Yesterday the European Parliament Conference of Presidents agreed that two Committees – INTA and AFET – would vote on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) this week, but that any decision as to when the plenary of the European Parliament would vote on it was deferred. The decision was tweeted by INTA Rapporteur Christophe Hansen here.

So what’s the obvious question?

What happens if the European Parliament does not vote on the TCA by the end of April?

Does Politico ask that in this story by Maïa de la Baume about the decision (that also quotes Hansen’s tweet, but doesn’t link to it)? No it doesn’t.

Why does that matter? Because Provisional Application of the TCA expires at the end of April (Politico doesn’t say that directly either, although it sort of alludes to it). And can that period be extended? Yes, if both the UK and the EU agree to that in the Partnership Council (the piece doesn’t say that either). So the options are: European Parliament does squeeze in a vote by the end of April, so the TCA is agreed. Or it doesn’t and the UK ends up with No Deal. Or the European Parliament requests that Maroš Šefčovič ask for a further extension of Provisional Application in the Partnership Council.

Or – put another way – Politico just regurgitating a Christophe Hansen tweet is not really adequate journalism. Politico cannot count on all its readers knowing that procedural stuff, yet without that understanding Hansen’s comment on its own makes no sense.

It’s not just Politico as well. It’s The Guardian too. Take Daniel Boffey’s piece about night trains to London.

What’s the obvious question?

Where would any such service do the security checks, and passport and customs controls?

This one ought to be pretty evident for anyone writing about Eurostar to ask… because anyone who has ever taken it has had to go through those controls, and they take place before boarding. But it does not even get a mention. And the chances of getting that issue fixed are extremely low, before you even come to the multitude of other problems that are so numerous I even made a diagram to explain them. Any piece about some rival to Eurostar, or some new Channel Tunnel service has to mention this issue – if not, the picture is at best incomplete.

Or instead take this vaccines piece by Boffey. All bar 1.2m-1.5m AstraZeneca doses at Halix in the Netherlands are due to be used in the EU, the piece says.

The obvious question?

How many doses are there at Halix?

Not answered, not even to say that the total number of doses there is unknown. A 7.5m/month figure is given, but there is no detail on when production at this rate was purported to have started, and indeed no evidence that this number is even right.

So why, perhaps you are wondering, does this matter? I’ve dissected these stories and can lay bare the deficiencies of de la Baume and Boffey’s pieces. But I can only do that because – when it comes to Brexit, railways, and vaccine supplies – I know enough to know what questions to ask. Ask me what the obvious question is about… opera, or nuclear physics, or Portuguese politics and I will not have the first idea. To understand those topics I would need decent journalists to have posed those questions for me.

And note, I am not even hoping de la Baume or Boffey would even have the answers. A line that “The total production at Halix is unknown” or “How European Sleeper would overcome the passport and security check hurdle is unclear” would at least, to adapt Donald Rumsfeld, help me know my known unknowns. These pieces are not fake news and are not biased – these omissions are not done out of any malice. But the quality of the journalism is simply poor.

What is the point of pieces like these if those writing them are not even able to pose the obvious questions?

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