Richard North, 16/08/2018  

I do so love it when the Telegraph excitedly "reveals" the backstory on something or other, weeks after the event, when the details were obvious to anyone with half a brain to work it out for themselves.

But here we go with a laborious article telling us of a European Commission briefing more than a month ago, on 5 July, the net outcome of which was that the EU would not accept the UK proposal to split goods and services.

That much, though, really was obvious. We were on the case a week before and were able to predict the outcome before the Commission received its briefing and long before Mrs May put her ideas to the Chequers cabinet meeting.

That, of course, reduces the torrent of comment after the event to so much inconsequential fluff. The earnest pundits have been evaluating something that was never going to be and which had already been discounted – written off as a working proposition.

Necessarily, it also means the Chequers meeting was nothing more than empty theatre and the White Paper a complete waste of time and effort. That document wasn't even worth the effort it took to read and critique it. It was never going to fly.

The Telegraph piece also confirms what we'd got from other sources – and again worked out for ourselves – that the official EU reaction to the White Paper was going to be muted. But it doesn't change the reality that the UK proposal is going nowhere.

Where that now leaves us is, unfortunately, rather predictable. Mrs May's cupboard is bare. She has offered all she can, and it is nowhere near enough. But she cannot offer any more – despite the court gossip of a "sell out" on freedom of movement.

Inexorably, we are headed for a "no deal" scenario, not as the result of any conscious policy decision, but simply because the UK government has run out of ideas, and doesn't know what to do next – "death by default", so to speak.

Yet, for all that, the chatterati really have no idea what is going to hit them. Alongside its "shock-horror-probe" story about the Commission briefing, the Telegraph fronts an amazingly facile piece – even by its standards – by David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School and a member of Economists for Free Trade.

Demonstrating yet again that "professor" is a job description and not a qualification, this silly little man asserts that the recent rush of publicity on the adverse consequences of a "no deal" Brexit are merely part of the "Brexit silly season on steroids".

Never mind that we started writing on those consequences even before Mrs May's Lancaster House speech on 17 January last year, and that the Commission wasn't so very far behind with its Notices to Stakeholders. All this is invisible to the likes of Paton who, apparently, has only just become aware of the downside – which he roundly rejects.

He thus writes under the heading: "Stop worrying and prepare for a no deal Brexit. That's how we'll get the best deal possible", telling us that those worried about delays at the border need not be concerned. "The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement forbids unnecessary customs delays", he says, adding "the Head of the WTO has been clear that Brexit will not cause disruption in trade".

This is more or less a rehash of the Lilley mendacity, the well-rehearsed mantras churned out by the "ultras" and given a free pass by newspapers editors who are a disgrace even to their debased trade.

But such is the superficial level of analysis on offer from the Telegraph that it doesn't even capitalise on its own breathless revelations. On the one hand it is telling us that the May proposal was never going to fly, while this buffoon is telling us that the "real reason" for what he terms the "new Project Fear" is to make "no deal" seem so unattractive to UK voters that they come round to Theresa May's much-criticised Brexit plan.

What we see here is also the narrow, Brit-centric approach to EU politics, focusing on the UK reaction to Mrs May's plan. But what does it matter what UK voters think of it? It has already been rejected by the EU. And, as to his "new Project Fear", can Paton really be unaware that the consequences of a "no deal" scenario kick in with the rejection by the EU of Mrs May's proposals?

But, if The Times yesterday displayed lamentable editorial judgement giving space to Lilley, the Telegraph's lack of judgement is easily the match of that as it allows Paton to say: "Leaving the EU without a trade deal is nothing to be frightened of. In fact, preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit makes it much more likely we will end up leaving with the best deal possible of all".

This perhaps is the political equivalent of assuring readers that it is safe to swim in shark-infested waters with bloody hanks of meat tied to their backs. The newspaper, with its tame professor, is taking irresponsibility to new depths.

One wonders, therefore, how the paper's editorial policy sits with another piece which has road hauliers warning of the dire effects of crashing out of the EU and complaining that transport secretary Chris Grayling has "no credible plan" for dealing with the consequences.

Even the meanest of intellects, reading the Paton piece, and then the report on the road hauliers, might notice a certain lack of consistency. Yet it has not apparently occurred to the geniuses in the editorial department that the overall effect is either to confuse their readers or actively mislead them.

The crass behaviour of the print media, however, has not stopped them declaring open season on the BBC and its poor reporting of Brexit. The hypocritical Times leads the way, with the pompous Hugo Dixon writing under his headline of "Punch and Judy debates do not make BBC neutral".

This is no more than I was saying on Tuesday, so if the legacy media is picking it up that quickly after we've discussed it, it really must be a problem.

Dixon is chairman of InFacts and a founding member of the People's Vote campaign, and his particular bitch is that the BBC is not giving his obsessions the airing. Yet, during his long career as a journalist, I never once recall him complaining of the BBC's very obvious pro-EU bias in the years running up to the EU referendum.

And nor do we see any hint of criticism of the paper's editorial standards. Self-criticism is not something the fourth estate tends to embrace, the tack of which is equally evident in the New Statesman which has former editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC, Roger Mosely, also take a pop at the BBC.

He asks of the BBC which in the past would devote "half a network news bulletin" to an exploration of glasnost why there shouldn't be a similar commitment to examining issues such as what leaving on WTO terms would mean for the people of this country. When there is a reckoning about what happened to our politics, he adds, "the broadcasters cannot and should not be exempt".

The man must be blind not to see that the print media is just as venal on this precise issue – more so as so many newspapers are going out of their way to misinform their readers. But then there is nothing quite so hypocritical as the media in full flow.

Stepping outside the self-centred claustrophobia of the British media, however, we get an interesting perspective from Deutsche Welle which is telling its readers that "Brexit has reached a dead end". With "no alternative in sight", that leaves the UK " limping toward the day it will ultimately leave the European Union", it says.

Summing up the state of art, reporter Bernd Riegert avers that, up until now, the British have negotiated by playing dead and only coming up with something substantial and concrete at the very last moment.

But, he writes, that is not likely to work this time around. May's attempt to split the EU with charm offensives in Paris and Berlin has failed. The UK's negotiating position is growing weaker by the day. The EU has much less to lose than the British.

On the home front, May has been stirring up panic, stockpiling food and medicine in the case of a "no deal" Brexit and pushing the idea that the EU is to blame for everything because of its inflexibility.

Riegert has nothing constructive to draw from this. "Without a concept", he concludes, "Britain continues to teeter toward Brexit day. At the moment, there is little hope that anyone will pull the emergency brake and at least postpone the unfortunate event".

Pete, on the other hand, does have a positive idea. But as long as we are saddled with the British media, getting anything past its censorious block is going to be an uphill struggle.

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