Hoisted from E-Mail: Puzzling Out the UK’s Shambolic Approach to Brexit

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One element of Brexit that has me mystified is the lack of appreciation in the British government and what seems to be the overwhelming majority of the UK public of the enormous size of the task versus the un-seriousness with which the Government is approaching it. We’ve referred made comparisons from time to time between Brexit and the 2015 Greece-Troika bailout negotiations. One of the striking features was how Greece, which had been budget-starved for years and had cut government to the bone, was obviously struggling with basic mechanics of negotiation, like delivering documents that outlined negotiating positions.

The UK is not well-equipped to negotiate Brexit, to put it mildly, even before getting to the fact that it and the rest of the EU are very far apart on many key issues, the most glaring early topic being the Brexit bill. As we wrote last December:

The UK has not had to handle any meaningful trade talks in decades, so it has no one with relevant skills in house. To make matters worse, has severely hollowed out its Foreign Office, so it is even lacking in generalist negotiators. The difficulties in getting a team include: no one wants to accept government pay when they can make a multiple of that getting hired through a mercenary like an outside law or accounting firm; those firms tend to have siloed experts (usually by industry), making it hard to make tradeoff across issues and areas; the sort of negotiators that the Brits might be able to tease out of retirement or poach from Brussels are pro-EU and will not be philosophically aligned with UK objectives.

We’ve long thought the odds of a hard Brexit were uncomfortably high, since the Brits have been underestimating how much work has to be done, and kept refusing to accept the Continental position that no trade deal would be negotiated until departure terms were final. The EU has relented slightly and now says they will be willing to discuss trade if enough of the exit arrangements have been sorted out. But those include all the tough issues like the rights of migrants and the economic settlement.

Our dour view is now looking like a sound early call in light of the notorious Downing Street dinner, the details of which were leaked to the German press. Jean-Claude Juncker’s team (and frankly anyone who is not a diehard Leave booster) could clearly see what we’ve inferred from the press: May’s side hasn’t taken any of the many warnings the EU has been sending about their red lines as well as other issues that are important to the negotiations. It’s as if they’ve been sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “Nyah nyah nyah”.

The wee problem is that the EU has recognized that a “hard Brexit,” meaning a disorderly withdrawal, is a real possibility. Even though the EU would suffer, the UK would take a much worse hit.

Yet the UK side, astonishingly, not only seems to believe that the EU will capitulate rather than allow this to happen, it also seems not to appreciate that staking out positions when it lacks negotiating leverage means that companies that do business in the UK will start working overtime to reduce Brexit risk. The best way to do that is shift activities in the UK that serve Continental customers out of the UK. Financial services firms already started that sort of contingency planning the day after the Brexit vote. It’s not hard to imagine they are looking at taking more concrete steps, such as Lloyds of London planning to move 1/6 of its jobs to Brussels.

With this as background, I forwarded Richard Smith and our Clive, both of whom are in the UK, a copy of the day’s “Brexit Central,” a Brexit-cheerleading newsletter that I look at a few times a week because it does link to most Brexit stories, even while trying to take exception to the ones that adverse from the UK vantage. Recall that Clive voted for Leave.

I flagged two of its lead stories:

Theresa May is reportedly drawing up a “nuclear option” of immediately ending payments to the EU

On the site today my colleague Hugh Bennett examines the European Commission’s alarming negotiating directive that the European Court of Justice should have legal authority to enforce our exit agreement and then act as legal arbiter of EU citizens rights in the UK after Brexit. He argues this would be totally unacceptable.

My comment:

You gotta love the second item here. “What about ‘The UK is part of the EU until is isn’t’ don’t you understand?”

And on the first, the May threat = instant end of negotiations and hard Brexit. I would imagine an accelerated rush out of the City for any functions deemed vulnerable.

Clive’s response:

I don’t see any possible way Brexit will end in a compromise now. I’m amazed how bad relations have got and so fast. I suppose I shouldn’t be, given the numpties on May’s team (Boris Johnson gets all the headlines for his antics but David Davis is more of a liability because he’s ideologically obsessed with the EU as an Evil Empire; the EU may well be an Evil Empire but that doesn’t mean you should pick a fight with them at every available opportunity and can’t see past settling old scores). Perhaps May will use a thumping electoral mandate to clear house, but I don’t think there’s exactly a bench full of talent just waiting to step in.

What interests me more is why the UK as a whole is so nonchalant about the chaotic handling of Brexit while the EU (and the rest of the world) looks on aghast. There’s no angst in the streets and if you try to engage anyone in conversation about this, no-one I’ve talked to is remotely interested — even hardened Remoaners just shrug. You can’t blame it all on Daily Mail and Telegraph delusional thinking.

I don’t know if Richard would agree (and I’m not certain on this point so would need a second opinion) but I wonder if, culturally, it is because we don’t view “muddle through” as A Bad Thing but rather as a badge of honour? I recall working on an (ill-fated, of course) project which had a largely German team from the vendor’s side. We had the usual disorganised make-it-up-as-you-go-along mentality which caused utter incomprehension and bemusement. As we were the clients and they were the suppliers, they had little leverage which skewed how much say they had, but they made continuous attempts to instil more rigour and efficiency into the design and decision-making process. To no avail, I hasten to add. It was like trying to push the North Poles of two magnets together. The harder one side shoved, the more resistance was generated. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it, before or since.

In short, there’s more going on here than simple incompetence in government and right-wing media brainwashing. There’s a reason (probably several reasons) why “Brexit Briefing” (below) drops into hundreds or even thousands of mailboxes belonging to presumably reasonably intelligent people (it requires a level of intellectual capability over and above that needed to parse The National Enquirer) and isn’t met with howls of derision but rather – one supposes – nods of agreement.

Richard Smith’s reply:

I agree – reciprocal contempt is the worst imaginable starting point for negotiating anything, never mind a mutually satisfactory compromise….not that anyone in the UK has the faintest idea of what that might be, nearly a year after the vote. It will resemble the Greek negotiation in style and perhaps, purely as a negotation, in success.

I also agree with Clive that we have been a nation of bodgers for a long time, but most visibly ever since our Empire and its supporting Navy turned from a national asset into a liability, post WW1. For that long at least, pragmatism has been a necessity as much as a virtue, but it has always come easily to the non-Cartesian commonsense Brits anyway.

Drilling down a bit more, I think the nonchalance will be down to different things depending on the underlying mindset.

Brexiters simply don’t think there’s a problem, or at least, that, whatever the cost, it will be worth it to restore national sovereignty (libertarians and really old fashioned Tories) or get control of immigration (erm, neofascists and Corbynistas and the New Labour rump) or find better commercial opportunities away from Europe (libertarians) or detach ourselves from at least one neoliberal worker-impoverishing conspiracy (Corbynistas). This is a truly fucking peculiar coalition of the hithero-marginalized but it now appears to be completely dominant in Parliament, and just dominant enough in the country at large (with the exception of Scotland and maybe NI) to give us Brexit.

