Richard North, 08/01/2017  

There are a lot of people who mark me down as arrogant (or worse), simply because I assert that I know what I'm talking about (even though – or especially because - I very often do).

On the other hand, when a 38-year-old, only recently into the field with no depth of study behind him and no research qualifications, asserts something which is wrong – despite my having placed the correct information in a publicly accessible form, who's being arrogant?

Is it me, for being right or the man nearly half my age, with a fraction of my experience and qualifications, for thinking he knows better than me and ignoring what I write on the nation's premier independent EU-related blog?

We are, of course, talking about Matthew Elliott here, who claimed on BBC's Any Questions on Friday that membership of the EEA via Efta means being subject to the ECJ. It doesn't. The arbitration body for the Efta States is the Efta Court. And while it takes note of ECJ rulings, it is not a supranational court and its judgements are not binding on Efta States.

That Mr Elliott thinks he knows better that me is par for the course. People such as him operate that way. They assert things, without evidence, because it supports their own agenda – even when they know them to be wrong, or could find out whether they are. And then, behind the scenes, they use their considerable networking skills to slander and exclude people such as me, to make sure the truth does not prevail.

From the same intellectual cesspit comes Christopher Howarth, who claims to be an "EU Political researcher" and is a former "senior analyst" at Open Europe. This is a man who seems never knowingly to have read anything I've ever written, yet glibly asserts of me that I "support staying in 95% of EU via EEA" – with the hashtag #euphile, implying, as do many, that I support membership of the EU.

With that and other low-grade sniping from nonentities on the margins, we then get the facile but anonymous "Kenneth" responding on the comments to my piece for Saturday with the question: "Is the author of this blog, the same Dr North that wrote 'The Castle of Lies' and 'The Great Deception'". He adds: "I don't remember him arguing that every EU whim and law should be implemented whatever the cost?"

Interestingly, Booker is getting very similar treatment – including being dropped from any number of Christmas card lists. It seems that, merely to argue for a rational, ordered exit is to place yourself beyond the pale, and incur the wrath of the "leave" establishment – particularly the arrogant Tory right which seems to believe it owns this debate.

However, undeterred by the new status allocated to him, Booker writes again in this week's column, arguing once more for a more rational approach to Brexit. Even that, however, attracts the ire of reader D Butler, who professes to be "rather at a lose (sic) to know exactly where Mr Booker stands on our involvement with the EU".

"Prior to the referendum his articles were very critical of Brussels directives etc", writes Mr Butler. "Now after the British people have democratically expressed their verdict on 40 plus years of rule by unelected bureaucrats, Booker advocates the status quo". In the column itself, Booker writes that the furore over the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers as our top official in Brussels has only confirmed points long argued in his column.

It may have been understandable that Theresa May should wish to keep quiet about her overall Brexit negotiating strategy. But inevitably this has left a vacuum filled by the "noisemakers": what Sir Ivan called the "muddled and ill-informed thinking" poured out by those "hard Brexiteers" who seem quite oblivious to the astonishing complexity of what a successful negotiation would involve.

At this point, one can interject with a reminder about Charles Moore who, from his lofty position, has decided that: "Only those who don't want to leave see Brexit as mind-blowingly complicated". If you want arrogance, there it is, naked in tooth and claw.

Nevertheless, Booker happily takes on another member of that dysfunctional Tory right, the "breathtaking" Michael Gove, who is still defending as "robust" that ludicrous claim that leaving the EU would save us "£350 million a week".

Says Booker, the very first thing the EU negotiators will want to settle when Mrs May confronts them in Brussels is how we propose to meet all those outstanding financial commitments stretching years into the future. This is the EU spending to which we have already agreed, potentially leaving us with a bill as high as £50 billion.

We are also told we must "take back control of our borders", yet more than half our immigration is nothing to do with the EU. It is mandated by other international commitments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and, of course, the UN Convention on the treatment of refugees.

Another of the Right's obsessions is the belief that that leaving the EU will free us from huge amounts of regulation. Yet this overlooks the effects of globalisation, as Booker explained in the week of David Cameron's Bloomberg speech in 2013.

In an article headed "Forget Brussels: we are now ruled by the giants of Geneva", he wrote of the colossal revolution whereby up to 90 percent of Single Market regulation now come within the policy domain of global bodies, such as the OECD, the WTO, the ISO and UNECE. Outside the EU, we might have more influence in making those rules, but we will still have to comply with them.

From there, Booker sets out the reason why some of us have long been urging that the only practical way to achieve what Sir Ivan called an "orderly and managed transition" out of the EU.

This is rejoining Efta and thus remaining in the EEA – the so-called "Flexcit strategy", with which we have on good authority Sir Ivan is very familiar. The advantage is not only that it would avoid catastrophic disruption to trade by allowing us, outside the EU, to remain, as Mrs May says she wants "within" the single market, it would also allowing us to negotiate independent trade deals and to exercise some selective control over immigration from within the EU.

Very importantly, would give us time in those two years allowed under Article 50 to discuss all those 30-odd other major policy areas which will need to be resolved, from agriculture an fisheries to security and defence: not to mention how we sort out the question of the EU's 27 regulatory agencies.

We are promised later this month that speech in which the Prime Minister may at last reveal what her central strategy will be. At least, however much the noisemakers may howl, this will provide an entirely new focus to the debate. We may at last begin to take on board the quite mind-boggling complexity of all that needs to be done.

Despite Sir Ivan's anxieties, we must hope that, when it comes to the crunch, Mrs May has not been taken in by all that "ill-informed and muddled thinking" which for too long has been poisoning the air around her, but has been listening to those who genuinely know what they are talking about.

And there we have it again – people who know "what they are talking about". As I have been at pains, to point out, there are no experts in this game. It is about making the best of the information that is available, and avoiding the dogma of those who put their prejudices first, and then look for factoids to support them.

But Booker's piece is headed: "May must ignore the 'ill-informed' Brexiteers", as it is those who, above all else, are proving the most voluble impediment to an ordered Brexit. They trade in misinformation and are impervious to reason, stopping at nothing to pursue their agendas.

Even with, or despite, the departure of Sir Ivan, Mrs May needs to be highly selective in the material to which she pays attention.

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