UK Leaders Starting to Crack as Brexit Realities Finally Sink In

An unseemly leak out of a six-person dinner that included UK prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has shaken more insider accounts loose. They give a chilling picture of a dispirited Government, trudging reluctantly towards a future the ministers (save the deluded opportunists like Boris Johnson) know they will regret. The reality that the UK lacks the time and the operational capacity to manage a Brexit, even if that had been a good idea in the first place, has finally sunk in.

The dinner leak, a nasy bit of work given that May had been promised secrecy, wound up, as a similarly detailed account of the last May-Juncker et al dinner had, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This report, written from Jean-Claude Juncker’s perspective and widely assumed to be the handiwork of his chief of staff, Martin Selymer, was seen as so potentially damaging to May that Angela Merkel was outraged. It wasn’t just that May was depicted as desperate, effectively begging her EU counterparts to get her out of her political fix. It was also that the story presented as emotionally and physically exhausted, “despondent and discouraged.”

A short but important piece by Rachel Sylvester at The Times provides more vignettes of the rising desperation and paralysis among officials involved with Brexit. I can’t recall reading anything remotely like this:

Those who have seen Mrs May privately in recent weeks describe her as stricken and stunned. On one occasion she sat in silence for almost ten minutes while the visitor she had invited to see her waited for her to lead the conversation. He left the meeting deciding she no longer wanted to be prime minister.

Sylvester’s overview:

Across Whitehall, ministers are holding their red boxes with one hand, and their noses with the other, as they see the biggest change of their lifetime unfolding on their watch, even though this is a revolution they do not believe in. No wonder the government seems so anxious and uncomfortable. “We are trapped in a box,” admits one minister. “Parliament feels frozen by the referendum but people voted for a fantasy we can’t deliver. They can only have Brexit if they’re prepared to suffer the pain.” It is an extraordinary situation. In the past, ministers have resigned from the government in principle over much less. This is not so much a constitutional mess as an ethical one, with ambiguity on all sides.

She cuts Corbyn no slack, pointing out that he has railed against the EU as a capitalist oppressor, yet is now trying to hold the future at bay via a transition.

David Davis apparently lacks the intelligence to recognize the absurdities that he espouses, and so is not yet as ground down as May is. He was savaged this week for telling Parliament that it would not be able to vote on a Brexit deal (charitably assuming there is one) and forced to retreat. From the Telegraph:

David Davis is under mounting pressure after he was forced into a climbdown for saying that Parliament may be denied a vote on a final trade deal before Brexit…

An hour later Theresa May contradicted Mr Davis at Prime Minister’s Questions, telling MPs she was “confident” they would get a vote before Britain left the EU…

One Tory minister told The Telegraph that Mr Davis has ” mentally checked out” and “doesn’t seem to care” amid claims that he could stand down after delivering Brexit in 2019.

The wee problem is that Davis is correct. A vote on Brexit is a mere courtesy. Parliament gave the Government unqualified authority to trigger Article 50 and voted down an amendment that would have required approval of a final Brexit deal.1As has been made crystal clear, the UK is out of the EU, Brexit deal or no Brexit deal, Parliamentary vote or not, in March 2019 unless the EU is nice enough to work out a transition deal.

The UK is so incapable of doing that that Michel Barnier has made clear his side is going to sort that out. This approach again cuts the cards in the EU’s favor. An old saying in negotiations is “He who controls the documents controls the deal.” Whatever the EU’s proposal for a transition deal is, that becomes the template from which the UK will try to negotiate better terms. Good luck with that.

However, the Parliamentary approval contretemps appears to have diverted attention from vastly more alarming parts of Davis’ testimony. Key sections of a must-read post by Ian Dunt (hat tip Richard Smith):

A substantial section of the British political class, from journalists to think tank bosses to politicians, seems to feel a frisson of manly excitement at the prospect of no-deal…

It soon became clear that when the Brexit secretary says no-deal, he actually means that there would be no trade deal. This would indeed be catastrophic for Britain, cutting it off from its largest trading partner. But it’s only half the story.

With no agreement in place, Britain would also lose the ability to manage nuclear materials or aviation in the manner it does now, along with countless other legal and regulatory relationships which currently operate under the umbrella of EU membership. This scenario, though, was “so improbable it’s off the scale”, the Brexit secretary said. This means that when Davis says ‘no-deal’, he actually means ‘a deal’, just one that excludes the future trading relationship…

The Brexit secretary insisted there were “contingency plans” for what to do with customs…

We can only hope he’s right. A recent Institute for Government report found civil servants had a “patchy” understanding of the customs process and needed to be massively levelled up in a huge cross-departmental project if they were going to be able to deal with the ramification of leaving the EU.

Dunt gave a high-level recap of a problem that we were early to flag as disastrous. The Customs Office has a massive systems upgrade due to be completed a mere two months before Brexit. Given the history of large IT projects, it is almost certain not to be done on time, even before taking into account reports that it looks wobbly. Even if this revamp comes off swimmingly, it will be able to handle less than half the volume of post-Brexit Customs declarations.

As Dunt continued:

But this is only half the story of being able to deliver on a no-deal threat…it presents the UK government with an unsolvable logical puzzle: You don’t know what you need to do until it’s too late to do it. If there is a trade deal on tariffs but not country-of-origin, that entails one arrangement. If there are special measures on agricultural products, that is another. If there is some sort of deal on single market access, that’s another. There are countless options. And the only way to know which one you need is to complete the talks. But if you wait until you complete the talks, you can’t prepare for a no-deal outcome…

And once no-deal was activated, what happens then? Davis was asked today about the 57 impact assessments into the effect of Brexit which the government is trying to keep secret…

Because the government is so intent on keeping these reports secret, this was one of the most accidentally informative things Davis could have said. After all, his views on the pointlessness of assessing future trade sit rather uncomfortably with the fact he actually commissioned those reports….

Take those three points together: In just over an hour, Davis conceded that leaving without a whole range of technical agreements was “off the scale” improbable. He had no answer for the logical conundrum of customs planning. And he hinted that the government’s own research into what it would entail is extremely bleak.

As smart as Dunt is, he used this to reach what I see as the wrong conclusion: that “no-deal” even it means only no trade deal, is a bluff and therefore wont’happen.

But in fact, even though it is playing out over months and years, Brexit is a tightly coupled system. The hard 2019 deadline and the lack of any way to stop it, and the extraordinary complexity of achieving any deal, be it an exit or a transition agreement (no one is discussing the only viable option, a standstill) means there will be no deal. It would be impossible absent war-level mobilization on the UK side, and nothing even remotely like that is happening. And that’s before you get to all the other impediments: the hollowed-out, unprofessional Foreign Office, the lack of serious engagement with the issues on the UK side, the self-inflicted wound of the snap election, the legacy of ill will created by the UK towards the EU badly distorting domestic dynamics and not inclining the EU to cut the UK any breaks…the list goes on.

