The fog of war has descended. It is customary, indeed a pre-requisite, that before great battles commence there is no limit to intentionally circulating misinformation of what one force or another intends to do.
Deception can take the shape of an error not meant to break the surface. One such was Operation Mincemeat, where before the invasion of Sicily both Churchill and Eisenhower approved the use of a dead London tramp’s body to play the role of a Royal Marine carrying sensitive documents that were of course false. Washed up on the Spanish shore the secrets carried by “The Man who never was” had the effect of directing Axis troop deployments to Greece and Sardinia but crucially not Sicily. That Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond but back then working for naval military intelligence, had a hand in the ruse has since given the escapade its own notoriety.
Alternatively intentionally revealing plans that apparently cannot be hidden but are in reality feints on a grand scale to throw opponents off might be deployed. One such example was Operation Fortitude’s phantom armies (headquartered at Edinburgh Castle and the South of England) designed to convince Nazi Germany’s High Command that the Normandy landings were themselves only a diversionary tactic.
These deceptions are not just deployed during war but happen regularly in commerce, such as announcing the end of a particular brand or recipe for a brand so that the kickback from distressed loyal customers creates a higher media profile that raises sales. The proposed changes are then withdrawn in response to “customer demand” and all is well with the world.
Throughout life we are met with deceptions that are meant to distract us from a larger event or simply manage our expectations. It is the stuff of pulp fiction in romance, crime thrillers and political tussles. That it should happen now during the preparations of the UK’s expected exit from the European Union should be a surprise to no one – but many shall be fooled.
Will there be some disruption brought about by the changes known and unknown? Of course, just as there was when decimalisation changed the way we counted our money and weighed our goods – or when we entered the European Economic Community. There were some who sought to exploit each change for their own benefit by raising prices under the guise of greater costs or changes in supply. So we can expect some disruption and we can expect some among us to seek to take advantage from it, be it commercial or political – but their motives in most cases will be blindingly obvious.
So this past week we have had much manufactured fog descend upon us to confuse us and deceive us as Brexit approaches. Some authors of this false fog wish to create fake news to scare a nervous public into the remainer camp. Some, such as the incredulous worst case scenario “Yellowhammer” report that appeared in the Sunday papers has all the look of an attempt to manage expectations by exaggerating what impact “No Deal” will have.
There is no need for a hard border between Ireland and the UK. Thanks to the use of existing customs practice we will have no need of it, the Irish have said they will not erect one – so it will be for the EU to impose one. Let us see who’s been lying to the public, fomenting division and heightening tension.
As I have said in this column before, Keep Calm and Carry On, Brexit is coming deal or no deal.
As examples of the fog of war go, any talk of a government of “national unity” is a real pea-souper. How could it be unifying? It would seek to stop the Prime Minister respecting the outcome (in case you had forgotten) of the greatest democratic event in our history. It would mean a cabinet composed entirely of remain-supporting MPs, for how could any leave support in all conscience be part of it? It would mean government by parliament rather than an executive scrutinised and held to account by parliament – so who would scrutinise and hold parliament to account?
The majority of the British people would have their wish torpedoed by politicians, the vast majority of whom were elected promising to honour the referendum and deliver Brexit. There would be no national unity, there would be greater division than we even know today with democracy tossed on a bonfire of broken promises and political self-interest. Any election that followed would no longer be about parties or even policies but about the new divide of the people versus parliament. A government of National Unity is so oxymoronic as to be decidedly and repulsively Orwellian.
Jeremy Corbyn tried to take advantage of this political disarray in Westminster by offering himself up as the potential caretaker prime minister but so transparent was this tactic that it dissolved on launch. Maybe one day it will be made into a film entitled “The prime minister who never was”. The illiberal undemocratic leader Jo Swinson offered up Labour’s Harriet Harman and Conservative Ken Clarke as alternatives – and they obliged by preening themselves before the media – but they too are being met with derision.
Clarke might at least attract some of the necessary Conservative support – but really? His role as former Deputy-Chairman of British American Tobacco led George Monbiot to argue he was unfit for office? The Chancellor who wanted to increase VAT on fuel, but when defeated raised the tax on whisky – and the health minister with a record of abusing workers rights second to none. Would Labour and nationalist MPs swallow that?
Clarke’s proposed anointment did cause me to wonder if, having backed anyone but Boris for the premiership, Ruth Davidson would give her full backing to Clarke rather than face “No Deal”? Is she with Boris – or cuddling up to Ken?
Most bizarrely the Green MP Caroline Lucas, following a spasm of misandry, suggested only an all women Cabinet could prevent Brexit.
All of this assumes a no-confidence motion in the new prime minister winning the day – which is by no means certain.
There shall be much more of this fog to come before it clears and we can see what was truth and what was fake. Fortunately hubris is a great leveller in politics – and many a reputation is about to be redefined.
• Brian Monteith MEP is Chief Whip of the Brexit Party