Richard North, 01/06/2017  

Whether social media or the Daily Telegraph, there are three simple techniques which, when combined, will ensure that you win every argument.

Firstly, you must frame the argument in such a way that you define the issues and the scope of the argument, creating as many "straw men" as necessary. Secondly, you must speak from a position of profound ignorance: the less you know, the easier it is to make you case. Thirdly, you must rigorously exclude (or ignore) any evidence and rely on wishful thinking.

Employing all three techniques to their maximum advantage is Peter Foster, the Telegraph's Europe Editor, writing about the impact of Mrs May's "no deal" scenario, trying to reassure us that the warnings about a possible catastrophe are simply "scaremongering".

In terms of framing the story, there are plenty of sound, conviction "leavers" – such as myself – who have expressed concerns about the "no deal" scenario. But Mr Foster doesn't allow for that. In his book, those who are worried about a "no deal" are simply "remoaners". Any expression of concern cannot be genuine. It is an extension of "project fear", now re-labelled "Project Fear 2.0".

Digging into the depths of Mr Foster's mind (not a pleasant place to be), there is perhaps another technique at play. This is the constructive use of the fallacious categorical syllogism, the one where you argue that "all cats have four legs" and then "my dog has four legs", from which you conclude that "my dog is a cat".

Thus says Mr Foster, "Project Fear, as last year's Remain referendum campaign was so successfully dubbed by Brexiteers, was a failure because it failed to strike sufficient fear into the hearts of the voters". A year after Brexit, he then says, "the sky has still not fallen, and the worst of the Treasury's dire predictions - the recession, the 500,000 job losses - have still not come to pass". 

Now, he asserts, as we approach the start of Brexit negotiations proper, history appears to be repeating itself. Project Fear 2.0 paints a similarly catastrophic and unbelievable picture of the "no deal" and the "bad deal" scenarios for Brexit. Effectively, he implies, because "project fear" – as he styles it – has already failed twice, it will fail again when we actually leave the EU.

Putting this together, Foster will have it that, because the pre-referendum predictions didn't come to pass when we had the referendum, and because, post-referendum predictions haven't kicked in a year after the referendum, nothing of consequence is going to happen when we leave the EU. And the reason is that the UK will take steps to mitigate the effects, or the EU will take measures to protect itself from economic blowback of a "no-deal" scenario.

With this firmly in the bag, Foster moves on to recruit a number of "straw men", judiciously mixing fact with fiction. Common predictions of doom include stock market crashes (no to my knowledge), UK aeroplanes unable to fly into Europe (true), troops back on the Irish border (not true), companies lost in data limbo (only some), the docks of Dover and Rotterdam at a standstill (Dover yes, Rotterdam no), and the financial markets of London all on the point of collapse (no).

At this point, ignorance takes over – at least, one assumes it is ignorance. "All of these scenarios are, if the EU had an absolute death wish, possible", says Foster.

Taking one part of the aviation scenario, he writes: "The EU could refuse, for example, to recognise the validity of British-registered aeroplanes' safety certifications and block all point-to-point flights in Europe, but there are very many good reasons why they would not do that". As to those reasons, he writes:
Firstly, the EU knows perfectly well that the UK certifications are materially valid, and that the UK as a responsible developed-world former partner, would not imperil either UK or EU citizens by cutting corners on safety. A status quo agreement is perfectly easily done.

Secondly there is commercial self-interest. London Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport, with 75 million passengers a year and EU airlines need access to that global hub. Some 60 percent of UK air passengers land in Europe where they spend money on holidays and doing business.

Political common sense and economic imperative says it is simply in no-one's interest to blow all that up. If the Brexit talks go pear-shaped, which they well might if the political temperature isn't lowered, the blame-game will begin in earnest and will it land squarely in the EU's court.
Thus, concludes the man: "If air links were shut down - just think of the recent BA chaos and multiply by a thousand - then it will only be because the EU side wants to make a point, not because the UK isn't happy to agree to an interim agreement that keeps the planes in the air".

In this context, I argue for ignorance as the dominant factor, by reference to Foster's assertion that, if air links are shut down, "then it will only be because the EU side wants to make a point". From this, I adduce, Foster really doesn't know how the system works.

Firstly, for the moment, one can disregard the safety certification issue – this is the least of the UK's problems. The most pressing issue is whether, on Brexit Day, we see an end to the mutual access and overflight agreements, both with the EU and third countries.

And, as I pointed out in an earlier piece, there are ways of avoiding the cliff-edge on this issue, but only if we stay in touch with the EU and get its assent to the continuity of treaties that we need to carry over agreements with third countries.

For access to the airspace (and airports) of EU Member States, we will have to transpose the current agreements we have with the EU and build them either into an interim agreement or into the final Article 50 settlement.