Despite the apparent luxury of time, the Brexit process is moving forward, automatically, with no mechanism for halting the process. It is a slow-motion version of a meltdown of a nuclear core.

And May’s haunted look makes perfect sense. She is in the same position as one of the generals, whether French or German, who led an army against Russia too close to the winter and was trapped by having gone too far into enemy territory to retreat but not far enough in time to win. The distance, the terrain, the lack of adequate clothing, the inability to live off the land, in both those forays turned what was expected to be a glorious victory into a disastrous defeat. Even the soldiers who made it back were reduced to autonomotons, so depleted that mustering the energy to put one foot in front of the other in the debilitating cold was a form of heroism.Those who had enough strength left to think ahead knew even if they made it home, that their country had suffered a humiliating, devastating defeat on their watch and nothing would be the same.

1 With the benefit of hindsight, giving the Government unqualified latitude to proceed with Brexit was an even bigger mistake than the row above suggests. It is conceivable that requiring Parliamentary approval could have been used as a back door way to get Brexit negotiating leverage. Here is the opening text of Article 50:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.

The legal argument would be that the notification that the Government provided was constitutionally defective, in that the withdrawal could be effective only upon Parliament giving approval of the final deal. Lambert suggested that this would set up a situation analogous to what in programming is called a race condition:

A race condition or race hazard is the behavior of an electronic, software, or other system where the output is dependent on the sequence or timing of other uncontrollable events. It becomes a bug when events do not happen in the order the programmer intended. The term originates with the idea of two signals racing each other to influence the output first.

Had this occurred, opponents of Brexit could have lodged a case with the ECJ demanding an injunction, arguing that the UK should never have submitted this defective Brexit notice and the EU should not have accepted it. This would almost certainly not stop Brexit but would have thrown a massive procedural spanner into the works. If the Government were prepared to continue to work on Brexit planning (big if) this would buy them more time to get their house in order. And while UK businesses would not like uncertainty, they might also hold off longer on making decisions to move operations out of the UK, which could reduce the damage.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    I have just one quibble: The reality of Brexit is sinking in. I really don’t think so. Other readers may disagree.

    It is to the NC community, thanks to your herculean effort, and the insights from readers et al. Other websites do their bit, too, vide We are very much in the minority, I fear. Even where one would think Brexit should feature highly, such as where another NC regular and I work, Brexit rarely comes up, if ever.

    Yesterday’s testimony from Sir Ivan Rodgers, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, to the Commons Treasury committee and Legatum’s to the Commons Brexit committee received little or no coverage. The BBC, Channel 4 and Sky covered the Davis session at the Brexit committee only. Davis distinguished himself by saying that the UK had no one to negotiate with as some EU27 states don’t have a government in place, including Austria, Czechoslovakia (sic) and Germany.

    Needless to say, the talking heads obsessed with Trump, Weinstein and the Rohingya pawns being used against China did not bother with the details and the grim reality of what exiting the EU without a deal means. One wonders if there will be a reckoning as the reality of hard Brexit finally dawns on the public and, if yes, if the media’s inglorious role will be examined.

    One guy, masquerading as a foreign policy expert, was on (Murdoch’s) Sky News yesterday afternoon, saying that “as the US administration is in chaos, the UK should take the lead with military intervention” in Myanmar. He then laid on thick the religious and colonial guilt trips, emphasising the religious angle, perhaps hoping British jihadists will make their way further east. Channel 4 replicated that in the evening, but, mercifully, did not call for British military intervention.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s a fair comment. Maybe I am reading too much into May’s demeanor, but it looks like even if she has no grasp of the details, she realizes there is no good path out, not just for her but for the UK.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves.

        One wonders at what point does May realise that she has little political capital left and might as well tell the children a few home truths, i.e. life is full of difficult, often financial, choices and Brexit isn’t easy.

        1. Clive

          I wish it might be so but I don’t think that’s going to be a happening event.

          What’s struck me most about the UK government’s approach to the practical day-to-day aspects of Brexit is that it is exemplifying a typically British form of managerialism which bedevilles both public sector and private sector organisations. It manifests itself in all manner of guises but the main characteristic is that some “leader” issues impractical, unworkable, unachievable or contradictory instructions (or a “strategy”) to the lower ranks. These lower ranks have been encouraged to adopt the demeanour of yes-men (or yes-women). So you’re not allowed to question the merits of the ask. Everyone keeps quiet and takes the paycheck while waiting for the roof to fall in on them. It’s not like you’re on the breadline, so getting another year or so in isn’t a bad survival attitude. If you make a fuss now, you’ll likely be replaced by someone who, in the leadership’s eyes is a lot more can-do (but is in fact just either more naive or a better huckster).

          Best illustrated perhaps by an example — I was asked a day or two ago to resolve an issue I’d reported using “imaginative” solutions. Now, I’ve got a a vivid imagination, but even that would not be able to comply with two mutually contradictory aims at the same time (“don’t incur any costs for doing some work” and “do the work” — where because we’ve outsourced the supply of the services in question, we now get real, unhideable invoices which must be paid).

          To the big cheeses, the problem is with the underlings not being sufficiently clever or inventive. The real problem is the dynamic they’ve created and their inability to perceive the changes (in the same way as swinging a wrecking ball is a “change”) they’ve wrought on an organisation.

          May, Davies, Fox, the whole lousy lot of ’em are like the pilot in the Airplane movie — they’re pulling on the levers of power only to find they’re not actually connected to anything. Wait until they pull a little harder and the whole bloody thing comes off in their hands.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Clive.

            Super as always, but depressing about how one survives at work, especially if like us two, one works for a TBTF.

          2. jsn

            This all reminds me of Jarred Diamond’s question: “what was the man who cut down the last tree on Easter Island thinking?”

            Complex systems mis-understood and thusly applied present only perverse options.

          3. Mark P.

            Here’s that testimony from Ivan Rodgers, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, and others to the Commons Treasury committee —


            Interesting. Rogers is very Sir Humphrey-ish; nevertheless, by the end he is using blunt, three-word sentences to contradict assertions by some committee members.

          4. animalogic

            I suspect the features you mention are, more or less, systemic to the modern corporation: shift power up, shift responsibility down.

        2. nonclassical

          ..”politics” appears devolved to kicking can down road, in all quarters…is there another way to view?

      2. larry

        Some QCs think May has a way out (cf. comment below). But if you are right, she can’t take it. So, practically speaking, there may be no way out for her. Except to resign. But she has said she isn’t a quitter.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Larry.

