Richard North, 27/10/2018  
 


It is a week since I returned from Normandy, and still – after the inconclusive European Council – I don't feel that I've got a grip of the situation. But that should not be a surprise. I sense we are all stumbling around in the dark, waiting for something concrete to happen that will resolve Brexit once and for all.

The thing is, without the firm timetable of a November meeting, and the December European Council taking us dangerously close to injury time, there is nothing to fix on. Just 28 months from the referendum, we have entered a no-man's land – a strange political vacuum where there are no markers to tell us where we are going. The outcome is as uncertain now as it has ever been, if not more so.

That gives plenty of room for the pretenders and charlatans, not least Nick Boles who is persisting with his ill-found idea of "Norway then Canada". This is something already rightly dismissed by Sir Ivan Rogers, who argues that neither the EU nor the Efta states would be likely to provide "the finest transitional feather bed" for the UK, only for it to move on to an FTA.

And although Pete has given Boles the coup de grâce, we still have the likes of Frank Field popping up to support the idea, with the worrying claim that "most MPs" would get behind this "insurance plan".

Considering that no one, as yet, even seems to have asked the Efta states whether they would be keen on the idea of the UK muscling in to their domain, only then to depart when it suits us, it is something of an arrogance even to assume that this is a viable option. But that's MPs for you – in a bubble of their own, detached entirely from the real world.

We are left, therefore, in that uneasy hinterland where Flexcit doesn't exist and, between Mrs May's Chequers crumble and the Boles botch, we have nothing credible on the table. Unsurprisingly, a "no deal" Brexit looks more and more certain, simply because our masters haven't the wit to come up with a workable plan.

Latest in the lists of those telling us that "no deal" is a very bad idea are witnesses to the Health and Social Care Committee. From these, we've been hearing horror stories about the difficulties in ensuring the continuity of pharmaceutical supplies in a "no deal" Brexit world.

One cannot help but think though that this is the sort of stuff we should have been hearing within months of the referendum, to guide Mrs May in the choices she had to make – should she have been disposed to listen to such an inconvenient thing as evidence.

As it stands, all those many months down the line from the referendum and the official policy is still "no deal is better than a bad deal", backed by a level of optimism that Pollyanna would be hard put to match, where ministers continue to parrot that we will be able to get a good deal.

Possibly, the government is working on the premise that, if it keeps telling everybody we are getting a good deal, when it finally comes up with an indescribably bad deal, we will have been so brainwashed that we will be prepared to believe, in Orwellian newspeak style, that bad is good.

For the time being though, much of the media is giving up on Brexit – mostly out of sheer boredom, having said almost everything there is to say, except what really matters.

You will struggle for instance, to find any Brexit-related stories in the Saturday edition of The Times. At first sight, we have to make do with a report that depression has overtaken obesity on the GP list of most common illnesses. Given Mrs May's performance on Brexit, I suppose this is not surprising.

The lack of confidence in Mrs May is certainly endorsed by a survey conducted on behalf of the Mirror. Contrary to the "no deal is better than a bad deal" mantra, only nine percent of respondents backed a "no deal", against 29 percent who said they were "very concerned" about such an outcome. A further 18 percent said it would cause "catastrophic problems" and were "terrified" by the idea of leaving without an agreement.

One does wonder, though, to what extent if any they were influenced by a report in American Prospect magazine. It tells of a "palpable sense of panic slowly developing in London", arising from an issue rather out of left field.

Each Brit, the magazine says, consumes 110 toilet rolls a year - two and half times the European average. The United Kingdom is Europe's biggest importer of loo paper and it is said that only one day's supply of toilet paper exists in stock.

Thus, we are told, if Britain leaves the EU Customs Union and Single Market in five months' time and the trucks transporting toilet paper are held up at Calais or Dover, British bottoms will have to be wiped with torn-up newspapers as in bygone days.

Somehow, though, I don't see the headlines reading "no deal Brexit means arses not wiped", but then we knew that already. Fortunately, Mrs EU Referendum has been laying in stocks against this contingency for some time. We are nothing if not prepared.

With that, we discover that The Times has discovered something to write about Brexit after all. Under the headline, "Brexit Britain... but not as you know it", it writes "Americans are gorging on tales of panicking Britons hoarding food, candles and toilet roll (sic)".

This is something I missed from the New York Times while I was away in Normandy. The paper has it that families are hoarding tinned goods and coffee is being stockpiled so Britons don't have to drink ground acorns after Brexit. It would have its readers believe that "a nation raised on porridge and boiled mutton is facing up to a future of food shortages".

Taking a sniffy view of the report, the London Times tells us that the American newspaper's decision to publish a front-page article devoted to a tiny band of "preppers" buying up pet food, candles and lavatory paper to survive post-Brexit meltdown "has attracted amusement and drawn attention to the title's increasingly sour depiction of life in Britain".

The piece last week, headlined "British Hoarders Stock Up on Supplies, Preparing for Brexit", was based on conversations with members of a niche Facebook group called "48 Per Cent Preppers", and the presenter of a podcast that imagines the "absolute worst" consequences of a no-deal departure.

The reporter also interviewed a couple who had started growing crops in their Cornwall garden and feared that Brexit would be as bad as Second World War rationing and 1970s power cuts combined.

It is typical of the supercilious, clever dick tendency of the London media that it should be amused by such stories, when many of us have been stocking up in a quiet, orderly way, with the subject being discussed on this blog several times over the months. But nothing exists for our media until they discover it for themselves, usually through their coprophagic tendencies or raiding other media sources.

I'm a little disappointed at our American cousins though that they should think we are so primitive as to be stocking up on candles. These have long been supplanted by usb-rechargeable LED lanterns which can give long-lasting light almost to the same intensity as a mains electric fitting.

Given the very real inadequacies of this government's handling of the Brexit process, and the crass performance of the media in reporting it, it would be frankly irresponsible not to be laying in essential stocks to guard against a worst-case scenario "no deal" Brexit.

But then, such is the arrogance of the legacy media that it would never occur to its journalists that there is a considerable body of people who are better informed than they are, and are able to make their own judgements without their assistance.

And if they or the New York Times wants to mock, so be it. The days have long gone when it might be thought sensible to trust in the competence of our own government – or any other one for that matter.






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