Brexit Behind Closed Doors
Inside the Brexit negotiations
Reviews and More
“★★★★ A Europe-eye view, bitching and all.” – The Times
“The documentary is likely to be seized upon by Remainers as evidence of the government’s bungling of talks with the EU, and Leavers as an illustration of Brussels’ desire to punish Britain” – The Huffington Post
“★★★★ There was a moment half-way through Brexit Behind Closed Doors when I started laughing and thought I might never stop. Brexit does that to you.” – i News
“...shows how little confidence the aides had in Mrs May and her government's ability to negotiate.” – Metro
“What the f*** is wrong with her?” Read Indy100's most brutal moments from the behind the scenes doc here.
Watch this clip from BBC Two Newsnight, as representatives from across the political spectrum hash out the issues raised in the film here.
Britain’s Brexit referendum in June 2016 shook the European Union to its core. As soon as the results were announced, Brussels began preparing for what they assumed would be a tough divorce battle. Verhofstadt was chosen to lead the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, which would define the guidelines set by the European Parliament during negotiations.
Things do not get off to a good start. Though they have known each other for many years, the members of the Steering Group, representing viewpoints from across the political spectrum, do not fully trust each other. And with good reason: the initial guidelines defined in the group’s first meeting are supposed to remain a secret, but they are leaked to the British press the evening before Theresa May triggers Article 50 on 20th March 2017. Guillaume McLaughlin, Verhofstadt’s main aide, is incensed. “It’s in the fucking Guardian, have you seen it?”
For all the divisions within the EU, there is an even starker divide between the British government and the Europeans, so much so that they can’t even agree on how to start the negotiations. Michel Barnier, European Chief Negotiator, speaking in confidence to Verhofstadt, is concerned that the British are putting the cart before the horse. “Frankly speaking, just between the two of us, there’s no justification in discussing the future relationship between the EU and UK in combination with their debts.” Verhofstadt’s Head of Private Office and confidante Edel Crosse puts the European view of the British stance more succinctly. “Head in the fucking clouds.”
In June 2017, before negotiations begin, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May calls an election in a bid to strengthen her position, but succeeds only in losing her majority in Parliament. Verhofstadt, watching results coming in on his phone on a train platform, can scarcely believe what he is seeing. “It's madness, right? Madness.” In Brussels, there are murmurings that May’s party will now get rid of her. McLaughlin fears worse. “They will chop off her head. They are ruthless the Tories. They’re fucking ruthless.”
May limps on, though to preserve her majority, she must ally with the DUP, a small Northern Irish Party. They will not prove easy coalition partners.
Throughout negotiations, one issue proves more intractable than the rest: the Irish border question. David Davis, the British Brexit Secretary is alarmingly blasé over the future of the Irish border, much to McLaughlin’s frustration. "Davis explained to us that Ireland is not a problem…So basically we don’t give a fuck about what goes through the border…There might be a problem with terrorism, but okay.”
But for all of Davis' insouciance, the British are in turmoil, riven by division. With the clock ticking and with little progress made, May gathers her cabinet at her country residence Chequers in June 2018 to publish a white paper defining British plans for the future relationship between the EU & the UK. Verhofstadt is not optimistic. “We’re expecting the white paper of the British government on the 7th of July. If there is still ministers then. If they have not killed each other in Chequers.”
May's Chequers Plan is finally announced. Publicly the EU make positive noises about the white paper. Privately, the absurdity of the negotiation process is becoming more and more apparent. "We will buy it", says Roberto Gualtieri an Italian MEP in a meeting of the Steering Group, "pretending that we agree but we disagree, and everything is just a big theatre to make them accept this bloody Brexit."
Yet at a summit in Salzburg, all 27 EU leaders reject May's Chequers Plan. Tensions flare, this time over an Instagram posted by Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, containing a picture of May and himself eating cake in Salzburg with the caption: "A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries."
By some miracle, in November 2018 a deal is finally reached. But May must get it through her own Parliament for it to be ratified and Parliament is not feeling obliging towards her. Speaking to his team, Verhofstadt is at the end of his tether with the British. "We should get cross with the British. Or the British political class. A parliament is not a casino eh.” Even Theresa May's closest advisors are looking for a way out. “Olli Robbins came to me, Guy can I become Belgian citizen after this whole thing, because I don’t think I will return.”