          Peter Mandelson also said he was not a quitter, in a quite theatrical outburst, but did or, rather, had to.

        2. Sid Finster

          As bad and inept as May is, she is arguably better than BoJo, who is lurking in the shadows like a sort of Machiavellian Cousin It, just waiting for his chance.

          1. Anonymous2

            Queen’s Counsel. A status given to senior barristers (courtroom lawyers ). Also known as ‘silks ‘.

            1. Synoia

              The English legal system has two forms of lawyers. Solicitors, who cannot practice before the high court, and barristers who can.

              Barristers come is two forms, Juniors, and Queen’s or King’s Counsel 0QC or KC). Because England has a queen and no king they are QCs. If and when Charles or William become King, they will autoamgically become KCs.

              Once one becomes q QC or KC, there is no going back, and if one is not perceived by paying customers to be as good as one’s ego suggests, one makes no money.

              Barristers are specialist trial lawyers.

              Rumpold, of Rompold of the Bailey BBC program, was a Junior.

    2. vlade

      My belief is that it is starting to sink in to most of the MPs who might have been lukewarm, but no-one is willing to make a strong case, and thus the majority of the public is staying very much deluded. At least they don’t think that the UK govt is doing a good job of negotiating it anymore..

      TBH, I don;t know what to think of Labour. To me, it seems like they are deluded too, but slightly differently – i.e. that they hope to be able to pick up the pieces post hard-Brexit. But I don’t believe they realise that is going to be more than a herculean effort, so while it’s highly likely that a hard chaotic Brexit will kill Tory party as we know it (my bet would be a split), even if Labour gets to the govt then it will be under conditions that are pretty much war-like and I’m not sure whether they (really really) realise this.

      Because the warlike conditions also mean having to explain to the public that they will suffer, and that it won’t be over quickly either. It also means a huge amount of effort will be needed to be spent on pure management problems, such as getting things flowing.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, Vlade.

        My dad caught up with some of his former Royal Air Force comrades yesterday. Two, like him, are immigrants. They came from the West Indies in the mid-1960s. Both live in the west country, one married to a Dane and the other a German, and are thinking of going to Denmark, Germany or the Caribbean as they think Brexit will unleash scapegoating, especially in the provinces, that could turn out violent. The journalist Liam Halligan alluded to that on Monday at a talk in the City.

      2. Mark P.

        Vlade wrote: even if Labour gets to the govt then it will be under conditions that are pretty much war-like and I’m not sure whether they (really really) realise this.

        They will. War-like conditions mean wartime spending powers. This would both justify and require Corbyn’s ‘QE For the People.’

        1. vlade

          This is not (only) about spending. This is about explaining to the people that they were fked over, that there’s a hardship coming, and that at least they, and possibly their children, may be worse off than they thought.

          The “People’s QE” won’t solve UK’s trade problems. UK is NOT an autarchy, and can’t be an autarchy (it can’t be, definitely not at the same time, food self-sufficient, energy self-sufficient, and various industrial minerals self-sufficient). The problem with some of the people bandying MMT around saying “debt is not a problem” is that while that is true, MMT is still, and always will be, constrained by real-world resources. Of which UK needs to buy a lot at the international markets, with possibly much weaker pound.

          Corbyn’s aim to be re-industrialize is IMO a dream from other worlds. There is a very large difference between China industrialising and the UK re-industrialising. For one, I don’t expect that Corbyn really wants to introduce the conditions in Chinese factories to the UK (because if he would, he would be ranking up there with Moggie).

          Re-industrialization would require massive investments. Which, if had to be carried out by the gov’t would mean worse living standards while this is done, because pound exchange rate will be the ultimate constraint on anything financial any UK gov’t does. If the UK decides to use the trade flows to pay for imported machinery – because it can’t manufacture it itself – it means less exports to pay for food etc.

          In the same way, re-industrialization, especially now, requires skills that the UK workforce in general lacks – the UK’s education is sub-par on a number of things. That is, unless you’re asset rich – with a house in the right location – or cash rich and able to pay for it. But even so-called elite education can be nothing much – I have interviewed people from Oxbridge who had PhD in maths, yet were unable to solve relatively trivial problems (which, in maths terms could have been reduced to a simple proportions problem.)

          In other words, it could be done – in theory – but would require really a massive long-term commitment by the government, and people willing to make sacrifices at least medium term.

          As other people in comments alluded to, right now a not unsigificant part of British public may look happy with Brexit, but once their Mallorca binge holiday is gone, it may change. The above would very likley put those hols out of a lot of people’s reach.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Thanks for this, very well expressed.

            With proper policies, the UK could be pulled back from a dependency on the City and break away from a debt based economy (the latest figures are staggering – £8,000 per person not including mortgages), but it would be a generational change, not one that could be done during one, or even two, Parliamentary terms. The basis is there – Britain still creates great scientists and engineers, and still has a bedrock of some very good companies. But there is half a century of rot to overcome, you don’t do that overnight.

            Brexit certainly is an opportunity for the left. It could potentially devastate the right, and provide the sort of scorched earth situation that could allow for radical policies (the sort of situation we haven’t seen since 1946). But it would still require enormous sacrifices and very strong leadership to do it, plus it requires a truckload of good luck.

            1. vlade

              What you say in your last para. The real danger there is that in general, we as a society have moved to short-term satisfactions, while proper solution to the UK’s problem is a long-term commitment.

              My worry is that while the left might get their chance, and maybe even kickstart it in the right direction, given it’s quite possible one parliament term would make no massive difference (especially if a lot of management time would have to go on handling day2day issues in a hostile world – US is not friendly, EU is unlikely to have much time for the UK after a car-crash Brexit, and while Asia would be just happy to sell as much as possible to the UK, they are unlikely to support it in any meaningful way).

              As you say, it would require strong leadership and a long-term vision that people would buy in (and be willing to make sacrifices for), it’s likely that the next elections could be well won by a party providing simple solutions that sell.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Not living in England, and having generally given up on anything but browsing the Guardian, I’m not really tuned in to the mood, but I think I’d agree that at many levels reality hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I’m struck reading the Guardian that the btl comments are often far more direct and on-point than the articles, and I’m told thats pretty common on other media were its not completely invested with right wing trolls.

      I tend to think of it as a slow process, emenating out from people at the ‘frontline’ of dealing with trade and related issues. People working on IT systems or directly with product management knew it would be a disaster from day one. Similarly, people in the construction industry, who are very familiar with the importance of regulation and certification knew that they were being thrown into a black hole. Its very hard to read as an outsider, but I’m pretty sure that its now dawning on senior civil servants and other internal functionaries now that Brexit is undeliverable. I think its pretty clear from leaks that there is a massive process of arse-covering going on.

