Richard North, 16/07/2019  

I sometimes think I could go on holiday for six months without writing a thing, and I'd still be ahead of the game – by a factor of some years, in the case of some issues such as the effect of a no-deal Brexit on F1 racing.

So it comes to pass that the mighty, omniscient Robert Peston has finally discovered that, with nothing between the Tory leadership candidates, we are heading down the path towards a no-deal Brexit.

As far as I'm concerned, it was weeks ago that it was blindingly obvious that neither Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt had the first idea of how to manage Brexit, both residing in the fiction that they could abandon the backstop and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

But then, when the likes of Peston start noticing the blindingly obvious, it simply confirms their brilliance, allowing us plebs to stand back in wonderment at their skill and perspicacity which allows them to divine that which has been known for weeks to everyone with a brain.

Of course, such brilliant leaders of men will never, ever realise how far behind the curve they are. So deeply rooted in their bubble, listening only to their adoring claque, nothing exists until the likes of Peston have invented it and brought it before the great unwashed.

That they are "brilliant" is a given, and we know this because they keep telling us, as in the tail-end of the Telegraph piece which enjoins us to "sign up for our brilliant subscriber newsletter".

For me, I rather take Margaret Thatcher's line, when she famously said, "Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't". Basically, if you keep having to tell people how brilliant you are, you aren't.

Nevertheless, that won't stop the legacy media preening and posturing, massaging their own egos and spewing out error-filled misinformation. That's what you do when you're in the media, because that entitles you to stop listening to anyone outside the bubble, conferring a free pass which absolves you from having to apologise for delivering second-rate work.

But there you go. Robert Peston has told us that a no-deal is now "probable". With the public now exposed to such brilliance, this affirms that our intellectual masters have got there – eventually.

Give them another three years and they might have worked out what non-tariff barriers mean, and how they impact on third country trading arrangements. Some of them might even begin to understand what "third country" actually means in relation to the EU.

But then we mustn't expect too much of these geniuses. Too many facts might hurt their little brains, while telling their followers too much might overwhelm them with adoration. Once you've reached the pinnacle of brilliance, there is nowhere else to go.

Despite Peston being on the case with his factoid of the day, therefore, there is little chance of him catching up with the rest. If he ever did, I the lowly blogger, would be redundant.

As it is, the media generally don't have a clue what a no-deal Brexit really entails, so I will probably have to wait quite a while for my redundancy notice, although we do get a tiny glimmer of sentience from Michael Deacon in the Telegraph. As court jester, he has a licence to ask awkward questions, taking a look at the absurdity of maintaining the no-deal Brexit "on the table", as leverage in the hypothetical renegotiations which the EU says we're not going to have.

Says Deacon, Johnson and Jeremy Hunt agree on at least one thing: that the way to get a better Brexit deal is to threaten to leave with no-deal – the very thing that Peston seems to have noticed.

Johnson, for example, has said he wants EU leaders to "look deep into our eyes and think, 'My God, these Brits actually are going to leave. And they're going to leave on those terms'". Such will be the EU leaders' alarm – so the theory goes - that they’ll ditch the backstop on the spot.

The one possible flaw in this plan, Deacon asserts, is that the EU leaders might decide a no-deal Brexit would be a lot more damaging to Britain than it would be to them. If that is what they think, they might not find the threat quite so compelling, leaving Deacon to paint an alternative scenario:
The British Government might as well be saying: "If I shoot myself in the foot with this machine gun, it's going to make a terrible mess of your carpet. Imagine the stain. Could take you a whole hour to get it out. All that scrubbing. Be a real nuisance for you. Plus you'd have to put up with the horrible sound of my screaming, as I writhe around in unspeakable agony on your floor until the paramedics arrive. Wouldn't be much fun for you, would it? Could ruin your evening. Do you really want that? Are you sure?"
This is about as close as it gets to pointing out how absurd the stance of the leadership candidates is, delivering us a train wreck where the only choice is the side of the rails from which we want the doomed train to plunge.

One can only assume that, once the new leader assumes office – but not power – he will realise the fatuity of his strategy and start all over again, trying to craft something sensible. Only then will be find that he is subject to exactly the same constraints that stopped Mrs May from making progress.

However, the candidates are for the moment having to satisfy the whims of the Conservative Party, which is not in the reality business. Slurping up the propaganda from the Spectator and the Telegraph, with occasional sojourns elsewhere, they have allowed themselves to be convinced that no-deal is a tenable option, although they are equally convinced that the Johnson "handbag" strategy will have the EU blinking furiously at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour on 31 October.

When such stupidity is given the power to decide the leader of our government, there is no obvious means of escape. The "stupid party", living up to its name, is about to condemn us to perdition.

It is probably now too late to influence events – not that we could anyway. But most of the leadership votes are now in, and the die is probably already cast. Too late, the Guardian is pointing out what an odious little man Johnson really is, one of a series of pieces about "the real Boris Johnson". But it will not have the slightest effect. Nothing the Guardian can say about the character of the Tories' favourite son will touch his popularity in the party.

That will then leave the paper – and others, if they have a mind to do some real journalism – to "do a Peston" and try to catch up on the most likely effects of a no-deal, and the mechanisms for avoiding disaster.

When you're in the catch-up game, though, the big problem is that by the time you get there, the birds have usually flown. Properly to influence the debate, the media needed to have been exploring the consequences of a no-deal Brexit the moment Mrs May put the possibility on the table with her Lancaster House speech back in January 2017.

Thus, while we are always pleased to see the media catch up – eventually – sometimes "better late than never" doesn't hold true. To define and shape the debate, the media needed to be on the ball, ahead of the game and ready to inject real information into the system. It wasn't, and still isn't. "Eventually" really isn't good enough.

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