Media News and Media Moves: A Brexit Special
Last week was a tough week for Theresa May. She went back and forth to Strasbourg, suffered defeats in Parliament, voted against her own amendment, faced down a rebelling Cabinet and, to top it off, lost her voice.
Clearly, it’s been a week to remember for politicians and voters, but what about those reporting on the mayhem? We’ve taken a look at what the media – and its top political correspondents – made of it all.
It certainly wasn’t an easy start to the week for the papers’ sub editors. Theresa May’s 11th-hour dash to Strasbourg resulted in three legal documents being agreed with Jean Claude-Juncker and a press conference shortly before midnight local time.
The last-gasp changes made most of the front pages, including The Sun (“Backstop from dead”), The Times (“May claims victory in Brexit backstop talks”) and The Daily Mail (“Sealed with a Kiss?”). The Guardian, meanwhile, asked: “Will it be enough?”
The second “meaningful vote” was somewhat derailed by 9am due to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s “unchanged” legal advice. The chaos in Westminster took its toll on Mrs May with more comments about her failing voice than her politics. The Sun won the most eye-catching headline award with “Croaky horror show“:
— The Sun (@TheSun) March 12, 2019
As the vote neared and it became clear that Mrs May was going to be nowhere near the mark, BBC station bosses announced they were bumping The One Show and EastEnders from BBC One in order to broadcast the vote live. Four million viewers later tuned in to watch Andrew Neil’s Brexit special.
As parliament voted to reject the deal, the New York Times accidentally published a story it had prepared for if Mrs May won the vote. “The surprise approval of Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan appears to mean Britain will leave the European [sic] on schedule on March 29,” the piece began…
The European papers also weighed in on the defeat. Germany’s Bild commented that the Prime Minister’s attempts to secure a deal were “in vain, and so were the months-long negotiations with Brussels”. In France Le Figaro called the vote “a new humiliation for Theresa May’s deal” and Le Monde said: “Metaphorical or not, Theresa May’s loss of voice on Tuesday symbolised the state of a country deemed pragmatic but remaining without a voice for failing to compromise with its neighbours”. La Vanguardia in Spain offered a back-handed compliment to the Prime Minister saying she “put on the best face and sang victory”, which was a “titanic” effort considering how “robotic and one-dimensional” she is.
But it was surely El Mundo that provided the most damning assessment of British politics: “Great Britain is perhaps the European state where populism has most corrosively affected traditional parties. While Labour has moved towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Eurosceptic, far-left position, the Tories have entered into a process of internal decomposition.”
Typically, the Spring Statement would dominate the news. But not this year. By the time Philip Hammond got to his feet, live blogs had already been filled with the Government’s no-deal plans for trade tariffs and the Irish border, with Boris Johnson’s LBC phone in and with PMQs. “I’m acutely conscious of the fact that the House has other pressing matters on its mind today,” Mr Hammond told the Commons.
So, what did the lobby make of it all? The Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn summed it up with this tweet: “Spring Statement summary: Chancellor dangles a mammoth £26bn in front of MPs for tax cuts and departmental budget rises from the Autumn – but only if they endorse a Brexit deal. The biggest political bribe of all time.”
And it wasn’t long before Brexit was well and truly back at the top of the agenda. Wednesday evening saw MPs vote to reject no deal under any circumstances (with the Government whipping against its own motion before losing that too).
Laura Kuenssberg was so shocked by the proceedings she tweeted:
I normally try very, very, hard not to say things like this, but have never actually seen anything like what’s happened tonight
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) March 13, 2019
Tim Shipman, political editor for The Sunday Times, was stumped, asking followers: “So, if you were a Sunday journalist, WTF would you be planning to write this weekend? #AskingForAFriend.”
ITV’s Peston was live-streamed via Twitter for the occasion, while Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis trended on Twitter after users praised her impressive “side-eye” during an interview with Labour’s Barry Gardiner.
The House of Commons voted 412 to 202 to approve a motion to seek to extend Article 50: Brexit is delayed.
Speaker John Bercow was the focus of much media attention after he failed to call a cross-party amendment rejecting a second referendum (despite the fact it was signed by 127 MPs). Chief political correspondent at the Guardian, Jessica Elgot, later retweeted a photo of the empty lobby voting in favour of a second referendum:
This is the lobby to vote “yes” to a People’s Vote… https://t.co/zpgVaEQiH8
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) March 14, 2019
Channel 4’s political correspondent Michael Crick ran a jovial segment assessing the Tory leadership contenders. It noted Liz Truss’s use of Instagram, the @ReadyforRabb Twitter account (created in December 2018) and Johnny Mercer’s “well-made” Facebook promo videos. Jacob Rees-Mogg has declared he will not vie for the leadership, instead throwing his weight behind Boris Johnson.
Most papers went for Brexit-themed front covers following the vote to delay Brexit. “One last roll of the dice” was the Daily Telegraph’s take, while the Guardian focused on the potential Cabinet split after eight ministers, including the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, voted against the Government’s motion extending Article 50. The Daily Express labelled the vote a “damning indictment of our democracy”, while the Financial Times reported that the vote boosts Mrs May’s hand in pushing through her deal.
UK politics was rightfully bumped off the top of the news agenda for one of the first times last week by the atrocious attack on two mosques in New Zealand, which left at least 50 people dead and 50 injured.
Red Box’s Matt Chorley summed up the mood of a nation with his Saturday opinion piece, Let me tell you which people in politics I can’t stand: Everyone. “People who say ‘ooh, it’s exciting isn’t it?’ No it isn’t,” he wrote. “I sat on the train heading into Westminster one morning this week and felt I could cry. It’s all so bloody depressing.”
Mrs May’s opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph appealed to MPs’ “patriotism” as she urged them to cast aside their differences to vote for her Brexit deal when it (probably) returns this week. Meanwhile, Tim Shipman’s piece in the Sunday Times on juggling a newborn with the biggest story of his life is well worth a read.
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