should David Davis worry too much about the small print? He has an army of civil servants, in his own department and across Whitehall, to do that. And it is a classic European trap to reduce talks to the technicalities, taking them away from points of principle and politics. Mr Davis has got this right: establish the framework of a deal, agree on the main pillars, and let the bureaucrats fill in the colour. The tendency of modern leaders to try to understand everything and micromanage rather than set the course and the strategy is not limited to politics: it is all too prevalent in business too. David Davis is a refreshing antidote to this trend. He should be cherished and commended, not criticised.