Richard North, 08/08/2016  
 


There is not the slightest possibility of a British government abandoning negotiations with Brussels and "simply walking away" from the EU, as was advocated by Patrick Minford in the Express in its lead front-page story published on Saturday (pictured).

The immediate effects would be catastrophic and over the longer term would drive us into recession, from which we would struggle to emerge. Our international reputation would be in tatters and there would be scarcely a single country prepared to trust us with a trade deal.

This is not just a crude fantasy. The effects of "simply walking away" would be real, immediate and devastating, which is why no government could allow it to happen. So the question has to be asked, once again, why a supposedly responsible adult like Minford is even suggesting it, and why the Express is publishing it.

One could, of course, dismiss the story altogether as just another example of the Express bloviating, except that its story is based on an authored piece in the Telegraph from a few days ago, the writer enjoying the residual prestige of this now heavily tarnished newspaper.

There is in fact little to choose between this stupidity and the idiocy of Hannan in the Spectator, the effects of their advocacy being much the same. And between them, the "Article 50 now" zealots and the mindless advocates of a free trade agreement with the EU, they would drive us into perdition.

The startling thing about all this, though, is that only the crazies seem to be getting any attention: anything verging on a sensible discussion of the options available to us is being excluded from the legacy media. It is almost as if there is a filter that screens out anything that might be taken seriously – what could be called the "stupid" filter.

We see this filter in action again in the Telegraph over the weekend, which has it that the Treasury is looking at quitting the Single Market, against the entirely unsubstantiated claim that the "City" rejects Norway option.

In the context of the story, the "City" turns out to be the view of Mark Boleat, the City of London Corporation's policy chief, who has a distinctly chequered history when commenting on EU matters.

Mr Boleat is currently casting doubt over the UK's ability "to secure a Norway-style deal to remain in the single market" because, he says, "accepting free movement of people and paying large sums to Brussels while accepting its rules would not be politically acceptable".

Then, alongside Boleat is the British Bankers' Association (BBA) which, we are told, wants the UK to leave the Single Market, giving the UK control of its own regulations, but "retaining unimpeded access to EU markets".

While they're about it, the BBA might just as well put a bid in for unlimited quantities of Thames Water to be turned into wine as it comes out of the tap. Anything is possible if you ignore the constraints and go for the fantasy option.

As for Boleat, we have remarked before of this phenomenon where, the higher up the tree the pundits go, the less well informed they tend to be. The EEA/Liechtenstein solution is real, it is being considered and something like it may well be adopted to resolve the Swiss immigration impasse. But you don't expect "opinion formers" to know what they are talking about these days.

The interesting thing is, though, that the "stupid" filter doesn't only apply to the legacy media. It is installed and used heavily in academia and the (mostly) Europhile think-tanks which are trying to get to grips with the problems of Brexit.

The greater the prestige, it also seems, the more effective the filter, so that we have Professors Damian Chalmers and Anand Menon published by Open Europe coming up with a three-step Brexit solution.

This is another one that had the UK taking back control of EU laws and, "to secure access to the single market", a compromise is sought on free movement, where we "grant residence only to those who have an offer of a full time job and a new income threshold for those seeking to bring their families to the UK".

But there is absolutely no point in deconstructing this. If the authors can't see their own stupidity, no amount of counsel from lesser mortals such as myself is going to have the slightest effect.

On the same basis, we have Chatham House full of its own importance and thereby anxious to spread its ignorance to a wider band of readers, despite being roughly four years behind the curve.

These are the people who blandly tell us that, while membership of the EEA (the "Norway option") could be negotiated relatively quickly and would continue to give Britain full, unfettered access to the Single Market, "it would require Britain's labour market remaining fully open to EU workers" and "would not appear to meet the popular or political mandate of the referendum result".

Other keen users of the "stupid" filter are the Centre for Economic Policy Research, one more outfit which sees prestige as an adequate substitute for sense.

This has one of their authors, without so much as a blush, telling us that one feasible Brexit option is for the UK to re-join the European Free Trade Association (Efta). Notwithstanding that Efta does not have a trade agreement with the EU (of any nature) so it can hardly be an option, we are gravely informed that: "This is similar to the EEA option, but with less access to the Single Market".

The Centre also allows authors Swati Dhingra and Thomas Sampson to tells us that another of the models available to the UK is to "join the European Economic Association and remain part of the Single Market", neglecting to tell us that we are already in the EEA but, to stay in it, we would have to re-join Efta.

In common with the rest of the "stupid" continuum, though, they claim that "EEA membership requires agreeing to free movement of labour with other EU and EEA countries". Even the terminology is clumsy. EEA countries include EU Member States – or perhaps the authors don't know that.

Here, I've been debating with myself whether to suggest that there is a two-stage filter. First the work has to pass through the "stupid" layer, and then has any usable information stripped from it as it passed through an "ignorance" filter. However, one could say that it is pretty stupid of anyone to go public and parade their ignorance in the way so many of these "prestigious" academics do.

One could, however, say that these people are so stupid that they don't even realise that they are stupid, except that that doesn't properly describe the phenomenon we're seeing.

Amongst academics, we have the intellectual equivalent of in-breeding, where there the discourse is confined to the same limited gene pool and any sources outside the pool are rigorously excluded. How else could one discuss the effect of globalisation on Brexit and not mention UNECE, Codex, the WTO TBT/SPS Agreements or even the FSB. Yet the Centre for Economic Policy Research manages to do precisely that.

Unfortunately, once the work has been through the filter, it is very difficult to put the sense back in. Thus you see an extraordinary amount of effort being devoted to excluding the influence of the wider world. You can see some of the authors tiptoeing around Flexcit, terrified to mention it in case it invites unfavourable comparisons.

As long as the in-breeders can keep the dialogue to themselves, however, the use of the "stupid" filter doesn't show too much. Only in the big, wide world, where us plebs are used to the unfiltered stuff, does the lack of substance show. But then we're only plebs, so we don't matter.






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