As collateral damage from deficiencies in the EU withdrawal agreement cause ever-increasing disruption, Brexit supporting newspapers are grudgingly having to face the reality that they can no longer go on fooling their readers about the sunny uplands awaiting Global Britain.
A ‘Truckin’ disgrace’ was the headline over the Sun’s report of a lorry driver’s ‘diary of despair’ about the misery inflicted on the road haulage industry by the bureaucratic barricade that has resulted from the UK’s departure from the EU single market.
Free-wheeling truckers have long been the Sun’s heroes and its double-page spread about their tale of woe (7.2.2021) blamed their plight on petty EU officials causing ‘hell for hauliers’ rather than expose the pitfalls of the deal agreed by Boris Johnson.
As the champions of bucolic country life, the Daily Mail has been going through similar contortions and is having to accept that its daily reportage cannot ignore the crisis for the farmers of middle England as meat exports are hit by tough controls and complex red tape.
Again, the blame is laid at the door of the EU, but the depth of despair among farming folk leaps out from the text below the jokey headline, ‘Why these three little piggies aren’t going to market’. (8.2.2021)
There was never any doubt that the Brexit press would hold the EU accountable for any faults or failures in the UK’s new trading arrangement and the Mail’s everyday story of farming life is true to form:
‘EU intransigence, arrogant pen-pushers and endless red tape have hammered Britain’s pig exports. As 100,000 pigs languish in limbo, no wonder one in six of our farmers is threatening to sell up.’
A regular tabloid tactic is to insert flashbacks to previous front pages. Perhaps the glaring absence of a reminder of the Mail’s euphoric coverage and triumphant headlines for Boris Johnson’s Christmas-eve deal needed no further explanation: ‘Get Ready for Blast off, Britain!’ and ‘Masters of our own destiny’ (26.12.2020)
From the start of the year there have been two dominant story lines about the catastrophic complications flowing from the small print of the EU agreement that Johnson signed up to.
Seemingly insurmountable problems have blocked UK exports of shellfish, and tension in Northern Ireland has been heightened by disruption to supply lines for goods going from the UK to Northern Ireland, and the knock-on impact for cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland.
Both complications were flagged up during the Brexit negotiations, but the subsequent disarray has attracted the knee-jerk response that is the forte of the Brexit press rather than an explanation as to why this is a direct consequence of the terms the UK negotiated with the EU.
Gung-ho headlines in the days before Johnson finally signed off the EU agreement promised that Britain would stand firm in defending the interests of its fishing fleet:
‘Gunships to guard our fish’ (Daily Express, 12.12.2020) and ‘We’ll send in gunboats’ (Daily Mail, 12.12.2020).
With access to European markets blocked for UK shellfish, the Mail has retreated from its pre-Christmas jingoism and its post-Brexit coverage offers no solution to the despondency of once thriving communities:
‘Vengeful French pouring poison over our poissons’ (21.1.2021) and ‘Human cost of EU’s spite’ (14.2.2021)
Continuing success in the UK roll out of vaccinations for Covid.19, coupled with the EU’s embarrassment over its short-lived imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol in its dispute over supply of the Oxford AstraZenaca jab, has provided pro-Brexit commentators with a fortuitous platform from which to applaud the UK’s EU departure.
‘The lumbering EU monster panicked and showed its true nature. A better vindication of Brexit could not be found,’ declared the Mail on Sunday’s comment column. (31 1 2021)
Ecstatic Mail columnists were given plenty of space to ram home their justification for supporting Brexit and a chance to renew of their belief that the EU is about to turn in on itself:
‘So, what are we to make of Brussels’ hypocritical stunt to distract from its vaccine fiasco? Thank God we’re out!’ was Ross Clark’s verdict (‘Hands off our jabs, Boris tell EU’, Daily Mail, 27.1.2021).
Douglas Murray’s reheated his prediction of EU disintegration, ‘Amid the deadly black comedy of the vaccine farce, the EU is tearing itself apart right before our eyes’. (Daily Mail, 21.2.2021)
Fellow Brexiteer Tim Stanley used his column in the Daily Telegraph to berate Brussels’ control-freakery: ‘We always knew the EU was a protectionist racket’. (8.2.2021)
Many of the potential repercussions from the Brexit deal have yet to surface and will continue to be masked as Conservative-supporting newspapers encourage Johnson to press on with releasing the country from lockdown restrictions as rapidly as possible.
Judging by the warm welcome from Johnson’s cheerleaders for the promotion to the cabinet of the UK’s lead negotiator, David Frost – now the ennobled Lord Frost – the Brexit press remains hell bent on confrontation.
‘Lord Frost, the man putting Brussels on the back foot’ was the headline over Patrick O’Flynn’s stirring words of praise for the ‘one negotiator capable of going toe to toe with the EU’s Michel Barnier and coming out ahead on points’. (20.2.2021)
Perhaps O’Flynn needed reminding that the roles have been reversed and that the legions of employers and employees whose jobs are on the line want to see the delivery of what was promised by the advocates of Brexit instead of renewed turmoil in UK-EU relations.