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Brexit: feeding from the same trough

2017-12-18 06:46:04

The media had perhaps one opportunity to get it right, and set the agenda for the next few months that reflects the reality we face. They blew it.

Instead of hard analysis of Friday's European Council, most went for the easy shots with two of the Sunday newspapers (the Express and the Sunday Telegraph) buying into the No. 10 propaganda and offering authored puffs from Theresa May. Thus we have the front-page headline in the Telegraph blaring: "May: I've proved doubters wrong".

Her government "is getting on with the job", May says. "We are proving the doubters wrong and we will stick to the task: securing the best possible Brexit and building a Britain fit for the future stronger, fairer, ever more global, and a country that truly works for everyone".

The Observer, ignoring the puff, focused on the coming parliamentary battle rather than the events just past, and the Mail on Sunday chose to exclude the EU from its front page altogether. On its inside pages, it too buys into the No. 10 propaganda and Mrs May's "summit victory", the headline borrowed from the Telegraph, declaring: "May claims she's 'proved the doubters wrong'".

Ever on the lookout for a domestic biff-bam slant, the paper then adds: "but the fragile Tory truce cracks as Boris says Britain must leave EU rules behind on the eve of crunch Cabinet talks".

The reference to "Cabinet talks" is to the discussions scheduled for today, and for tomorrow when for the first time the full Cabinet is to be formally asked for its views on the type of trade deal we should push for. As for "Boris", this is a reference to the Sunday Times.

It has plumbed the depths, delivering an inane interview with the Foreign Secretary who, once again, has demonstrated his complete failure to grasp the EU and trade issues.

Misleadingly, in the light of comments from Mr Mogg yesterday on the EU's transition proposals, the piece was entitled: "Boris Johnson: Brexit mustn't leave us a 'vassal state'". While one might have expected this to have been directed at the Council's transition ideas, these have obviously passed Johnson by.

Instead, the buffoon is talking about the "trade deal" that he wants his boss, Mrs May, to strike. In a nutshell, he wants something that gives Britain the power to ditch EU laws, and prattles that failure to do so would render the UK a "vassal state" of Brussels.

Spelling this out in more detail, Johnson says: "What we need to do is something new and ambitious, which allows zero tariffs and frictionless trade but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework, our own laws and do things in a distinctive way in the future".

This is straight out of the moronic "have your cake and eat it" playbook that has blighted post-referendum politics, telling us yet again that Johnson isn't safe to be let out on his own. Yet this is the sort of crass stupidity which the Sunday Times feels important enough to put on its front page.

With a nice sense of timing, Michel Barnier tells Prospect magazine some home truths which, if he was capable of blushing, would have the man-child Johnson glowing a bright cherry red from all the fruit he plans to pick.

But says Barnier of the UK government, "They have to realise there won't be any cherry picking". He then points out that the EU will not mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate UK wishes. For instance, he avers, there is no chance that we will get the advantages of the Norway model, with its membership of the single market, tied in with the simple requirements of the Canadian deal.

This is not the first time that Barnier has made that point. Add in his colleagues and run a Google search on the Europa website for "cherry picking" and "Brexit" and you will get over 200 separate entries. From the highest to the lowest. EU officials have been at pains to point out to the UK that options are limited. Yet months down the line, the moron still speaks in those terms.

Here, though, we have two dynamics at play: the idiot politician who will take every opportunity to blather his nonsense, and the "serious" newspaper which is prepared to give space to this stupidity, pushing it out uncritically even conveying a sense of approval.

Barnier, in the same interview with Prospect, tells the UK, "They have to face the consequences of their own decision," but that's the one thing the likes of Johnson never do. There are no adverse consequences in British politics for stupidity. More often, the more you blather, the more publicity you get.

And with this, there is also the opportunity cost. Space given by the newspapers to Johnson's mad effluvia, or the sucking up to the incompetent May, means that there has been less devoted to an evaluation of the European Council and the publication of the new guidelines.

In fact, you will struggle to find any significant coverage of the guidelines. Most media outlets are happily burbling about moving into "phase two" but evidently do not feel it their duty to explain to the public the implications of that move.

But actually, the rot goes deeper than that. Alongside the uncritical presentation of Johnson's stupidity, the Sunday Times tells us he "acknowledges that going our own way could lead to 'trading consequences' with tariffs and other barriers imposed by Brussels". But, we are told. "the Foreign Secretary says Britain should grin and bear that while making the case for global free trade".

This newspaper, of course, would not stoop so low as to spell out what those "trading consequences" might be. More to the point, Tim Shipman Johnson's gushing interviewer doesn't think to ask the Foreign Secretary to be specific about what the British public should "grin and bear".

Thus, the world is full of politicians who can glibly consign us to penury (which is our intended destination, for all that Shipman knows) and it doesn't warrant the slightest exploration. No wonder that, when it comes to degrees of distrust, there is precious little difference expressed in opinion polls between politicians and journalists. They are pigs sharing the same trough.

As to the Cabinet meeting today, this is very much going to be a case of the blind leading the blind. I cannot think of a single Cabinet Minister who, in their public pronouncements, has displayed any clear understanding of how trade with the EU works, and even less so the global trade issues so ably outlined by Pete.

What we should realise here is that the Cabinet members are the privileged few. With the resources of the State to whatever extent they feel necessary at their disposal, these people have access to an unimaginable amount of information. They have staff to process, analyse and present it to them in any way they demand and yet the whole lot of them could not muster a respectable GCSE pass on the subject.

The Telegraph, with its own lamentable grasp of the subject, argues that the "new divide" in British politics is no longer between Remainers and Leavers, but "convergers and divergers". To what extent will post-Brexit Britain effectively mirror what the EU does on trade and services or plough its own furrow in the world?

We still do not know how these two conflicting visions can be reconciled, the paper then adds, not admitting the obvious. They cannot be reconciled. "Ploughing our own furrow" hasn't been an option since the days of Empire, and the mere suggestion that we can is to ignore the effects of decades of globalisation.

Thus, the fact that a top-level newspaper can even think to characterise the Brexit debate in these terms tells you all you need to know about the parlous state of the media. Unable of unwilling to address the real issues, they spiral off into flights of fantasy that bear no relation to reality or the needs of the public they serve.

Administrative note 

Today and possibly for the rest of the week, I will be in Scotland, in Hamilton Sheriff court, where I am attending as an expert witness on a food safety matter concerning Errington Cheese Ltd.

As an expert, I am not able to comment publicly on the issues until the hearing is resolved, and I cannot therefore write up my experiences over the next week. Even then, there is a fatal accident inquiry planned, which will preclude me from further comment.

The demands on my time over the next week will be severe, which will make normal blogging extremely difficult. I may have trouble doing anything more than perfunctory posts. Pete has agreed to step in with a guest post for tomorrow and I will then take each day as it comes.