Richard North, 07/05/2018  

It's got to the point now where what passes for a debate on Brexit has deteriorated to such an extent that all we're getting out of politicians and media alike is dribble.

Put the two together – as in the Marr show – and that's what you get. Whether it's Arlene Foster or Greg Clark, the result is the same. You get an incoherent drip of nonsense: there is not the slightest shed on meaning and no evidence whatsoever of anything approaching sentience.

One would not have thought this possible, except we've seen it coming for a long time. But now it's in your face, and can't be ignored. The public face of Brexit has lost all contact with reality.

It's so far gone that Greg Clark speaks of the discussions at last week's "War Cabinet" having been much more "professional" and "collegiate" than you would ever think from the report.

This, believe it or not, is the meeting that devoted itself to exploring the two nonsense scenarios that have already been ruled out by the Commission. And it is precisely these which are still dominating the public debate, rendering it so sterile.

That is not to say that nothing of substance came out of the weekend. We did, after all, get a vivid illustration, via the Peston show that Ree sMogg is not just away with the fayries, but irredeemably thick.

No one with even the slightest knowledge, confronted with the needs to secure "frictionless trade", could airily dismiss concerns about border delays with the assertion that "Project Fear" had been "so thoroughly discredited that you would have thought it would have come to an end by now".

But what really showed Mogg at his intellectually most destitute was his reference to us trading successfully all over the world, with the delays on goods coming into Southampton being "tiny".

To suggest that the long-distance container shipping handled by Southampton could give any indication of the fate of high-intensity short-sea, ro-ro traffic, once we leave the EU, is way, way beyond mere ignorance.

Mogg's behaviour points to an indifference to facts and a disdain for fair argument which speaks of arrogance and a lack of essential empathy. Only someone imbued with an overweening sense of their own superiority could believe that there was anyone out there who should accept that he was making a valid point.

It is all very well appealing to the lowest common denominator – and that gives Ree sMogg plenty to play with but, like Hannan with his Switzerland meme, he surely can't be unaware that there are thousands of people ready to call his bluff.

Right throughout the debate, though, we have various protagonists – including government spokesmen – treating us as if we were stupid, apparently not caring that there are so many of us who aren't and who bitterly resent being taken for fools.

But with an uncritical media that is neither prepared nor able to challenge the falsehoods, these people get a free ride and are never brought to account.

If this was entirely a domestic matter, the government could perhaps get away with it, but the big difference is that anything that comes out of the current phase of stupidity will be tested in Brussels, not only by the genial Michel Barnier but by the hard-faced guardians of the treaties, buried in the deepest recesses of the Berlaymont.

To that extent, it is almost staggering that the debate is being carried on in England as if the issues merely had to be resolved by domestic players. The parties seem to be expecting that Brussels will fall into line with whatever Mrs May's cabinet agrees, and that they have no ideas of their own.

This you can see throughout the media coverage. Despite multiple statements from Barnier and other high-level EU sources, the Brexit debate is being treated to rigid compartmentalisation. What Brussels says is scarcely reported and, when UK politicians hold forth, there is no attempt to cross reference their pronouncements with the statements from EU figures.

Rather than two minor-league nonentities being interviewed on the Marr show, the BBC might have been better off inviting Barnier to comment on the week's developments – except that the man probably has enough sense to avoid the partisan and intensely ignorant UK media, and let them get on with it.

But while M. Barnier can afford to distance himself from the fray, that leaves us having to look at our news in those entirely separate compartments, and make the links for ourselves. And they say, just like they did last week, and the weeks before, that the UK establishment is going nowhere.

Even (or especially) the Irish Times is sensing that something has gone adrift, suggesting that Brexit is like quantum mechanics: nobody understands it.

Here, it notes that Brexit and time are now linked in ways that even Nobel Prize winners may find hard to disentangle. With less than 11 months to go, the fundamental equations of Brexit don't add up. 

The British cabinet is delaying choosing between two types of customs arrangement. Yet each of those two possibilities was long ago rejected by Brussels: one is unworkable the other does not exist. That. says the paper, is reminiscent of quantum particles: what they are depends on when they are looked at and who is doing the looking.

Thus, if the UK press is looking at the issues, it treats them as if they were part of a sensible discourse between rational adults. Outside the bubble, we have Schrödinger's Brexit: one that cannot exist in the framework set by the real world.

In fact, the Irish Times treats the subject more seriously that it deserves. Brexit isn't that hard to understand. What is hard to work out is how the politicians and media have managed to make such a complete mess of things that they have ended up confusing themselves and everyone else.

At the heart of it, most likely, is Mrs May's precipitate and ill-considered decision to withdraw us from the Single Market. But, having wiped out the only option that can minimise the inevitable short-term damage that Brexit will do, she display the obstinacy of the truly stupid by refusing to change her mind.

Instead, she writes a self-serving missive in The Sun, which at least has the merit of not skulking behind a paywall. But, on the greatest issue of the day, she relies only of a few brief clichés, reiterating her "absolute determination" to make a success of Brexit. This, she will do "by leaving the single market and customs union and building a new relationship with the EU partners that takes back control of our borders, our laws and our money".

This, in its own way, is as insulting as the Ree sMogg arrogance – a disdain for detail and a belief that the electorate will be content with being fed with a diet of meaningless generalities.

But if all our politicians can do is dribble inanities, it is small wonder that people are unenthused by the political process. Estimates put turnout in the local elections at about 36 percent, much the same as they were four years ago in the same wards.

The thing about people en masse is that, collectively they may not boast an intellect greater than the vastly over-educated Mr Mogg, but they do know when they're being treated with contempt. And, if they don't, there are people in Brussels who surely do. And we will be hearing from them shortly.

Already, the signs are not good. Fully behind the Commission (and Ireland), Germany and France are supporting the position that talks must not progress to a future EU-UK deal unless all elements of the United Kingdom's withdrawal treaty are agreed.

This will include agreement on the legal text of the "backstop", unless the UK can come up with a suitable alternative – which it shows no sign of doing. The dribble it is producing simply won't cut it.

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