      As to the general public, I don’t think so yet, apart from the usual 10-20% of people who pay close attention to these things. I think there is still a general feeling – and I’ve heard this repeated many times, including in Ireland – that ‘oh, they will cobble some sort of deal together’. I do think that many people think this will be the case, and I include in this many pretty important people.

      1. Afrikaan

        No doubt they’ll cobble some deal together: humans are ingenious at creating workable short-term solutions for important special cases.

        But ad-hoc agreements come at a significantly higher transaction cost than unified rules, and the whole point of a common market/union is to create sustainable, efficient rules. After a chaotic Brexit it will not be the EU that will bear the cost of a cobbled-together deal.

    4. jabawocky

      I agree there is still very little coverage of the salient points in the UK media. There is almost no mention of trade in services, the UK’s main export to the EU, only customs and tarifs. The WTO rules explicitly forbid granting individual countries preferential market access for services without a deal. Varoufakis was pointing this out on the BBC earlier in the week, but non of the presenters on the TODAY programme realised the significance of what he was saying.

      A key question now is whether and on what terms article 50 can be revoked. Lord Kerr, the author of article 50, is on record saying that it can be revoked, but i can’t find his reasoning anywhere. The EU appear to suggest that brexit can be stopped at any time, and I believe are assuming that at some point the UK will wake up to the reality and come begging.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is pretty desperate lawyering. Read Article 50 yourself. The notification is of its “decision”. The first line refers to “decision” not intention. It is arguably “intention” in second line because it is impractical to leave overnight. “Intention” recognized that it takes time.

          Moreover, if you look at intent, the aim was for Article 50 to be punitive. EU members were to be discouraged from withdrawing. So assuming that the language should be read as being accommodating in the event of ambiguity IMHO could be shown to be unreasonable in light of statements made around the time of the negotiation of the Lisbon Treaty.

          Having said that, there is a desire for the UK to stay in, so TPTB would be willing to fudge, as they did in the various bank and sovereign rescues. But they would insist the UK pay a price for coming back. I would be imagine at a minimum that the UK would have to give up the EU dues rebate that Thatcher won.

          1. larry

            I have looked at it, and it is a tad ambiguous in my view. Besides, I wasn’t arguing that the QC was correct – I am not a lawyer – but only answering a query. Other QCs have a different view of Article 50. As for the punitive character of the enterprise, I don’t think there is much doubt about that. The European Project ueber alles.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        In 2013, I attended a City event that was addressed by Lord Kerr and several of the players on stage now. Lord Kerr said that HMG could just write to the Council of Ministers and other leading players and say it was rescinding the notice to leave. Lord Kerr repeated that in the summer and said it would cause much annoyance, but nothing that could not be lived with. Macron has said the same, but implied that the UK would lose its opt-outs and refunds.

        1. visitor

          This has been my contention for quite a while — ever since I realized how absurd the UK negotiating tactics were. Whether through sheer incompetence or extreme deviousness, the government is sabotaging the brexit. One year from now, the British public will face the following choice:

          a) A disastrous, catastrophic, cataclysmic brexit with no, or at best something like 90% incomplete deal, too short a “transition period” to solve remaining issues, no administrative, legal, customs, etc, measures properly in place, and the roughest of the default status within the WTO framework.

          b) Or remaining in the EU — a very poor outcome, because this is exactly what the people voted against, and because it will also entail losing all nifty privileges that had been grabbed by the UK from 1973 onwards.

          The hints by Macron show that this second avenue is being quietly, unobtrusively kept open.

          And of course, (b) will be chosen — to the great delight of the EU bureaucracy and individual European governments, as well as to the relief of the British establishment. Another win for TINA.

          1. Sid Finster

            Considering that the British establishment are almost universally Remainers, the establishment will get its way, one way or another. The people will have to be taught a lesson.

            1. vlade

              I object. The people were given a lose-lose proposition to vote on. If hard brexiters got their way, the “new” (because they aren’t really new) elites would be as bad if not worse than the old ones (see Trump).

              To show it as anything else than lose lose forced on the people is extremely dishonest. The real point should be to look at WHY it’s lose-lose, and what could be a win scenario.

              The real problem of a WIN scenario is that it actually takes a significant political involvement from a really large part of the population, which is mostly pretty apathetic politically (often because it just can’t afford to spend time to be otherwise TBH, but still). For example, a real “take back control” would be to change the voting system in the UK, but that would require a massive grassroots campaing. Which neither Labour not Tories would support, as they would hate the new system (despite the fact it would get Labour to rule more often, but usually with a coalition partner).

            2. PlutoniumKun

              The British Establishment are most certainly not universally Remainers, unless you think that the Telegraph and Mail and so on don’t represent a large chunk of the establishment, not to mention grassroots Tories all over England. The Brexit campaign was funded and supported by a group of very wealthy and influential people (and lets not forget, plenty of large businesses such as Tate & Lyle and Dyson supported it). Plenty of the City thought it would be a breeze as well.

            3. rd

              As the French aristocracy discovered circa 1789 and the Russian aristocracy discovered in 1917, there is a certain point at which the large unequal lower class perceives anarchy and chaos as potentially better than the current system that certainly gives the vast majority of the benefits to the elite. Brexit appears to be the same scream of pain from the underclass that the Trump election was. Inequality breeds instability that either breeds revolt from within or weakening allowing invasion from abroad.

              What has baffled me about Brexit is why the British elite thought they would have a strong hand in negotiations. Britain is less than 15% of the European Union population and their financial sector is very portable, able to be picked up relatively easily and dropped into major cities in Germany and France. Its not like they need to construct huge factories – a bunch of Class A floor space and high speed communication links and they are up and running.

              Why would the European Union making leaving the EU attractive? It would just encourage other countries to think they could cut a good deal too. To get an open market in Europe, Great Britain would effectively have to agree to most of the rules that are the reasons why the Brits voted to Leave in the first place. So this is likely going to be a nasty divorce fighting over who gets the debts and retirement accounts as well as custody of the kids.

              1. Mark P.

                What has baffled me about Brexit is why the British elite thought they would have a strong hand in negotiations.

                Colonel Smithers has used the term ‘Thatcher’s Children.’ That’s on point.

                During the 1980s, when Thatcher ruled, the people who now form the UK’s political class — certainly among the Tories — were all together at Oxford and Cambridge, having attended Harrow, Eton and such as children. It’s a generation whose members’ arrogance is only equaled by their managerial incompetence. Seriously.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I have my doubts over whether it can be rescinded. My experience (as a non-lawyer, but having dealt quite a bit with EU legal judgements) is that from the perspective of a Common Law trained lawyer, A.50 leaves plenty of scope to say ‘If a party can submit notice, that party can also rescind that notice, unless the Act or Regulations specifically prevents this’. But in the context of European Law, the view of the ECJ might well be ‘If it was the intention of the authors of A.50 to allow the notice to be rescinded they would have said so. They didn’t, so you can’t.’

