Richard North, 16/09/2018  

If you want a measure of the way the Brexit debate is being played out, read this week's Booker column, where he writes under the headline, "At last someone is talking sense on our post-Brexit trade nightmare. But is anybody listening?".

This is about Sir Ivan Roger's speech in Dublin last week, to which Booker says, remarkably little attention has been paid, despite it being "easily the best-informed and weightiest speech yet made by any senior public figure on why we are making such an unholy mess of Brexit".

But what one should then do is read some of the comments. Peter Barnes, for instance, tells us that "Rogers is an ineffectual twerp that has had a cushy government job that got difficult because of our excellent decision to leave the eu (sic) nightmare and quite frankly he wasn't up to it".

Martin Jenner's comment has the merit, at least, of being more succinct: "Rogers has got a face like a smacked arrs. Petulant little man", he writes. And, of Booker's article as a whole, John Condon helpfully opines: "Crumbs what hopeless article. Everything is 'delusional' and bereft of any solutions. Absolutely pointless reading this drivel".

We've been getting a lot of this sort of thing – and much worse. It's stuff that has no place on the website of a national newspaper. Yet the Telegraph permits it, and even encourages it – its moderators never intervene as the bile pours out, week after week, month after month, without stopping.

Of course, those sort of comments on this blog would last about as long as it would take to delete them, with the authors banned from making further contributions. But then, we're only an irresponsible blog, without the credibility and gravitas of the mighty Telegraph which seeks to set the moral tone for the nation.

In a world which still had values, the paper's owners and its managers would be ashamed of themselves, and staff would be instructed properly to police their own website. But, if the world does have some residual values, the Telegraph doesn't. It is content to be represented by the filth that some of its readers deem fit for public consumption. It has no shame.

As to the Booker column, his analysis of the Rogers speech is something that needed doing and deserves better treatment than afforded by some of its more obnoxious readers.

The speech itself – as readers here will know - was given last week in Dublin by a man who resigned as UK ambassador to the EU in January 2017, warning of the "muddled and ill-informed thinking" that, in his view, was about to send the British Government's Brexit strategy in a wholly disastrous direction.

This warning came after he learnt that Theresa May was about to abandon her earlier indications that she wanted Britain to continue enjoying "frictionless" trade with the EU by remaining "within" its single market – something she executed in her infamous Lancaster House speech.

At the start of his detailed lecture in Dublin, Rogers opined that this now seems likely to bring about a "severe political crisis between the UK and the EU", and domestic "political turmoil on a scale we have not seen since the war".

He forensically dismissed all the various bubbles of make-believe that look increasingly likely to see us, in his words, "sleepwalking into a major crisis". Chequers is "a non-starter"; as is any idea that we could somehow rely on a WTO "rule book" that doesn't exist ("there is no such animal"). As is the fantasy that "smart technology" could somehow solve the impossible Irish border problem.

The fact is that, by Mrs May's insistence on our stepping outside the entire legal system that allows "frictionless" trade inside the EU, as Sir Ivan points out, "the British have brought this on themselves". It is delusional to think that, even with any amount of last-minute "mini-deals", the UK can hope to reach any settlement that would give it more advantageous trading terms than could legally be allowed to any other third country.

Whatever happens, Sir Ivan said, we cannot avoid "very major dislocation to the UK economy". And, while there was a time two years ago when we might have resolved most of these problems by going for the Norway option and thus remaining in the wider EEA, it is now too late for that.

The best we could hope for is some version of a Canada-type free trade agreement, but that could never give us terms of trade with our largest export market remotely as favourable as those we currently enjoy.

As for suggestions that, without a deal, we could withhold the money we owe the EU for past commitments, it might well respond by unilaterally imposing its own conditions on any further UK trade, entirely to suit the interests of its own members. "That is not taking back control. That is giving it up".

As he starkly concluded, we may "look back from 2038, wondering why the rupture became so much deeper than was desired by any of the main players".

Thus concludes Booker's "take" on the speech. It is shorter than my precis but brings his words to a wider audience, where more people can appreciate what is at stake as we go into the final stages of the Brexit talks.

If the Telegraph was half the newspaper it once was, it would already have done the job, rather than leaving it to Booker in his ghetto, then to be insulted for his efforts.

The dereliction of this newspaper, though, is just part of the continuum about which I've been writing for so long. With the media industry which is entirely self-referential, impervious to criticism and unresponsive to the need to change, it falls to this blog to point out where it is going wrong.

One of their more egregious tricks we've been recording it its tendency to produce crap stories which, for them, is a win-win situation. Not only do they fill space with the duff stories, they then get to print follow-up stories modifying or debunking the original copy.

We're now seeing this yet again. With the past fortnight taken up with speculation of great things happening at the Salzburg informal European Council, we now have the Independent regaling us with the headline: "Why next week's Salzburg meeting could be a false summit on Theresa May's climb to Brexit".

Reflecting exactly what I've been saying right from the start, part of the legacy media is coming to the same conclusion, that – as far as Brexit goes – this is going to be a non-event.

That it was ever going to be a significant meeting, though, is entirely an invention of the legacy media, which has devoted many thousands of words to speculation which has encompassed wild predictions that we might even see a "breakthrough" engineered by the Member States taking over the negotiations from Michel Barnier.

Never in a million years was anything like this going to happen, yet the media will give space to its pathetic little fantasies, leaving the heavy lifting to the likes of Booker, whom it then ignores. His column, with my help, has had any number of exclusive "scoops" which have been disregarded, only to appear in the main news pages months after he has reported them.

The same, of course, goes for the Government's "technical notices" which – as I remarked yesterday, have disappeared from the media agenda, and then there is the perpetual stain of the media ignoring the Commission's Notices to Stakeholders.

What gets me though is the smug, self-congratulatory tone of so many of the media's favoured commentators, who are either trawling over the obvious, or missing the point entirely as they indulge themselves in trivia or outright invention.

But, if that leaves Booker marginalised, and this blog out on the edges, at least we are in good company, with Sir Ivan Rogers getting the same treatment. As for the dregs who comment on the Telegraph, that's clearly where they belong. They have found their spiritual home in a newspaper that matches their values.

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