Richard North, 20/08/2018  
 


Most of us have been round long enough not to be impressed by the results of any one opinion poll. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, the new survey in The Sun might provide some insight into the current state of popular sentiment on Brexit. It tells us that an overwhelming 62 percent say they have not changed their minds and those who have are mostly remainers who would now vote leave.

The money quote, however, comes from the Telegraph, which very occasionally does something useful. It has Robbie Gibb, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, saying: "1.9 million Leave voters say they would now vote to Remain. But 2.4 million Remain voters would now vote to Leave. The country hasn't changed its mind".

In terms of detail, 47 percent want to leave on 29 March as planned, only 28 percent do not want to leave and eight percent "don't know". There is also a split over whether leaving the EU will prove a historic mistake. Forty-four per cent think it will, 30 percent believe it will not.

The overall result comes despite the histrionics from continuity remain, the Independent's final say campaign and the build-up of noise in a legacy media which feeds off controversy and discord. But, reflecting the media coverage of the issue, the poll finds that one statement united 59 percent of voters: "I'm really bored by Brexit".

No doubt Julian Dunkerton can make something of this once his £1 million donation is fed into the polling machine to work some kind of magic on behalf of the People's Vote campaign. Others might acknowledge that the co-founder of Superdry could cause problems for continuity remain, his firm having been fingered for exploiting third world workers.

For the media though, the real figure to note is the 59 percent "bored by Brexit". Given the huge range of issues covered by this subject and their vital importance to the political and economic wellbeing of this country, Brexit is anything but boring. That the effect of over two years of wall-to-wall coverage has engendered such high levels of tedium really does say something about the inadequacies of contemporary journalists.

It is ironic therefore that most newspapers have given up reporting news and are now in one way or another campaigning for their favoured outcome, with the Independent whingeing about "confusion" in UK policy that the media has done much to create. There can be few issues of such consequence which have been so badly reported.

We should, though, not be surprised that a raucous fraction of the population is pushing for a referendum. Having opted out of any sensible discussion on the management of the Brexit process, this infantilised segment is now indulging in the ultimate in displacement activity, seeking to rehearse the issues it failed to discuss adequately (or at all) during the 2016 referendum.

In this camp, the possibility of a "no deal" outcome is seen as an excuse to push for a return to the EU fold, posing a false choice between "no deal" and EU membership, the latter being presented as the only alternative to the first.

The fact of the matter though, as is beginning to emerge even amongst some "ultras" is that there is no such thing as a "no deal". As regards the withdrawal agreement, we either have a coherent, ordered deal before Brexit day, with a transitional period to follow on, or we have a chaotic exit followed by a series of ad hoc deals to keep the lorries moving and the aircraft flying.

As regards the longer-term arrangements, it was never going to be the case that we were going to settle a free trade agreement before we left the EU. With or without a withdrawal agreement, one might therefore expect that talks might continue to determine how our trade with the EU is ordered. And, within that context, the EEA option remain open for as long as the Efta states are prepared to entertain the idea of the UK joining them.

Then as now, the two biggest hurdles to a successful resolution are the stunning weight of ignorance borne by our politicians, matched in full measure by the babies in the media who have demonstrated a consistent inability to get to grips with the technical issues.

This is where next Thursday is going to be doubly interesting – with the publication of the first tranche of the "technical notices" alongside Raab's speech on how we're going to plan our deal with the EU to manage a "no deal" exit.

But, while the media and the People's Say warriors join with Farage and his Leave Means Leave zealots fight over both like a pack of dogs thrown a bone, I wonder how many will reflect on Mrs May's motivation in ensuring that the consequences of a "no deal" are shoved in the face of the media so hard that even they can't ignore them.

If the prime minister is trying to diss the "no deal" scenario in order to bolster support for her White Paper plan, she might be disappointed. To draw attention to the undesirability of one course of action does not automatically (or at all) make an equally undesirable course any more attractive. A "pox on both your houses" might be a more rational response.

Where Mrs May might then founder is with the realisation that to have her deal rejected by Brussels presents exactly the same outcome as the UK walking away without a deal. "No deal means no deal", one might say, bearing in mind that no a deal is only for Christmas and as soon as the gift wrapping is off, the people start talking again.

On that basis, the "technical notices" might not prove to be a warning – if that is what is intended – so much as a prediction, for the first few weeks after Brexit. Once the no-deal deals start flowing, we can then expect normal services to be resumed – after a fashion.

Another reason for their publication at this juncture might be to distract the warring parties from the failure of the Article 50 talks. While one side at least is prattling on about voting to "overturn" a "no deal", they don't seem to have cottoned on to the fact that this is the default scenario that is triggered automatically once the time runs out.

All Mrs May has to do is run the talks to the wire, past the original October deadline (when the squabbles in the tory Party conference will be dominating headlines at the beginning of the month. With deft manoeuvring, she can keep the prospect of a deal alive until Christmas and then leave emergency talks hanging over the holiday, resuming in January as a last ditch attempt.

Even then it doesn't have to be over. Mrs May can then stage a spectacular, high profile tour of European capitals, emulating Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy of the '70s in an attempt to pull off the impossible.

Even by failing to turn up with a piece of paper in her hand, she will have ensured that there will be no time left for anything else, whence we automatically drop out of the EU treaties. We end up with "no deal" as the fait accomplis.

At this point, the office of prime minister will be so poisonous that one wonders whether any pretender would want the mantle. Would Johnson, or anyone else for that matter, really want to move into No.10 to take over a disaster portfolio which promises electoral disaster as the only outcome.

This brings back into sharp focus my Dunkirk Option. Perhaps it is only after we have left, and have thereby removed the distraction of revoking Article 50 – with or without a referendum – will we be able to concentrate on forging a new relationship with the EU. Asking the nation to decide between two alternatives is far too ambitious. At the current level of infantilization, we need to narrow the choices down to one in order to be capable of making a decision.

However, one hesitates to argue that there is that degree of tactical skill resident in the portals of No.10. If we are looking at a "no deal" Brexit, it is more likely going to be in the nature of an accidental Brexit, the inevitable outcome from a situation where our government has run out of ideas and time.

That leaves us enough seven months to discuss in ever-greater detail the consequences of a no-deal deal, while conjuring up a sequence of imaginative mitigation measures that can get us off the hooks on which we've impaled ourselves.

The media, in the meantime, can entertain itself with lurid accounts of the dark days after Brexit, when boat people struggle across the North Sea to Norway, evading the blockade in EU waters and the bonfires sealing off the exits from the Channel Tunnel, while USAF C-17s make airdrops of vital medicines and armed troops guard doctors' surgeries and seal off access to NHS hospitals.

Freed from the boredom of having to deal with the occasional fact, with a little bit of imagination, there can be no limit to the scale of the disaster that the media can offer us. By the time we get to Brexit, reality will be a relief. But perhaps that was the plan all along.






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