Richard North, 28/05/2018  

To be perfectly honest, I didn't have the first idea what Rees-Mogg was getting at when he spoke. He was on the Marr Show yesterday, delivering such incoherent gibberish that, for once, one can forgive Andrew Marr (newly returned, after recovering from an operation) for not following through.

But it isn't just gibberish from one person we're dealing with. It's multi-level, where the baseline is incoherent and each layer compounds the incoherence to produce a state of total confusion. And it takes a lot of working out to divine exactly what is being said.

With Marr, the interview dialogue took us into a discussion about the Cabinet having agreed a backstop to the Irish border issue which, he says, might mean that we stay in something very, very like the customs union for years ahead - 2022 or beyond.

And where it starts to go wrong – right at the start. This mythical "backstop", which involves an extended stay in the customs union, does not exist in any real world – and not in any world where the European Union exists or where any solution lies.

The question then posed to Rees-Mogg is whether this mythical state is acceptable to him. But this time, finally – at last – the Mogg has mastered the basics, entry level Brexit. It's "a real problem", he says, "because the customs union on its own does not solve the seamless border issue".

Continuing on this theme, he tells Marr, "If you go and look at the Turkish border, which is in a customs union …", only to have the Great Broadcaster interrupt, to say: "Regulatory realignment". Mogg agrees, adding: "And that means the Single Market".  Halleluiah! Give that man a biscuit.

But here, the real Mogg emerges. In an apparent rejection of this state, he tells Mr Marr, "if we were to stay as a rule taker, as a vassal state, for an indeterminate period, that I think would not be delivering on Brexit".

So, the necessary solution is not for us. Furthermore, he says, "if you offer a backstop that is more attractive than anything that you're likely to negotiate, from the other side’s point of view, the backstop ends up becoming frontstop". And that says it all. The Single Market is too attractive.

So, Marr observes, in one of those statements of the bleedin' obvious: "it's not acceptable", only for him then to make yet another such statement: "We're running out of options on the Irish border at the moment".

To strengthen that point, Marr tries Mogg out on the uselessness of the "max fac" option, suggesting it is "impossible" and it is this that brings out the ultimate dishonesty of the man.

"I think", says Mogg, "you want to go back to looking at how we deal with goods coming into Southampton and how that is managed by HMRC. A very low level of inspections. Most inspections are done on food and other inspections are intelligence-led".

He goes on: "As food standards in the EU will be ones we're completely comfortable with, that level of inspection won't be needed. So I think you want to go back to where you’re already doing this and already doing it successfully and apply that".

This, of course, is a travesty - at every possible level. It's exactly the same malign stupidity that we got from Robert Hardman of the Mail. But, where Hardman has Felixstowe to play with, Mogg uses Southampton. The fact that there is no possible comparison troubles him no more than it did Harman.

But then we descend into madness. As a throwaway line, Mogg grandly declares that both ""max fac" and the customs partnership "have been a tendency to overcomplicate things". This leads Marr to refer to Mogg's favoured option, that if they (the EU) are not going to negotiate seriously with us, we politely and courteously say, "thank you very much"’ and walk away.

We need not go into the turgid detail of the exchange that followed - I think I've worked it out, and this is the short version. What it boils down to is that, once the exit negotiations cease, the EU miraculously decides to allow things to continue exactly as before while we settle down leisurely to negotiate a free trade agreement, which we can pursue over the next ten years.

That, however, seems to be Mogg's personal backstop. For him, in his own private little fantasy world, the deal is very simple. "We are paying a very large amount of money, £40 billion". In return, "we want a trade deal". Everything else is essentially incidental to that.

The EU will roll over because £40 billion pounds is of great importance to the EU because after March next year it still has 21 months of the multi-annum (sic) financial framework, and it expects that to be funded by the UK. It would have to cancel projects or get more money out of the Germans if it doesn't get our money.

Therefore, says Mogg, "we should reiterate that and say quite clearly that if we don't get the trade deal we want you don't get the money. And that's a very strong negotiating position".

At this point, the interview should have been interrupted by the emergence of men in white coats bearing some form of restraints, ready to cart Mr Mogg of to the nearest secure mental health facility. What he postulates steps well over the line into insanity. It is so far away from anything that is possible that it can only reside in the mind of a seriously disturbed person.

We really can't get past this. Mr Mogg, for all his airs and graces, his smart suits, his speaking skills, and his status, is not behaving intelligently or rationally. And this is where journalism fails. If his own party can't tell him (even if, privately, his leader has), then people like Mr Marr should do the job. They should do whatever it takes to show that this man is a liability, and that his views are seriously misplaced.

As it stands, with the position set out by Michel Barnier on Saturday – as yet unanswered by HMG, we look set to crash out of the EU on 29 March next year without a deal and without a transitional agreement.

We need to be under no illusions that such an outcome will be devastating for the UK economy and for the lives of millions of people – far beyond mere inconvenience. Short of war with our continental neighbours, it is hard to think of a more damaging event.

And yet, as the ~Financial Timeds rather lamely advises us, "our preparedness for no deal is virtually non-existent", according to a senior UK civil servant. Whatever preparations were being made have largely ground to a halt.

This, says the newspaper, would make it almost impossible for Mrs May to walk out of negotiations with the EU in the next 10 months, but that surely is not the point. That the UK should stage a walk-out was never credible, not now nor previously. The real danger is the "accidental Brexit", where we simply run out of time and the treaties automatically cease to have effect at the expiry of two years from the day when Article 50 was invoked.

Doubtless, the EU does not want that to happen any more than the saner elements of the UK establishment do – and one does wonder what contingency plans might be in place. But it is likely that nothing short of an abject surrender to the EU will return us to the fold, and the domestic political fall-out would be extraordinarily difficult to manage. Indeed, the damage to the system could be permanent.

Some of the problems that we need to address to handle a "no deal" scenario have been raised by Ivan Rogers, but we have to come to terms with the unalterable fact that there is no scenario where such an event is not extremely costly and massively damaging. All we are doing is talking about degree, dependent on the implementation of effective damage limitation measures.

The trouble is that nowhere has there been a coherent, single – authoritative statement – of the consequences of a "no deal". This is in part due to the incredible stupidity of our prime minister in originally entertaining the notion. But it is exacerbated by the malign stupidity of the so-called "Ultras" and the inability of the legacy media to focus on real-world issues.

But the time for games is over - it should have been over long ago. We have got to the stage where we have reached a crisis point. Only emergency action by the prime minister will serve to head of the possibility off an uncontrolled Brexit. Mrs May must get a grip, go to the nation, explain the problem and then go for the Efta/EEA option, the only option that will keep our relations with the EU in some rough sort of order. Everything else must be secondary.

If that then means applying for an Article 50 extension, so be it. And if Mrs May can't bring herself to do it, she should be replaced with someone who will. As for the likes of Mogg, they need to shut up. We have had enough of their prattling, and we really can't afford the luxury of their stupidity.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few