Roughly 16 hours before Theresa May shelved parliament's vote on her controversial Brexit deal, the prime minister's director of communications, Robbie Gibb, wasn't spinning just newspaper editors and political journalists — he was also engaged in a long, circular argument with his Facebook friends about Brexit.
According to screenshots sent to BuzzFeed News, Gibb had shared a video of the Brexit secretary talking up May's deal to his Facebook page. It prompted several of his friends to start tearing into the government's policy on Brexit in the comments.
"Utter rubbish. This is not Brexit at all," one commenter wrote.
Gibb replied, kicking off dozens of comments in a thread: "apart from the concerns about the backstop, why do you say that?"
"and the fact it introduces a customs border between my native Ulster and GB," the same commenter wrote.
The prime minister's top communications official then went toe-to-toe trying to explain the complexities of the government's backstop policy to his Facebook friends.
They remained unconvinced: "I'm sorry, but I'm not stupid. I have read the advice. We in Ulster will never accept this deal."
Another wrote: "'Apart from the backstop'??? As if this is a minor issue that can easily be resolved!"
The late-night Sunday posts offer a hint at the ways Gibb has been trying to spin the details of the backstop behind the scenes in Westminster. They also show that even the prime minister's communications director has been unable to convince his own Facebook friends about the Brexit deal.
May's decision to hire Gibb as Downing Street's communications director last year, directly from his previous role as the BBC's head of political programming in Westminster, was an eye-catching move. His background led to questions from rival media about the cozy relationship between May's office and the BBC's political reporting staff.
Apart from the occasional tweet from his public Twitter account, Gibb has remained largely silent about his own Brexit opinions.
However, on his Facebook page to his 560-odd friends — including an array of politicians, activists, and, of course, former BBC colleagues — Gibb is more expansive.
"The backstop is unlikely to come into effect and is a small part of the deal. You are entitled to oppose. But stick to the truth. The deal delivers on the referendum - takes back at money, borders, laws. Would you rather a second referendum or Norway?" Gibb wrote on Sunday night.
One of his Facebook friends replied: "This is propaganda drivel that you must be paid to write."
The debate continued into a second day.
On Monday morning, another Facebook friend stuck the boot into him: "Must be a hard habit to break. Spewing complete rubbish all day about 'The Deal' and you forget when to stop..."
It was now only a few hours before the prime minister would go public with one of the most pivotal decisions in the Brexit negotiations. Gibb once more turned his attention to the Facebook comments.
This time the communications chief was willing to concede "legitimate issues" with the deal.
"There will be no customs checks, plain clothed or otherwise. The backstop is a uk customs territory. You have got the wrong end of the stick," Gibb wrote.
"I'm not saying there aren't legitimate issues but not in relation to customs."
Screenshots passed to BuzzFeed News show that this wasn't Gibb's first Facebook fracas, proving that even among the top rungs of the UK government, people are getting into mind-numbing arguments about Brexit where no one changes their minds, and everyone shouts "bollocks!" at each other on social media.
Take, for instance, another Gibb post from last month.
"In one word. 'Bollocks,'" a Facebook friend responded to Gibb, who'd just shared a video explaining the Brexit deal. Another gave him the vomiting face emoji.
In another November post, Gibb posted about the Brexit deal just hours after Dominic Raab and Esther McVey resigned from the cabinet.
One friend replied with the vomit Facebook sticker, another with a Times cartoon of Theresa May chained to an EU wrecking ball, while one wrote, "Even you cannot believe this surely?"
The top comment read: "Aren't you sure you won't be needing a bit of free movement yourself rather soon, Robbie???"
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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