Why is Michael Fish lying about base-jumping, and why are people printing it?

The iconic weatherman, 68, famous for mis-calling the Great Storm, did not jump off a tower block.

You may have seen a "viral video" going around yesterday, showing veteran weatherman Michael Fish base-jumping to raise awareness of climate change. The Mirror reported it (Look, a flying Fish! Watch weatherman Michael Fish B.A.S.E jump for climate change awareness), as did the Express (WATCH: ICONIC WEATHERMAN MICHAEL FISH PARACHUTES OFF A BLOCK OF FLATS), while the Huffington Post even ran an op-ed from Michael (Why I Did a Base-Jump to Highlight Climate Change).

The only problem is he did no such thing. The video shows Michael Fish standing at the top of a tower; cuts to a distance-shot of a man jumping off the tower; and then cuts back to Michael Fish standing on the ground.

The stunt was arranged by "ethical clothing company" Rapanui, who confirmed that at no point did Fish actually jump from a tower; instead, it was a "qualified base-jumper" named Dan Witchalls.

The whole thing smells a bit funky. On the one hand, Rapanui were certainly off-base in sending out their press release, which states, in no uncertain terms:

Michael Fish MBE, the iconic British TV weatherman, has completed a B.A.S.E. jump from a London tower block to raise awareness of climate change.

Fish, who is 68 years old and, made the freefall jump from the rooftop, landing by parachute on the ground more than 200 feet below. Fish trained with experienced urban B.A.S.E jumpers prior to the jump.

On the other, while Rapanui have no technical obligation not to lie to the press to further their brand, the Mirror, Express and Huffington Post probably oughtn't to be uncritically reprinting false press releases. And Michael Fish certainly shouldn't be writing intense first-person accounts of an event which never actually happened:

We gained access in a way that might be, shall we say, frowned upon by the police. That, plus the fact that we had a little crosswind on our hands (I had forecast that earlier but nobody would listen, by the way) made for quite a tense atmosphere on the roof. I have to say, there was a part of me that wasn't quite so keen as I had been discussing the idea a month earlier when we last met. Nevertheless, when it came down to it, the training kicked in and it was all over very quickly.

Michael Fish, pretending to base-jump.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.