Richard North, 16/07/2018  

In dealing with something like Brexit, when the noise level gets too high, one tends either to shut down, or apply a filter. In the latter event, the filter is usually selective, so one is bound to lose some intelligence and an amount of objectivity. And by this mechanism, one finds that once we reach saturation point, situational awareness – as they term it in the military – actually decreases.

You can get really into this, with a discussion of the OODA loop but, without taking it too deep, it is relatively uncontentious to assert that, when it comes to information, more isn't necessarily better. When there is too much, not even a filter is of any value. One resorts to that higher defence level and simply shuts down.

Most people, I suspect, reached this point a while ago. And this weekend, I've probably got as close to it as makes no difference. Fortunately – from the perspective of my sanity – we had the tree surgeons in last week to remove a spruce which had grown over-large and was too close to the house. It had to go.

That, of course, leaves us with a stump which, because of its particular location, needs to be removed. One can spend many happy hours on You-Tube learning how to do this. The most entertaining way was to shackle a Russian tank transporter to a stump and apply maximum horsepower – only to watch the chains break.

My technique, learned from past experience, it to treat the area like an archaeology site, using no more than a trowel painstakingly to expose the major roots, whence one can sever them with a saw or an axe and liberate the stump. If you have patience, and do it little and often, the job is soon done.

It comes to something, though, when this is more fulfilling than charting the serpentine progress of Brexit, more so when one has to deal with what Pete might describe as the "bellend" David Davis. Wasting time and space in The Sunday Times following his resignation, he claims that Mrs May has "left our fingers in the EU mangle", but then asserts, "there is a way to get free".

Instead of [partially] adopting the "common rule book", Mr Davis would have us operate within a "mutual recognition of standards and inspection" regime to minimise the burden of bureaucracy. The Commission, he says, "does not like this much, but it has negotiated mutual recognition regimes with other countries in the past. And on the basis of my experience, most European countries are comfortable with this".

Thus does this man demonstrate that, in his period in office – to say nothing of his entire career – he has learned precious little of the ways of the EU. To my knowledge, no country in the world has successfully negotiated a "mutual recognition of standards" regime. This applies only to Single Market participants, and then only in the absence of a harmonised standard.

An earlier edition of the Telegraph looked at the distinction in conspiratorial terms, calling in aid the odious Steve Baker to tell us that an "establishment elite" had secretly been pursuing a plan for a much softer Brexit than the one on which he and Mr Davis had been working.

That Mrs May has rejected the flawed idea of relying on "mutual recognition of standards" is perhaps the one saving grace of the White Paper. But when one recalls that this is the brainchild of Shanker "Snake Oil" Singham, and comes straight out of the Legatum (now IEA) play book, this also represents a turning point in Singham's influence.

Whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit, with the departure of Singham's sponsors, we may have seen the weakening of the grip of this Rasputin-like figure over the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Had either Davis or Baker the brains they were born with, though, they could have read Barnier's speech from last Tuesday in New York. There, he specifically mentioned the UK wanting the EU to accept a system of mutual recognition of standards, a proposition which he rejected.

Once again, we had a reference to the common "ecosystem" of regulation, supervision and enforcement, with Barnier then declaring that, "the UK needs to understand that the EU cannot accept such mutual market access without all the safeguards that underpin it".

Barnier could not be more direct, or blunt, but still it doesn't percolate into the brains of the "Ultras", and their ministerial representatives. They should not even need telling but, since it has been spelt out to them, the very least they could do is take "no" for an answer.

This is something Andrew Marr could have picked up when he interviewed Mrs May on his show yesterday but, as we've found to our cost, the BBC doesn't do detail.

One could see Marr itching to explore the tensions between the prime minister and her Brexit secretary, turning the issue into a biff-bam personality contest. One was allowed to know that, in seeking a "common rule book", Mrs May had come up with a different approach, but Marr did not trouble his interviewee to explain the differences in approaches. All he wanted to know was when Davis had learned about the intention to pursue the different approach.

Nor indeed did Marr question whether Brussels might accept the White Paper and he even allowed Mrs May to get way, unchallenged, with asserting that adopting the "EEA-plus" option "would have meant accepting free movement and accepting being in the customs union".

To that precise point, Marr responded by saying that, "in doing all of this you cut out the man you put in charge of the Brexit negotiations and his department". They were working on a different plan, said Marr, "they had no idea about this common rule book, and you cut them out and therefore he had no option but to resign, and he's clearly very angry about it".

From this, you can see why digging up tree stumps with a trowel becomes more interesting than Brexit. Marr and his BBC colleagues are fundamentally incapable of stepping outside their own self-imposed limitations, and constantly regurgitate the same personality politics paradigm. It's as if it was written into their DNA.

But even when you look wider, it gets worse. The legacy media are currently trumpeting headlines about a speech Mrs May is to give today at the Farnborough airshow, the BBC version stating that her "Brexit plan will protect UK aerospace", with the prime minister ready to declare that the "common rule book" will ensure "frictionless" exchange.

It won't, of course. Nothing short of full participation in the EEA will give the UK the status it needs for a trouble-free Brexit, but there is not a single media organ capable or willing to tell us why the May plan won't work. And by their default does ignorance grip the land.

At least the Observer gave us a little more meat, with an authored article from Peter Mandelson, headed: "The Chequers Brexit compromise offers the worst of both worlds".

Whatever you might think of Mandelson as a person, he does have the experience as EU trade commissioner, and was highly rated in the post. And it's interesting that he too should refer to a "compromise". That's how I see the White Paper. Mrs May has not studied the ground to see what is needed to bring Brexit home. She has tried to steer a course between two extremes in the hope that both sides will give way.

Anyhow, Mandelson thought the plan would please nobody, but assumed that the public might conclude that these proposals represent the best available. In reality, he says. "it's a spatchcocked, half-in, half-out plan".

In his view, every aspect of the plan is fraught with uncertainty about how it will operate in practice and whether it will endure. It will not, he says, "be agreed on by the EU in its present form because of the issues of principle it raises for EU trade policy".

Mandelson goes on to say that, "if it is somehow accepted as a starting point for negotiation there is no chance of the detail being agreed by next March". Its probable unworkability will only be exposed after Britain has left the EU, when Britain will have even less bargaining power than it has now.

That, it seems, is the very best the White Paper offers - a starting point for negotiation. With 17 months down the line, with a timetable that was already impossibly tight, all Mrs May has been able to do is cobble together a "spatchcocked, half-in, half-out plan" that might just keep us at the negotiating table.

Nevertheless, Mrs May does seem to hint – as she did during the Marr show – that there is room for more concessions. Yet this is precisely what the "Ultras" fear. Already concerned that she has gone too far, the brightest among them realise that "the plan" isn't enough. The government will have to go further.

There are enough clues, though, to demonstrate that Mrs May is not master of her brief. She really seems to have no understanding of Barnier's "ecosystem" of regulation, supervision and enforcement, and therefore will not realise that nothing short of the institutional structures of the EEA will give us what we need.

But, above all – as Mandelson observes – there simply isn't time to treat the White Paper as a starter for ten. It is out of our hands now.

comments powered by Disqus

Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Buy Now

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few