Richard North, 18/02/2021  

There is plenty of ribald comment on the appointment of David Frost to the cabinet because he is "unelected". But criticism of that is a cheap shot. Cabinet ministers are never elected. And, historically, there have always been ways for prime ministers to bring trusted aides onto their teams.

If there is to be criticism, it's because Frost is a thoroughly useless individual who made a pig's ear of the TCA negotiations, landing us with a mess that we haven't even begun to address.

And, to add insult to injury, he is to replace Michael Gove as co-chair of a committee on implementing the Brexit withdrawal deal, taking charge of forging a new relationship with the EU and seeking to "maximise post-Brexit trading opportunities".

In many ways the appointment is typical of the Johnson administration, where loyalty is everything, inadequacy is its own reward and there are no penalties for failure. As long as Johnson is prime minister, Frost's position is secure, no matter how much more damage he does.

As to the damage already sustained, the legacy media continues to exhibit its curious myopia, with BBC 2's Newsnight carrying indifference to new heights. There, one sees Kirsty Wark, anticipating a "major speech" by Starmer today, speculating on his fate, "if Johnson makes a success of Brexit" – as if that was actually a possibility.

Such attention that the media can spare on the march of reality is still focused largely on the frustrated wanderings of thespians and minstrels, with the woes of the National Theatre taking the lion's share of the limited coverage.

This highly subsidised national institution, we learn, is shelving plans to tour productions to mainland Europe "due to uncertainty over work permits because of Brexit". Before travelling to work in a number of EU countries, many working in the arts will now need to apply for short-term work permits.

Productions have already been postponed as a result of Covid but hopes of resuming European touring, with a production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" (pictured), have been dashed "because of Brexit legislation". "The potential additional costs for visas and current uncertainty around social security contributions mean regrettably it is currently not financially viable", the National Theatre spokesperson wails.

Tacked on to this story is a report of a letter from the performing arts union Equity, which has the luvvies united in implored Johnson "to go back to the negotiating table" to ensure visa-free work in the EU. The letter states that creative practitioners are desperate to work in Europe once pandemic restrictions lift, but "the current Brexit deal is a towering hurdle to that".

"Before, we were able to travel to Europe visa-free. Now we have to pay hundreds of pounds, fill in form after form, and spend weeks waiting for approval – just so we can do our jobs" it complains. Perhaps they should have a word with Dominic Delfino.

Only brief coverage is given to the ongoing situation in Northern Ireland, with news of orders for 100,000 trees for the province being cancelled, as a result of the EU's phytosanitary rules.

The Daily Mail, though, prefers to home in on the "red tape chaos" hitting Cliff Richard Wine, as orders from his vineyard in the Algarve are lost or delayed by "increased bureaucracy".

That, on top of Frost's "promotion", effectively sums up today's media "take" on Brexit, squeezed out by Covid-19 news, the Duke of Edinburgh's "precautionary" sojourn in hospital and anything other distraction that was to hand.

Still lingering on the sidelines, unappreciated and unreported, is the growing realisation in the equestrian fraternity that they have been well and truly stuffed by Brexit.

Obviously lacking in sufficient "luvvie appeal" (for the moment), the Hare & Hound returns to the subject with a complaint the cost of travelling horses abroad by ferry has increased by around 318 percent since the end of the Brexit transition period.

In an attempt to ramp up the profile of the issue, the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is gathering evidence to lobby Government on what needs to change and is asking people to contact them with details of their experiences, particularly at border control posts (BCPs).

It seems that Parliament's environment, food and rural affairs (EFRA) committee has also launched a call for evidence as part of an inquiry into moving animals across borders post-Brexit, with a deadline set for 17 March.

However, BEF interim chief executive Iain Graham says the federation is "acutely aware" of how the new cross border requirements are affecting the equestrian community, but he accepts the legislation in place at present.

Perhaps that's the industry's problem. Instead of writing whiney letters to the prime minister, the Federation is "working with stakeholders" to find ways to improve, streamline and digitalise the processes involved.

To that effect, it is working with the British Horse Council at national government level and the International Horse Sport Confederation to find ways to improve the situation. also setting up an independent equine sport and business working group, to represent riders, operators, producers, breeders and show organisers.

Areas the BEF has identified as "needing immediate review" are the export health certificates and the manual process of sending these to BCPs. It is also pushing for improvements on waiting times at BCPs, which is a cause for equine welfare concern, and wants a telephone hotline established, with Defra's assistance, so anyone having issues can seek instant help.

With such modest expectations and a distinct lack of whingeing, it is perhaps unsurprising that the media is more inclined to give the drama queens in the entertainment industry more coverage. He who whines loudest gets the best press.

Nevertheless, as the sectors adversely affected by Brexit multiply, there must surely come a time when even the media begins to notice that the grand experiment is going seriously wrong.

One can almost imagine in the next few weeks or so, some self-important journalist "discovering" the problems of the equestrian industries, and plastering an "exclusive" on the Politics Home website or in the Telegraph. And once this has been "owned" by the fourth estate, it will quickly be copied by other media organs, each congratulating themselves for their "quality" journalism.

But one wonders how long it will take them to realise that many of the same problems apply to motorsport, from rallying to Formula 1, any number of sports – including cycling races – and even film makers and photographers organising fashion shoots and the like. Putting them together, instead of offering random, sporadic reports, could make all the difference.

For the time being, though, it seems we are condemned to live in a sort of news "limbo", where the media pay lip service to Brexit as an issue, without really engaging in the substance, churning the same basic sub-set of stories.

Rather like the run-up to the "completion" of the Single Market, when all the media were interested in was "Euro-sillies", like standardised condom sizes, fishermen in hairnets and other Johnsonesque fabrications, the media have reduced Brexit to a "red tape" soap opera.

No wonder they love the luvvies. This fits perfectly with the narrative.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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