All these options, however, require continued dialogue with the EU - which will cease of the UK decides to walk away with "no deal". This is not a matter for the EU, but the UK. We are leaving the EU and thereby the European Common Aviation Area, and at the same time voiding the third party agreements. We must actively canvass new arrangements, which won't and cannot happen automatically. Short of that, there is no mitigation. We talk, or walk. We certainly don't fly anywhere.

Foster has got it completely upside-down. Closing down international links won't happen, he says, "because the UK isn't happy to agree to an interim agreement that keeps the planes in the air". Yet, for the UK to conclude any agreement - whether interim or otherwise - it must be in the game. It must negotiate with the EU – which it cannot do if it has walked away.

Nevertheless, just to get Foster's position absolutely clear, if the airlines are grounded, it is nothing to do with us not talking to the EU. It will only be "because the EU side wants to make a point".

By the same token, says Foster, "the EU could withdraw financial passporting and mutual recognition agreements from the City overnight". Nowhere does he recognises that, by leaving the EU (and the Single Market), the UK disqualifies itself from the so-called passporting provisions. By his estimation, Brexit involves no loss of rights unless the EU explicitly goes out of its way to withdraw them.

According to this logic, Foster could cancel his membership of his local golf club and then complain that his playing rights were withdrawn. In the perverse logic of the man, if the EU withdraws rights dependent on membership, "it would be inflicting pain and chaos on itself, even as it punished Britain".

Through this piece, therefore, we are beginning to be able to map the mindset Foster and, by proxy, the thinking processes of the "no dealers".

Ignorance again comes to the fore when he notes that the EU "could in theory put a stop to data-flows between the UK and the EU by refusing to recognise the UK's post-Brexit data protection regime". But with no evidence to support it, he then asserts that: "it won't because data is the lifeblood of modern business and trade must go on".

"Like the shutting of the airports, this risk is wildly overstated", Foster says - again with no evidence to support his case. "The UK is signing into law the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will in turn be swallowed by the Great Repeal Bill. There will be no real grounds to stop the flows", he says.

But actually, there is more to this than just the Regulation, which will come into force in 2018 -before the UK leaves the EU. There is also Directive (EU) 2016/680 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data. Being a directive, this will not come into force automatically. It will have to be transposed into UK law and, so far, the Government has not made its intentions known – as to whether this law will be fully adopted.

We explored this issue back in March, when I noted that there must be questions as to whether the UK's existing domestic data protection regime would be considered "adequate" by the Commission. There is also the question of whether it will have the resource or the political will to make a rapid determination. Left on the back burner, several years could elapse before the UK was judged compliant, if at all.

The adequacy question is a real issue. It is one where there United States is shaping up for a fight with the EU, as it too will be caught by the provisions. Where the UK will stand is hard to predict – there are important issues at stake. We could get caught in the middle, squeezed between the EU and the US.

Thus, it would be foolish to predict that the future will be plain sailing. We can only be certain of one thing: if the UK closes down negotiations and walks away with "no deal", getting the Commission to accept the UK's adequacy will not be made easier.

Unsurprisingly, the great Mr Foster knows different. If Israel and the US can get an adequacy agreement, he says, there will be no reason why the UK will not too - "other than political vindictiveness". So here we go again, "It's nuffink to do wiv us, Guv". It's the EU. 

Failing that, "in practice", says Foster, "data will keep flowing - because it must". Never mind that we're talking about a new regime, which still has to be tested. Foster has wishful thinking to rely on: it'll work out, "because it must". 

Even then, he has another shot in his locker. "The asymmetries of the negotiation might well mean that a 'no deal' scenario would be "more painful" for Britain than for Europe", Foster adds. "But that does not - as so many Remoaners would have us believe - make it painless for the European side", he asserts.

And from that, he concludes that: "Commentators who say that Mrs Merkel 'won't bat an eyelid' if the UK walks away from the table are just drinking the Kool Aid. Europe, a continent riven by economic and political divisions, has plenty of skin in this game. This may be an unequal contest, but it is not a 'no-contest'".

That brings us back to the framing. The negotiation may be asymmetric, but only slightly so. Foster needs to project it as "painful" for both sides – just a little more painful for one side than the other. In reality, the actual scenario might be "catastrophic" for the UK and a marginal inconvenience for the European Union. But if Foster admits that, the game is lost.

The central point is one that this Telegraph hack, along with most of the others on his paper, can't seem to deal with. In their fantasy world, the walk-outs may believe that the "colleagues" will come rushing after them, ready to give us everything they want. There is also a sense that Mrs May, having boxed herself in to an impossible position, sees a walk-out as a way of "re-booting" the negotiations, starting over with a new set of propositions.

But, if "Brexit means Brexit", so does "no deal" mean "no deal". It means that the UK walks out and stops talking to Brussels. The chances of the "colleagues" doing anything other than wishing the Prime Minister bon voyage could be extremely remote, which means the UK would be on the outside looking in. And that is not where we want to be. It is not where we can afford to be.

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