Richard Porritt's Agenda: Missing impact statements, phone etiquette and Labour's radio silence

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 December 2017

Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker leave a press conference after their meeting on Brexit

Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker leave a press conference after their meeting on Brexit

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RICHARD PORRITT on the week's big stories, including a big victory in Austria, the German foreign minister on the offensive and the prince of letters

After all that fuss about Brexit impact statements, it appears they never really existed in any meaningful sense anyway.

To widespread shock, David Davis admitted to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that no such sector-by-sector studies had actually been carried out, although some analysis had been conducted.

Let’s get this straight – we’re leaving the EU but are not going to predict what might happen afterwards.

Coming days after that shambles over lunch in Brussels, is this Brexit’s worst week yet?

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The person constantly fiddling with their mobile during a meal is a horror of modernity.

The bible of British etiquette, Debretts, is quite clear: “Don’t put your phone on the dining table, or glance at it longingly mid-conversation... In social situations, excuse yourself and withdraw somewhere private to make or receive calls.”

I am told that Theresa May did leave the room to take the call when her phone began to buzz and vibrate wildly on the dinner table as she and Jean-Claude Juncker tucked into their soup during their crucial talks on Monday.

I imagine the ashen look on May’s face possibly told the story before she even answered the phone. It will have been clear the call was not Arlene Foster wanting to ask if the pair were
enjoying lunch.

One government source said: “I don’t think they got to pudding.”

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A massive embarrassment for the Government usually offers the perfect opportunity for the opposition to stick the boot in.

So where were Labour’s front bench on Tuesday morning? Surely they should have been queuing up and rubbing their hands with glee to hit the airwaves and offer up a breakfast bashing for May et al? But no.

Instead – as the Today programme’s Nick Robinson took to Twitter to explain – Labour’s top brass had ordered radio silence. But why? It seems many comrades were as confused as me.

One said: “It feels like a missed opportunity. Surely Keir [Starmer] should have been everywhere? I’d like to think it was part of some master plan but I doubt it to be honest.”

A big victory for tolerance in Austria this week – and it will have upset the right-wingers set to form a coalition government.

Austria’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the country will become the 26th to legalise gay marriage, much to the annoyance of Sebastian Kurz, the Prime Minister.

Kurz, leader of the Austrian People’s Party, is trying to form a government with the far-right, anti-Islamic Freedom Party of Austria. Both parties opposed same sex unions.

But the court ignored their bigotry and ruled that the words “two people of different sex” will be removed from the law on marriage at the end of 2018 on the grounds that the distinction is discriminatory.

Lawyers took up the issue following a complaint from two women who were already in a civil partnership but were refused permission to enter a formal marriage by authorities in Vienna.

The court said that civil partnerships will remain an option after the law is changed and will then be open to straight couples.

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With the US retreating from the world stage under Donald Trump and Brexit rocking the foundations of the European Union, the old order is somewhat up in the air.

And the EU has a decision to make: retreat or go on the offensive?

The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made his views clear this week with comments that will have rung around the White House – it’s surprising he didn’t receive a late-night Twitter rebuke from POTUS.

He told a foreign policy forum in Berlin: “It’s a risk that’s forcing us to act. We should not wait and see how things develop, and not have an influence on it.

“Only when the European Union defines its own interests, as well as projects its power, can it survive.”

He added that the US now sees the EU as a rival more than an ally and that the continent needs to change the perception that it is prosperous but weak.

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Farewell to the ‘prince of letters’ Jean d’Ormesson (pictured), whose death aged 92 leaves seat 12 vacant at the Académie française.

He was the most indiscreet of the so-called ‘Immortals’, or members, of the Académie which was founded in the late 1620s and consists of a maximum of 40 members at any one time.

The Immortals – who have included Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Louis Pasteur – are noted for their extravagant uniform which comprises a long black coat, black-feathered bicorne and sword.

Members don’t just prance around in Fancy Dan clobber though – they are the guardians of the French language.

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