Remainers (liberals and neoliberals, whether Blairite Labour, Lib-Dem or Cameronite Tory) are still reeling from the shock and a bit cowed. 18 months ago this other coalition (socially liberal, identity politics, deregulatory, mixed-economy but with a small- or smallish-state mindset, internationalist, OK with the financialisation of the economy, offshoring, etc, American poodle, semi-detached from Europe but basically pro, genially corrupt) represented a cross-party consensus that had been dominant at least for 20 years, perhaps since the end of the Cold War, and arguably since Thatcher. Yet it was getting more and more hollowed out; pick your own milestones, but perhaps deregulation and GFC, post-GFC-non-tidyup, Osborneomics, serial Middle East interventions.

Most consequentially of all, it simply had nothing persuasive to say about the local consequences of the giant international wages-and-regs arb that is globalization. No-one ever actually said ‘deplorables’, but it turns out that our deplorables didn’t need the verbal hint. Action and inaction spoke loud enough.

Much of this was way overdue for rethink and reform of course, but it’s too late now. What now turns out to be under threat, and, bodge fashion, in advance of any coherent plan, could turn out to be a lot more:

– An international financial services industry that goes back 300 years (not necessarily a pretty part of the scenery, but one had imagined it well-entrenched by now).
– The UK in its current form (in its essentials, also 300 years old): Scotland and even N. Ireland; Gibraltar.
– A foreign policy tradition dating back to the Elizabethan era (don’t get the whole of Europe on your back at once).
– The basic aversion of the Conservative Party to authoritarian far right policy, at home. They have now outflanked UKIP from the right. This might look like a disaster for UKIP, but in reality it is a potential disaster for the Tories. I hope they unwind it ASAP but we will see.
– The very pragmatism that we think we embody. The whole Brexit thing looks much more like an outbreak of fanaticism than the judicious improvisation represented very well by our previous half-in-half-out Europosture.

Putting any of this at risk is not recognisably conservative or Conservative. It is more like a hapless response to a reactionary convulsion that, if it continues, could lead to the biggest political change in the UK since the Glorious Revolution, and, to some extent, would unwind some of it. It’s all a bit daunting in prospect and Brexit might be just the start.

Meanwhile no-one knows what Brexit even is. The stakes are dumbfounding, and for the Remainers there seems to be little prospect of a Macron-like figure to cluster around. Blair can see a Blair-shaped vacuum in just the right place, but no-one’s anywhere near desperate enough to go for that.

So yeah, Remainer shrugs too; they have no idea what to say.

Note finally, as we’ve also pointed out repeatedly, that none of the supposed benefits of Brexit are likely to be achieved. The UK is a small open economy. If it is to keep trading with the EU, and that is a major objective of the Tories, it will need to conform to EU standards, and yes, jurisdiction. When VW was caught out cheating on US emission standards and paid $14.7 billion in a 2016 civil settlement and agreed to pay an additional $4.3 billion in 2017 which included $2.8 billion in criminal fines. No one in Germany whinged about the US imposing US emission standards on VW’s cars. The EU standards that the UK will be able to escape are labor and environmental rules….which are more favorable to ordinary citizens than the ones the Tories are hoping to impose.

Similarly, as we stressed, there are more non-EU migrants to the UK than EU ones, so even if Brexit does restrict the movement of EU citizens to the UK, there’s no reason to think that their ranks won’t be filled by immigrants from other countries. Nor have we seen any plans how the Brexiteers would address critical shortages, like the fact that 10% of NHS doctors are from the EU.

In other words, there are plenty of causes for alarm, even to those of us who are watching Brexit at a remove. The fact that the Government still hasn’t saddled up in a serious way for this task is a bad omen indeed.

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  1. visitor

    Right after the brexit plebiscite, a controversy erupted about the exact implications of the vote: it does not give a clear mandate as to what kind of brexit should take place, there is nothing in the UK constitutional traditions that makes it an imperative choice, the Parliament should have the last say about whether to accept it as a decision, etc, etc.

    Since the tories, the lib-dems, the blairite Labour, the “elite”, the City and the economic leadership were remainers, I was absolutely convinced that the UK government, in cahoots with the EU, would pull up another trick to bypass the results (just like what happened with the multiple French, Dutch, Irish, Greek and Danish refusals of EU treaties).

    I was expecting for two years sham negotiations to take place, after which the UK government would come with a terrible deal and argue something like this:

    Here is the brexit conditions and the agreement regarding our relationship with the EU afterwards. We did out utmost best, but the EU is intransigent, and frankly even with a much more graceful negotiation partner, we would lose a lot anyway — as we told you during the brexit campaign.

    So here it is. We let you vote on the deal in a referendum, and you decide. If you accept it, you will have to accept the full consequences — there is no going back. But if you reject it, we remain in the EU as before and forget about the brexit.

    In other words, shiftily stage the negotiations to lead to an eventual remain — something I was absolutely sure the “perfidious Albion” could do.

    I am a bit wavering on it. I was always stunned by how much Cameron (and his ministers) were clueless, inept upper-class British worthy of a Monty Python sketch. The Government of Theresa May shows that the UK seems to have an inexhaustible supply of such inept, incompetent upper-class Tory politicians.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m late to the plot of UK politics, so I too had thought May might at least attempt to see if she could find a way to back out. But she wrapped herself very quickly in aggressive pro-Brexit sloganeering. She lashed herself to that mast very early on.

    2. Clive

      That might have worked but in Tory heartlands, sitting MPs would have been vulnerable to UKIP backlashes. May’s solved that problem with her cavalier but hardline approach to Brexit which appeals to this narrow segment of the electorate which doesn’t really need appealing to in the first place (the marginal conservative-held seats where this would make a difference are only numerous enough to make a difference between, say, a house majority of 40-50 as opposed to a majority of 20-30) will cause bigger problems in the long run as it virtually guarantees no Brexit deal whatsoever.

      So it is pure needless political greed which is driving this. I too despair of our political classes and their congenital selfishness and short-termism.

        1. paul

          Looking at the seats where ukip came second in 2015, 76 con/44 lab, so I’m wrong there.
          6 con/5 labour with a majority less than 20% of the vote.

    3. fajensen

      The Government of Theresa May shows that the UK seems to have an inexhaustible supply of such inept, incompetent upper-class Tory politicians.

      My pet theory is that the political party machinery specifically selects candidates for useless incompetence, perhaps with dash of corruption on top for enhanced controllability (And unselects competent, principled, people because they represent a potential risks to whoever pays the party controllers).

      The MP’s are per design simply moist robots run by remote handlers inside the party organisation and policy think-tanks with totally forgettable names. Which does explain why elections usually does not really change policy much and how it came be that politicians *really* *are* fully *as* stupid and deluded – if not even *more* so – as we kinda suspected, but to our horror sometimes see confirmed!

      Control broke down somehow, the politicians are running autonomously. Since they can’t think, we get not “politics” but games of chicken. They truly believe that they are doing a Wonderful Job and they will keep right at it, redoubling their efforts, cheered on by the Daily Mail.

      Politics is becoming refined towards a series of “Here, hold my beer”-moments, only with a bit more at stake than just being featured on LiveLeak.

      Interesting times! Maybe I should run!?

        1. efschumacher

          Puts me in mind of Mahatma Gandhi’s remark when asked the question:

          “What do you think of Western Civilization?”

          G: “It would be a good idea.”

          Just substitute the question:

          “What do you think of British Democracy?”.

