‘No notes’ Davis riles anti-Brexit camp in negotiations

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his delegation and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and his delegation attend a first full round of talks on Britain's divorce terms from the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium, July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Charlier/Pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Did David Davis forget his notes? Or does he just have no ideas?

Pictures from Monday’s start of negotiations in Brussels that showed Britain’s Brexit minister facing his EU counterpart without notes or paperwork prompted jibes from critics who say a divided government is woefully unprepared for the process.

British media and Twitter commentators pounced on images taken as Davis and his team sat down opposite the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier; all three EU officials had thick piles of papers in front of them, while Davis, his lead negotiator and Britain’s EU ambassador had none.

As Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May tried to silence ministers who have briefed the media on splits in her cabinet what the terms for Britain’s divorce from the EU should be, newspaper critics on the left let rip.

“David Davis has vowed to ‘get down to business’ and hit the ‘substance’ of Brexit talks as a new round kicks off today,” wrote the Daily Mirror. “But there’s just one little problem.

“The Tory Brexit Secretary has been pictured sitting down for negotiations in Brussels… without any notes.”

Barnier, a former French cabinet minister who was flanked at the table by his German deputy Sabine Weyand and French strategy chief Stephanie Riso, has urged the British to give more detail on what they want, more than a year after they voted for Brexit.

“Perhaps they have amazing memories, or perhaps they’ve hidden the paperwork under the desk,” wrote Britain’s left-leaning Guardian. “Alternatively, this could be an indication that all those EU complaints about the UK government not knowing what it wants from the talks are not entirely unfounded.”

Oliver Robbins, the top civil servant in Davis’s ministry, did have a slim, black notebook and pen on the table. And envoy to the EU Tim Barrow placed a briefcase on the floor as he sat.

But even the pro-government Daily Mail found the image striking. “OK,” it wrote, “so who forgot the paperwork?”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Mark Heinrich