British media’s Brexit coverage plays up doom, buries shoots of optimism

Why lead with ‘new momentum’ when your headline can contain the juicy alliteration of ‘disturbing deadlock’. Yet both phrases were uttered in Brussels during talks today.

The European Union is not budging – no, they will not talk to Britain, unless they are guaranteed a cash settlement. The feeling that Brexit negotiations are failing is positively feeding the media.

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s government wants to move on, but the EU’s divorce team led by Michel Barnier is refusing to do so – unless Britain says exactly how much cash it will hand over to cover its agreed commitments up until 2020.

The EU’s demand for a figure would essentially force Britain to play its hand when one side is still not willing to talk about an actual final deal.

The gray-haired ‘divorce’ leaders from Britain and Brussels (David Davis MP and Michel Barnier, respectively) met to talk about progress so far. This is their fifth such meeting, and in terms of that progress, really there’s been none.

Barnier delivered a message of doom and gloom which roared onto the internet, yet the positive points made by him – and Davis – barely got a mention.

Referencing the British PM’s Florence speech, in which she clearly said the UK will meet its obligations, Barnier said that was not good enough.

“This week, however, the UK told us again that they were not prepared to specify these commitments,” Barnier said in a press release.

“Therefore, there hasn’t been any negotiations…We made do with only technical discussions.

“On this basis, I am not ready to propose to the European Council to open negotiations on the future relationship.”

“On this question, we have reached a state of deadlock, which is very disturbing,” he added.

Barnier insisted no real movement has been made on the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the financial settlement – and on that basis, he said he could not ask the European Council to progress to talks.

Cue the media hysterics.

Today, most major newspapers in Britain picked up on Barnier’s “disturbing deadlock” and ran with it.

The Financial Times headline said “Barnier warns Brexit bill talks at ‘deadlock’”.

While the BBC ran with “Deadlock over UK’s Brexit bill, says EU’s Michel Barnier”.

The Guardian story began with “Brexit talks at ‘disturbing deadlock’ over divorce bill, says EU negotiator”.

In a recap article by the Daily Mirror, Davis was not quoted and mentioned once, while Barnier was named four times.

Barnier was named 11 times in the BBC article, and Davis 5.

Yet there was a message from Barnier, described as “key” by Guardian correspondent Jennifer Rankin, which did not hit the headlines, but was paraphrased in the copy.

“Theresa May’s Florence speech has given these negotiations much needed momentum,” Barnier said.

“We worked constructively this week. We clarified certain points. But without making any great steps forward.

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“We still have a common goal: the desire to reach an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and to outline our future relationship, when the time comes.

“Decisive progress is in our grasp within the next two months,” he added.

Yet the positive spin was barely mentioned in the initial media coverage.

Davis said “substantial” progress has been made, while celebrating May’s Florentine address.

He again told “European citizens living in the UK that their rights and status will be enshrined in UK law.”

Davis also said progress on Ireland has been made.

“As I said when I stood here last time, I hope the leaders of the 27 will provide Michel with the means to explore ways forward with us on that.

“And to build on the spirit of cooperation we now have.

“I have always been clear that we would enter these negotiations in a constructive and responsible way.”

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