        2. fajensen

          I think that the crapification and deliberate erosion of democracy is happening everywhere (in preparation for something?. The Strong Leader(tm) perhaps)? Maybe just neglect.

          The UK is just a bit further ahead on the downslope, but, the near un-accountability for the elected members of democratic governments (and the EU, and in business) will eventually drive away the decent people and tease out all of the very worst tendencies of the dregs that are left.

          We recently had Denmark running air-support for Jihaddis in Libya supported by unanimous vote in parliament, restoring the slave market, btw. This “humanitarian intervention” happening well after the Iraq fiasco became a fact. If there had been consequences , f.ex. Anders Fogh, prime minister getting us into Iraq based on fraudulent intelligence, or Tony Blair had been prosecuted over their war crimes or at least sacked in dishonour then we would not be in the present mess.

          We have a multi-year tax fraud running over several government of between 12 Billion DKK (the number they admit) and 100 Billion (the likely number) so far with zero consequences for anyone involved even though this smell of a massive control fraud.

          Every second IT system “we” buy is late, over budget, does not work in the end and have to be scrapped. Billions down the drain every time, even without counting the opportunity costs. The same vendors and the same people will get the next contract as a matter of cause. Zero fucks given.

          Finally we have the “maximisation of misery” in the immigration policies – which works like this: One group of pro-immigration-jihaddis will make sure to get as many well functioning immigrants kicked out to prove the unfairness of having an immigration policy, while the anti-immigration-jihaddis will make sure that the very worst criminal scum are never deported on “humanitarian grounds”, presumably to prove that all immigration is bad and humanitarian is a bad thing also.

          All this dysfunction is only possible because zero consequences will land on any of the participants and enablers.

          Eventually some scandinavian Vladimir Putin will come and promise to clean up the place in return for a few small favours, here and there. Which will be widely popular. So far nothing, but, the way is being prepared.

          1. Synoia

            Every second IT system “we” buy is late, over budget, does not work in the end and have to be scrapped. Billions down the drain every time, even without counting the opportunity costs. The same vendors and the same people will get the next contract as a matter of cause. Zero fucks given.

            That’s large IT projects, for all. Look at Obamacare’s IT mess.

            There is good money to be made in salvaging IT projects.

            This applies:

            Panic and hysteria,
            Hunt for the guilty,
            Punishment of the innocent, and
            Reward for the uninvolved.

            It also applies to Brexit. We are at (2) – I perceive.

      1. nobody

        Michael Hudson:

        I learned this when I was in my 20s. The Catholic Church was funding my early critique of American foreign aid as being imperialist. I asked whether they thought I should go into politics. They said, “No, you’d never make it”. And I said, “Why?” and they said, “Well, nobody has a police record or any other dirt on you.” I asked what they meant. They said, “Unless they have something over you to blackmail you with, you’re not going to be able to get campaign funding. Because they believe that you might do something surprising,” in other words, something they haven’t asked you to do. So basically throughout politics, on both sides of the spectrum, voters have candidates who are funded by backers who have enough over them that they can always blackmail.

        1. Synoia

          The three pillars of the UK society:

          The first son get the land and the house
          The second gets a commission in the Army
          The third enters the Church

          Please revisit you “Not Upper Class” remark. What matters are family connections.

          Sons who survive (2), retire into (3).

    4. Susan the other

      visitor: this is the best description of what seems to be happening. It is high level insincerity at its best. Between wanting to stay in the EU, but not wanting a nationalist revolution; wanting to maintain control of finance, but not wanting to conform to regulations, and etc, the UK is too conflicted to do anything but fake it. They know that threatening the EU with race-to-the-bottom neoliberal competition is a tad rude. They know that flat-out claiming that they won’t pay the exit bill is really picking a prolonged fight. And if they can’t get over these little problems then, voila!, they can’t leave the EU. And in the meantime there can be supreme court rulings, Parliamentary votes, referenda, general elections and free-wheeling on the side combined with bumbling incompetence – and eternal negotiations. It’s a work of art in progress.

  2. Chris G

    May’s “the people have spoken” stance outflanked UKIP, which is now part of the Tory mainstream. But that doesn’t explain the stunning post referendum impotence of Remainder forces in politics, finance and the media (though Scotland and N Ireland have strong wild cards to play), or the quiescence of the public who seem unaware of or unconcerned about the scale of the looming disaster. May’s election positioning as ‘strong safe mummy’ looks likely to keep us quiet – for a while.
    There’s a dreadful sense of powerlessness in the UK, which I’d trace to the failure of mass protests to stop Blair’s wars, and the impunity of the bankers. Good policy from the elite perspective to encourage us to take it out on welfare claimants and the foreigners among us.
    Disclosure: I voted Leave because we so seldom have a chance to kick the elite where it hurts. I never expected their cluelessness to be so starkly exposed.

    1. Clive

      Me too, it was my once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a fully paid-up official Deplorable. The snag is (and this was the flaw in my thinking and strategising), I had expected the political elite to be suitably chastened and set about clearing up the mess they’d made and learn the errors of their ways.

      Fat chance. Unfortunately the ones who have been left with the political equivalent of the Old Maid (the Conservatives) have decided the best solution is to double down! So bad though things were before, now they’re worse. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to Yves’ philosophy (broadly put, however far you think we’ve sunk, there’s always a lower rung on the ladder) which is being played out here at the moment.

      1. vlade

        The snag is (and this was the flaw in my thinking and strategising), I had expected the political elite to be suitably chastened and set about clearing up the mess they’d made and learn the errors of their ways.

        This was the reason why I, with gritted teeth, voted Remain.

      2. paul

        I have had moments of buyer’s remorse, but I think (largely because of the establishment wagon circling), the result would be the same if we had the referendum tomorrow.

    2. Gman

      Don’t feel so bad.

      Brexit was a watershed, not a panacea. A first faltering step, not a glorious destination.

      Ever thought there might be direct correlation between the prospering of our own increasingly lazy, corrupt, inept, clueless elites and what appears to be their increasing (built in?) obsolescence and our continued membership of the increasingly powerful, dominant supranational governance of EU?

      The UK’s bloated, self-serving polity, doubtless like many others in the European Union, was just getting flabby and without Brexit was only ever going to get even flabbier.

  3. Lambert Strether

    > the biggest political change in the UK since the Glorious Revolution

    A change in the Constitutional order…

    Adding, not that I’m competent at UK politics at all, but suppose the EU promised Scotland a sufficiently large sweetener, so Scotland held another referendum to leave the UK and join the EU (and the EU gets to deal the UK a nice kick in the ribs on the way out the door, besides messing up Trident, and weakening the UK strategically, i.e. North Sea control). Is that a plausible scenario if people decided to really play rough?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think it is certainly an option for the EU to try to stir things up by making an offer informally to Scotland, although I think its unlikely they could get the internal unanimity to do it (not least because of Spanish opposition to allowing small breakaway countries join up).

      The EU has already stated it would accept Northern Ireland within the EU if it came to an arrangement with Ireland. Its not impossible that Scotland could try to tag along with any such deal (it was described as following the DDR precedent, whereby East Germany joined the EU without going through any formalities). I suspect the EU won’t encourage this as it would be seen as far too aggressive, but it is a possibility. Right now, polls suggest support for independence is weakening in Scotland, mainly I suspect because of the fear and uncertainty factor. I think the Tories will rely on this to keep the UK together – they have been extremely hostile to the Edinburgh government through this whole process.