          ECJ legal judgements are often models of clarity, but they are also, in comparison to the type of judgments common under British/US law, very black and white. So I doubt very much if it is cut and dried that the UK can do this. Ultimately, its the ECJ, not the Council of Ministers that decide, even if they are unanimous in supporting it, as its almost inevitable that someone would challenge it in the courts.

          1. David

            True, but the ECJ is a court, and someone would have to ask them (“seize them of the dossier”) as they say in the EU. In my experience, if the political leadership decides that a certain problem doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist. Who would actually go to the ECJ and challenge it? How long would it take, and would the ECJ actually dare to find against not just the UK but everybody else who had been party to whatever shoddy compromise was necessary?

            1. PlutoniumKun

              I take your point that the EU often operates on the basis of not asking awkward questions if its politically convenience (the addition of East Germany to the EU, which was almost certainly illegal, was an obvious example). I’m also, I have to say, not clear on the process or requirements of standing in order to take a challenge. But I would have thought that for a start some well financed Brexiteers might like to take a decision to rescind to the ECJ via the British Courts, or maybe even via another countries court.

  2. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves. Helpful and intelligent as always.

    I would like to think this is all theatre designed to distract us from the real work going on quietly behind the scenes. My problem is I have very great difficulty believing that.

    In defence of the FCO, they have been hollowed out, but those I know are not unprofessional, just largely ignored by their political masters.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, I think I overstated what you or another reader said, that the average age at the FCO is down and the reduction in seasoning is also a hinderance.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves.

        I don’t know about the FCO, but it’s 30, if not less, now at the Treasury.

      2. paul

        I remember a relation of mine who was helping out at the cabinet office telling me, after cameron’s re-election and the disposal of the liberal democrats, it was just overrun with triumphal,wet behind the ears zealots, Osbornian socioeconomic catamites mainly.
        He concluded there was easier ways to earn a crust.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you.

          Friends then at Treasury said the same and did the same. One is now at the Department of Energy and the other at the UK Mission to the EU. Both report how the wiser and older heads would mock Osborne and his motley crew of catamites for their poor grasp of economics.

          I remember Thatcher’s children from university. One can see why the UK is staring at the abyss a quarter of a century after they left university.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said.

      With regard to your last bit about the FCO, it’s the same at the Treasury – and, from conversations with dad and his former comrades, the armed forces.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      Just to add, with regard to “the real work going on quietly behind the scenes”, Barnier has proposed three sessions between the All Saints holidays and EU summit in mid-December for further talks. Davis has not taken up any, as if he’s not interested, has not done any prep or fears being shown up. This is little reported, if at all.

      MPs and the media are made aware of such “professionalism” and the technical issues, but it increasingly seems a waste of time and effort, and at great personal and professional risk to these civil servants and other stakeholders.

    4. PlutoniumKun

      I’ve only second hand insights to the FCO, from people I know in the Irish foreign office who have dealt with them, but I get the impression that it slowly over the years became a sleepy backwater (thanks, ironically to the EU taking over so many of its functions), and ambitious civil servants started to avoid it because it sometimes carried a taint of being too ‘foreigner’ friendly, especially during Tory governments. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of competent and capable people in there, but Brexit is such an enormous upheaval it needs people of the very highest calibre and competence, and lots of them. Its painfully obvious that they are entirely outgunned by the EU negotiators at all levels.

      1. Anonymous2

        Yes I am in no position to comment on the overall proficiency now of the FCO, having retired some years ago. I know a few people who are still there who I respect -hence my defence of them – but it may well be that the institution as a whole is now too weak to cope. I do not know any younger diplomats. I have no doubt that the Civil Service as a whole is seriously outfaced, demoralised and attempting to take on a task which it does not want, regards as folly and has not the resources to deliver properly without wise political leadership which it is clearly not getting.

        1. David

          My impression as well. The FCO was never particularly brilliant at Europe, but did manage the negotiations for the setting up of the EU with considerable competence. It will be bitterly ironic if the destruction of the British public service set in train by Thatcher winds up destroying the Tory party. It would actually be funny if there wasn’t so much collateral damage likely.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves. Is that really so about May? One can ignore public utterances, including that single half-hearted referendum campaign speech.

        I often wonder what her husband, who works in the City and should be aware of issues such as passporting and market access, tells her.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      May was apparently nicknamed ‘the Submarine’ by her colleagues during her time in the Home Office – this was a reference to her ability to constantly hide her real opinions on anything of substance. She is the classic example of someone who has risen through the ranks by keeping their mouths closed when in doubt, leading every superior to think that person is on their side, and also to think that person is smarter than they really are. She hedged her bets very carefully, being ‘onside’ with Cameron in campaigning for Remain, but no doubt in private she was letting Brexiters think she was really one of them. When in the Home Office she was however sure to let grassroots Tories know she was a hard liner on migration, even though she made a complete mess of the system.

      I’m sure we’ve all worked with people like May. Invariably, when they rise high enough that they actually have to make firm decisions and lead they are ‘found out’. Sadly for the UK they have found themselves with exactly the wrong leader for the time.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, PK, especially about the submarine. It has two meanings in May’s context.

        Do you remember her sandwich board bus, telling illegal immigrants to turn themselves in and / or go home?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I can’t link to it right now as I’m on my work pc, but on youtube there is a particularly hilarious clip from Mock the Week where a few of the comedians speculate on the origin of the nickname. Suffice to say, none of the suggestions are work friendly…

      2. jabawocky

        I was reading a university of loughborough report on the balance of the media coverage of brexit during the referendum.

        Osborne: 293 occasions he was covered by the press on brexit
        May: 29 occassions she was covered by the press on brexit

    2. Francis Grimer

      As a vicar’s daughter I’m sure she thinks that to hold a referendum and then ignore it would be dishonorable.

      Cameron did the honorable thing by resigning when his referendum failed to give the answer he favoured. May is a worthy successor.

  3. Francis Grimer

    I was a child when Britain last stood alone with its Commonwealth.

    We battled through then and we will battle through now.

    Perhaps we will be worse off but we won’t be reduced to wartime austerities by any stretch of the imagination.

    Some people value freedom more that material comforts and possessions

    1. vlade

      TBH, in a disaster hard brexit scenario, April and May 2019 may well look similar (in terms of imports/exports) as they did in 1940/1941. Only this time it won’t be Uboats sinking the shipping, the ships will simply stay in ports (because they won’t be able to get through the beaurocratic/regulatory blocade)

      The main difference will be that in WW2 US cared about the UK, today no-one really will, as most people will be just happy to eat UK’s lunch (=exports).

