Richard North, 23/05/2018  

In November 2016, I was writing about the lack of vision in the Brexit plans, observing that this would not go away.

The referendum, I wrote, was only a means to an end and the exit campaign, which started in the 1970s, will not be over until we are fully out of the EU. We want more than a fudged exit, leaving us enmeshed in the Union with no clear direction for the future.

Eighteen months later, we are treated to a report from Tony Blair's Institute of Global Change, under the title "Customs and Exiting the European Union".

This is an evaluation carried out by Blair's team on the various options which supposedly present us in leaving the European Union. The report, we are told, makes clear that the options available to the UK for its future trading relationship with the EU all come with compromises.

On the one hand, it says, remaining in the single market and customs union would minimise friction, minimise the impact to the UK economy and avoid a hard border in Ireland. On the other hand, it would mean the UK could not strike its own trade deals.

The report then concludes that: "All the other options come with varying levels of friction and implications for the UK's ability to make trade agreements with other countries". What characterises the report in its detail though, is that there isn't a single idea in the entire tome which, we are advised, is a one hour three minute read. 

It is a turgid reiteration of a litany of establishment voices and reports, even down to churning out the same Mini crankshaft mythology that I rebutted in February.

This small example typifies the way the Brexit "debate" has been played, with the word "churning" serving as the motif. We are bogged down in minutia, assessing a succession of narrow options for withdrawal, none of which can possibly deliver the "sunlit uplands" that was the initial promise of the leave campaign.

Even the best of the best is a "least worst" option while the rabid, "Ultra" Brexiteers can only offer a tired vision of third country trade deals that cannot begin to replace what we have already, much less lead to an economic renaissance.

Brexit has become a tired, tedious, repetitious restatement of positions that is going nowhere and, if we let the likes of Mr Blair set the agenda, it will never deliver anything that anybody wants. But then, that is the purpose – to show that there is nothing to gain from Brexit, so we might just as well slide back into the EU.

We would, of course, not expect the "remainers" – former or current – to construct a vision of a post-Brexit UK. That is something for the leavers to do – something the official leave campaign should have done but didn't, beyond the manic, Minfordian vision of unrestricted free trade.

And when we see the EU showboating with the announcement of trade talks with Australia and New Zealand – that could give it better terms than we could achieve – we have to recognise that the free-trade ambitions of the "Brexiteers" are as empty as their rhetoric.

At least, in Flexcit, the Leave Alliance had a coherent vision. But, as we've seen again and again, the establishment is determined to monopolise the debate (and thereby exclude any non-conformist opinion. As I have remarked before, we are the "invisible man" of Brexit. We simply do not exist.

As long as you are in the loop, you can produce the most unutterable tosh, with scant attention to reality and without needing to get your facts right. And the zombie media will uncritically publish it, oblivious to its errors and not making the slightest attempt to correct them.

Accuracy, attention to detail, imagination and all the other attributes which are necessary for good policy, are no longer valued in this closed society, which puts its own interests before the health and wealth of the nation. It would see Brexit descend into disaster before it will open itself to outsiders and their heresies.

Thus, day after day, characters from the same limited cast of actors, their activities peppered with the language of conflict, as they "slam" each other, or "skewer" each other's arguments, against a background of "anger", where one side "infuriates" another, leading to the inevitable "backlash" and even the occasional "rebellion", all of which leads absolutely nowhere.

The protagonist stay firmly locked in their respective bubbles, talking mainly to each other, united only in rejecting outsiders with new or different ideas. They know nothing of the detail and contribute nothing, yet demand constant attention from an equally unknowing zombie media.

This is broken politics – a system which has failed to rise to the challenge of determining a new future for the UK outside the European Union. And lacking any ideas or the ability to develop them, we see an increase in the number of people retreating to their comfort zone, refighting the referendum campaign – and making as bad a job of it the second time around.

That leaves us wondering what to do next. When you have a dog-in-the manger political system which is incapable of doing its job, yet refuses to let any one in, the only short-term option tends to be one of damage limitation – at a personal level and, if possible, on a national scale.

It is said that politicians are more amenable to change when confronted with a crisis. That was the essence of Jean Monnet's technique, preparing his solutions and then waiting for the "beneficial crisis" when he could get them accepted.

Possibly, to undo the effects of our membership of the EU and to come up with a new paradigm for the future, we too need a crisis. Maybe we need Brexit to go badly wrong before the politicians start to listen and act in a sensible way. The English psyche needs its "Dunkirk", before it will concentrate on winning.

Meanwhile, there is only so much blathering any normal person can tolerate, and only so much churning of the same-old, same-old set of factoids before one is driven quietly mad.

The only consolation is that the UK's negotiating counterparts in Brussels must be feeling much the same. Their latest contribution shows how limited an effect the customs union has in securing a frictionless border, an input which is likely to be ignored as much as their previous contributions in the Notice to Stakeholders series.

I wish it could be said that we are suffering from information fatigue, where everyone is switching off because they can't cope with the overload. But, if anything, the nation is suffering from "underload" – if that is a word – as the necessary information with which to judge our options is quite deliberately withheld from the public.

If we need a crisis to change this – and that is the only thing that can do it – then all we can say is "bring it on". At some point, the churning has to stop and new ideas have to be allowed into the debate. For us, of course, they will not be new – the ideas in Flexcit go back to 2014 - but there is nothing so "new" as something the zombie media has discovered all for itself.

In an unusual burst of optimism, Pete at least concedes: "We may there yet". It would be nice, though, to know where "there" actually is.

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