      1. paul

        The situation makes strange bedfellows:

        Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign minister, made it clear that the government would not block an independent Scotland’s EU hopes, although he stressed that Madrid would not welcome the disintegration of the UK.

        He also said Edinburgh would have to apply for membership, a process fraught with uncertainty that is likely to take several years. But asked directly whether Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, Dastis said: “No, we wouldn’t.

      2. vlade

        I’d say that Spain is now taking a much more pragmatic approaches, both to Scotland and to Gibraltar. With Scotland, the EU can argue that a part of the country that is leaving EU wishes to stay, and should be allowed to do so. With Catalonia, the situation is different.

        The fact that EU doesn’t talk much about the Scottish situation shows that EU is actually trying to play nice. Expect that to change if the UK starts playing stupid (as in even more than now, if i’s possible)

        1. bob

          “the EU can argue that a part of the country that is leaving EU wishes to stay, and should be allowed to do so.”

          How does the city fit into this calculus? I’ve suggested since the brexit vote that the city would try to find a way to remain.

          Maybe the city can apply for admission to the republic of Ireland as the least, last county?

          Part absurdity, part wild speculation. This whole mess is beyond belief.

          1. fajensen

            The City of London is legally and historically not really a part of England, it is a separate entity under the crown, much like the Channel Islands.

            If Germany and France were interested probably some way could be found for The City to Remain inside the EU. However, Frankfurt and Paris like to take The City’s business more.

            1. Synoia


              I do think this is not correct. The City is nothing like the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                There is a VERY long discussion of the City of London in Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure Islands. It is so old it is legally considered to exist from “time immemorial”. It is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Queen. She has to ask permission to go there. BTW Wikipedia’s statement re the City of London’s legal status are quite different than Shaxson.

                The wee problem with the City declaring independence is that aside from the Barbican, no one lives there. The rest of the UK controls its supply lines. It could make it illegal or punitively costly for anyone to enter the City, or tax people who got income from the City at prohibitive rates. Most banks have substantial infrastructure in the UK outside the City that the UK could also hold hostage.

                As you appear to recognize, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man are Crown dependencies and not part of the UK.

                1. vlade

                  Queen is irrelevant (well, sort of) in the UK constitutional order. The sovereignty is vested in the Parliament (if the Parliament wanted, it could remove even the remaining vestiges of Queens’s powers – it did so with the ability to dissolve the Parliament in 2011, and it can override any prerogative powers by legislation), and the Parliament’s laws most certainly apply to the City.

                  The City maintains its power/status because of effective lobbying, not because it would be above/outside the UK’s law. There’s a number of City of London Acts – for example http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/cityoflondonvariouspowershl.html which clearly show that Parliament is the sovereign, not the City.

                2. Synoia

                  It is so old it is legally considered to exist from “time immemorial”

                  Bit of a hyperbole that. We all know the Romans did it.
                  Veni, vidi, vici

                  If Caesar had not forgotten his iPhonium, we’d have pictures.

        2. Clive

          Alas such niceness doesn’t extend to Northern Ireland (sugessing, as the EU’s initial negotiations have mooted, that NI would be a “special case” allowed Enda Kenny to stir the pot and make a land grab by floating that a United Ireland could allow the province to re-join the EU by, no pun intended — okay, maybe a little pun was intended — the back door)

          This wasn’t just crassness by the EU — it was flagrant poking the UK government in the eye and playing with fire. The peace process in NI has hung together (with the help of a fair bit of tame media coverage — or non-coverage — of flare ups and explaining then away) just about but you’d hardly call it unshakeably embedded.

          That dreadful miscalculation by the EU — and the thinking behind it which it betrays — put the EU right back in my bad books again. Clearly they learned nothing from Ukraine, their NI meddling is an exact re-run of what the Commission got up to there and would likely end up with the same results if they continue to progress it.

          1. Steven

            As someone from NI (and not a republican) I have the exact opposite view. Enda Kenny has showed more consideration for NI and the peace process than Theresa May ever has. He made sure that we couldn’t be blackmailed with EU uncertainty like Scotland was during their referendum, and mollified republicans who are getting very edgy.
            A hard customers border will be a complete economic disaster to both Ireland and NI, and if manned by Police/Soldiers will re-ignite the troubles.

            1. Clive

              Yes, you’re right from that perspective (disclaimer: I don’t live in either the Republic nor NI but my grandfather was strongly republican his family having been basically ethnically cleansed from the south in the famine) and I didn’t cover this from the southern angle. Of course, what you say will have your typical unionists spitting feathers. Or worse, if incendiaries are readily to hand.

              And herein lies the problem. NI and the Republic works okay in the same basis that Sunday lunch with my mother in law works. Everything is fine so long as we don’t have to discuss religion or politics. But as soon as she starts on about safe pairs of hands or I can’t help but wade in about income inequality, everyone gets indigestion.

              1. Paul Greenwood

                ethnically cleansed from the south in the famine)

                Hyperbole……my great grandmother left Ireland for Northern England, so what !!! Being peasants depending on potatoes destroyed by blight imported from the USA was inferior to moving to boom towns like Glasgow or Liverpool or Bradford to find work

                1. Clive

                  This rubbish barely warrants dignifying with a response but all modern history shows you to be, being a lot nicer than you deserve, a complete nincompoop.

                  Nevertheless, I hope you never have to suffer starvation. Even though you apparently view it as nothing more than an annoyance akin to the common cold. Maybe you think too that the British government of the time laid on a beach club for emigrating Irish people when they landed at Ellis Island?

                  Your comment isn’t quite in the same league as Holocaust denial. But it is up there with it. If you don’t demonstrate to me that you’re in possession of at least one functioning brain cell, I will delete all your future comments on this post. I can do it in the time it takes me to eat a chocolate Hob Nob.

                  1. bob

                    Paul’s a good show. How often do you see the Royalist perspective these days?

                    He’s refreshingly vile with absolutely no pretense. We should all be grateful that he deigns to join us here. A true relic.

                    1. Clive

                      Unfortunately for Mr. Greenwood, submitting some interesting comments and even raising a few valid points don’t build up site credits which can then be redeemed against pure drivel. I gave him a fair chance to substantiate his counterfactual claims about the Irish famine by using links, quotes or other reputable material. He declined to do so. He could have just kept quiet, that would have been okay too. But no, he seemed to think he was auditioning for the Jerry Springer show and acted accordingly by picking stagey squabbles.

                      Making stuff up is against site policies. So there’ll be no more comments from him on this post.

          2. visitor

            So not only are UK ministers deluded and arrogant in their dealings regarding the brexit, but so are EU top officials too. All parameters are set for an optimal outcome…

            In a recent interview, Yannis Varoufakis warned that, from his experience, the EU will not negotiate and seek a proper arrangement with the UK. Rather, the EU will do everything to impose its views — even if a compromise would be better for all parties involved. Basically, the EU does not want any member to think it can get a better deal than its current situation within the EU. Hence, the EU will be wholly uncompromising and try all nasty tricks — even dangerous ones, as seems to be the case with NI and Gibraltar — to subdue recalcitrants.

