Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colette Browne: 'If British people don't fear no deal, it's because their newspapers have force-fed them only Brexit Kool-Aid'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Anyone who still harbours optimistic delusions about the capacity of the British body politic to see sense and halt its act of national hara-kiri need only read two articles in yesterday's papers to disabuse themselves of that misplaced positivity.

The 'Daily Telegraph', whose hyper partisan coverage of Brexit crossed the line from news to disinformation long ago, carried a front-page headline proclaiming: "Public backs Johnson to shut down Parliament for Brexit".

Before we examine the provenance of this claim, let's consider its meaning. Brexit, after all, was sold as a way to wrest back parliamentary sovereignty from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and, all together now, "take back control".

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Today, with less than three months to go before the UK crashes out of the EU, we are informed that parliamentary sovereignty isn't that great after all.

In fact, it's become so oppressive that a majority of people want to abandon it and allow a prime minister - installed by less than 1pc of the population to lead a minority government - set fire to the constitution.

From 'taking back control' to coup d'etat is quite an impressive evolution in political reasoning, not that the 'Daily Telegraph' felt compelled to point that out.

The headline was based on an opinion poll in which it was claimed that "54pc of British adults think Parliament may have to be prorogued to prevent MPs stopping a no-deal Brexit". Prorogued, for the uninitiated, is just a posh way to say suspended.

So, do they? Well, that's highly debatable. For a start, the question posed by pollsters was extremely leading, with respondents asked to "agree or disagree with the following statement: "Boris needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it."

Lots of research has indicated that, when asked to agree or disagree with a statement, less educated and less informed respondents are more likely to agree because of something called "acquiescence bias" - a tendency to agree when in doubt.

Coupled with this is the framing of the statement itself with the use of the over-familiar "Boris", instead of the prime minister or Mr Johnson, who has been cast as the hero attempting to deliver Brexit while unnamed MPs are determined to thwart it.

Quite apart from the dubious nature of the question, the result that formed the basis of the entire article was also suspect. In the actual poll, 44pc agreed with the statement and 37pc disagreed.

The figure of 54pc, in favour of constitutional anarchy, was arrived at when those who answered don't know, 19pc, were stripped from the results. Needless to say, the 'Daily Telegraph' decided not to mention this on its front page either.

The article, while it didn't really tell us anything remotely reliable about the feelings of the British public, did serve at least one useful function.

It allowed a spokesperson for the prime minister to issue the following gung-ho response: "I would hope that the EU now fully understands the UK's determination to leave the EU on October 31, no ifs, no buts. We stand ready to negotiate."

Suddenly, we no longer have an autocratic prime minister considering the unprecedented step of torching constitutional norms to get his own way. We have a champion of the people willing to stand up to illegitimate dissent from members of parliament.

The premise of the article itself - that Mr Johnson needs, and now has, the cover of a majority of public opinion to leave the EU with no deal - is also steeped in irony.

Those loudly bragging that 54pc want to disband Parliament to ram home a no-deal Brexit are the same people who baulk at the notion of a second referendum, to truly gauge public opinion, and deride it as inherently undemocratic.

Even if Mr Johnson doesn't drive the UK over the cliff on October 31 and instead opts to hold an election in advance of that date, the 'Daily Telegraph' has presaged its election coverage.

The narrative that will be relentlessly propounded throughout that campaign, by it and other right-wing newspapers, will be that 'Boris' is a people's champion standing up to the EU and its acolytes in parliament.

MPs opposed to leaving with no deal will be portrayed as quislings who prefer to take the orders of the EU than those of their own people.

The tenor of yesterday's 'Daily Telegraph' piece is not new, or indeed surprising. Previously, members of the judiciary were called "enemies of the people" in a splash by the 'Daily Mail', whose coverage has been equally jingoistic.

The virulently pro-Brexit editorial lines taken by a majority of British newspapers are, however, significant in framing the debate and informing the public opinion.

Readers of the 'Sun', 'Daily Telegraph', 'Daily Mail' and 'Daily Express' do not fear a no-deal Brexit, because those newspapers have repeatedly told them they have nothing to fear - that dire economic forecasts are 'Project Fear' and that pluck and grit can replace international trade agreements.

If the British public is confused and ill-informed, the media is not the only one to blame. Politicians with their hands on the levers of power, attempting to steer the UK through its most perilous course since World War II, have been singularly inept, craven and egotistic.

Take Secretary of State for Work and PensionsAmber Rudd for instance. Back in March she was unequivocal that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster, saying it would "do generational damage to our economy and security".

Fast forward to yesterday and Ms Rudd has apparently had a Damascene conversion on the road to no-deal. She has drunk the Kool-Aid and is now a true believer, telling ITV News yesterday that the worst affects of no-deal can be mitigated by the government.

From 'generational damage' to 'no big deal' in a matter of months. What changed, because the economic forecasts certainly haven't? Well, in order to stay part of Mr Johnson's cabinet, Ms Rudd had to sign a pledge to state she was willing to leave with no deal.

In what can only be described as a massive coincidence, her concerns seem to have diminished around the time she opted to sign this document.

When personal ambition can so easily trump principle, then hope that a no deal can be stopped must surely fade.

For three years, Brexit has been a soap opera but the denouement is rapidly approaching and all the indications are that there will not be a happy ending.

Instead, a no-deal Brexit is now a runaway train propelled forward by a combination of lies, propaganda, arrogance and stupidity. Regrettably for us, Ireland is tied to the tracks in the path of this locomotive, helpless to stop it.

Irish Independent

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