Veteran BBC man John Simpson summed up the British political class and its problem with Abroad: “When I was the BBC political editor, in the early 1980s, I was shocked by the ignorance of most MPs about the way the outside world worked. Judging from today's proceedings in Parliament, things don't seem to have changed much”.
And his conclusion, especially where the EU is concerned? “I think MPs can get too bound up with the business and pantomime of Parliament, and believe it's all that matters. Far too many are depressingly ignorant of the world beyond Dover. That drove me crazy in the 80s. Today it's utterly unforgivable”. And there was a greater problem.
Today, more than ever, ill-informed politicians combine with a propagandist press in the kind of toxic mixture that has people believing that all the country’s ills are down to ghastly foreigners in Brussels, rather than the deliberate programmes of austerity implemented, with the enthusiastic backing of that same press, since 2010. If the EU referendum had been held in, say, 2007, Leave would not have stood a chance.
This combination of politicians and press has been shown in its worst light in today’s edition of the Murdoch Sun, where a crude and abusive editorial consisting mainly of bashing the Irish has been placed alongside a characteristically dishonest article on the so-called Irish backstop by nominally Tory MEP Dan, Dan The Oratory Man.
Hannan starts as he means to go on - by dispensing falsehood and misinformation: “at the end of 2017, the EU suddenly came up with the idea of an ‘Irish backstop’. It wanted Britain to promise that, unless it came up with a long-term trading relationship that satisfied Brussels, it would stay in the customs union and leave Northern Ireland under EU regulations. Stupidly, British negotiators accepted the backstop”. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The backstop was a device created by the UK’s negotiating team. Moreover, it was intended to leave Theresa May’s “red lines” in place but still give us a Withdrawal Agreement. Hannan’s lack of sensitivity to the Peace Process is summed up by the throwaway line “It was particularly silly to discuss Ireland before the main trade talks”.
But on he ploughs. “The backstop would mean Brussels continued to control Britain’s trade deals with non-European countries after we left. It would mean placing part of our country under permanent EU jurisdiction”. No, it was an insurance policy, in case a trade deal could not be negotiated, a last resort. And then comes another whopper.
“They [MPs] didn’t like forking out more than 39billion quid in exchange for the better part of bugger all”. The clear suggestion that there is a way to avoid paying the agreed “divorce bill”, to settle the commitments the UK has already made. Wrong again.
Hannan appears confused. “Juncker is simultaneously telling us that if we alter our red lines - by, for example, agreeing to a permanent customs union - then the agreement could indeed be reopened. So there is plainly no technical or legal reason why the backstop could not be removed or at least time-limited”. Dan, Dan, have a sit down and listen. Perhaps I can get this though to you before one of us dies.
The backstop is because of the red lines. With the red lines still in place, it cannot be removed or time-limited. A permanent Customs Union could not be accommodated in the Withdrawal Agreement because it breached one of those red lines. But do go on. “The EU has calculated the cost will be worse for Britain than for Continental states, since cross-Channel trade is proportionately more important for us”. No. Just no.
The EU and its negotiators saw the UK negotiate and sign off on the Withdrawal Agreement, only for Theresa May to perform a screeching U-Turn and commit an act of bad faith by attempting to renege on the deal she had already put before Parliament.
Still, there’s always “In private, some Continental politicians are pushing for a pragmatic outcome - one that minimises disruption and preserves the long-term alliance between the UK and its neighbours”. Yeah, right. We’ve been told for the past two and a half years that we can pick off individual member states - and it’s never worked.
Daniel Hannan is either ignorant, dishonest - or both, and for a long-serving MEP any of those outcomes is unforgivable. Worse is that deeply unpleasant Sun editor Tony Gallagher puts Hannan’s article alongside an editorial mocking Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
This claims “IRELAND’S naive PM Leo Varadkar will deserve much of the blame for the misery and chaos No Deal would unleash on his people and across Europe … It is time, then, for him to stop posing as a hardman and do the right thing … Varadkar’s continued posturing is suicidal. It’s time to be a real statesman”. And it’s dishonest drivel.
Varadkar is not “posturing”. Nor is he “naive”, or trying to be a “hardman”. The problem this country faces has nothing to do with him. It is entirely of our own making, or rather, that of the Tories and their DUP allies - aided and abetted by their less than totally benign pals in the press. It is exactly as Simpson described. And it needs to stop.
Millions of British voters have been swayed by the malice of no-marks like Gallagher and the equally inept hired guns he gets to give supposed gravitas to his comment pages. As a result, they have been viciously and deliberately misinformed for years. The mess we now see, and the sight of the UK becoming little more than a laughing stock abroad, are down to them. They are the new Guilty Men and Women.
It is high time that political pygmies like Hannan, and malicious and unaccountable poison pedlars like Gallagher, were told to get real and own the problem themselves. They drove the UK to this point. It should be up to them to figure a way out.
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