Richard North, 18/09/2018  
 


Why is Mrs May trying to sell us her "Chequers plan", arguing that if parliament doesn't support it, "the alternative to that will be having no deal"?

Even Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC understands that the plan, in its current form, has not the slightest chance of being accepted in Brussels. And since, if the MPs do get to decide, they will voting on the agreed plan, it follows that she's wasting her time (and everybody else's) by calling for the support of something that won't ever be put to the vote.

On the other hand, if she persists in pushing it, unchanged, in Brussels – and goes right to the wire - the automatic outcome will be a "no deal" Brexit. Again, it will never be put to a vote.

In order to get it past the EU, there is only one credible scenario – that Mrs May heavily modifies her Chequers plan, bringing it closer to what Mr Barnier can recommend to the European Council. But with that treatment, what would emerge would be so different that it would have no chance whatsoever of getting approval from her "ultras" – not that there is really any chance with the plan as it stands.

Thus, Mrs May is at an impasse. What she's got pleases no one. If she modifies it to keep the "ultras" happy, Brussels won't accept it. If she changes it to accommodate Brussels, her "ultras" will throw it out.

That leaves the possibility of a fudge – a non-agreement so vague that all it does is kick the cannery down the road, leaving the hard issues to be battled out during the transition period against the cliff-edge deadline of the end of December 2020.

But since that's a ploy so transparent that every pundit under the sun has now worked it out – long after Sir Ivan Rogers sniffed the wind and pointed in that direction – it might have a hard time getting through parliament. It could even be something that unites the Tory party, in total opposition to it.

That, though, is the reality. It's not going to be "my way" or "no deal", as Mrs May proclaimed to Nick Robinson on Panorama last night. It's going to be fudge or no deal, with a strong bias towards "no deal" unless parliament finally wakes up to the peril of leaving the EU without an agreement, and votes for the option which defers self-immolation.

The thing is that this is a static position – and has been for some while, even if the pundits have only just realised. It hasn't changed for months and it isn't going to change. The only thing we can look forward to is seeing the precise wording of the fudge, whence we can marvel at the creativity deployed in the service of constructive ambiguity.

In the meantime, the rest is theatre, with the legacy media assuming we are all so stupid that we can't work it out for ourselves what is happening and have to be guided by their "brilliant" analyses.

Thus, they think we're going to be content with a diet of quotes from anonymous sources, and "leaks" from unpublished documents which only they have seen – when they pontificate from a world in which the internet doesn't exist so that they can write contradictory stories in different newspapers and they think we won't notice.

That's been the case with the Salzburg "summit", where we've been regaled with "breakthrough" stories, only to be treated to rebuttals, then to have the Telegraph loftily declare that Mrs May is to attend "a two-day EU summit that starts on Wednesday in Salzburg, Austria, where she hopes to make a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations by selling her Chequers plan directly to fellow leaders".

It's bad enough the politicians treating us as if we were congenital morons, but when the media address us as if we were gullible children, it's time to call it a day.

Sadly, though, this stance undoubtedly pleases some, those who prefer to leave the intellectual challenges to half-wits, rather than expend any cerebral energy themselves, but for those of us who have learned to think for ourselves, the media coverage of Brexit is nothing short of insulting.

Just yesterday, we noted Michael Gove's assertion that any relationship settled between the UK and the EU could always be altered in the future. That, I ventured, was an idea that might mystify EU negotiators. In their reality, an agreement reached will be locked in by way of a formal treaty, unchangeable without the agreement of both parties.

So blindingly obvious is this that only a Tory politician could be ignorant enough to believe otherwise – a speciality successive Conservative MPs have honed and developed over the generations.

This, however, does not account for the self-regarding pomposity of The Times which, in all seriousness, intones that it "has learnt that" Brussels is "preparing to demand that Theresa May makes 'credible' assurances that any deal will not be unpicked by her successor".

This is as if the whole corpus of international treaty law didn't exist, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – embodying as it does, customary law – simply had no effect. We are supposed to be entertained by the mouthings of a flatulent minister, and a follow-up that would hardly challenge the intellect of a five-year-old.

There is perhaps nothing quite so absurd as the media's solemn insistence on telling us what they have "learnt", matched only in fatuity by their constant use of the phrase "we can reveal". Thus it was that the self-important Faisal Islam "revealed" his error-ridden story on pilots' licenses, when the details were already in the public domain.

Fortunately for most journalists and their peace of mind, the Dunning-Kruger effect kicks in. Defined as a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is, this fits most of them to a tee.

The cognitive bias of illusory superiority, we are told, comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.

Thus do these people churn out their low-grade product, their own stupidity insulating from criticism and preventing them recognising their own errors. Buoyed by the easily-pleased, who are quick to award them with gushing compliments – and happily distributing awards between themselves – these are the people who have taken it upon themselves to keep us informed about Brexit.

The monument to their failure stands with their inability to convey objectively and clearly the devastating effects of a "no deal" Brexit, arising in part from their lack of research skills and, in the main, because they treat this as an issue where the juxtaposition of conflicting opinions is sufficient to tell the story.

This ends up with the ignorance (and mendacity) of Rees-Mogg being given a greater airing than the fact-based Notices to Stakeholders produced by the European Commission, and where the oaf Johnson is allowed to parade his own ignorance, without challenge, when knowledgeable commentators struggle to gain a hearing.

There can be no better example of the lack of self-awareness than the headline in the Telegraph which declares: "Voters prefer no deal to Theresa May's Brexit. Project Fear won't change their minds".

Having failed in its duty to inform its readers about the consequences of a "no deal", falsely labelling valid concerns as "project fear", the paper has its own correspondent Asa Bennet actually applaud its own failure, unable to distinguish between the circumstances of the referendum campaign and the process of planning for Brexit.

This inability comes over in yesterday's treatment of Christine Lagarde and the IMF's annual report on the health of the UK economy.

The evident support of the IMF for the "remain" proposition during the campaign is thus unfavourably compared with the now valid prediction that a "no deal" exit would cause "serious disruptions" to UK growth, so much so that Lagarde's warnings are treated as a continuation of "project fear".

We are lucky, I suppose, that the media can even bring themselves to report such things, when it would be happier with its fare of court gossip, speculating about leadership contests. That much, Mrs May has in common with the rest of us. She too gets "irritated" by the constant speculation about her future.

But our sense of irritation is far wider. The media is an industry which makes it its business to criticise government, and anyone else which incurs its disapproval, yet which can't get its own house in order – or even acknowledge its manifest failures. The Dunning-Kruger Times continues to set the agenda and no one is allowed to tell it is wrong.






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