Richard North, 09/01/2017  
 


People so quickly forget, but the first person recently to put "muddled thinking" into the political lexicon was not Sir Ivan Rogers, but Mrs May. She complained of it during her Conference speech of 2 October last year.

Talking about "our vision" for the "future relationship we will have with the European Union", she believed there was "a lot of muddled thinking and several arguments about the future that need to be laid to rest".

"For example", she said, "there is no such thing as a choice between 'soft Brexit' and 'hard Brexit'". Continuing with this theme, she added: "This line of argument – in which 'soft Brexit' amounts to some form of continued EU membership and 'hard Brexit' is a conscious decision to reject trade with Europe – is simply a false dichotomy".

Just to remind readers, this was on 2 October, when we also recorded the Prime Minister saying that she wanted: "to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market – and let European businesses do the same here". We wondered at the time as to how that could be done. If this was not EEA membership, it's something very close to it, we observed. 

One now wonders whether the "muddled thinking" to which Sir Ivan Rogers was referring actually related to Mrs May or whether he was simply reflecting the views of his political boss. But he could most certainly extend the description to the media, which has got itself in the most frightful muddle over this issue. We could see this with the fatuous Mz Ridge, in her debut programme for Sky, determined to get her very own "scoop".

Thus we found her telling the Prime Minister that what she had been saying sounded like she was taking us out of the Single Market, so "why don't you just admit it?" To this, Mrs May responded that: she wanted "the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the Single European Market", thereby neatly spiking Mz Ridge's peashooter - not that she noticed.

Earlier, Mrs May had been emphasising that we were leaving the EU: "We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer", she said - and therefore, we should not think in terms of holding on to "bits of membership". Yet one wonders how this could be done. If this is not EEA membership, we might observe, it's something very close to it. In fact, the only possible way we can operate "within the Single European Market" and leave the EU is to remain in the EEA.

And that's where the muddled thinking comes. The legacy media Muppets have absolutely convinced themselves that the Single Market and the EU are indivisible. Thus, to leave the latter is to leave the former.

However, as we well know, the EEA Agreement is a device for separating the Single Market acquis from the more general EU acquis communautaire. The institutions of the EEA convert EU Single Market law into EEA law, which the Efta States then adopt. Thus, to be an Efta State within the EEA is to trade within the Single Market without being a member of the EU. This is something even the Independent recognises – although not, apparently, Michael Gove.

On the other hand, there is no way of separating the customs union acquis from the general body of EU law. It is an integral part of the EU treaties. Thus, to retain membership of the customs union (if it was actually possible) would entail holding on to "bits of membership".

What we are seeing, therefore, as respects the Single Market, is an almost exact re-statement of Mrs May's conference position. If we have achieved clarity in anything, she has effectively confirmed that we are not going to remain in the customs union.

Nevertheless, the hacks are also clutching at the linkage between freedom of movement (as in control of our borders) and the Single Market. Their narrative also has these indivisibly linked, so any re-affirmation of a commitment to control over immigration is taken as a "hint" – or more – that we are leaving the Single Market. The media simply don't do anything other than absolutes.

This is despite Mrs May saying that: "Anybody who looks at this question of free movement and trade as a sort of zero-sum game is approaching it in the wrong way".

This, though, is obviously far too "muddled" for the self-important Susana Mendonca, the BBC's "political correspondent", who takes it upon herself to provide us with analysis, purporting to tell us what to think. "While she [Mrs May] didn't go as far as to say she would ditch single market access in favour of being free to control EU immigration", warbles our Susana, "she certainly appeared to hint at it".

And now we see the media narrative to the fore, as we are told: "Mrs May said the UK would have control of its borders and the best possible trade deal with the EU. She didn't commit to maintaining 'single market access', and she suggested that people who thought the country could keep 'bits of EU membership' were missing the point that it 'would be leaving'".

But actually, Mendonca can't even get that right. Mrs May quite distinctly said that: she wanted "the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the Single European Market". As far as it can possibly go, that is a commitment to keeping us in the Single Market.

Yet, the BBC political correspondent concludes: "This failure to commit to the single market will be music to the ears of Brexiteers. To Remainers it will raise concerns that a 'hard Brexit' could be on the offing". Having thus resorted to inane generalities (thereby rendering us invisible), she then has the nerve to say: "But, as with so much in the Brexit debate, clarity over the UK's position in the negotiations, due to start very soon, remains lacking".

These people really are dross, right down to the BBC's idiot-in-residence, Nick Robinson, who gleefully tweeted: "Bye bye EU single market - 'We're leaving the EU not keeping bits of membership' says PM".

Nothing, however, compares with the intellectual destitution of the Express which proclaims: "Theresa May yesterday gave her clearest signal yet that she plans to pull Britain out of the European Union's Single Market in a decisive break with Brussels". You can't get much lower on the media food chain.

For all that, the crucial uncertainty remains. We got a taste of this in the Observer which was offering the front page story headed: "UK at risk of Brexit 'catastrophe' warns Canadian trade expert", telling us that Sir Ivan Rogers had been "absolutely right to say replacement deal may take a decade to sort out".

As the story runs, Britain risks this "catastrophic" because the government is so dismissive of the concerns of trade experts - according to Jason Langrish, one of the key figures behind the EU-Canada trade deal.

He argues that Rogers' analysis of the time-scale "seems realistic", but says his discussions with UK government officials suggest that there is little chance of minimising serious potential damage from Brexit. The impression he has been left with is that unless the British government shows more flexibility it will probably have to revert to WTO rules – hence the "catastrophe" warning.

This ties in with a Sunday Times story which has Ivan Rogers, before his resignation, secretly dining with David Cameron. Rogers, it appears, has told friends that he fears a "hard" Brexit will lead to "mutually assured destruction" between Britain and the rest of the EU, a view which is said to be shared with Cameron. When Rogers spoke to Cameron, his biggest fear was whether we have an orderly or a disorderly Brexit.

"He thinks we are heading for a car crash, where we don't get a deal and we crash out with nothing", said a friend. "Downing Street's view was that he should stop being such a pessimist. Yet Rogers thinks we need to plan for a disorderly Brexit on our terms rather than theirs, but that No 10 has not given that the priority it deserves".

Some further insight on this comes from Cameron's former aide Sir Craig Oliver, who says that some people thought that Rogers was being overly pessimistic.

That, he told Andrew Marr, "seems to be at the core of this dispute this week. If you read between the lines, Ivan Rogers seems to have been suggesting that he is worried about a disorderly Brexit, the idea that we crash out of the EU without having a proper deal. Others are saying 'you've just been way too pessimistic, you are not being as optimistic as you should be in these circumstances' and that's where the real tension seems to have been".

The thing is, though, if we are to stay within the Single Market – and that requires Efta membership – we should already be talking to the NILS (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) countries. In fact, negotiations should be well advanced, as the fate of our application to rejoin will dictate the nature of our Article 50 submissions.

As Efta is based in Brussels, it can hardly be the case that Ivan Rogers can have been unaware of any approaches to this organisation. And perhaps it is that lack of contact, amongst other issues, that has Sir Ivan so worried.

Here, there is an interesting twist. Relations with Efta States are managed on behalf of the UK by the FCO, but separately from UKREP headed until recently by Sir Ivan. They are handled directly from Whitehall by the FCO's EU Directorate, specifically by the Deputy Director EU-External, known as EU-X. And a previous holder of that post was Tim Barrow KCMG LVO MBE, Sir Ivan's replacement.

Is this wheels within wheels, or just a coincidence? Probably, we will never know. But, at least, we can enjoy the National Review and its "take" on Mrs May's "cunning plan".






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