            Are there any cold-headed, moderately competent British politicians with realistic views on the sidelines who could get into the fray and steer things away from a Titanic-like catastrophe? Or will it remain “full-speed ahead and damn the icebergs, we are unsinkable” with May&co?

            1. Michael W

              Well yes the EU won’t grant UK a better access to the SM or indeed in any other way let UK prosper from quitting. The not because they are intransigent – but because your mutually advantageous deal, is not really that. The EU like a state invests in its marginal areas lifting the common standard, prosperity and in the end promoting a wealthier populace (at least that is how they see it!). Now if they were to grant UK free access to this market UK would be free riding on these investments. The end result would be that other (especially larger) countries would split from the EU and the union would collapse – and how UK can maintain that EU should see this as a mutually beneficial deal quite escapes me.

            2. Susan the other

              but just considering the desperation not so much of Greece (bad enough) but of poor old Deutsche Bank, it looks nothing like the spat between the EU and the UK which is a centuries-long power struggle. And Varoufakis did just endorse Macron out of gratitude for the French Socialists’ position on Greek debt. Varoufakis is a good internationalist-socialist advising May who is a conservative who appreciates neoliberal tactics?

              1. Paul Greenwood

                What’s wrong with Deutsche ? It has China and Qatar as its major shareholders and a Frankfurt banking licence passported into London where they have just started building a new HQ

            3. ChrisPacific

              That’s Yannis V trying to spin history to make it look like none of the fault for the breakdown in Greece/EU talks was his. He isn’t entirely wrong, and his prediction may very well be accurate. But he always made the mistake of thinking too much like an economist and not enough like a politician. He just assumed that everyone concerned was a rational actor and that everyone would (or should) base their decision on what was best for the EU as a whole. But the EU is made up of a whole lot of big and small countries and communities within those countries, each having its own calculus regarding what makes a good deal for them. That led to some really important political questions (What’s important to my constituency? To what extent can I sell them on accepting something suboptimal in pursuit of a larger goal? What do I need to offer them in return?) as well as the process of aggregating all those individual answers and different viewpoints up into a tenable position that can withstand EU governance hurdles and make it to an agreement. And then do it all over again if terms change as an outcome of negotiations. Not only did YV place little or no importance on the answers to those questions, but I don’t think he ever even accepted that it was valid to ask them in the first place. Had he been more aware of the process and sympathetic to the domestic political needs of the EU, I think he could have accomplished a lot more.

              Having said that, UK officials are likely to be even worse than YV was in this regard, so we could very well see history repeat itself.

          3. vlade

            My understanding (remote, but partially confirmed by PlutoniumKun) is that the younger generation of Northern Irelanders doesnt’ give a toss about unionist vs. republican. And, if they can see that the life is better in the Republic, I suspect they will, if anything, become more republican.

            That doesn’t mean the old generation won’t resist, including going back to the “good old days” of bombing and attacks, but people who were in their 30s in the 1970s are now in their 70s, and while I don’t know, I suspect that the recruiting grounds for unionists are now much weaker in NI, especially amongst the younger generation who can likely blame their lack of jobs on the UK.

            1. Paul Greenwood

              Yes Protestants just love the idea of being under the Church of Rome in the Republic. Most Americans would be happy to live in Mexico too

          4. Synoia

            Once upon a time, in a distant land, I was having a pint with some mates, one of whom was Irish. After a couple of pints he began to discuss the behavior of the English towards the Irish.

            And the he turned to me as said “And all of this was done by the English.”

            Twas his round, and I was getting to the botton on my beer mug, and did not want to get into the argument, and forgo my next pint.

            Thus I agreed with him. It was the English that has done those things. And I added, “None of It Was Done By Me Personally.”

            And we moved onto the next pint….and remained friends for years.

      3. a different chris

        >to stir things up by making an offer informally to Scotland

        Yeah that would be as ill-thought out as Cameron’s Brexit referendum, and unlike that it would have a very high chance of succeeding. What does Scotland have that would be of any benefit to the EU? And I adore Scotland, but from a economic perspective they got nada. A step above Greece maybe after a few years of the Euro.

        They hate England, I got that, but it’s like the person who “escapes” a bad childhood home for a wife-beaters house.

      4. Jim A.

        Hmmm…probably makes sense for the EU to do that at the last minute when it becomes obvious just how bad Brexit will be and that no real deal to do much to ameliorate it is in the offing. That would give them the best negotiating leverage with the RDK (Rest of the Disunited Kingdom)

  4. Sean

    The real nuclear option is NATO – if the UK takes a minimalist approach quite a few European countries will have second thoughts & be more accommodating, especially Poland.

    1. Paul Greenwood

      Not really. Trump just raised US Defence Spending by $54 billion – that’s more than any European country spends in total. Only Russia and China spend more than that $54 bn INCREASE. US spends 40% Global Defence Spending

  5. bmeisen

    A helpful roundup. Recent reports finally pointed to the elephant in the room: how much will it cost the UK to get out? First 60, then, after the unpleasant dinner party, 100 billion was tossed around. These are contractual obligations after all. If I enter into a contractual agreement to use a fitness club, get frustrated for whatever reason and decide to leave, I typically can’t say goodbye and stop paying. It’s all in the fine print. While I haven’t seen the fine print on the EU contract I suggest that the UK has to keep paying until they’re out. Even if the authors of the contract failed to go into this kind of detail then it behooves the UK to maintain an honorable posture and pay up!

    Or take pensions. Should the EU cancel its pension obligations to former and soon-to-be-former employees who have UK citizenship? The obligations don’t amount to 100 billion but it’s a example of what’s involved.

    Criticism of the EU has usually ignored the real transfers that benefit members. Yes there is a democracy deficit, and the Euro, and yes the notion of EU civil servants maks me queasy, but there is reasonalbe funding and employment in addition to a sense of hope. The UK bullied the continentals for decades and enjoyed net benefits. If they do the dishonorable thing now then there may be hefty surcharges on Chunnel use. Of course the UK will be doing all the maintenance.

    1. a different chris

      >it behooves the UK to maintain an honorable posture

      Yeah I guess there is a first time for everything. Don’t hold your breath. What is funny is this is pennies compared to the kind of reparations they should pay India, etc.

      Rest of your post makes sense… actually, even the “pay up” makes sense, it just is hilariously unlike pretty much any state anywhere would behave.

    2. Paul Greenwood

      There is NO “contractual obligation” according to EU Lawyers. I think when you quit your fitness club you should pay for them to open 10 new ones because as W C Fields said…..

    3. Synoia

      These are contractual obligations after all.

      Not binding on the UK Sovereign (which includes the UK parliament).

      Look up the definition of Sovereign, and understand the applies to the UK.

  6. vlade

    Remainers shrug, because, as Richard says – there’s nothing that has or could be tried that worked. Now the only thing that will do is to actually experience it, and even there I’m sure that any disasters will be blamed on the evil EU.

    TBH, I believe that the majority of the population does not understand the implications (to be fair, working through them is nontrivial). I have met more than one blue collar person who actually really believed the 350m number, and similar even more blatant lies of the Leave campaign (such as that the EU immigrants cost the NHS 1 billion daily. Simple maths would show that it’s more than NHS’s budget, so it can’t be true).

