Richard North, 15/09/2019  

According to the Financial Times, the johnson has "decisively shifted" away from the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and is focused on a compromise largely based on Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

The paper seems to be relying for its information on "Number 10 officials" who are telling it that the johnson team has drawn up detailed plans under which a deal would be secured at the October European Council.

The johnson, we are then told, is planning to force this new deal through parliament in just ten days - including holding late-night and weekend sittings. And this, in a somewhat circular argument, is taken as a further sign of Downing Street's determination to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU.

Padding out these remarkable assertions, the FT calls in aid "officials in Dublin and Brussels" – anonymous, of course – who claim that there are "signs of movement" from the johnson as it searches for a compromise on the Irish backstop.

Even though we learn that both sides "remain far apart", some of those fabulous, anonymous "EU diplomats" come to the rescue, telling us that talks last Friday in Brussels between the Commission and UK negotiators "had been more productive than previous meetings".

An EU diplomatic note says that the UK seems willing to revert to some of Mrs May's arrangements on preventing animal health checks at the Irish border. But this same note says the UK is even "considering" keeping Northern Ireland aligned with future EU rule changes – something which has been comprehensively rubbished over the last few days.

Gradually, then, the FT "scoop" unravels. Diplomats are cautioning that "important points remained unresolved", and sorting the animal health checks "would be only part of the solution for avoiding a hard Irish border".

Not only that, we see the same complaint rehearsed, of which we have heard so much of late: the UK has yet to make written proposals. This leaves EU officials "worried" about the lack of time left to secure any new agreement before 31 October.

All of this, inevitably, renders the FT more than a little insubstantial. The paper can do little more than hang its Will o' Wisp story with the johnson meeting in Luxembourg tomorrow, allowing an inference that this is all part of the progress towards a deal.

For the rest, this castle of conjecture is used as a base for an elaborate plan crafted by Nikki da Costa, the johnson's head of legislative affairs. She, apparently, has told colleagues that, if a deal emerges from the next European Council, it could be passed into law before 31 October.

But that, of course, rests on the surmise that a deal will emerge – which is very far from a given. In fact, taking everything that we have learned over the past weeks, we are no closer to a deal than we have ever been.

Needless to say, the slender basis of the FT report does not deter The Sun from indulging in its coprophagic tendencies. It copies out the substance of the FT claims with not the slightest attempt at critical appraisal.

On an entirely different planet, though, is the Sunday Mirror which has the johnson set to deliver a "tongue-lashing" to Juncker on Monday, telling him: "Don't you dare offer me a Brexit extension". Gearing up for "a fiery showdown", it plans to warn the Commission president that it will reject it out of hand if he does.

We will doubtless be pleased to learn that Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will be on hand to hold the johnson's coat "when things get heated". It plans to say "in uncompromising terms" that it intends to defy parliament's demand to reject no-deal and extend our EU membership by three months. It will then tell Juncker: "Forget MPs' Surrender Act. I don't want, won't negotiate and won't accept another delay".

With that, we are told, the johnson is to set the EU a deadline of the October European Council to strike an agreement. If that deadline is not met, we will leave without a deal on 31 October. This fictional account, however, is nothing compared with the Mail on Sunday, which delves into comic-book territory for its front page report (pictured).

It has the johnson likening himself with the Incredible Hulk. It tells us that if negotiations break down, it will ignore the Commons vote ordering him to delay the UK's departure, adding: "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets".

One wonders if it is possible to get any lower in terms of rhetoric, especially when it comes with a heavy dose of self-delusion as the johnson claims that "a huge amount of progress is being made" on the supposed negotiations.

To back that up, we are led to believe that "No 10 strategists" have devised a "secret plan" – so secret that it is known only to the johnson and three key advisers - which they claim will allow them to ignore the Benn Act without breaking the law. Baldrick, no doubt, was heavily involved in formulating this "cunning plan" before it was passed over to the Incredible Hulk for execution.

From here, it's beginning to look as if the madness that has infected the political classes has now spread to the media which – if one is to take the examples cited – has abandoned any pretence of adult reporting and commentary. Instead, we are getting a diet of fictional dribble. Mostly, there is not the slightest attempt to stand up the stories published with simple little things like evidence.

Where these reports are seeking to deal with topical events, though, The Sunday Times wallows in Cameron retrospectives, preferring the easy bait of an ex-prime minister's memoirs to the labour of actually delivering hard news on what may be a pivotal week in the progress of Brexit – once the Hulk has finished ripping Brussels apart.

Even the Observer succumbs to this temptation, offering us as its lead headline, a quote from ex-PM David Cameron: "Johnson is a liar who only backed Leave to help his career". As before, Cameron also digs into Michael Gove, calling him a "foam-flecked Faragist" whose one quality was "disloyalty".

I must say, I cannot remember when I last saw a serving prime minister described as a "liar" on the front page of a Sunday newspaper – if at all – much less being called that by one of his predecessors. And rarely has one seen a former prime minister be so acerbic about former colleagues.

That the johnson is a liar is so much part of the political territory though, that it passes without challenge – such a pretty pass has our politics come to. But between the lies of our prime minister in office and the fantasy renditions of the media, we are entering a new realm of madness where reality has gone on an extended holiday.

Amongst other things, this coverage confirms that politics is a nasty place, populated by small-minded, self-interested people who seem to have little concern for the greater good. Perhaps it was always like that, and the stress of Brexit has made it more visible, although I would venture that we are breaking new ground – or plumbing new depths.

Whatever the actuality, we are being blindsided by a partisan media which has long given up retailing objective news, and by politicians who seem to have lost any touch with reality. And here we have the ultimate contradiction: in an era of information, the darkness is descending.

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