Richard North, 23/07/2018  

One of the most interesting moments of the Dominic Raab (aka midair bacon) interview with Andrew Marr yesterday was the line of questioning on the EU-US open skies agreement.

Marr specifically put to the Brexit secretary that: "with no deal we fall out of that", to which Raab said quite simply, "Yes". As a follow-up, Marr asked: "That does mean that the planes can’t carry on flying in at the moment doesn’t it?", to which Raab responded: "I think we would resolve that issue".

There we have it in blunt terms. Yes, a "no deal" Brexit would mean that UK airlines would lose their access to US skies. And while Raab blandly assures us that "we would resolve that issue", can we really be certain that President Trump would give us the access we want, immediately, and without asking for significant concessions elsewhere?

But had Marr been on the ball (something he's never been), he might also have asked about the US-EU bilateral agreement on safety in civil aviation – the so-called BASA. Even if the open skies agreement could be resolved, this is a far more complex issue, where there is no obvious or simple resolution.

And then, rather than confine his questioning to just the EU-US agreement, why didn't he ask about Varadkar's comments about the Single European Sky and the loss of access rights to the airspace of EU Member States?

Furthermore, rather then accepting the bland assurance that such issues would be resolved, Marr might have probed a little more deeply and asked how precisely the UK government intended to resolve issues in the event of a "no deal". Are we even to take it that "no deal" means "no deal" or, as we have generally surmised, just a phase where we start a new round of talks – albeit in a crisis atmosphere.

As regards the aviation issue, Dominic Grieve has certainly "got it", arguing that "It wouldn't be possible, for example, for someone to fly to Rome because the overflying rights over the other countries of the EU are regulated by EU law".

But he points to the possibility that, if an all-encompassing agreement is not reached before March next year then "side deals" would address some of the issues of a "no deal" Brexit.

This is indeed possible, if not likely, but the initiative would remain with the EU and the Commission might be expected to drive hard bargains – more so if, as Raab has indicated it might, the UK government has drawn back on the financial settlement.

And it's all very well relying on these "side deals" but the sheer volume of issues to be address, and the very obvious complexity of some, suggests that we are not going to resolve them in a matter of days. One can see this crisis process lasting weeks and then stretching in months as harassed UK negotiators commute between London and Brussels.

Understandably, therefore. Grieve believes that a "no deal" Brexit would be "absolutely catastrophic" and precipitate a state of emergency. But, with John Major repeating the "catastrophic" meme, we are getting the wrong people make the point, simply adding to the polarisation of the debate.

Thus, on the one hand, we have the "ultras", masquerading as Brexiteers representing the 17.5 million "leave" voters, happily declaring that "no deal" will be a breeze, as we adopt the WTO option, while prominent "remainers" are stating the opposite.

In the middle, we have the media playing their dire, "he says, she says" games, providing uncritical platforms for each side to parade their wares, never getting to grips with the issues or even trying to resolve the dispute.

A story I heard recently comes to mind, where a journalism lecturer tells his students of their responsibilities when confronted with conflicting witnesses. If one says it's raining and the other says it's dry, he says, you don't just record the views of both and call that a report. Your job is to look out of the window and see who is telling the truth.

If that story is true – and I hope it might be – it is a lesson the legacy media have yet to learn. There is a certain moral cowardice in the reluctance on the media stars to confront their "witnesses", and to establish where the truth lies.

Instead, we get the boorish Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times writing his column under the headline: "Ireland's Leo roars like any EU bully but his UK flights threat is all hot airspace", going on to state of Mr Varadkar that, "the man is plainly a moron".

Of the threat of aircraft excluded from Irish airspace, Liddle says: "this is another paper tiger, a chimera, a false threat occasioned by spite and pique, which has rightly been ridiculed across the world on social media". It is then worth staying with Liddle for a brief moment, to record him saying:
The entire process of negotiating our exit from the EU has been accompanied by much the same sort of stuff: empty threats and vindictiveness flung at us each week by the rabble of drunkards and lawyers the EU employs to make sure that anyone who wishes to leave the benighted institution gets first of all a punch in the face and then, later, a punch in the face.
That attitude is not untypical of a certain type of commenter. Were they to direct this sort of venom against approved victim communities, they would no doubt be arraigned for "hate crime", but it's open season on taking cheap shots against our negotiating partners, from whom the UK government is expecting considerable concessions.

Finally, though, while the politicians posture and the pundits prattle, we see a whiff of the real world in The Times, with Doug Gurr, UK manager for Amazon saying that there could be "civil unrest" within two weeks if Britain leaves the European Union with no deal.

We could have told them that, and the paper could have worked that out for themselves but, in accordance with conventions of the legacy media, nothing said is of any consequence unless it is uttered by a person of prestige.

The person in question gave his warning at a meeting on Friday organised by Dominic Raab, where representatives of the UK's biggest businesses were present. This worst-case outcome, Mr Gurr said, formed part of his contingency planning.

Yet, this seems to have had little overt effect on Raab. Returning to his performance on the Marr show, this man even went so far as to accuse Brussels yesterday of "irresponsibly" stepping up pressure by setting out the potential consequences of leaving the EU without a deal. His view, incredibly, is that we ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the Continent and also here".

Taken straight from the horse's mouth, this patronising, crass statement is so typical of the way government (and especially Tory governments) treat their voters. Faces with a crisis of major proportions, where it is absolutely vital that we have an informed citizenry, and all this silly little man can do is blather about reassurance.

Mr Raab, whose full name also sports the anagrams "bionic drama" and "rabid manioc", wants us to know that he is "focused relentlessly and unflinchingly" on getting the deal. And that means "we don't have to be concerned" about the technical details.

One might surmise, however, that Mr Amazon is in closer touch with the capabilities of the British people than Mr Raab. When we have been so royally shafted by incompetence of his government, we should not be surprised if the more violent amongst us express their displeasure in the only way left to them.

To that extent, it is good to have a little whiff of reality. Our politicians need to know that they are playing with fire, with the order and stability of our society at stake. Should the day come where they do lose control, one also hopes that the media will get their share of the attention. Their incompetence easily matches that of the government.

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