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David Attenborough: Brexiteers “probably don't understand” facts

The celebrated naturalist warned against the rise of nationalism. 

Brexiteers like Michael Gove who dismissed expert warnings "probably don't understand" the evidence and have reacted in a knee-jerk fashion, David Attenborough has said. 

In a video interview with Greenpeace's investigative and news platform, Unearthed, the 91-year-old broadcaster and naturalist compared Brexit to "spitting in each other's faces" and called the referendum "an abrogation of parliamentary democracy" because of a lack of facts. 

Recalling Brexiteer Michael Gove's claim that "people in this country have had enough of experts", Attenborough said: "That's a cry from somebody who doesn't understand what they're saying - that's what that means. 

"That's when someone has told them something which they don't like, and which they probably don't understand."

He added: "It's a knee-jerk kind of thing but it doesn't bear examination for a micro second."

He repeated his claim - first made in 2016 - that the government had subverted parliamentary democracy by leaving EU membership to be decided by a referendum. “The decision to call a referendum was an abrogation of parliamentary democracy in my view because we didn’t know the facts," he said. 

Attenborough acknowledged he wasn't an economist, but said: "Philosophically I would rather the people embrace one another than spat in one another’s face.”

The broadcaster also warned of the "alarming" rise of nationalism. 

Referring to the Paris climate change agreement, which the US plans to leave, he said: "The optimism about Paris was that here for the first time nations were getting together and doing something. That's internationalism.

"So anything that interferes with that is against what I wish was happening. We need more internationalism, not less."

Attenborough did not rule out meeting President Donald Trump, but said: "I would want to know on what basis we were talking and why it was that he wished to see me."

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Will the Brexit Cabinet talks end in a “three baskets” approach?

The joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. 

It's decision day in the Brexit talks. Again.

The Brexit inner Cabinet will meet to hammer out not its final position, but the shape of its negotiating position. The expected result: an agreement on an end state in which the United Kingdom agrees it will follow EU regulations as it were still a member, for example on aviation; will agree to follow EU objectives but go about them in its own way, for example on recycling, where the British government wants to do more on plastic and less on glass; and finally, in some areas, it will go its way completely, for instance on financial services. Or as it has come to be known in Whitehall, the "three baskets" approach.

For all the lengthy run-up, this bit isn't expected to be difficult: the joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. There are two difficulties: the first is that the EU27 won't play ball, and the second is that MPs will kick off when it emerges that their preferred basket is essentially empty.

The objections of the EU27 are perhaps somewhat overwritten. The demands of keeping the Irish border open, maintaining Europol and EU-wide defence operations means that in a large number of areas, a very close regulatory and political relationship is in everyone's interests. But everyone knows that in order for the Conservative government to actually sign the thing, there is going to have to be some divergence somewhere.

The bigger problem is what happens here at home when it turns out that the third basket - that is to say, full regulatory autonomy - is confined to fishing and the "industries of the future". The European Research Group may have a few more letters left to send yet.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.