Brexiteers in panic over shifting opinion

PUBLISHED: 13:10 24 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:31 30 August 2017

From left, Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade; Lord Michael Heseltine and Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at the University of Oxford.

From left, Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade; Lord Michael Heseltine and Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at the University of Oxford.

Archant

Another day, another death, another chance to reflect with old Fleet Street colleagues that “we only ever seem to meet up at funerals”.

Another day, another death, another chance to reflect with old Fleet Street colleagues that “we only ever seem to meet up at funerals”. This is as much a sign of ageing as young policemen and sore knees. At the wake, as the booze and the banter start to flow, The New European comes up, and my old mate Chris Boffey asks if I have “lost the art of brevity ... I remember when you did a Sunday Mirror column made up of lots of different, SHORT items. Now we get a long essay on Brexit every week”. OK, I’ll give it a go.

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We are reaching that point in the media calendar when columnists return from their holidays, assuming we all want to hear about what they did and thought while away. We don’t. We really don’t. The only exceptions are Brexiteers who have seen the error of their ways, and return from overseas ready to take their share of responsibility for the collapsing pound, which meant everything was more expensive than pre-June 23, 2016, when they ‘took back control.’

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In comes an email from a student worried about the (my word, not hers) algorithmisation of life, which means we are constantly confronted with our own reinforcing opinions on social media. She is starting a campaign to get us to reach out to people we disagree with, and asks me to name three people – someone I agree with who is always worth listening to; someone I disagree with who is always worth listening to; and someone I disagree with who is never worth listening to.

Try it. I went for Liam Fox for the last of these – I mean, seriously, what is the point? – Michael Heseltine as my ‘disagree with/listen to’ (though we agree on Brexit a lot of the time), and Professor Vernon Bogdanor (one of those derided experts who knows what he is on about, and uses facts to build arguments) as my agree with/listen to. And that was even before his superb piece at the weekend pointing out why we will need a fresh referendum on whatever deal is reached between the UK and the EU.

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Reading David Davis’ take on the negotiations, it is clear that wishful thinking is now the main driver of the UK strategy (sic). We will deal with the Irish border problem by saying we don’t want to have one – a border, or a problem. We will leave the single market and the customs union, but retain the benefits – by saying that we want to. We will publish positioning papers, make them long enough to look meaty, but hope to God nobody actually reads them. Vacuous overstates it.

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There are not many things that will keep me away from a Burnley game. Friends and family know that if they want me at the wedding, funeral, christening or party, they’d better check the fixture list first. Yet Everton away, Sunday, October 1, I shall be giving a miss. Goodison Park is a particular sacrifice.

It is my favourite away end, a real throwback to the days when my Burnley addiction first gripped me.

But the anti-Brexit march at the Tory conference in Manchester, unlike births, marriages and deaths, comes first. Cue “what is wrong with you?” messages from some fellow Burnley addicts. But it has to be. See you there. As for why the match needed to be shifted to Sunday ... don’t get me going.

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The Boffey brevity rule prevents me from rehearsing all of Professor Bognador’s article, (superb, in case you have already lost the thread) but his concluding point was this ... “By March 2019, the outlines of the deal should be reasonably clear, since the withdrawal agreement is required to take into account ‘the framework of its future relationship
with the union’. That framework will need to be approved by Parliament. But it can be legitimised only by the people through a referendum, which would either endorse it or show that voters no longer wished to leave the European Union.”

This terrifies the Brexiteers of course, as opinion shifts amid the chaos and the cost of Brexit. But it meets the point made by MPs I often criticise for 
not being outspoken enough – that the referendum put the people directly at odds with the majority in Parliament.

Only another referendum, they say, not an election, let alone opinion polls, can legitimise the shift in opinion many of them detect.

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Imagine for a moment you are editing the BBC News. Imagine that a report lands on your desk from an economist you know to be fanatically anti-Brexit, warning that Brexit will be a disaster for the economy. We can all see the bin into which said report would immediately be thrown. So was it pro-Brexit bias, or the fear of being labelled as anti-Brexit by the Brextremist press, that decided a BBC editor to lead the news with Patrick Minford’s claims that Brexit would deliver a gigantic economic boost for Britain? Somewhere in Brexit Central, a spin doctor thanked the Lord for the gullibility and/or gutlessness of our most important media outlet.

While David Davis was having cake and eating it in the Sunday Times, elsewhere the paper reported that financial institutions were relocating from London to Frankfurt. Few will weep for bankers, but while they take their jobs elsewhere, others lose theirs in London as a result of the departure.

The bankers seem to have given up on passporting, abandoning equivalence, which is at the discretion of the Commission, and seeking some form of joint supervision. But why should the EU grant it when Frankfurt or Paris can make gains by not granting it? Part of the cake/eat approach is to overlook the fact others now have their own vested interests in our departure.

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MPs wailing as Big Ben falls silent. Parliament crumbling. The country limping towards an enormous act of auto-mutilation. Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. The words “Jacob Rees-Mogg” and “Tory leadership” appearing in the same sentence. Jeremy Corbyn on a national lap of honour after losing an election. Arron Banks’ book being made into a film. Have we finally discovered the post-Empire role we have long been searching ... as global Comedy Central?

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I am loving the ‘if Brexit was Art’ feature in The New European, and look forward to the exhibitions and books – perhaps also featuring our front pages – which will surely follow. I so wish I could paint, but I can’t, so there we are. If you insisted I made a contribution, it would look something like this, and I would call it ‘Mrs May’s Maths’ ... As I am only doing short items, I don’t have space fully to explain the various layers of complexity that emerged in the two minutes it took me to do it. Is it a mouth? Is it a megaphone?

What are these dark forces mingling so messily, like Theresa’s hair, in the oversized 52% of the Venn? But look closer, and see, though deprived of space, it is the 48% which is projecting expansion rather than shrinkage ... oh yes ... how I hope that Miss Feather, my primary school teacher, is alive to see that I’m still totally useless at art. But, as she said on my otherwise exemplary reports “he does try”.

There you go, Chris. Hope there was enough Brexit for you amid all the art, football, life and death. And not a word of T***p.

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