Richard North, 06/09/2018  

In common with what must be a sizeable majority of the voting public, former Bank of England governor Lord King has branded the government "incompetent" in its treatment of Brexit.

However, there are differences between his "take" of the situation and the general view. Lord King's particular complaint is the "lack of preparation" for a "no deal" scenario which, he argues, has left the government "without a credible bargaining position".

In his view, the government should have already put in place measures to cope with a "no deal" scenario so that we could say to our colleagues in Europe, "Look, we'd like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can't agree, don't be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one".

Lord King was talking to the BBC, the purpose of his interview ostensibly to discuss the ten years since the economic crisis. But he spent a significant amount of time saying the 11th hour preparation for a no-deal Brexit had undermined the government's negotiating position.

And that's what passes for informed opinion from what The Times once used to call the "top people". Anyone with a grasp of the "no deal" scenario will be fully aware that there is no possible way that it can be anything short of a disaster, and there are only very limited things the government can do to reduce the adverse effects.

Mervyn King, however, does at least have a reputation for being a Eurosceptic and was marked out as opposed to the UK joining the Euro when he first became governor in 2002, notably telling a Commons select committee "you would probably need 200 or 300 years of data" to be sure it was safe to join the euro.

As to his current position, he is consistent on this as well, having argued back in August 2017 that the UK needed to make clear to the European Union that it was prepared to go it alone if it failed to reach a satisfactory deal. "If you are going to have any successful negotiation, you have got to have a fall-back position, which the other side understands and believes is credible", he then said.

King was as wrong then as he is now, and his confidence in being able present a credible "no deal" fall-back is entirely misplaced. The UK negotiators would be talking to the European Commission which by then was preparing its series on Notices to Stakeholders, which were to demonstrate clearly the consequences of leaving without a withdrawal agreement.

Yet it is this sort of fatal confusion residing in the minds of high-profile Eurosceptics that has had much to do with poisoning the debate. This deluded belief that a "no deal" Brexit is a tenable option has helped sustain the "ultras" in their pursuit of the WTO option and blurred the message about the downside.

But now, to make matters worse, we have the legacy media diving in to preview what is expected to be a series of papers outlining the ideas of what are variously termed "Brexiters" or "Brexiteers" (with the double "e"). And in so doing, they fall into the same trap as Peter Geoghegan in having the term(s) apply solely to the high-profile noisemakers – without, of course, declaring how narrow the application has become.

By this means, a man who styles himself an "investigative journalist" can blithely declare that, what is "really striking" about the last two years is that "asked what they would do differently Brexiters only talk about a) personnel (Robbins, etc), b) tone ("stand up", etc). Nada on content. Nothing. No ideas how to deal w/substantive issues".

Needless to say, the vibrant debate conducted on this blog and in other areas does not feature in such deliberations. We simply do not exist, having failed to conform with the retrospective definition of the Brexiteer – effectively meaning those whom the media chooses to recognise.

Thus we see the likes of Laura Kuenssberg assume "year zero" for the production of alternative plans, allowing her to report on the "emerging consensus among Brexiteers" that it "seems to be that it is better to present an alternative that will be open to criticism, than face the charge of having no worked out ideas of their own".

This is a somewhat bizarre assertion, given that the leave campaign has managed to survive more than three years without a plan, following the decision in 2015 by Cummings not to have a plan, when he declared that, "there is much to be gained by swerving the whole issue". 

Throughout the referendum campaign and subsequently, the legacy media was complicit in falling in with the Cummings template, neither demanding from the official leave campaign a worked-up plan nor publicising the most fully worked-up plan then in existence.

Now, when it fits the media narrative, we're to see efforts by the ERG and others given prominence in a debate that has been tailored entirely to fit the convenience (and prejudices) of the legacy media – a process that has already started, presaging endless dribble from big-name journalists.

What none of these witless hacks begin to realise though is that any argument between rival plans in a domestic arena will ultimately be futile unless it fits in with the expectations of Brussels – and the early indications are that the coming plans make no concessions to the EU.

Coincidentally, I am currently reading the third of Rick Atkinson's "liberation" trilogy, covering the war in western Europe. And in the chapter on the ill-fated Arnhem venture, he records a British brigadier who acknowledged a tendency "to make a beautiful airborne plan and then add the fighting-the-Germans bit afterwards".

The parallel here is uncanny, where we have diverse parties intent on their own "beautiful" Brexit plans, who have yet to add the "agreeing-with Brussels" bit – and most likely never will.

This fits entirely with the obsession of the legacy media with domestic politics and comes at a time where the narrative has become so stale and repetitive that there is an urgent need to produce fresh material to keep the copy-writers and broadcasters in business. An ultimate futile discussion about the relative merits of newly-produced plans entirely meets that need. The Brussels bit is of no interest to them.

Meanwhile, the anti-Brexiteers (or some of them) have woken up to the nest of vipers in W1, the Brexit Shambles group writing under the headline: "We Need to Talk About Tufton Street…". And, indeed we do, as we've been pointing out since March 2015, with one of many follow-ups here.

The role of think-tanks in the production of the reports-to-come is to be central, not least the IEA which is now the host to Shanker "Snake Oil" Singham after he had been dumped by the Legatum Institute, which now seems to have deleted much of his work from their website.

With their involvement, we see the final component of a controlled "debate" where the legacy media are the gatekeepers, who take it upon themselves to decide who will take part, affording access mainly to politicians, think tanks and persons of prestige, such as Mervyn King – plus journalists themselves.

The need to provide accurate, timely and relevant material is so far down the list as hardly to feature at all, in an atmosphere where nonsense reports can trigger sudden movements in the value of the pound.

Interestingly, this one was from Bloomberg which offered another version of a "breakthrough" story, reporting that Germany was to abandon "its key Brexit demands", so potentially to "ease the path for the UK to strike a deal with the European Union".

It took only hours for the BBC to debunk the story, pointing out that "Germany does not - despite its clear dominance of the bloc economically - actually speak for the EU position".

Brussels, though, has not been idle. We see reported the news that the European Commission has told diplomats from EU countries not to attend a series of Brexit meetings laid on by the UK – reiterating the position that Brussels is the only legitimate negotiator.

If this is true (bearing in mind that the Commission cannot instruct Member State officials), it cuts across the UK government delusion that it will get a better reception for its proposals in face-to-face talks with EU member states than with the European Commission.

On the UK front, though, such action will have little impact. The media has its own narrative and, with it assuming God-like omniscience, it has the debate well under control. Brussels need not apply to join it.

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