      1. Anonymous2

        And an awful lot of people who voted Leave did so on the assumption that it would lead to sunny uplands not hardship. They will be very angry if they discover that they have been misled. The worrying question is where do they then direct their anger? At those who deserve it or at innocent third parties?

      2. gallam

        That seems to me to tip into scaremongering.

        If you really want to frighten the horses, at least point out that cutting off a country’s food supply is an act of war, for which Belgium in particular is completely unprepared.

        At least we still have an army and one or two aircraft carriers (we’ll sort the aircraft out in due course).

        1. vlade

          Food (apart from weaponry and similar) is one of the most regulated imports/exports worldwide.

          Given the size of UK’s food imports from EU (basically, more than half of all of the food imports), it would be a massive problem. You can try sourcing it from elsewhere, but it won’t happen overnight, and, importantly enough, even if you do, the current customs facilities won’t be able to cope to more than doubling the load of some of the most complex imports.

          Most food can’t last week on lorries/ships (unlike say car parts), so really the only option for the UK would be to either close both eyes on the customs front, or “temporarily” suspend food standards for imports.

          Given what was happening in the UK when a bit of horse meat found its way to supermarkets, I’d really like to know what the UK populace would do if given a choice between the infamous chlorinated chicken or no chicken at all (mind you, based on what was recently uncovered on the largest UK chicken producer, the chlorinated chicken might be better than the UK one, so there you go).

          There is perfectly zero chance of the UK being able to pick up the slack domestically right away, especially if you at the same time cut off the supply of seasonal labour from the continent and the farm subsidies. Longer term, yes, at the cost of substantially higher food prices.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            You highlight something which is just one more issue which could lead to chaos. To keep food imports coming in, the UK will have little choice but to turn a blind eye to imports. The problem will be in the reverse journey – this is where the hold ups will be and there is the potential for complete chaos. For obvious reasons food travels on a very tightly wound schedule. Trying to separate the supply chains from food entirely from other goods will be very difficult, but transport companies will have little choice but to try to do that if they don’t want mountains of rotting foods at Channel ports. The real complication will be in processed foods such as ready meals which may have supply chains as complex as any car.

            Incidentally, I don’t think the UK has been self sufficient in food since the early 19th Century at least. Even in WWII it was heavily dependent on imports for even basics such as butter. And if some reports I’ve read are true, farmers are actually abandoning more intensive forms of farming such as fruit and veg because they can’t get labour.

      3. John k

        But Brit has a large trade deficit…
        Particularly with Germany…
        Brit takes a big hit. But so do others.
        When trade stops, witness GD, it was the big exporter, the US, that took the much larger hit, unemployment went to 25%, much higher than Europe.
        So, assuming hard Brexit…
        What is the hit to world GDP? To the .EU bit? Europe slowdown affects others…

        Tougher for brits than I thought, Yves was right, but assuming this is not reversed, Brit gets free of EU… some animals, including humans, have gnawed or cut off a limb to be free, granted the animal may have seen it as a life or death choice… in this case, the leave group were railing against globalism, after Brexit Brit will in fact have less, and ultimately maybe more blue collar jobs.

        1. vlade

          *sigh* please stop bringing up the UK trade deficit with Germany.
          a) German exports to the UK are about 95bln (all USD). That is about 7% of total DE exports, or about 2.7% of its GDP. Hence, even if the UK market evaporated overnight, the total cost to Germany would be about 2.7% of GDP. A recession? Yes. A catastrophe? Not really (especially since a lot of the exports are also re-exports, and the real impact is going to be much less, probably about 1/3rd or so).

          Now, for the UK. UK exports to EU are about 300bln USD. Which is well over 40% of all exports, and well over 10% of GDP. Were that to evaporate overnight, that woudl be catastrophe comparable with 1930s Depression. This is a maximum impact though, and the real would be less, but it’s harder to estimate the “less” than in Germany, because the situation is different (a lot of exports are re-exports, but especially services aren’t and they contribute a lot to the trade).

          b) Germans, both politicians and businesses, made it manifestly clear number of times they are ok to take the pain. UK, on the other hand, the business manifestly shown it doesn’t want to take the pain (and will relocate), and politicians are even refusing to admit there might be any pain.

    2. Jabawocky

      That’s all very well Francis but what freedom are you missing and how many lives are you prepared to turn upside down to get what you want?

    3. BruceK

      Marx nailed this: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

      For the Brexiteers, Brexit is WWII, but in the farce version.

      1. Mark P.

        Brexit is WWII, but in the farce version.

        Want to bet that nobody much is laughing — not even in the EU — once the going really gets bad?

  4. TroyMcClure

    At what point does much of the impending disaster get “priced in” as it were. Is that starting now or will it likely come in a deluge 6 weeks before March 2019?

    1. vlad

      It starts getting priced in when business start moving out en-masse (or, even worse, in a stampede). Before that, or if it’s an easy-to-hide trickle, it’s take as BAU.

  5. Alexander

    “opponents of Brexit could have lodged a case with the ECJ demanding an injunction”

    Can’t see that going down well seeing as leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ was part of the taking back control narrative.

    1. begob

      I think any injunction would have to be issued by a domestic court. So not the diabolical “with one bound our hero was free” event the Tories might have wished for: stop Brexit and blame it on foreigners.

  6. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you.

    It’s already priced in, e.g. the FTSE 100, often foreign and with earnings outside the UK, doing well. I hope, to quote Channel 4 racing’s legendary John MacCririck, “You got on early and left the rest behind.”

  7. larry

    You may be wrong that there is no way to stop Brexit. According to some QCs, the implementation of Article 50 can be stopped, as it is only an *intent* to withdraw. But this would require a proactive motion from government, and I do not see that happening under the present circumstances. So, it would seem that unless the government sends a letter to the EU saying that they are not going forward with their intention to withdraw and are, therefore, reneging on it, the UK will leave the EU at whatever date the two sides agree on, the default being 29 March 2019. Not all QCs are in agreement with this view, however.

    1. Sid Finster

      It doesn’t matter what the Parliament exactly voted for.

      Technicalities like legal texts or laws have never stopped the establishment from getting what it wanted.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      See my comment above. This is desperate lawyering. You can always find a litigator who will advocate a strained position. This is what op ed pages are made of.

      The big fail in argument is that the drafters intended a way out. They didn’t. At the time of the writing of the Lisbon Treaty, Article 50 was intended to discourage invoking it. It was intended to be punitive. Allowing a reversal would make it less risky to invoke it, which would be contrary to the clear objectives of the drafters.

