Richard North, 15/02/2019  

I gazed yesterday upon the excitable hacks, prattling away from inside and outside the House of Commons, and their breathless interviews of sundry MPs and pundits. And for all the impact and relevance, I might just as well have been watching Japanese reality television – in the original language.

There have been some votes in the Commons. In one of them, a government motion was defeated, 303 to 258 - a majority of 45 against a motion endorsing the government's negotiating strategy – a strategy that had been approved by the self-same MPs only two weeks ago. 

Why there was even a vote, though, no one has yet been able to explain. For a parliament that is so keen on meaningful votes, this was a meaningless one. The defeat, we are told, has no legal force and Downing Street said it would not change the prime minister's approach to (non-)talks with the EU.

To make the proceedings even more meaningless, some amendments were defeated and another was withdrawn. And since none of these votes had any legal implications either and the government is not bound by anything, we are no closer to ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. We are, however, a few hours closer to a no-deal.

In the meantime, it seems, Mrs May has vowed to press ahead with her Brexit plan – whatever that is. In a statement from Downing Street, her spokesman declared: "While we didn't secure the support of the Commons this evening, the prime minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage".

The spokesman continued: "The motion on 29 January remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want – and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop. The government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29 March".

With that, we await the next episode of the soap opera, scheduled for 27 February. Closer to the day, we'll have to focus on it a bit more, long enough to find out what the plotline is. Then, perhaps – or not – we can put it on hold again until the episode after that, when there will be another storyline to follow.

And yes, I know we should care more about what's going on. But that doesn't include exposing oneself to a gibbering troop of half-trained monkeys, filling the ether with their noise, polluting our screens with their self-important posturing. We've had enough of them. We'd had enough of them a while back. But we've really had enough of them now.

Bluntly, the only thing I want to know now is the result of the next vote on the Withdrawal Agreement ratification. I don't want to hear any more progress reports about non-existent negotiations, and I certainly don't want to hear any more breathless reports about what a television reporter thinks he might have heard in a Brussels bar.

I'm also sick to the hind teeth of profound statements from anonymous "EU diplomats" and from the rest of the corps of willing but anonymous informants that the hacks use to pad out their reports. Those who are not prepared to put their names to their statements aren't worth listening to.

And to the next gormless hack who wants to write yet another puerile piece, headlined, "Six things we've learned …", a word of advice. Stay very clear of me or I will put a bullet in your brains. If I have to read another such article, be it six things, or seven things, or eight, I will put a bullet in my own.

By the way, for the simpering little girlie writing for the Telegraph, the Mexican drug-traffickers' weapon-of-choice is not an "AK57". There is no such thing. It's an AK-47 written with a hyphen, you airhead, the most prolific firearm on the planet, with over 100 million made. Next thing, we'll be told that Spitfires are jet fighters.

As for the rest, there are 43 days left to a no-deal – 43 days for the media to fill their papers and populate their studios – television and radio – with trivia, leaving us none the wiser than we are now. Doubtless, we will be a lot more confused.

Nevertheless, there is some prospect of clarity. If we do drop out without a deal, the media can devote their energies to telling us what a terrible time we're having. But, until then, we are expected to put up with the endless speculation and soap opera.

Back in the real world, though – or what passes for it – the government has a little good news to share after the doom and gloom of my previous blogpost. In a press release released yesterday, the Department for International Trade announced that the UK and the US had agreed to continue their Mutual Recognition Agreement on conformity assessment.

This will help facilitate goods trade between the two nations and means UK exporters can continue to ensure goods are compliant with technical regulations before they depart the UK, "saving businesses time, money and resources. American exporters to the UK benefit in the same way".

Highlighting the importance of this agreement, the release points out that the total UK-US trade in sectors covered by the deal is worth up to £12.8 billion, based on recent average trade flows. Of this, the UK exports covered are worth an estimated £8.9 billion - more than a fifth of total UK goods exports to the US.

The agreement, we are told, benefits a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals account for around £7.7 billion of UK exports to the US - nearly 18 percent of total UK goods exports to the US. Other industries that will benefit include the tech sector and telecommunications equipment suppliers.

Furthermore, similar agreements have been signed in recent weeks with Australia and New Zealand (announced on 18 January), ensuring continuity and safeguarding revenues for British businesses and consumers.

In respect of the US, this is the first time I have seen specific figures attributed to this MRA and again it underlines the vacuity of the claims for the WTO option. Although MRAs on conformity assessment are not full-blown Free Trade Agreements, they are powerful tools of trade facilitation, and an essential part of any modern trade relationship.

As a measure of where we are with the media, it is interesting to note that none of the major media organs seem to have published the news about the US MRA. And where the BBC refers to the signing of the deals with Australia and New Zealand (and then only recently), it dismisses them as "mutual recognition agreements" and not free trade agreements, failing to note that they cover UK exports worth an estimated £2 billion.

The essence of this experience, therefore, is to confirm (and update) Mark Twain's observation that those who do not read the news are uninformed while those who do are misinformed. Despite the torrent of media coverage on Brexit, most of it is focussed on the narrow band of activity in Westminster, with emphasis on personalities and confrontation.

Another example of the vacuum created by the absence of information in the media– the annals of emptiness – comes with an article about the fate of Formula 1 in respect of Brexit, covered in some detail by Autosport magazine.

Here we have a leading figure in the industry warning that Formula 1 teams cannot risk having their "heads in the sand" over Britain leaving the European Union without a deal. To date I cannot recall any serious coverage of this issue in the national media. And yet, it was in March 2017 - nearly two years ago – that I wrote a comprehensive analysis on this blog.

Thus, while we can rightly complain about our politicians making a pig's ear of Brexit, considerable blame must also go to the legacy media, both for trivialising the narrative and also for the superficiality of its reporting. What should be a detailed and fascinating record of history being made is reduced to the level of a biff-bam storyline that wouldn't even make it into the Beano.

The politicians are, in fact, the easy target (and no less worthy for that), but the drain on our energies occasioned by the impoverished media coverage is also of note. I think, alone, I could stand the politicians. Have the media amplify their stupidity and they become intolerable.

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