Richard North, 26/08/2019  

Despite having only one destination in mind, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is still fighting shy of admitting it. All he can bring himself to do is concede that the prospect of making a deal with the EU before 31 October is "touch and go".

At least this is a climb-down from his previous assertion that the odds of a no-deal outcome were "a million to one" – yet another lie from Johnson to go in the history books to add to the many more he has told.

Where he is still obviously delusional though is in his comments at the G7 summit in Biarritz, where he denies that there would be medicine and food shortages in the event of no-deal, offering the mindless mantra that "we can easily cope".

"What I can tell people and as I said a few weeks ago on the steps of Downing Street", he burbled, "I think we can get through this. This is a great, great country the UK, we can easily cope with a no-deal scenario. And I know that's what people want".

Not content with that, he managed to hold himself hostage to fortune by proclaiming: "Frankly I think it's highly unlikely that there will be food shortages of any kind".

I would have thought the very first thing they taught in politician kindergarten was not to make predictions about events over which you have no control – but it seems Johnson never completed the course. Purely through panic buying, there could be major shortages of certain commodities.

If there is then even minor congestion at the ports, and the fuel supply is disrupted, leading to distribution problems, this could easily bleed through into more generalised scarcities, as confidence in the supply chain erodes.

At least, when we last had our backs to the wall, Winston Churchill – the man who Johnson so much likes to emulate – had the sense to offer us nothing but "blood, toil, sweat and tears". And while one doesn't have to fall for the "Blitz spirit" shtick to appreciate the gravity of our current situation, this buffoon is doing precisely the wrong thing with his inane optimism.

According to the prime minister in office, no-deal preparations are being "ramped up", while he maintains the fiction that this is intended "to help secure an agreement". And then comes the "blame game" payoff, with him burbling: "so that if and when we are forced by the obduracy of our European friends to come out on 31 October without a deal that things are as smooth as they can be".

The phrasing here – it would seem – is straight out of the politicians' lexicon of weasel words. Like "as frictionless as possible", the term "as smooth as they can be", short of being taken at face value, can range from "not very" to "extremely rough".

With that, Johnson now believes (or so he says – if that can be taken as an indicator) that everything "depends on our EU friends and partners". He goes on to say that he thinks "in the last few days there has been a dawning realisation in Brussels and other European capitals what the shape of the problem is for the UK".

Again, that might just be self-delusion. We're seeing a lot of it about. But, if "our EU friends and partners" are more aware of "what the shape of the problem is for the UK", the same cannot be said for the Oaf's appreciation of the problems attendant on a no-deal Brexit. There, he resides firmly in cloud-cuckoo land, although his head might be in an anatomically impossible position.

This happens to coincide with a report that the Dutch government is in talks with 325 British-based companies considering relocating after Brexit.

Such a development is only to be expected. For companies trading across Europe, it is much easier to service their customers from a base within the EU, while treating the UK as an outlier. Put simply, dealing with 27 EU nations is better done from inside the EU, rather than from the UK which is being treated as a third country by those self-same 27 nations.

Furthermore, this is not just happening at the mega-corporation level. It is as easy (for the moment) for the sole trader and the SME to relocate, even at the expense of abandoning the UK altogether. That certainly is an easier way of coping with a no-deal scenario than struggling through the uncertainties that confront us – although I doubt that this is what Johnson has in mind.

For an example of the "shape of the problem" facing UK business, we need go no further than a recent report by the UCL's European Institute, on post-Brexit EU-UK data flows, which expresses the view that disruption in this area "would be unprecedented and extremely damaging for business and the UK economy".

Trailed heavily in the Observer, this newspaper's coverage highlights two major problem areas, only one of which is overtly expressed.

The headline issue is that, without the EU making an "adequacy decision" to ease the flow of data – which is not likely to happen before a no-deal Brexit takes effect, if at all in the immediate future – then "the UK would immediately become a third country in EU law, and instant disruption to EU-UK data flows would ensue".

A typical example would be problems for a UK-based hotel company which can currently receive data from EU countries about customers using its hotels on the continent – valuable for commercial reasons, including to target people for promotions.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) cited another potential example, in which a UK conference centre could lose bookings from EU companies that would be in breach of personal data rules after Brexit if they sent attendees' data outside the EU without the right contractual safeguards.

Those and many more issues would have a significant effect on the ability of companies to conduct Europe-wide trade from an UK base – hence the enthusiasm amongst some firms for relocation. And it really doesn't matter what sort of glowing statements we get about a trade deal with the US from Donald Trump, even at best it is going to take years to rebuild the level of trade lost from EU Member States.

As for the less visible problem concerning EU-UK data flows, the UCL report notes that the question of data flows, so far, has received minimal attention in the Brexit debate, and has barely been discussed at political level in the Brexit negotiations.

Understandably, the European Commission team conducting the Article 50 negotiations has considered it an issue for the future relationship – to be dealt with during the transitional period. But, with the emergence of the no-deal threat, there is a crisis in the making, in the here and now.

Therein lies the problem – that the question – like many no-deal consequences, has received minimal attention. Even now, it has taken a report from a "prestige" source to get any attention at all, when any half-way diligent media organ should have been reporting on this for years, without any prestige prompting.

In the case of this blog, I have reported on this recently but also from early 2017, when Mrs May raised the prospect of a no-deal exit, going through the year with additional pieces as my understanding of this complex issue increased.

When the history of Brexit comes to be told, it should include a strong comment on the failure of the media, from its own resources, to research, analyse and report on the predictable consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Even now, when one looks at the collected "explainers" from the media, so many of them are terribly superficial and derivative, relying in the main on previously published third-party sources.

It is in this information vacuum that charlatans such as Johnson survive and even prosper, getting away with the vacuous and palpably dishonest claim that "we can easily cope with a no-deal scenario". We can't – not easily. We will cope, because cope we must – it is not as if we have a choice in the matter.

But, if right from the start, in early 2017, the media had expended the time and resource to exploring the full effects of a no-deal – shorn of the "project fear" elements which so pollute the discourse – one would like to think that events would have panned out differently. With a better knowledge of what exactly no-deal entails, more people might be having serious reservations about treading this path.

At the very least, leaving without a deal would be an informed decision, clear of the rosy-pink glow of optimism being sold to us from the buffoon at Number 10.

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