Richard North, 06/09/2016  

Assuming the responsibility of running the Brexit department certainly seems to have brought David Davis a little closer to reality than some of his former backbench colleagues.

From the despatch box yesterday, in what was described as his first lack-of-progress report, Davis at least managed to remind us that we have been in the European Union for 40-odd years, the links are very complicated and the effects on much of our society are quite complex.

We will not delay one day more than is necessary to do the job that we have to do, he said, but it is a complicated and extensive relationship that we have to untangle, and we will do so in good time.

But then, in the "stupid stakes", he would be struggling to complete with Bernard Jenkin, who announced to his incredulous Twitter audience that: "Some people don't seem to understand is: the single market IS the EU. You cannot be in the SM and not be in the EU". It is a pity no-one told the Norwegians.

Back in the House, Peter Lilley was doing his best, arguing that the two-year limit set down in article 50 "is an arbitrary maximum, not a necessary minimum". Most countries that have obtained independence or left a political union, he said – including India, Canada and Australia or the Czech Republic and Slovakia - have done so in far less than two years.

Lilley was to expand upon his stupidity in the obvious repository for such endeavour, the Telegraph, where he argued that: "We should seize the benefits of Brexit sooner rather than later".

According to Mr Lilley, joining the EC (back in 1972) was far more complex than leaving: and that barely took two years. And, since – in his view - every week that we delay Brexit costs the British taxpayer nearly £200 million in membership fees, both the Treasury and Health (which will have first call on extra spending) should be pushing for a speedy exit.

But, like so many with these nostrums which only marginally skirt insanity, Mr Lilly never lets us know how this should be achieved. But then, as we have seen, Mr Lilley has only a tenuous grasp of the issues, and prefers his opinions to mere facts.

Nevertheless, to the refrain of, "Is that it?", Davis has been able to add so little to the fount of human knowledge that even Lilley looked informative by contrast.

One suspects that there is a deeper agenda here. During the 1970-1972 entry negotiations, the view was taken by the British government that, given the open character of the Community and the fact that virtually all its developments and disputes became public knowledge with the minimum of delay, negotiations would have the same character.

It was anticipated that it would be difficult to conceal the substance of discussions, and t was assumed that everything of importance would inevitably become public knowledge and be spread over the media by opportunistic hacks.

However, the greater problem turned out to be exactly the opposite. Towards the end of the negotiations, journalists in Brussels had become so thoroughly bored with the multiplicity of highly technical subjects still under discussion that they were ready to be content with fairly superficial information.

There was little difficulty in concealing information from journalists. Instead, the problem was in getting them interested and motivated enough for them to report was happening. The issue died of boredom. A few more of these "lack-of-progress" reports and we could end up repeating history.

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