    I’m not saying that majority of the population is stupid, but I’d say that they simply don’t have time to think about this, because – in a good case, they are just-about-managing.

    There’s not much (good or even neutral) that can be said about the UK politicians. One thing that can be said, and Richard alluded to it, is that the current UK government managed something that was English and later British policy to avoid at all costs – to unite the continental Europe against it.

    TBH, the roots of this were already in the UK not joining the EU precursor, and then only coming as latercomer which always meant to the UK EU was more Franco-German (in institutions, ideas etc.). But the blame for that is squarely on the UK.

    It’s paradoxical to me that two of the largest conservative figures of the UK politics in 20th century – Churchill and Thatcher understood that for the UK to go ahead it has to be part of the Europe. Because they could see that the Europe was uniting, and while the UK could play a great power with the Europe fragmented, it would be a bit player with the Europe united.

    So, the UK is, by its own actions, now in a situation where in a generation there may not be a UK anymore, but there may (I’m still dubious, but at least there’s still a reasonable if a very hard path) be a stronger EU then before. What an achievement!

    1. a different chris

      >I’m not saying that majority of the population is stupid, but I’d say that they simply don’t have time to think about this,

      You are right in the many details of your post, but this line is revealing. Sometimes thinking too deeply gets you tied in knots. As you say they aren’t stupid, and if a ship is sinking the best idea is to be the first in the lifeboat and take your chances from there. You don’t debate procedures and protocol, especially if you are not a sailor.

      I don’t know of course, but it is one explanation that rings fair to me.

    2. Paul Greenwood

      They did not join there EU because it was designed solely to allow German Rearmament in 1956 and keep the French happy. The withdrawal of 12 Divisions to fight in Korea left Germany vulnerable to the Red Army. The UK did not want to merge its coal and steel industry into the Schumann Plan because then it could not pursue its own economic policy nor could it re-arm.

      You really have to understand that Germany was a defeated nation having lost 50% territory and had just been given a 50% Debt haircut in 1953 London Conference. UK and USA were nuclear powers watching the USSR in Europe. France was a basket case destroyed at Dien Bien Phu and in Algeria. the 4th Republic founded 1946 collapsed in 1958 the year after The Treaty of Rome.

      It is perfectly clear why the UK did not join the EU – it would have been ridiculous to have Welsh mines and Scottish steel factories controlled from Strasbourg

  7. paul

    The basic aversion of the Conservative Party to authoritarian far right policy, at home.

    I think conversion/enthusiasm is what Richard meant.

    When polling questions start looking like this, you really have to wonder where things are going.

    Its taking a very ugly form in Scotland, the supposed blue tory resurgence (entirely cannibalised from the red tories) is a naked courting of the orange order in an attempt to ‘ulsterise’ scottish politics.

    Rather rich/completely depressing considering that their sole campaign policy was to signal a rejection of a ‘divisive’ independence referendum.

    It’s hardly surprising that there is such lack of appreciation of the consequences among the population. It’s not like there has been any serious discussion of the EU for decades. A bad faith referendum gave them an opportunity to kick the cat. I doubt expectations went much further than that.

    1. Clive

      I agree (and this dynamic is also present — a variation of it anyway — and even more pernicious in NI).

      I reckon on the current trajectory it is 80+% likely that in 10 or 20 years (or less — maybe a lot less) there won’t be a UK in the commonly understood sense that exists today.

      While the root cause of a breakup of the union (as in, the United Kingdom union) will be globalisation and its unmanaged impacts, it will be Brexit which history will probably view as the Colnel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe that did for it.

      1. Paul Greenwood

        If things don’t change rapidly I doubt there will be an island nation to the left of France in 5 years. The amount of war materiel being moved to Norway and Poland for provocation against Russia and the flight of F-35s near Kalingrad followed by a Spy Plane to monitor radar tracking of “stealth” aircraft is going to result in war within a short time frame. These aircraft fly from UK which will be on the receiving end of an RS-28 if Fallon keeps his mouth wide open.

        BreXit is a side-show. The world is already at war – US is probing both Russia and China. Israeli planes fire rockets at Syria from Israeli airspace because they know Russian radar sweeps Israel and Cyprus. The US is building a big radar in Qatar to sweep Russia.

        The preparations for war are well advanced. Talk to people who have seen the build up of British and US Special Forces in Lithuania. The creation of a new US airbase in Northern Syria; the offer of Iranian airbases to Russia. China’s new submarine hall to build four subs at a time.

        The EU is yet again self-absorbed and oblivious to the huge explosion which will emerge

  8. Chris G

    But why so little pushback from the interests that lurk behind the surface froth of politics? (**cough, deep state**). What do they expect to salvage from a postBrexit disaster zone?
    Silly question, I know. There’s always profit in someone else’s disaster.

    1. paul

      I think the beneficiaries of the current order are confident they will be shielded from any fallout, and that confidence is well founded.

      The rest can go get themselves buried.

      1. Clive

        Yeah, and I struggle to put this in a context which anyone outside the UK (like the US for example ) can get their heads around. It is like we’ve become, collectively and not exactly in unity, possessed by a sectarian fervour. A national psyche gripped by a sense of separateness and self-created uniqueness. A whole country acting like the Pilgrims, rightly seeing some evidence of bad treatment at the hands of a state but never stopping to wonder if that might be because they’ve lost the art of going along to get along. This tends to happen when you insist on following a dogma.

        The Pilgrims tend to be romanticised because in any rational analysis, individual outcomes were, statistically, poor. Anyone in their right mind would have stayed at home. Nevertheless, off they went. Were they right to do so? What would we have done in their position? Brexit feels to me like that sort of choice.

        Guess they’d better ask us again in a decade or so whether we still think we’re right to have voted Brexit… for me, even knowing what I know now, I’d do the same again tomorrow.

        1. vlade

          Of course, the Pilgrims almost died but for the goodwill of strangers, and the North America was economic backwater until about mid 19th century. I’m not sure there’s any goodwill of strangers the UK can rely on – as the UK worked really hard on making sure there isn’t any for at least the last 10 months.

          1. amousie

            I bet those strangers might have buyers’ regret and wish they could take it back. What would the world be like if the Europeans had been forced to stay home?

        2. Paul Greenwood

          You are mad of course. The Pilgrim Fathers were in PRISON in Boston Lincolnshire. The cells are still there. They joined Dutch boats to sail to Plymouth Rock. Why did Jews bother to leave The Pale and go to England and USA, they should simply have “gone along to get along” and stayed home.

          1. Synoia

            Yes, the Pilgrams were regarded as dangerous to the Realm.

            The English Civil War loomed at that time, Cromwell et al.

    2. paul

      …and if they are unhappy, all policy decisions will be framed as a response to brexit (just as ‘the deficit’ used to) which after all “You voted for”.

      May’s hands are tied by the will of the people, leaving only the axe within reach.

    3. fajensen

      There are probably many competing factions within the elite / deep state tribal order. Probably also up-and-coming people who knows that for them to get UP, their boss first gets uplifted or their boss gets removed or they move across to the competition. Both are feeling stress, needs to upset The Order of Things.

      If there is stability for too long, and not much growth, opportunities dry up. Worse in the digital age because with total informational awareness almost everything is predictable and then can be pre-empted by the bosses.