      1. WorkerPleb

        In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.

        Well there’s your grounds. Despite the two year deadline added here, and despite the apparent adherence to form on the part of the Commission, it’s clear no effort at negotiating such an agreement has taken place. The so called Phase 1 demands are in fact a scheme to prevent the negotiation called for here.

        I sure the drafters left notes on how to kick whichever state broke ranks in the groin to their successors, but the great number of current and soon to be former EU citizens who stand to lose money, property, freedoms, rights, etc due to this failure to negotiate do have a right to challenge what is going on in court. People have had their day in the ECJ for a lot less, Draftees will or no.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are new to this site and appear not to have read our site Policies. I suggest you do before replying.

          This is not a chat board. We have standards for evidence and argumentation. More specifically, making stuff up is not on here. I am normally not so hard on readers but in your case, it seems that anything short of a dressing-down will not register.

          You are already in moderation for not only having done that repeatedly, but also copping a ‘tude that you know better when you are in fact out of your depth. Your comment above is an additional example.

          I should not have to waste my time on a comment as facially ridiculous as this one. The fact that you try to assert that the two sides are not negotiating is proof either that you have no experience with negotiations or that you are prepared to say anything that might stick in order to have the last word. This is what a negotiation with a marked power imbalance regularly looks like. Go talk to any divorce lawyer. The UK will get even rougher handling when it tries to enter into a trade deal with the US. The US dictates terms.

          Skilled negotiators can sometimes surmount that (witness famously Talleyrand representing France in 1815 against the victorious allies). The UK is behaving in a cack-handed manner and making matters even worse for itself.

          Moreover, as I have explained, the UK is the creator of the mess it is in. And I’m far from the only party to see it this way. As Phillip Stephens wrote in the Financial Times yesterday:

          The EU27 have been accused of dragging their feet. Time is on their side so they have indeed been using the leverage. This is what happens in negotiations. The real obstacles to progress, though, have always resided in London.

          I don’t even buy the foot-dragging charge. It was the UK that shockingly asked for only five days of negotiations per month. I gasped out loud when I read that. It was Theresa May that lost two months with her snap elections backfire.

          But then you take your absurd claim and amplify it by contending that this could serve as the basis for a legal case.

          I’m not approving any more of your comments unless you considerable improve their quality. That does not mean agreeing; I welcome and highly value informed criticism. But I don’t have the time to clean up comments that are an embarrassment to this site.

          1. vlade

            Not to mention the point Col S. made above, of EU offering more negotiating space between now(ish) and Xmas, and UK turning it down.. Who’s dragging the feet again?

            1. Troutwaxer

              The UK side are mostly upper-class twits who believe that they have the advantage. Thus the behavior.

      2. larry

        See my reply to your comment above. Simor is not the only QC arguing this point. Whether they are deluded or exhibiting instances of wishful thinking, I could not say.

  8. H. Alexander Ivey

    I just keep coming back to an early comment that as of March 2019 there will be a new country in the world-the formerly of the EU UK, now known as simply the UK. Brexit is like a divorce but more so. Mrs UK of the EU will be known as Ms. UK, ree UK. But Ms UK will have no bank accounts-they expired 40 years ago at her marriage to the EU, no driver license or other form of id-ditto about her marriage, no separate legal identity. Even going back to her former boyfriends like the US or Australia/New Zealand will provoke responses of who are you? You leave, got married, and disappeared. I’m now going out with that Asian chick you use to dish about.

    So things like the customs upgrade project isn’t an upgrade from 70 million to 150 million transactions. It looks like it will be a total write off. The present 70 million transactions are based on relationships between the UK of the EU and the rest of the world, including the rest of the EU. As of March 2019 that country will cease to exist.

    1. gallam

      Another aspect to this that is often overlooked is the total lack of preparation on the French side of the channel.

      There may be one or two traffic jams as you approach Calais in 2019. Plan your holidays accordingly.

  9. Thomas

    No contract or institutional arrangement lasts forever.
    The EU will end some at day, and that day looks closer now than farther.
    It’ll be replaced by something else.
    And thats entirely in th EUs own making, it tramples on peoples lives,
    it’s the civil arm of NATO (and the US in the end), just look to Ukraine.

    Britain hasn’t sunk into the northsee yet and it won’t.
    Wether the PM sits in her chair for ten minutes without saying anything is completely irrelevant.
    Youll find things like that that on any given normal day. Anecdotes.

    I can’t understand the fuss that is being made about the whole thing.
    Yes, it will be complicated, yes it it will be disruptive.
    But how much people will suffer ist intirely up to british policies.

    Unlike Greece, Britain is a souverain nation, it can handle it. (maybe not Theresa May)

    Britain has a trade deficit with the EU, and my guess is that it is in the interest of the EU
    to keep good relations regardless.

    1. williamw

      Theresa May will, thankfully, not be in charge during the final rounds of the negotiations. The British are clearly happy to play hardball, since they will have immediately more favourable terms with the rest of the world to offset any economic damage sustained during the divorce.

      1. Anonymous2

        Are you serious? Read Ivan Rogers testimony linked to above, if you are, and disabuse yourself.

  10. Christopher

    Good summary and very scary outlook.

    From a German point of view Brexit is currently not a huge topic here. The public is mainly looking into the new potential government (Jamaika), the AfD and a bit into the migrant crisis. Brexit is really something like: If they (the English) really want to leave, we wont stand in the way (and we wont shed a lot of tears). We dont understand the decision, but as a proverb here says “Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten” / Someone who wants to travel shouldnt be blocked”. And economically, we will see some negative impact on the German economy for certain, but overall, nothing too problematic. And with a devaluation of the Pound, vacation in UK will become cheaper (as well as Spanish holiday homes currently owned by English investors).

    Where I really struggle is that number of industries (not only airlines, but there most prominently), have budget and planning cycles for 12-24 months in advance, which means that a lot of businesses have to plan with a hard brexit (which we can see already in the office real estate market in Frankfurt quite clearly). Here I dont see a lot of offcial outcry yet.

    1. Joel

      Isn’t anyone on the continent shedding a tear for the 45% who voted Remain?

      How many countries on the continent would stay in if their voters were presented with a simple yes-no referendum like Cameron gave Britain?

      1. vlade

        if you believe the polls, all of them, as a majority had “remain” quite higher than “leave”. That was a while ago though (I didn’t watch it much recently).

