EU Referendum

EU Referendum: stupidity as an art form


There comes a limit to how much we can accept as plain ignorance and begin to recognise that there are people out there in charge of keyboards who are so stupid that one wonders how they actually mastered the skills of tapping the keys in the right order.

But, when it comes to journalists, there is a very special kind of stupidity which infects a breed which is supposedly dedicated to spreading knowledge. This is the sort of stupidity that portrays a depth of ignorance of such a profundity that it cannot be accidental. These are the hacks who have elevated stupidity to an art form.

Soaring to the top of the list is Fraser Nelson writing a piece in the sadly diminished Telegraph, asserting that "a vote to leave the EU is no guarantee we'd shake off its malign influence".

What elevates his to the highest level, though, is a particularly facile comment, share by Labour's Stephen Kinnock – son of Neil – and the Tory MEP Vicky Ford, to the effect that notifying the EU of our intention to leave via Article 50 bars the UK from taking part in the exit negotiations.

Nelson's version of this stupidity comes in the context his asinine discussion of the Norway option, following which he ventures that we could "of course, hope to negotiate our own British option". But, writes Nelson, "appallingly, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty seeks to frustrate even this. If a nation votes to leave, it cannot be in the room when other EU members discuss the terms of its departure".

We've heard a great deal of stupidity on this, which stems from the wording of Article 50 in the treaty. As we point out in our explainer though, Para 2 of Article 50 actually requires the Union to "negotiate and conclude an agreement with that [withdrawing] State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union".

Para 3, inter alia permits an extension of the negotiating period – which must be agreed unanimously and then Para 4 tells us that the discussions between the Member States on the negotiations cannot be attended by the departing states.

This is not a block exclusion. In all other discussions and processes other than those directly involving the negotiations, the departing Member State participates fully in the business of the European Union.

Furthermore, the partial exclusion is entirely logical. Otherwise the UK would end participating in Council meetings when matters pertaining to negotiations with itself were being discussed and decided upon. This cannot be permitted, otherwise, effectively, the UK would be sitting on both sides of the table during the negotiations.

Yet the wording of this exclusion is taken by Nelson (and many others) to mean a total exclusion from the negotiations as a whole, to the extent that the "colleagues" unilaterally decide on what they will offer the UK, which is handed down on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

While it is troublesome enough that some politicians should believe this, journalists writing for "broadsheet" national newspapers are supposed to be a cut above the rest, claiming a special authority by virtue of their position.

Thus to have Nelson imbibe and then regurgitate this stupidity is simply unacceptable. It is not anywhere near the standard of work we rightly expect from a journalist from a "serious" newspaper. This is kindergarten stuff.

But, having gone so seriously off the rails, Nelson compounds his stupidity with a groaningly facile commentary on this supposed injustice. He tells us:
This is illogical and vindictive, but it is how the wounded beast would behave. It would certainly be in the EU's self-interest to agree a free trade deal with Britain: it would need access to our markets as much as we'd need access to theirs. But as the EU demonstrates with terrifying regularity, it does not always act rationally.
This is so much an example of the need for the pundit to look in the mirror – an irrational comment based on a flawed understanding of something that the journalist should have got right.

Bizarrely, we get Peter Foster in the same newspaper complaining that facts on the EU referendum are so hard to get, which should have him looking also at the rest of Nelson's work and taking it apart for its trivial superficiality.

This includes the repetition of the lame change of "fax democracy" in respect of the Norway Option which demonstrates that Nelson, in his squalid intellectual quagmire, has not progressed in his understanding of the issues relevant to the EU referendum beyond that which was current more than ten years ago.

Intellectually, Nelson inhabits a land where time stands still, where he is rehearsing arguments we were hearing 25 years ago (see, for instance 47:15 on this clip). Yet, to remain so completely locked in the past, his reading must be terrifyingly narrow. And only someone imbued with overweening arrogance would dare expose their ignorance to public scrutiny. A more rational (and humble) being would take far more care to be well informed.

This, it seems to me, could be the crux of the matter. Maybe it's wrong to call these people stupid – although I cannot find it in myself to suggest that parading one's ignorance is anything else but stupid.

What we are dealing with is a set of people who believe that it is perfectly acceptable to go into the field unprepared, taking money for their labours yet not in any way delivering value for money, or treating their readers with respect, by seeking out the best information they can, in order to pass it on.

As recently I presented Charles Grant with the choice of calling himself ignorant or a liar, people such as Fraser Nelson are stupid, or ignorant – or so arrogant that they feel entitled to treat their readers with contempt.

Either way, this is not responsible journalism. Anyone producing such poor quality work should be deeply ashamed, and it is exactly the measure of Nelson that he would not even begin to accept that his writing was in any way flawed.

I wonder though if he has any conception of the contempt in which he and his ilk are held by so many people, who have become disgusted by the shallow superficiality of the fare they are being offered. Perhaps, for him, it is better that he doesn't realise. He might otherwise never wish to show his face in public again.