Richard North, 28/02/2019  

After months of pratting about, it's beginning to dawn on some of the better endowed MPs (intellectually, that is), that they are in danger of losing the entire Brexit shebang.

That, at least, is the view of Frank Field, expressed in an intervention during yesterday's Brexit debate, when he asked David Lidington whether he was aware that the atmosphere in the debate was changing "from a massive concern about crashing out and the damage that might do, to … a worry that we will get no Brexit at all".

Field's intervention was about the most interesting thing about that debate which was the usual exercise in studied tedium, its main function being to provide over-excited hacks with endless copy to fill space in their failing publications.

As an aside, it's worth noting that the legacy media, which is so full of itself when it comes to instructing us about Brexit, is a failing industry – no more so than The Daily Telegraph which saw a double-digit, year-on-year circulation loss last year, and has shed 65 percent of its customer base since the turn of the century.

But, for all the words, there's not a lot more to add to Mr Field's observations. This is what it has come down to. The political collective has made such a mess of things that all we have left is the choice between an extremely bad deal or no Brexit at all.

Having turned the proceedings into such a colossal bore that the vast majority of the public has completely lost interest in them, the collective itself is partaking in an orgy of introspection and self-regard, where it trots out trivial procedural amendments which clutter space and fog minds – at a time when two nuclear powers are on the brink of war and the BBC could only give this third item coverage in its main evening bulletin last night.

Normally, I don't do Guardian opinions, but occasionally John Crace hits the spot, as he does in response to the debate.

"Cast of grotesques grind out another day in Westminster's Truman Show", his headline runs, with the sub-heading asking: "Were May and Corbyn chosen for their entertainment value?" Crace evidently believes that it's the only explanation that makes sense. "Think of Westminster as a replicant variant of The Truman Show", he writes:
… a reality show in which the entire cast of grotesques and inadequates believe they are genuinely in power, while the audience of millions enjoys the comedy, the self-inflicted crises and the series-ending cliff hangers. In schools and universities around the world, the programme is hailed as an object lesson in how not to run a country.
And yet, the laborious process has got us no further than we were yesterday – which was perhaps the purpose of the exercise. Mrs May has bought time for another stab at the ratification vote, pledging to go for a delay if she doesn't get it, while Macron and others are dreaming up inventive roadblocks that may frustrate even this modest effort.

The French president has said France will block a Brexit delay unless there is a "new choice" by the UK, while Spain's Pedro Sánchez has declared that merely postponing the no-deal deadline would not be "reasonable or desirable" – something that isn't so very far from Mrs May's position.

Writing for the Mail yesterday, our prime minister told us that she didn't want to see Article 50 extended. "Our absolute focus", she argued, "should be on working to get a deal and leaving on 29 March. Doing so would give businesses and citizens the certainty they deserve".

If one doesn't disagree with this, one can hardly disagree with Macron either. With Angela Merkel alongside him, he said there needed to be a "clear purpose" before giving the UK an extension to the Article 50 period. They are obviously of like mind with Sánchez, who says he would want to be clear that it was not merely delaying an inevitable no-deal crash-landing.

On the other hand, there is still the spectre of Brussels going for the long option, demanding at least 21 months if any extension was to be granted. That would probably rule out any chance of the UK applying for an extension, or it could even end up with us vetoing our own request.

On top of that, Barnier also seems to be doing his best not to help, telling France Info Radio that he was trying his utmost to ensure there was a deal on Brexit – which is always a bad sign. "This treaty is not renegotiable, it can’t be reopened", he said, for the umpteenth time, pointing instead to the political declaration which, he thought, "can perhaps be improved".

Yet, despite all that, there seems to be a belief in some quarters that a no-deal scenario is "less likely", even if this is just wishful thinking on the part of people who should know better.

Certainly, if the Franco-German motor (pictured) is stuffing Mrs May, then she can pledge all she likes about going to Brussels to ask for an Article 50 extension. If they say "no", and the prime minister means what she says about not revoking the notification, then we are still on course for crashing out without a deal, even if a substantial number of MPs seem to believe otherwise.

One MP (Joanna Cherry) even referred to Robert Peston as a "distinguished political journalist", which automatically signals a lamentable lack of judgement, relying on his description of an amendment from SNP MP Ian Blackford, as ruling out a no-deal Brexit completely, "not just on 29 March but in perpetuity".

Defeated by 324 votes to 288, this is more redolent of Swift's Royal Academy of Lagado, the hunt to take no-deal "off the table" being akin to the search for ways to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. If Swift were alive today, one wonders if he could cope with the lunacy that surrounds us. His Gulliver character would not have to travel very far to find it.

At the heart of this lunacy is a persistent parochialism – a pervasive "little Englander" mentality which constantly seeks to frame EU issues in terms of domestic politics and the posturing of Westminster politicians. In yesterday's debate, which ran to over 46,000 words, Brussels was mentioned a mere eight times. The word "Brexit" appeared 133 times.

For sure, the EU, either in full or referenced by its initials, made many more appearances, but there nevertheless remains the belief that Brexit can be resolved by UK politicians and that the "colleagues" will naturally fall into line with whatever is decided in London.

Right up front in reporting yesterday's events, we have Sky News blathering that "MPs have the power to rule out no deal". Every MP, it says, "will now be obliged to positively vote for or against this outcome, and not hide behind passive acceptance of no deal being the default option".

Neither the media nor Westminster politicians have ever properly understood the EU, and their lack of grasp of the subject is now being exposed for all to see. And it isn't just the Telegraph which has seen such a catastrophic decline in its fortunes. All of the former "Fleet Street" titles have seen a collapse in readership. Even online visits are declining, and broadcast news programmes are losing ground.

Maybe it might occur to them that the reason people stop referring to them is that they have nothing coherent to say, even if The Times wants to double its subscription fee for me to continue enjoying its "excellent" journalism. Self-awareness clearly isn't the forte of the legacy media, the lack of which they share with the politicians.

If one has to listen to their output, the trick is then to turn it on its head. Whatever we are told, the opposite is probably closest to the truth.

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