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.