An Excess Of FUD

Possibly the stupidest shibboleth that has so far emerged during the EU referendum debate is the notion that British negotiators will not be “in the room” when our post-Brexit relationship is negotiated.

This is particularly perplexing in the sense that Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) is not a secret nor a mystery. Indeed, Article 50 is one of the most clearly worded and immediately comprehensible pieces of writing in what is an otherwise arcane treaty document. Article 50 is also commendably short.

There it is (above). Written in plain English. Easy to read. If you would like to know more about the context then I recommend reading The Boiling Frog’s indispensable explanation and the (even more in depth) summary on LeaveHQ.

However, if you have made it this far into the blog then you really don’t need to do anything other than read the text in order to understand it.

Yet, there are some among the legacy press pack who are apparently unable to understand the conventional meaning of words. Beginning in October 2015 with a front page story in the Independent on Sunday, which I wrote about at the time, the canard that there is something “frightening” or “vindictive” or “illogical” about the TEU exit clause has been allowed to calcify.

The focus of anxiety centres on paragraph 4, which is all too often quoted out of context and absent the necessary qualifier at the start of the sentence. The full clause reads as follows (my emphasis): “4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.”

Clear? The representatives of the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in meetings or discussions concerning the negotiation with it—“it” being a reference to the withdrawing Member State and paragraphs 2 and 3 being references to the negotiations and the possibility for extending the time allowed for negotiations.

Stated simply, the withdrawing Member State cannot sit on both sides of the negotiating table. One wonders if those who take issue with this clause would expect EU representatives to sit in on meetings between the British negotiators. Imagine Steve Jobs negotiating with Rupert Murdoch to add News Corp’s media content to Apple’s iTunes platform. Would one expect a News Corp representative to be present in the Apple boardroom when the negotiations are discussed? Or would the two groups discuss matters separately and then come together at the negotiating table?

Any individual or institution capable of making such a fundamental error and misleading the public with the insinuation that Article 50 is anything other than an ordinary exit clause is in no position to inform voters about the respective merits or demerits of the “remain” or “leave” propositions in toto.

The current list of shame regarding Article 50 howlers is as follows:

  • The Independent on Sunday: front page story declaring, “Brexit: We’d Have No Say On The Terms—EU rules insist other member states would dictate UK’s new deal after 2017, campaigners warn”.
  • Tim Farron – leader of the Liberal Democrats: quoted in the Independent on Sunday article lending authority to incorrect assertions regarding Article 50.
  • Bronwen Maddox – journalist and editor of Prospect magazine: wrote an article for Prospect in which she asserts, “Clause 4 says that after a country has decided to leave, the other EU members will decide the terms—and the country leaving cannot be in the room in those discussions. Repeat: we’d have no say at all on the terms on which we’d deal with the EU from then on, and no opportunity to reconsider.” Oddly, the short article features the full Article 50 text, so anybody with a mind to can immediately cross-reference her assertions with the text itself and see for themselves that she is wrong.
  • Prospect Magazine: not only did the magazine publish the original article by Bronwen Maddox, even after multiple explanations being provided, the publisher continued to promote the story without any public recognition that a mistake had been made.
  • Vicky Ford – Tory MEP for the the East of England: issued a series of tweets declaring that Article 50 is a “negotiators nightmare”. This one says, “If we do vote to leave then we lose all voice in negotiating our terms”, which is not true.
  • Stephen Kinnock – Labour MP for Aberavon – tweeted that, “Art 50 excludes us from the room. Is that really in our national interest?”
  • Fraser Nelson – journalist and editor of The Spectator: wrote a column for The Daily Telegraph in which he asserts ex nihilo that it is “illogical and vindictive” that the withdrawing member state “cannot be in the room when other EU members discuss the terms of its departure”.
  • Will Straw – failed Labour Party parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Rossendale and Darwen: responded to Dominic Cummings’ tweet about Article 50 saying, “Leave means Leave. No messing about with 2nd chances. Art 50 triggered so EU chooses our future, not us.” In a way it goes without saying that a leading voice within the “remain” campaign should be a cretinous know-nothing who does not even understand what an embarrassment he is for his own side and for the country as a whole, but I honestly would rather that were not the case. An open debate about Britain’s future as a country or Britain’s future as a region within a supranational entity would provide the necessary clarity and perspective for the British public to make an informed decision about whether we should “remain” in or “leave” the European Union.

I shall add to this list as more politicians and political commentators make their ignorance apparent. I should be extremely happy if no further names need to be added to the list. If there are others that you come across, inform me in the comments.

5 thoughts on “An Excess Of FUD


    Off-topic, but in a similar vein, if you have time watch the section titled ‘BT\EE Takeover: Dido Harding interview. The interview itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the EU so if you want to get to the point early, go to around five minutes in and listen to the rest. I’ve made a complaint but if you can, let me know what you think. I can also link you to a similar incident from last year if you would want to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tip. To be honest, I am not sure what to make of this. It is certainly odd for the interviewer to ask the interviewee about the EU referendum (completely out of nowhere) and to then use their “no comment” as an excuse to editorialise about the referendum being an “unwelcome distraction”, but the fact that I do not regularly watch the television news makes it difficult for me to place this into any kind of a wider context. I just see a daft television presenter asking silly questions. I’m sorry if that is not very helpful, but those are my thoughts.

      However, I would be interested to know what happens with the complaint.


      • It’s rare I watch the TV news as well. I gave up on Newsnight when Paxo departed and the only news I watch with any particular attention is that of Channel Four because under the laws of confirmation bias, I’d prefer to watch something openly left-leaning to have even the most marginal ground in the contrary viewpoint.

        The complaint I made was on the basis of the manner in which the interviewee was presented with the nature of withdrawal.

        …’”How worried are you that Britain is in danger of sleepwalking into leaving the EU’?

        ….’worried’….. ….’danger’…. …’sleepwalking’….

        Without any pre-set context, the Broadcaster itself – through the interviewer – was asserting that UK withdrawal from the EU was a negative event. More than negative in fact. The uncommitted observer would have been presented with that as a self-evident fact and the words were effectively shoved into the interviewee’s mouth. (To make certain you don’t do that is one of the cardinal rules of Journalism). Channel Four News have not previously ‘proved’ that a UK withdrawal is a harmful event and so they have to approach the matter neutrally. Very clearly they’re not doing so.

        Here’s the earlier example:-

        The headline of that link being ‘Röttgen: Brexit would send ‘disastrous message to world’

        In context the very first time the word ‘disastrous’ appears at any point in this interview is its introduction by the interviewer himself. He emplaces the word into the discussion – and then that word is used in the headline. Or in other words, the interviewer – Frei – creates the headline story and his interviewee is invited to plod along behind it. Once again, the programme itself asserting EU withdrawal as negative. It’s a fairly pernicious form of propagandising – and from observation it’s never been balanced out by their interviewers posing their Pro-EU interviewees with a contrary proposition – that EU withdrawal would be self-evidently a good thing.

        Thanks for getting back in any case – but if you get the chance, keep a watch out for this practice.


      • I see what you mean, now!

        Just goes to show the extent to which that kind of insidious bias is simply taken for granted. The form of the question completely passed me by. But, in the context of an “impartial” news broadcast, it was totally unwarranted and inappropriate.

        Definitely something to keep an eye out for and to be aware of.


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