Richard North, 20/10/2017  

With the media making a big deal of what they insist on calling a "summit", we are now being treated to an account of what Mrs May is supposed to have told European leaders over dinner in Brussels at the European Council.

Typical of the published accounts is this from the Independent, which has Mrs May admitting that Brexit negotiations have hit "difficulty" as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister, we are told, explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track. And so we learn that she told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the "urgent" need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

According to this particular report, Mrs May was addressing the European Council at a working dinner. But what we don't get told is that the media is not allowed into the room. None of this has been witnessed, as the politicians dine in private, without even their own advisors present. What is being offered to us, therefore, can only have come from a press release, presumably supplied by the Prime Minister's office in advance of the event.

Even though multiple newspapers retail what are supposedly quotes of what Mrs May said, as in the Guardian, telling us that the Prime Minister said both sides needed an "outcome that we can stand behind and defend to our people", nothing of this is actually real. We don't know that it was actually said, and the media have no means of knowing what words were delivered – even if they were delivered at all.

Yet, the entire media conspires to perpetrate the falsehood that they were witnesses to the event, instead of copying from a pre-prepared script. Even the Financial Times joins in the pretence, implying (by omission) that it witnessed the Prime Minister "over dinner" warning fellow leaders not to push her too far.

Nor is it the case that we are dealing with a situation where there is real advocacy, where the Prime Minister is using her powers of persuasion in an attempt to get EU leaders to change their minds. The outcome of the European Council, meeting as 27 is already a done deal. The conclusions were finalised by the 27 at the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, on Tuesday, and will be delivered this afternoon, after Mrs May has gone home.

Thus, all of what we're reading and seeing on our television screens is pretence – an absurd theatrical production staged largely for the media, allowing hyperventilating television hacks to prattle self-importantly in their pieces to camera, and no end of print journalists to fill their pages will meaningless prose.

More to justify the huge expenditure in human resource, though, we have to go through this meaningless charade, fuelling the empty soap opera and giving the impression of an unfolding story. Needless to say, none of the portentous hacks are breaking ranks to admit that this entire production is a sham. 

In all, nothing has changed since Tuesday and nothing will change today. In fact, nothing has changed since last week when the fifth round of the Brexit negotiations concluded. The UK has not delivered any substantive, bankable commitments to settle the phase one issues and the "colleagues" will refuse to move on to phase two.

Meanwhile, on the margins, we have Jeremy Corbyn, who was also in Brussels, causing a certain amount of outrage by threatening to tell Michel Barnier that he "will not countenance" the UK leaving the EU without a deal. "No deal would be catastrophic for manufacturing, industry and jobs. I don't want to see that", he said before the meeting.

This will have come as no surprise at all to Barnier and is such obvious good sense that it has been seized upon by various media and political sources as "undermining" the UK's Brexit stance. One BBC hack even went so far as to ask Corbyn why he was not supporting the Prime Minister. Leader of the opposition undermines the prime minister, shock!

The frustration of it all is that, when the prattle has subsided, we will be no further forward. We even get Merkel roped in to the soap opera, reported as expressing "hope" that the Brexit talks will be able to progress to phase two in December – repeating what is already in the communiqué which will be released later today.

Yet there is a dark side to this. Hiding behind the pretence is a guilty secret: none of the hacks really understand what is at stake. Not least, they are still uniformly demonstrating their inability to describe the potential consequences of a "no deal" exit. But then that requires more than the ability to read off a crib sheet produced by the No. 10 press office.

The trouble is that those who are still foolish enough to rely on the media for their information will labour under the false impression that "no deal" is a tenable option and not something to be avoided at all costs. They will remain unaware of the catastrophe that awaits us if we are unwise enough to take this path.

And still we are exposed to the drivel of the likes of the moronic Halligan, given space in the "Ultra" comic, otherwise known as the Spectator.

This vain, stupid little man asserts that "all nations have 'access' to the single market, provided regulatory standards are met and the generally low tariffs are paid". The US and China, he claims, "conduct hundreds of billions of dollars of EU trade annually with no FTA; Britain can do the same. We're well placed to trade with the EU on WTO terms, in fact, as we'd start with full regulatory compliance".

The thing about this drivel is that it is not only easy to contradict, we have done so many times. Regulatory compliance (or conformity), as I have written on this blog, is only a starter for ten while the US and China each rely on a complex web of agreements with the EU, way beyond the basic WTO framework, without which trade would hardly be possible.

Yet, in a tedious display of ignorance, this fool asks, "If trading under WTO rules is so bad, how does the UK already sell the majority of its exports beyond the EU, largely under such rules?" The point, of course, is that the UK, from inside the EU, currently benefits from the raft of EU agreements, to which it will no longer be party once we leave – even with a deal.

This studied ignorance, though, cannot be accidental. Its deliberate nature, as Pete suggests, is an affront to decency. It has even spread to Owen Paterson, the man who said before the referendum that "only a madman would actually leave the [Single] Market". Knowingly, he perpetrates the myth that the UK can trade under WTO rules, and even denies that, following a "no deal" exit, there would be queues at the ports.

What is unforgivable of the media is that it fails to challenge these pernicious falsehoods. If they were doing their jobs, they would be insisting that the perpetrators justify their claims. Instead, we have politicians and the media, each indulging in their own forms of make-believe, conveying a distorted picture of Brexit that bears perilously little relation to the real thing.

So we find senior officials of UK trade bodies still talking about "queues" and expressing "concern". In fact they should be raising the alarm about the possibility of a complete seizure, and demanding answers in the most strident of terms.

But, as long as they are content with the charade, the empty show put on for their entertainment, as long as they are prepared to suspend belief and pretend that government still knows what it's doing, and as long as they are too idle to do their own research to establish the real picture, we will continue to dwell in the theatre of the absurd. Reality, for the time being, has been forced to take a back seat.

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