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Some further thoughts on Andrew Marr and the Brexit debate

Friday, February 24, 2017 13:29
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(Before It's News)

When I set out to dissect Andrew Marr’s “An optimist’s guide to Brexit” (his piece here, my fisking here) I had no idea quite what a reaction it would provoke. Whenever I write something about Brexit it ends up leading to some Twitter debate, but nothing like what has happened the past 4 days. The tweet linking to the fisking has 585 Retweets and 580 Likes at present. The fisking itself has been read more than 12000 times.

The most interesting reaction came from Marr himself:

He then bemoaned that my tone was disdainful, had a go at a Croatian academic’s spelling rather than dealing with the point the academic raised, and blamed his own lack of technical skills for not replying to any of the substance.

He then tried two follow up tweets:

High priests of Brexit like Iain Martin and Andrew Lilico then joined in:

I am very sorry Andrew, Andrew and Iain: all of you claim to want to have a serious and sensible debate about Brexit, and indeed that demand was the best part of Marr’s piece. But you then want to have it purely on your terms – yet you do not have a monopoly on what constitutes a sensible discussion. I understand you might all be busy, so by all means ignore me if you wish, but if you do find the time to reply then at least play the issue not the person.

Plus your complaint about harsh reactions from the Remain side towards you holds no water if your behaviour towards a reasoned critique of the Marr piece is to try to belittle the person who wrote it, rather than engage with the substance.

As for the issue about my own tone: yes, it did show disdain, and indeed I acknowledge I was too off hand in places. Being able to write a follow up post allows me to admit that. However the original piece was borne of anger, of frustration, of the hope that someone like Marr should do better. I am not one of these people who repeatedly complains about a biased BBC but at the very least I expect rigorous thinking and solid research from a journalist of Marr’s standing, even for opinion pieces, and his piece spectacularly failed to live up to that. The New Statesman is also guilty of inadequate editing.

Marr’s own critique of my piece, and indeed tweets received from dozens of others, made the accusation that I was challenging the referendum result, when it actually does nothing of the sort. By all means have your Brexit, but do not expect me to lower my standards of critical thinking as a result.

The same goes for the accusation that my piece was too negative. Be optimistic, fine, but optimism that is not rooted in reality becomes delusion – hence the title of my original response to Marr. In a democracy I will continue to oppose the things that I see as wrong – I am a commentator and analyst, not a civil servant or minister whose job it is to make something of Brexit. I shall not, and nor should I, be silenced.

I am tempted to conclude that the reaction of Marr, Martin and Lilico to my piece shows a paucity of detailed and rigorous thinking on what might be called the mainstream pro-Brexit side, and having to resort to personal attacks on me is because they have been found out and have nothing else to give. Let’s see if this post provokes something more substantial – I hope so.

Anyway, to the comments and critique raised by others.

Some comments were added below my critique, and I have replied to those in turn. One commenter pointed out how Marr ignores the issue of Scotland – a rather major issue. A few comments focused on the problems of sectoral deals for access to the Single Market – it turns out there are even more problems with those than I had known. Charles Grant raised an issue about the relative damage to industry and services from a Hard Brexit – he may well be right, and I am wrong there, but we agree there will be damage to both.

None of the points I raised in my original entry about environmental policy, energy policy, rural habitat and birds, railways, fat taxes, GM crops, and forestry have received any critique whatsoever. Most of those issues fall into the category of what the UK could do anyway, without actually having to leave the EU, but that they remain standing is interesting.

Andrew Lilico had one solid point before resorting to the sniping above – he sees leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union as givens, and hence sees Marr’s piece in that light. I see neither of those things as given (as I argue in the fisk), and hence see Marr’s piece in a different light. We’ll have to agree to disagree there.

That also leads me to the most common critique of my piece, namely that I used this Open Britain video to justify that leaving the Single Market was not a foregone conclusion in the referendum campaign – people tweeted me this Andrew Neil interview in response. Joe Armitage was one who laid out this critique – see the detail in this tweet. I am sorry but I still do not buy this – Vote Leave was not categoric about this in its literature (see this), and even though Cameron and Osborne and other Remain people were clearer about the issue, their side lost. Plus other claims by the Leave side – on reclaiming EU money and using it for the NHS, on Turkey joining, and on acquired rights for UK citizens in the rest of the EU – have been shown to be bunkum, so why does leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union have to be the exception and hence be a cast iron guarantee? Plus had there been a White Paper or some other sort of Brexit plan before the referendum how to deal with that issue could have been in it, but there was no agreed plan before the referendum, so we cannot be categoric now. Also note – as I argue here – that I am also not claiming the opposite (that a Soft Brexit is a foregone conclusion), but that the referendum did not answer this question. It answered that the UK will leave the EU, nothing more. [UPDATE 29.12.16, 1240] I’ve been pointed towards this video of Nigel Farage talking up how good the Norway model is, and how that could work for the UK.

Joe Armitage also has the best go at a substantive critique that can be found in the graphic here – he turns my point on German industrial policy into one of State Aid and East Germany (that wasn’t Marr’s point as far as I can tell), tries to argue that Single Market ‘membership’ (a word I do not use) is something of degree (instead I see it as either you are in it, as Norway is but Canada isn’t), that a vote for the House of Commons at the end of the process is a bad thing (it might be, practically, but if the EP is to have a vote at the end of the process, why should the House of Commons not have the same?), and argues that the UK will pursue an independent trade policy during its exit transition phase (it might, but as Hosuk Lee-Makiyama argues, starting with the USA is misguided) – although at the moment we really don’t know how this could even work, let alone know if a UK-US deal could make up for the shortfall with the EU.

Twitter user @MaraudingWinger wrote a critique here, some aspects of which have already been addressed above. S/he quibbled with my point on the Supreme Court process – that point may prove to be correct, but it does not address Marr’s point on the matter. On Ivan Rogers and how much time Brexit will take – we do not know what will be achieved in what order. But I would trust Rogers knows more about how it would work and how long it will take than Marr, or @MaraudingWinger, or indeed I do. On involvement of Parliament – yes, here I was too short termist in my thinking. Once a final Brexit deal is sorted, the House of Commons may indeed gain. The steel critique is neither as black or white as I or @MaraudingWinger state – yes, bailing out failing industries is generally not possible in the EU, but on dumping and tariffs the UK has been preventing EU action. As for the stats for relative UK-EU and UK-USA trade – if the 44% exports UK to the EU is wrong, what is actually right?

As for those of you who who (re)tweeted links to my piece, followed me as a result of it, or sent me kind messages about it – especially comments from some minds much sharper than mine, and even some from unexpected sources – thanks to all of you. As ever do comment below if any of the above justifies further critique, as it should.

[Update 27.12.2016, 2030]
Within moments of publishing this piece the ridiculous Tweets started to come in. I’ll list a selection of those here:

Also Andrew Lilico has attempted a reply to the original fisk here. You can’t actually comment on it there though, sadly. Considering the piece is 1100 words long and essentially contains only two points, one of which where he agrees with me and the other where he’s inaccurate on how EU law of railways works, I am not going to take it apart in a separate blog post. I do welcome the fact Andrew took the time to reply though.


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