Commentators continue to peddle a false narrative over what “no deal” means and what the EU obligations are when it comes to the approaching October deadline.
“Abdullah from Bristol” was quite correct when he reminded Boris Johnson that “words have consequences”. But then, so should the choice of who gets to put their words on the national record during a live TV programme. Especially when that choice is clearly part of an attempted political assassination. As it turns out, Mr Johnson is showing again that he can be his own worst enemy by spilling some wine on his partner’s sofa while living next door to Titania McGrath. Words do have consequences: especially when they are recorded by the Camberwell stasi and forwarded to a left-wing former newspaper.
Overall, the media has shown yet again in the last week that they have given up their former role as guardians of enlightenment in favour of the more exciting one of being instruments of the illiberal consensus in general and the Remain Establishment in particular.
The commentator class agitates for a quixotic form of EU disengagement: to remain within the Project while changing the letterhead on UK government notepaper so that we can pretend we’ve left. And when the discussion turns to the issue of “no deal” the activism becomes impressively energetic. The overall strategy is to agitate for a fake disengagement from the EU structures, one which preserves the status of the UK as supplicant, so that at some point we will be corralled into changing the letterhead back again. The tactics are similarly clear: to confuse a weary public over the appropriate sequencing of our “withdrawal” and to ruthlessly equivocate over what is meant by deal.
And therefore, by no deal.
“No deal” has become the Remainers’ very own legend of Keyser Soze. It is a fable intended to colonise the gullible minds of the post-referendum polis. If we’re not careful, Oliver Cooper- Grieve cautions, then it will come to pass that No Deal moves invisibly among us- confiscating essential medicines, poisoning our rivers, crashing the economy, and causing planes to tumble from the sky. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. If the supporters of a clean Brexit refuse to take the myth as fact then that is only because, like the Devil, No Deal is adept at convincing the unwary that he doesn’t really exist.
The truth is that Mr Cooper-Grieve’s scenario doesn’t even rise to the level of myth. Myths are vehicles for the transmission of truth. The Remain “no deal” claims are not mythical; they are persuasive falsehoods. They are false because effective mechanisms of disengagement, intended to ameliorate the short-term disruption, have already been agreed. But they are persuasive because an untruth which is constantly repeated becomes, in time, an orthodoxy. Welcome to the postmodern politics, where the misuse of words can have useful consequences.
We are told that Parliament will not allow a “no deal” exit. Which is curious because it already has allowed it, by embedding it in legislative acts, which will always supersede the playground antics of Bercow and his parliamentary kindergarten. Indicative votes might express the “will of the Commons” but they do so only at a moment in time. Legislation, necessarily, has a more robust durability. Parliament can only prevent no deal by introducing legislation that says it was only joking when it did legislate a trajectory towards a non-treaty exit.
What would happen if the Speaker succeeds in harnessing his appetite for constitutional vandalism in service of such a legislative reversal? What would the We Were Just Havin’ a Laugh White Paper look like? If Remainers attempt to recreate the statutory context in their favour then they will have to replace the vague language that works for an indicative vote with the semantic precision which is essential for statute (words have consequences, after all). How will a “deal” be defined? Would it need to be a treaty or will multiple bilateral agreements count? If the former, then why? If not the latter, then why not? When scrutinised in this way it may well turn out that, compared to senior school, the kindergarten has its consolations.
The EU refrain is that the Remain Treaty is the only game in town. The nomenklatura insist that it cannot be reopened. But it is not for one potential signatory to a draft treaty to decide whether that treaty is alive or not. Three times Mrs May flicked the switch on her deal and on each occasion the monster failed to come to life. If the Treaty is not dead, then it’s only because it was never alive in the first place. If the EU refuses now to look at alternatives, then it will be in breach of its own treaty obligations to use all best efforts to negotiate a mutually satisfactory conclusion to the Article 50 process. Pace Mr Tusk, it is not just the UK that is required to make fruitful use of the time freed up by the A50 extensions. Those late-night back-of-fag paper scribblings, composed while May was banished from the room, initiate responsibilities for both negotiating partners.
And there are plausible alternatives to a “no deal” Brexit, one of the most persuasive of which is set out here by Steve Baker: an advance free trade agreement facilitated by existing arrangements provided for by GATT XXIV. Mr Tusk has already offered a version of this. When Mark Carney tried to rubbish this proposal the other day (in a curiously serendipitous intervention), he was carried next morning into the Today studios like a conquering emperor. But not for the first time in the recent history of that programme the guest had no clothes. Carney’s claim that GATT XXIV only applies when there is a deal in place is trivially true but misleading. The “deal” can take the form of an agreement between the EU and the UK to negotiate the trade arrangements in good faith, and within the WTO context. Carney gave the impression that any deal would have to bear the features of Mrs May’s monster, and that it would have to be agreed within the Article 50 context. The misrepresentation was egregious. He should be more careful if he is to ever recuperate a reputation for fairness. After all, words have consequences, don’t you know?
The media are contributing to an Establishment filibuster of the 2016 referendum result. They are waiting for the political capital generated by that result to degrade. But the result of that referendum although it occurred in 2016 is alive now in the form of an undischarged obligation. Words matter; obligations matter just as much.