      If someone wants to create a break and move, they will have to push the system envelope so far and so fast that the controls break and they get “escape velocity” – what happened with the Internet, it took, what, 20 years to subsume those people and organisations back into “The System”.

      I think that “breaking control” is what they are trying to do. The “figure out what to do later” comes Later.

  9. Maff

    So now I am a ‘neofascist’ for opposing mass immigration? Gee-I-see-your-argument-and-change-my-position, NOT.

    1. Expat

      I don’t know the people and politics in the UK very well any more, but I am familiar with the French and the Front National. Here in France “immigration control”, “closed borders”, “nationalism”, and “France first” all mean something very specific to those on the right wing:racism against Arabs, muslims, and Jews. Marine Le Pen can put on lipstick but she is still her father’s daughter. Her supporters would gleefully fill trains again, this time with all those I just listed.
      Change your argument or not. Whatever. I am glad we got the establishment arch-criminal instead of Le Pen. I prefer my money being stolen than my children beaten.

    2. Clive

      That isn’t what was said and you know it.

      Elements of the Brexit campaign cynically played on the mass immigration Poles-and-Latvians-under-the-bed scare stories especially in agriculture-dominated counties where migrant workers were recruited for seasonal work. No-one in the UKIP-ish end of the Brexit campaign bothered to examine who was doing the recruitment and what the economics of it were — and why agribusiness and the business model which it has developed got not just a foothold but became the dominant one in the industry.

      You may call it what you like but when I see a situation involving non-nationals which is used in a political campaign by a group of political actors that either deliberately misstates the fact-set or else doesn’t do anything other than the most superficial correlation-equals-causation explaining, neofascist is a label I’m quite happy to stick on this facet and the people who proffer it.

      1. Paul Greenwood

        Come on, go to Boston in Lincolnshire and see the mess – the illegal stills in lock-ups. The murder rate. Go to Peterborough where they were killing sedans and cooking them and there are shanty camps along the riverside. Go to Kodak in Mansfield where they fired the Uk workforce and replaced them with cheaper Polish labour. Go to Slough where there are garden huts loaded up with East Europeans because rents are way beyond their earnings.

        It is scandalous that there are day labourers on street corners in London waiting to be picked up for a day’s work on a building site because they undercut British workers, pay no tax or NIC and are not insured. The Olympic stadium was built with such labour.

  10. PlutoniumKun

    Just a quick few thoughts here here as I’m going out the door and won’t be online for the rest of the day:

    1. I would not underestimate the terrible damage caused to the British civil service in the years from Thatcher, through Blair, to the current lot. The British Civil Service was once a formidable machine. But a combination of a lowering of standards and morale as salaries dropped behind other sectors (in particular, finance and banking), privatisation of functions, constant ideological attacks, and the adoption of a ‘cabinet’ form of government whereby policy was made on the hoof by two or three relevant politicians with the PM has severely degraded the ability of the Civil Service to respond to an emergency. It has neither the quantity, or the calibre, of people to do the negotiations. Ironically, you’ll often find small peripheral EU countries will have far better negotiators, because in those countries the civil services attract the brightest and best.

    2. The UK is suffering from always having seen the EU as the ‘other’. Most politicians saw Washington as something to aspire to, not Brussels. As a result, senior politicians and others just don’t have the personal connections with Brussels and so lack a sort of empathy for their view. They never even cultivated it – I’ve heard anecdotally that UK citizens who work in and around the Brussels Bureaucracy complain constantly that their experience is not valued if they seek work in either the public or private sectors back in Britain. The only exception is in the agriculture sector, which isn’t particularly influential in London. I personally know at least one very senior and experienced Brussels operator, a UK citizen, who retired his post last year and informally offered his services to London and was rebuffed. He is now on a contract working on Brexit for the EU itself.

    3. Blame the press and education system. When I first worked as a graduate in the UK I was surprised at how little my colleagues knew about how Europe worked, even when discussing and implementing various Directives. When I went to school and college in Ireland understanding the EU was given as much time as understanding our own government and legal system, in whatever course I had to be doing. Newspapers were constantly writing about the EU, with dedicated Brussels correspondents (and that was a plum post, which attracted the highest quality journalists). The average Irish farmer could discuss the intricacies of CAP negotiations as well as they could discuss the price of beef. I found nothing similar in the UK, even with people who worked directly or indirectly in sectors very intertwined with EU law and policy. The UK press of course, including the ‘quality’ press was often laughably bad. The fact that Boris Johnson was once a Brussels correspondent says everything. I am pretty sure the average Brit could tell you far more about how the US government works than the EU.

    4. The British political system seems to have degraded to the point where it promotes only mediocrities. I find it hard to think of more than 3 or 4 senior politicians from any party who would be capable enough to put in charge of a small business or NGO. Is there one single senior Tory who you would trust in charge of a small business? Labour and the Lib Dems are hardly much better.

    1. Expat

      Agree. Britain has always seen the continent as the Enemy and has been a lukewarm EU member at best.

      The EU has also done a bad job at self-promotion across all of Europe, but perhaps particularly in Britain as a result of British political resistance and the EU not wanting to raise their hackles.

      1. Paul Greenwood

        I disagree about UK being lukewarm. Lord Cockfield as Commissioner was responsible for The Single Market. The UK designed many of the policies. Without the UK the EU would have seen Germany and Northern Europe railroaded by Club Med headed by France.

        I tire of this Self-Pitying British tripe that “we are so unworthy”

    2. visitor

      I would not underestimate the terrible damage caused to the British civil service in the years from Thatcher, through Blair, to the current lot.

      There have been some studies about what happened to the British civil service since Thatcher. The figures are impressive:

      1979: 733’200 civil servants
      1988: 579’000
      2013: 400’000

      Of course, the impact was felt not just in the Foreign Office, but you do not get rid of 45% of your entire personnel without losing quite a lot of individual skills and institutional know-how as well.

      I have not read it, but apparently the study on the last three decades of the British civil service is this one:

      Christopher Hood et Ruth Dixon: A Government that Worked Better and Cost Less ? Evaluating Three Decades of Reform and Change in UK Central Government, Oxford University Press, 2015.

      1. Paul Greenwood

        You cannot use those figures as they include Industrial Civil Servants in entities which were privatised. Others were transferred to Agencies. I agree entirely with your sentiment but dispute your figures. Aldermaston is now administered by Lockheed Martin rather than the UK Government; whole areas of Civil Service activity are now outsourced

    3. Anonymous2

      For me, the central UK problem is the press (a view shared by Vince Cable at the Leveson lecture late last year ). They have lied systematically to their readers about the EU for decades, demonising it (and yes I know it has plenty of faults but it is nowhere near as bad as the UK press represent it). Ironically it started in the late 1980s when Boris Johnson, having been sacked for lying by the London Times, went to Brussels to work for the Telegraph. He found that the news stories coming out of the Brussels machinery were pretty dull so he started distorting them or even inventing his own stories presenting the Commission etc as incompetent idiots. All very amusing for his readers but not objective reporting.

