Richard North, 02/04/2017  

It was twelve years ago that Booker and I wrote The Great Deception, still the most comprehensive history of the European Union up to that time.

And, writes Booker in this week's column, we began with the immortal comment of Ernest Bevin, Britain's foreign secretary when the first steps were being taken towards welding Europe together under a supranational government. "Open that Pandora's box", he said, "and you never know what Trojan 'orses will jump out".

The same could apply again in spades, Booker says, to the plans unveiled last week for Brexit, the Great Repeal and triggering Article 50 – both, alas, spun from pure wishful thinking. It is a curiously Quixotic way to show we are no longer ruled by the laws of the EU to bring in a Bill which just turns all those nasty EU laws into nice "British laws".

This may give our politicians time to work out which are no longer needed, and certainly back in the Nineties Booker was almost weekly reporting on just how daft many of those EU directives were - particularly in the absurdly damaging way they were applied by our own civil servants.

But all those dreams of a "great repeal" and a "bonfire of regulations" will go up in smoke when the politicians discover just how many will have to stay on the statute book if we wish to remain trading at all with the EU: not to mention how many of these originate from UN and other international bodies to which, outside the EU, we will still remain signed up.

This is something readers of this blog are familiar with, but outside this fairly rarefied circle, the understanding of the role of global and regional bodies in the creation of our administrative law is poorly understood. Many politicians, in fact, have no understanding at all of the true origins of much of our law.

Even less, says Booker, do our politicians seem aware of the consequences of Mrs May's decision that we must leave the Single Market and the European Economic Area, to go instead for a one-off "trade deal" as what the EU calls a "third country".

We have both been warning of the consequences, but now ever more people are also pointing out, this means we are excluding ourselves from the system by which our goods can flow throughout the EU without any border controls, to face a devastating thicket of paperwork, checks and inspections.

Even HMRC, according to a leaked document, now admits that this will create crippling delays (including on the northern Irish border) and, more recently, is now admitting that computer systems will not be ready in time for Brexit.

Although, at last, this has been picked up by the Independent and the Guardian, we were there first, but that did not slacken the torrent of abuse which has become so much a feature of Booker comments.

Despite the clever-dickery to be found there, we're also hearing from those in a position to know, including Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier for the EU, that there simply isn't enough time in two years to negotiate by far the most complicated agreement the EU has ever undertaken with any "third country", covering not just trade but countless other issues, from foreign policy to agriculture and fisheries.

This is water off a duck's back to the commentariat, but – as Booker points out - even Mrs May seems at last to recognise that to drop out of the EU without an agreement, to rely just on those "WTO rules" for trade, would be a catastrophe beyond imagining.

Having warned about all this for so long, Booker goes out of his way to write that he makes no apology for pointing out yet again that 95 percent of all these problems could have been avoided if only we had decided to remain in the European Economic Area.

This might not only have given us time to settle a hundred and one other issues, but pretty well everything else Mrs May's advisers claim to want, from the right to impose selective controls on immigration from the EU and the right to agree trade deals with the outside world to escaping most rulings of the European Court of Justice.

But, says Booker, I'm afraid what Sir Ivan Rogers, before resigning as our top man in Brussels, called "ill-informed and muddled thinking" has won the day. All he can say to those who have lately been heaping abuse on him as a "traitor" to the Brexit cause, is that, as the next two years unfold, we shall see who was right.

We are, Booker concludes, in for a much rougher ride than most people yet realise. Yet, within minutes of the piece being posted on-line, we saw the drumbeat of abuse on the comments start up. So fast was the first comment up that the writer could hardly have read the column, much less understood it.

And this is in the aftermath of Tusk's response to Mrs May's Article 50 notification, where it now become plain that the UK is not going to get an easy ride on the Brexit negotiations.

The bulk of the media, however, seems obsessed with Gibraltar. And although this is important, it is a side-issue, compared with the wider issues which affect us all. The EU affirming that it will refuse to negotiate a free trade agreement until we have left the EU should have made all the front pages but it has hardly been mentioned.

Even the Guardian runs this down-page, writing:
But the EU also argued a trade deal could only be concluded once Britain had formally left and become a third country (a jurisdiction outside the European Economic Area), contradicting the prime minister's claim to be confident it can be completed before "Brexit day" on 30 March 2019.
This anodyne phrasing and low-key reporting doesn't in the least do justice to the enormity of what is being said which, in one sentence, condemns the UK to years more of uncertainty, while we battle through the details of an agreement which will be calculated to leave us worse off.

The very fact that the EU is now openly referring to the United Kingdom as a "third country" seems to have passed without comment, with none of the other national papers even mentioning it (other than the Financial Times).

In that there is an important lesson, reminding us of the frailty and the ignorance of the media, reflected in the readership which so willingly parades its ignorance, week after week, on the Booker column comments.

If there is anything further we can learn from this, it is that the EU is going to repeat its messages many times more before they sink in. Publishing them in the form of proposals to the European Council simply hasn't had the impact that one might have expected.

What I think we're seeing is a phenomenon we should have anticipated. There is too much detail there for the media to cope with. Almost as if it is hidden in plain sight, they ignore it, only to indulge in displacement activity, obsessing over marginal issues such as Gibraltar.

No wonder the commentariat doesn't see the point. The media doesn't get it and the politicians don't get it. We have a long way to go before reality smacks them in the face so hard that they have to take notice. Until then, the clever-dick abuse will continue.

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