Richard North, 28/03/2017  

As reality begins to exert its grip and the obvious dawns on people that we're not going to complete trade negotiations within the two-year Article 50 period, more and more ideas emerge on how to deal with the shortage of time.

Apart from the 'oft-repeated suggestion of a transitional period, lasting ten or more years, the latest we're getting via the Financial Times is a report that, even after Brexit day, we may have to continue taking part in some of the EU's decentralised agencies. This is based on the very obvious premise that we simply don't have the expertise in some areas and wouldn’t have the time to start up new agencies from scratch.

We're also expecting the entire EU acquis to be brought onto the UK statute book for an unspecified period of time, together with the adoption of the EU's tariff schedules and special arrangements to ensure continued legislative convergence to ensure access to EU member state markets.

Thus, from the early days when the Ollivander tendency was arguing for Article 50 to be junked and a ten-minute exit plan to be implemented, we are gradually seeing a convergence with the ideas set out in Flexcit plan, most of the ideas in which were emerging over four years ago.

The essential part of the plan was (and is) a recognition that the two-year time period allowed by Article 50 was insufficient to craft a favourable, long-term deal. Therefore, we argued that we should adopt an interim plan, to buy time for something better than we could otherwise get. And, of the various options available, we chose the "off-the-shelf" idea of continued EEA participation, considered the least worst and tolerable in the short- to medium term.

Given the widely acknowledged complexity of the Brexit process, one might have thought that the idea of a careful, measured extraction from the EU might have gained some approval from the broad ranks of both leavers and ex-remainers, especially as the process has been likened to the task of a surgeon carving out a metastatic cancer from the body of a patient.

And of all the people you might expect to support such an option, Sunday Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker might be high on the list. He and I have been a working partnership for over twenty years and our work over the period on EU matters might actually give us some understanding of the difficulties in securing an orderly exit from the European Union.

To suppose that, however, is also to entertain the fiction that we live in a rational world. Sadly, though, we have impinged on a domain infested by a particular type of "leaver" who demands instant fealty to the Ollivander concept of Brexit.

This particular brand is characterised by the belief that the UK can walk away from the EU at a moment's notice, whereupon the EU will give us all we demand by way of access to Member State markets, because "they need us more than we need them".

Such is the dedication to free speech and tolerance of these Ollivadites that any deviation from the approved line is unacceptable, triggering a steady drumbeat of personal abuse at the deviant. Thus, week after week, as Booker has sought to explore the growing evidence of a "plane crash Brexit", he has attracted increasingly frenzied attacks from these self-appointed guardians of the sacred flame.

What is especially interesting is that, uniquely, the claque have decided that criticism of this all-important area of public policy is off-limits. Anyone venturing to suggest that there is anything amiss with the Government's stance on Brexit become a devotee of "project fear", a closet (or actual) remainer and even a traitor to the cause.

This has culminated in a weird piece in a minority website written by self-styled journalist Walter Ellis, who heads his work "The strange case of 'Bregretter' Christopher Booker".

Not ever having talked to Booker on this, Ellis decides that Booker, from having been the "patron saint of Leave" is now so overcome by what he terms "a fit of historical guilt" that he has become something altogether unspecified, thus allowing Ellis to ask his readers "to cut off my legs and call me shorty". 

The one substantive observation Ellis seems to make is that, "the trolls who once hailed Booker as the one who would prepare the way for a new beginning are turning on him as a traitor to the cause", a phenomenon he seems to regard as unsurprising.

Such is the dominance of these rightly named "trolls" on the Booker comments that they have become a singularly unpleasant place to be. Any attempt to confront their prejudices is bound to fail as, having been put in their place, they return the following week, with exactly the same assertions they had used previously, seasoned by unrestrained (and unmoderated) ad hominem interventions.

They appear also to be given some sustenance by the Sunday Telegraph letters column which for several weeks now, has entertained hostile letters, usually on the familiar lines that "Booker is wrong".

If nothing else, this change in demeanour by the tiny minority of readers who actually comment online on the Booker column illustrates the tendency of such readers to seek from their favoured websites confirmation of their prejudices.

Many of them have names known to us, people with their own agendas, often Ukip activists. Their strident and persistent attacks on dissenting voices ensure they have the comments to themselves, where they set up shop, roundly to condemn Booker each week. Rarely though do we see any of them on the comments for, where they might get more robust handling.

The essence of the commentary, though, is that it betrays people who are not very bright. Mostly, as the saying goes, they are several bananas short of a bunch, confining themselves to a limited repertoire of mantras, tediously repeated at every opportunity.

Not one shows any sign of understanding the central concept of Flexcit and, while many are quick to condemn the Single Market, the idea that we should organise a measured withdrawal, to minimise economic damage, is way beyond their paygrade. Anything short of immediate, unconditional withdrawal is regarded as evidence of "remainer" sympathies.

When it comes to weird, though, even Ellis pales into insignificance compared with Iain Martin. On his way to sneering at the Observer in what he laughingly calls "quality journalism", he comments on the "case of Christopher Booker" which he asserts is "most strange".

"Booker was, along with his associates, a robust voice for leaving the EU for many years", he says. Now he writes it will be a disaster because we are leaving the customs union and because NO-ONE WILL LISTEN TO HIM AND HIS FRIENDS, or something".

The capitals are from Martin, who then goes on to say: "Let's face it. There is a strand in the Eurosceptic movement that liked being a minority interest. There is a similarity there with music fans who like showing their alleged superiority by being into an obscure act. What they hate most is when other people start buying the records of their hitherto little-known favourites".

That is the other element of the Booker critique – the poverty of intellect that drives writers to close in on themselves and address personal issues.

The politics of Brexit are to Martin what red and green are to someone who is profoundly colour blind. He has no comprehension, not the slightest glimmer of understanding of the subject matter of which Booker writes.

And that, ultimately will be the tragedy of Brexit. Here is a fascinating, complex issue which, potentially, is set to re-energise politics – but at huge risk, imposing burdens on politicians that they are ill-equipped to deal with. But, to anything other than black and white, without not even the nuances of shades of grey, these people are blind.

Decades of immersing themselves in personality politics has atrophied their brains, leaving them with nothing of interest to say.

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