      I reckon media moguls like Murdoch saw an opportunity to weaken the UK attachment to the EU by ridiculing it and reporting only its failures but none of its successes. They view the EU as an alternative source of power and therefore a threat to their control of the UK political system, which is largely run by the newspaper barons, a large proportion of whom live outside the UK anyway (Murdoch, Barclay brothers – Rothermere is a non-dom) and therefore are not much exposed to problems in the UK anyway.

      I think the power of the press is largely responsible for the poor quality of UK politicians. What intelligent person wanting to do something worthwhile with their life is going to want to spend it climbing the greasy pole only to find at the end they have to follow the instructions of the press barons?

      The last UK prime minister to stand up to Murdoch was Major – the press made his life a misery.

      All pretty bleak really unless May uses a landslide to try to reassert HMG power over that of the press barons. She will have a monumental fight on her hands if she does, though.

  11. Ed

    Brexit is the shot in the arm the UK needs and the harder it goes the stronger they will be in the long run.

    Germany is about due to go postal here in another decade so there isn’t much time to prepare.

    1. Clive


      Help me.

      Mutually assured destruction (or if not destruction, that might be putting it a bit strongly, maybe mutually assured inconvenience) is not a route to universal happiness and progress.

      History is replete with nations and even whole regions who achieved stability and good outcomes for their populations only to chuck it all away. Who was right and who was wrong don’t matter too much if you wake up one day and suddenly realise you have a lot less than you started with and no viable means of getting it back again.

    2. paul

      It is not, this shot in the arm is closer to the injections arkansas is rushing through.

      We’ve had domestic policies for the last thirty years to make us ‘stronger’.
      That particular long run has left us so strong we supposedly can’t afford a health service or build a power station anymore.
      The EU,while facilitating this process in many ways, is hardly the primary cause of our problems. It was a convenient misdirection for neoliberalism,not much more.

    3. vlade

      And, bar the rhetoric and wishful thinking, the evidence for your conclusion is?

  12. Harry

    Its just not true that the British government has been blithely ignoring the threat/chalkenge that Brexit poses.

    If you think that the British government is the elected politicians then i can see how you might think that. If however you think it is the home civil service then alarms have been sounded repeatedly.

    Retired cabinet secretaries are meant to be seen and not heard. Gus O’Donnell had no problem speaking up on this. Indeed we have even had sitting officials resigning their positions. This represents the loudest warning they can give.

    It’s obvious that the political tail is wagging the policy dog in the UK. Those who have chosen to not listen are in some cases stupid, and in other cases conflicted. But they were definitely warned.

  13. Paul Greenwood

    Did you read Frankfurter Allgemeine the other day ? You should have, the page was in English ! Why ? Well the FAZ printed a story about Juncker and May leaked by Selmayr – in German. It caused quite a stir, especially in Berlin. The UK knew about it because GCHQ would have provided transcripts of Juncker’s phone calls to Merkel.

    Anyway, FAZ printed an apologia as a restatement of facts re-ordered which is the best you will get in Germany by way of apology (they don’t like to usually). Then Juncker in Bonn gave a very conciliatory address without admitting liability. They do not want this friction. It is something Merkel abhors. She does not like public discussion and prefers hugger-mugger conversations as May suggested.

    I think this is a work-in-progress. I have no doubt there will be an agreement and it will be transitional – probably a Flexcit or a DCFTA arrangement. Once May has her majority – say 170 (bigger than Thatcher) she cannot be held hostage by Backbenchers like Major was. There will be bilaterals in Brussels and things will wait for Merkel to be re-elected.

    This row was very useful. It has shown how quickly they have rowed back from conflict. Germany knows how dangerous the UK can be and what a good ally it has been against France for Germany inside the EU.



  14. Alex Morfesis

    Probably talking out of turn, but is it possible there is an expectation mutti and dr Strangelove will not be in power september 25th ??

    The spd has specifically exclaimed no more grand coalition…mind you I get a migraine half way thru trying to calculate this webster/$ainte Lague bunk of keeping people in power…ok ok…democratically distribute bunde$ $eat$…

    Hard to see the csu agreeing to a coalition with the green party or left/de linke party…

    Macron fumbling after the june elections might cause some odd changes in mindset…and with the extreme limited chance of dijsselbloem returning since his party was basically “pasoked” in the netherlands…

    Like the saying goes, when in a crowd running fastest from a bear does have its logic…

  15. George Phillies

    Some readers who think that the UK has only had these issues recently may find it of interest as Summer reading to peruse Corelli Barnett’s Pride and Fall volumes, in which issues are seen to have begun in the Victorian period.

    Having said that, the UK may have concluded from the escalation of EU demands (60->100 bn pounds) that the EU actually has no interest in serious negotiation, in which case there is no rationale for the UK trying to negotiate. The Juncker quotations are somewhat imprecise as to where he thought the UK was going astray. ‘Believing it was allowed to do anything other than agree immediately with my demands’ comes to mind.

    1. Anonymous2

      I rather imagine the EU sees negotiations between it and the UK as similar to negotiations between the US and other much smaller economies which, as far as I understand it, amount pretty much to ‘here’s where you sign’.

      We are not talking about negotiations between equals here.

      1. Synoia

        In any negotiation where one cannot walk away, the result will be an imposition of difficult terms.

        Even if May has remain thoughts, uttering them would do her personally immense harm.

        It has to proceed in this way. See “walk away” in the first sentence.

        And I do not support the view that the British Civil Service is not working hard on the matter. I personally know the Government has some of the best minds in the Civil Service working on the details.

        1. Anonymous2

          I am sure you are right that the Government has some of the best minds in the Civil Service working on Brexit. The problem (and I have this on very senior authority) is that the Civil Service has nowhere near the range of top talent that it had, say, forty years ago.

          The Civil Service also are strongly of the view that Brexit is a major mistake, so it will be very difficult for them to motivate themselves to deliver any outcome except one which ensures the UK’s return to the EU as soon as possible. The same is true of the academic elite who might have been called on in other circumstances.

          1. Synoia

            Civil Service has nowhere near the range of top talent that it had, say, forty years ago.

            That may be true, but 40 years ago the UK Government had its fingers in many more pies, and I don’t know how one would measure “range of top talent” without actually naming the areas, and comparing individual skills.

            There is this generational behavior to assert my generation of long ago was much (insert words here) that the youngsters of today.

            Forgetting that 40 years ago the speaker was a youngster and probably much more in awe of their elders then.

  16. Pinhead

    Are the many commentators not missing the main point?

    Mrs May is a superb politician for whom economic consequences are of secondary importance. She said quite clearly “no deal is better than a bad deal”. In other words she has no intention of accepting any deal the EU can plausibly offer. .

    Brexit is going be hard. That will be a problem for Britain but not for Mrs May or the Tories. Labour and the Remainers are not about to unite. Neither, alone, seems capable of offering a serious political threat to Mrs May in any foreseeable future.

  17. RBHoughton

    We have a form of technology called the blockchain that provides a route for UK to leap out of its ritual hari kari into world leadership again.

    A young Canadian lad has applied it to create the code for operating any sort of market – stocks, metals, grains – and others are exploring its many fields of application.

    Its most attractive feature is moving democracy on from its present corrupt representative model into a new form of direct relationships between citizens. Now if Mrs May’s inactivity is due to her intention to pull that out of the hat with a flourish and a smile and dazzle the entire world, I shall applaud.

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