Richard North, 10/03/2018  
 


It would not be the first time that I have remarked on that arrogance of the legacy media, and especially its insistence on "owning" the news. Again and again we find that, in their eyes, nothing exists until they have "discovered" it.

Even though we or some other toiler in the vineyard may have already broken the story (and, most often done it better) – as with the Guardian's latest effort on customs checks at Calais – we're invisible.

After this week, though, I suspect that they are going to find that the system works in reverse. Just because they ignore a story (or give it such scant coverage that it might as well not exist), that doesn't mean it isn't happening or won't happen. If the media hadn't reported the invasion of Poland on 1939, this would not have stopped World War Two from breaking out.

So it is with the remarkable sequence of events which started with Mrs May's Mansion House Speech and culminated on Thursday with Donald Tusk's visit to Dublin and his ultimatum to the UK government. If the words he used have the meanings normally ascribed to them, that effectively means that Brexit negotiations are on hold and are on the verge of breakdown.

The problem here, though, is that news reporting creates its own dynamic. Generally, the most loyal and credulous consumers of the media product are politicians.

Thus, if the gibbering hacks report something which is of relevance to them, they will react to it. And since the reports so rarely bear any relation to the facts on the ground, the driver is the report rather than the event. Largely, politicians do no react to events – they react to reports of events.

However, in the case of Brexit, our domestic politicians are not in control. In Brexit they have an inconvenient partner in the shape of the EU, which is shaping events. And even if they can live in their own little universe for a while, eventually the EU will engineer a situation that even our media cannot ignore.

The point here is that if the talks do break down, as they seem likely to do, the consequences cannot be concealed. Those 30-mile queues outside Dover and Calais are just the start. We start with empty shelves in the supermarkets and serious economic disruption.

By the time it ends, we have a massive hike in unemployment, reduced tax take and a diminished government that is squeezed between increased obligations and reduced capabilities.

Yet, for the moment, for those who are not reliant on the legacy media's distorted news values, the real interest is whether the government can come up with anything credible to resolve the Irish border question, and whether the EU really is going to pull the plug if it is unable to deliver.

Back last year in the run up to the December European Council, it was being made very clear that, unless the Phase One issues could be resolved – of which the Irish question was the biggest stumbling block – there would be no Phase Two.

The concession made in December was that we could move on to discussions about the transition period, but only if there was a formal legal agreement, ready to be written into the Withdrawal Agreement, on all the Phase One issues. And, with the UK not having come up with anything bankable, that led the EU to lodge the "backstop" position – which Mrs May has unequivocally rejected.

From this, what does not seem to have registered is that the transition issue was supposed to be settled for the European Council of 22-23 March, thus clearing the way for detailed talks on the framework for the post-Brexit trading relationship.

Thus, the effect of Mr Tusk's intervention on Thursday, in putting the talks on hold until the Irish question is settled, is to block any discussion at all on the transition arrangements. This puts the UK in a position perilously close to a "no deal" scenario where we fall of the proverbial cliff.

The government can then get Snake Oil Singham, now working for the incompetents in the IEA, to write more pretty little fantasies about mutual recognition of standards, to go with all the other wet dreams to which he is prone.

Singham and his new colleagues at the IEA might even be able to convince themselves that whatever they dream up might be in the interests of both the UK and the EU. But, as Mr Tusk made clear to Mr Hammond, the EU has decided that it is going to define what's in the EU's interest.

And since the EU's primary interest is maintaining what it calls the "integrity" of the Single Market, when the trucks start rolling off the ferries and driving off the rail cars on 30 March 2019, they won't get as far as the exits.

We've done this scenario before, but it is interesting to note, that after the short spell of bad weather last week, reports came in of supermarkets up and down the land struggling to re-stock, with many examples cited of empty shelves (illustrated).

The main reason for this, it turned out, was not the bad weather in the EU, but the heavy snowfalls in Ireland, which severely disrupted supplies to the UK. With local problems adding to the shortfall, we saw a timely demonstration of the fragility of the supply chain. We need to get used to the idea that, if agreement is not reached on Brexit, this could become the norm. 

If the UK government sits on its backside, as it has been doing ever since the referendum, we can see the EU – already near the end of its patience – not even going through the motions of conducting talks. And although it cannot actually truncate the two-year Article 50 period, it can simply walk away from the table, making resumption of negotiations entirely conditional on the UK coming up credible proposals for the Irish border.

That brings us full circle. That, in effect, was precisely what Mr Tusk did last Thursday. If he sticks to his guns, there will be no further negotiations until the UK delivers. And, with the publicity being downplayed in the UK, and there having been no public political response, it does not look as if we are going to see anything soon from Mrs May's government.

In my view, such was the gravity of Mr Tusk's statement that there should have been an emergency statement in the House of Commons on Friday and, possibly, an emergency debate. But, so far, we cannot even be certain that the message has reached No. 10, much less that it has been acted upon.

Maybe the media will drag itself out of its slumber in the few days before the European Council meeting, and maybe we'll get a statement from the prime minister. All we have to go on for the moment, though, is a statement from the fool Johnson that the UK would "do very well" under WTO rules.

If this in any way represents what passes for thinking at high level in the government, then we are doomed. The March European Council will pass in a welter of recriminations, with nothing achieved, and the timetable will be set back even more. When we should we discussing framework for our new relationship, we will still be stuck on the Irish question.

That will leave us a year. The first year has already gone incredibly quickly and achieved nothing bankable – on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The next year can pass just as fast. And as long as Mrs May fails to respond, we can see a situation where the Brexit deadline approaches with no transition arrangements in place.

All that will be left then for an impotent government to do is to seek to apportion blame to anywhere except where it belongs. Back in the day, the situation was resolvable but Mrs May killed it with her Lancaster House speech in 17 January 2017. That is the day which will go down in history as the day when our prime minister wrecked our chances of a rational Brexit.

There will be those who will be more than willing to join the government in blaming the EU for the consequences of Mrs May's decision, but it will cut no ice with the EU. And their economies will survive the perturbations. Our economy will not.

Having lived in a dream world, sustained by the make-believe fantasies of the likes of Snake Oil Singham, our government will have made no preparations for the disaster to come and will have little capability to respond once disaster strikes.

The irony is that, even now, Mrs May could easily accept the EU's Irish border solution, had she famed it as a device to keep her in the talks, and buy her two years of transition. That would give time to work up a practical solution. But she hasn't even had the sense to do that, and has left herself without options.

From the "road to Brexit", therefore, we now are now on the road to Armageddon, with the extraordinary twist that the legacy media haven't even noticed. In course, they will "discover" the crisis and take ownership of it. And they will never acknowledge that, when the countdown actually started, they weren't even there.






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