ANGELA Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have been long enough in their jobs not to require any advice on how to greet a visiting foreign leader. But if they should feel the need for a steer as Boris Johnson

arrives on his first foreign visit as Prime Minister, they could do worse than study what happened on the steps of Bute House when he met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. This was a welcome so icy Torvill and Dean could have performed Bolero on it.

Mr Johnson will stop off in Berlin on Wednesday and Paris on Thursday before spending next weekend at the G7 summit in Biarritz, where there will be more meets and greets, the most important of which, from his point of view, will be with Donald Trump. For the PM, this week is all about the “optics”, having his picture taken and being filmed conducting business as usual. Just another week in the life of a political leader.

That is one story. Another was set out over five pages in the Sunday Times. Details of the government’s “Operation Yellowhammer” report, setting out the likely consequences of a no deal Brexit, had been leaked to the paper. A worrying picture was presented of food, fuel and medicine shortages, a hard border returning to Ireland, disruption at the ports, job losses, and chaos at sea.

Two competing narratives – a PM going about business as usual, or chaos coming this way. Which do you believe?

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Downing Street said the scenarios outlined in Yellowhammer were possibilities that had to be planned for, not certainties, and it was an outdated assessment in any case. Michael Gove, the Minister in charge of no deal planning, insisted it was a worst case outlook, contrary to what a Whitehall source told the media. The tone was that of an insurance company trying to punt a policy. We don’t expect your house to go or fire or your car to be stolen, but if these things happen there is a plan in place to see you through.

Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, previously a Brexit minister, was dispatched before the only Sunday morning TV politics show on air, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, to calm fears. (Just as a growing number of MPs are coming round to the idea that parliament should be recalled early, how about political programming on TV getting back to normal? It is hardly as if nothing is happening.) Mr Kwarteng said there was a lot of “scaremongering” around, with people playing into “project fear”.

Well done all those who had “project fear” on their Brexit bingo card as the phrase likely to pop up next. The term coined by the No side in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 enjoyed a revival in the EU vote of 2016. Three years on the old song is back in a new version. It is becoming the political equivalent of John Lennon’s oft covered “Imagine”, or in this case “Don’t Imagine”.

It was left to radio, and BBC Radio Four’s Broadcasting House in particular, to run the Yellowhammer report past someone familiar with such planning.

Lord Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service from 2012-2014, told Paddy O’Connell the dossier was a credible outline of the “completely insane” risks being taken if Brexit happens without a deal.

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The interview was a reminder that Yellowhammer was not the product of opposition parties, think tanks, or others with an agenda to pursue. It was a Civil Service look at likely scenarios, a heads up from cool, impartial heads. Only those who no longer believe in the Civil Service’s impartiality on Brexit would downplay the warnings.

Instead of dismissing the coverage as outdated scaremongering, the government should have issued an update on current planning. Why are the plans being cloaked in such secrecy if they are purely practical steps that any reasonable administration would take? Contrary to some of the language of recent weeks, we are not at war.

Instead, Downing Street chose to focus on the boss’s meetings with European leaders. Even these talks, the first face to face encounters since he became PM, will not linger long on Brexit. The new position, the Chancellor and the President will be told, is that a new deal is the only alternative to no deal, and there is nothing the British parliament can do to stop the latter. This is politics as declaration, not negotiation.

Since neither Mr Macron nor Mrs Merkel have any intention to reopen talks on the Withdrawal Agreement, they too will be keen to join Mr Johnson in looking ahead to G7 business. So the most important matter facing the UK will be all but ignored when the British PM meets the two people in the EU who have the clout to change things.

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Frosty meetings will play well with the Brexiteers back home. Unlike his previous trips as Foreign Secretary, which largely consisted of him travelling to places and being confronted with asinine words he had said about his now host, the Boris Johnson on parade in Berlin and Paris will be the sombre statesman, the more in sorrow than in anger PM, giving Europe one last chance to do the "right" thing.

The pictures he is most interested in are not those with Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron, but the ones with Mr Trump and the premiers of Canada and Japan at the G7. In Biarritz he will be posing as Boris Johnson, the leader of a outward-looking powerhouse keen to get going on global trade deals. Maybe in their exchange of gifts and warm words, Mr Trump will give him a baseball cap with Make Britain Great Again. Stranger things could be about to happen.