EU Referendum

The improbable demanded by the unreasonable


A theme we often return to on this blog is how easy it is to read things wrong if you assume the actors are working rationally and with good information. This is something we are often guilty of. The process of blogging Brexit, therefore, is a process of understanding who thinks what and for what reason.

Were we to depend entirely on logic and reason then the mechanics of treaty and trade law would dictate a number of outcomes. We are, however, dealing with politicians who don't know the system, don't know its rules, and will never take measures to remedy this. It is for this reason we see politicians repeatedly asserting that things that are not possible are not impossible.

Since the media has no institutional knowledge and the collective memory of a gerbil with ADHD it will uncritically repeat every utterance as though no events preceded it. Especially so should a story be convenient to the house narrative. This is how we find the media constructing its own parallel universe.

What further complicates matters is when member states flatly contradict that which has been set out by M. Barnier. No doubt that member states will have influence but there are certain laws of Brexit physics which cannot be broken. All of this, though, is ignored by the media who are only too happy to acknowledge that UK ministers have no idea what they are doing, but somehow accept that foreign politicians are oracles on all matters from financial services to the inner workings of the EEA.

This phenomenon will be especially familiar to anyone who has tried arguing the case for the EEA where europhile Norwegian politicians are repeatedly quoted despite them having precisely zero exposure to the Efta process. These such appeals to authority make it all but impossible to separate truth from fiction.

We then have mixed signals from politicians like Corbyn who says that we must leave the single market but also must have "some sort of customs union". It is an absolute certainty that a man like Corbyn can not tell us the difference between either, meanwhile we have yet to see a legacy media journalist able to make an accurate distinction either. We are therefore left to wonder how anyone can make confident assertions about the public will. 

The Evening Standard tells us that "The majority of Britons would support remaining in the single market and customs union post-Brexit, a new opinion poll suggests. Some 60 per cent of those surveyed said they backed remaining in the single market, with 24 per cent neither agreeing nor disagreeing and 16 per cent opposed. The BMG Research poll for website Left Foot Forward found that 57 per cent said the UK should remain a member of the customs union, with 16 per cent said it should leave".

Since it is similarly certain the public does not have a working understanding of the two concepts we are no further forward in understanding what the UK wants. We know what it needs but when armed with notions that the single market somehow prevents renationalisation of services, we are again confronted with opposition from people who would otherwise see sense. 

It would appear that our approach to Brexit will be entirely dictated by a number of public misapprehensions which our media has been unable to skewer. Given that the misapprehensions themselves are not static and are different on any given day, we might as well let a roulette wheel decide our fate. The danger is now that events will slide into autopilot now that the public and the media have expended their capacity to engage in the issues. 

The question of whether we should leave the EU was always the easy bit. Any nation locked into the EU will always have a government more answerable to Brussels than its people. Leaving is a no brainer for democrats. The question of what comes after and what sort of relationship we do want, though, really depends on our preferred outcomes in the realms of the possible. Having failed to present a plan it is left to a government that doesn't want to leave and doesn't understand why we are leaving to make it up as they go along.  

Since we are dealing with neither rational nor informed actors working toward ill-defined objectives in pursuit of the improbable, demanded by the unreasonable (and often objectionable) it is now anyone's guess as to what Brexit will look like. We cannot then be surprised if business does not wait around to find out.