        Probably the closest to leave now might be Czechs who just had elections and IIRC the various shade of “leave EU” parties got close to half the votes – that said, those parties were, as I said, “various shade” of leave (some “just” calling for a referendum, other openly anti-EU), and only one of them had it as a major campaign point (which was still less major as its two other polls – no refugees and no islam, and got about 11% total). All other parties who had it as a major-major selling point ended up with <2%

  11. George Phillies

    With respect to third party treaties, I seem to recall that after Czechoslovakia partitioned both sides were initially viewed as subject to all the treaty commitments of the prior nation, which might offer a reasonable and sane way to advance, as a basis.

    I believe that a hard Brexit is increasingly likely, meaning the negotiations may be a waste of money.

    1. Anonymous2

      What do you mean by a Hard Brexit? It used to mean leaving the single market. Are you talking about train crash Brexit, where the planes stop flying and cross -Channel business seizes up?

      1. George Phillies

        By Hard Brexit I mean there will be no agreement. Whether the EU allows British aircraft to enter its territory, or not, something that runs in both directions in that there might be EU aircraft that wish to fly over the UK to reach the Americas, is not yet obvious. “never underestimate the power of human stupidity’ comes to mind as an answer. If there is a Hard Brexit, the EU will get no money from the UK, a gain or loss depending on where you sit.

        I did not say this was a good idea, only that this is the direction matters are perhaps going. I have pointed out other ‘do not need to like it to say this is what is happening remarks’. I am reminded of discussing the last Presidential election with friends. before the election, saying that 15% of the voters were undecided or third party, so the odds of losing with Trump (the actual outcome) or losing with Clinton (the equally bad other outcome) were about the same.

        1. Anonymous2

          Thanks. Yes, your term hard brexit seems pretty much to coincide with my train crash brexit. The terminology seems to change rather confusingly. Is it possible, as you suggest? Absolutely. The internal fight inside the Tory party continues and may trap the UK into a position where it cannot agree to anything that is acceptable to the EU. And yes that could result in something like a self inflicted blockade on air flights and food imports. That may seem insane but countries do sometimes lose their sanity.

    2. Frenchguy

      When a country partition, the two parts can indeed keep all treaty commitments of the prior nation but only if the commitments where vague/general enough that the partition doesn’t really change anything for the other parties. So the UK will stay a member of the WTO and it will stay a member of all the big international organisations where the EU was representing it. But in the case of trade treaties and of basically all the treaties that matter for everyday life/business (travel also…), those are too specific to be split automatically.

  12. Anonymous2

    Yes I am in no position to comment on the overall proficiency now of the FCO, having retired some years ago. I know a few people who are still there who I respect -hence my defence of them – but it may well be that the institution as a whole is now too weak to cope. I do not know any younger diplomats. I have no doubt that the Civil Service as a whole is seriously outfaced, demoralised and attempting to take on a task which it does not want, regards as folly and has not the resources to deliver properly without wise political leadership which it is clearly not getting.

  13. begob

    The image of May sitting in silence for 10 minutes gave me a pang of sadness – beyond hope, broken. From an account of the last days of Elizabeth I:
    “The embassador wrote again to his master on the 28th of March N.S. (1603), that the queen continued to grow worse, and appear’d already in a manner insensible, not speaking sometimes for two or three hours, and within the last two days not for above four and twenty, holding her finger almost continually in her mouth, with her eyes open and fix’d upon the ground, where she sat upon cushions without rising or resting herself, and was greatly emaciated by her long watching and fasting.”

    She was succeeded by a Scot, who signed a treaty with Spain (EU) the following year.

  14. porquoilefoi

    I suppose that’s a global financial crisis scheduled for March 2019 what with the sixth-largest economy and one of the twin hubs of the financial system crashing into a state of utter mayhem.

    I think this is going to lead to war. As has been thoroughly explained on this site, Brexit is both already assured to occur and completely impossible to pull off without major economic dislocation. The Powers that Be of the UK are going to be increasingly desperate as the deadline approaches and passes.

    1. Tony Wright

      In the more contrarian sectors of the investing world there is a growing tide of opinion that large quantities of manure will hit the fan, economically speaking, before March 2019 due to the bursting of one or more economic bubbles and various other meltdowns. These include :
      the likely collapse of the Japanese bond market due to their 260% GDP debt ,which is set to grow faster due to rapid militarisation in response to Kim and his love of things that go bang,
      similar levels of Chinese debt due to their growth at any cost policies and the entrenchment thereof following recent leadership “consolidation”, and Chinese foreign policy aggression,
      The technical insolvency of many European banks,
      The further growth of various financial derivative products – was nothing learnt from the so called GFC.?
      the US stockmarket bubble,
      Canadian and Australian real estate bubbles,
      the vicious Iran/Saudi Arabia rivalry, played out thus far by various proxy wars and insurgencies in the ME , Africa and SE Asia- this could really heat up,
      The likely loss of reserve currency status of the US dollar,
      Trump (say no more..)
      Increasingly frequent and cataclysmic events resulting from anthropogenic climate change,
      To name a few.
      Whatever happens with Brexit will therefore I believe be a mere side eddy around a series of far bigger and more dangerous whirlpools. Although my bet is on the UK powers that be continuing the current dysfunctional process downhill until they get to the obvious conclusion that “Sorry, folks, I know you voted for this, but really, it ain’t gonna work, so no can do.”

      1. Synoia

        the likely collapse of the Japanese bond market due to their 260% GDP debt

        To whom do the Japanese owe said debt? If Themselves, it’s no debt.

      2. Clive

        Oh, please, not the “collapse of the Japanese bond market” again. They don’t call it the Widowmaker trade shorting JGBs for nothing. The Japanese government owns 40% of them for a start. A big chunk of the rest are held in the form of post office savings accounts by Japanese savers. What do you think they’ll do — deliberately sell them at a loss just to bring a smile to non-domestic speculators? And Japan is back to running trade surpluses so isn’t going to face a currency crises any time soon, either, even for the tiny proportion of JGB-holders who are outside Japan wouldn’t be too nervy.

        So the sell-side pressure is going to come from where, exactly?

      3. John k

        Yes, lots of issues equities are ignoring. But not dollar reserve status.

        Reserve status ends when foreigners decide they would rather save in some other nation’s currency, and stop bidding up the dollar such that locals can’t compete with cheap imports, and pick some other currency whose country by definition accepts a trade deficit.

        Britain pound? They do have a trade deficit… want their paper in your mattress?
        Euro? Germany and most in north eu, who call the shots, want trade surplus.
        Swiss? Ditto.
        How about Yuan? Rubles? Argentine pesos? Mexican ones? Venezuela bolivars? Saudi real? None of the above?
        That’s the savers’ problem: we’re the only game in town, and nobody else both accepts a trade deficit and meets savers’ requirements.

      4. nilavar

        The whole World wants to emulate Japan! That’s the hope beckoning the CBers to continue their ‘folly’! If 260% of DEBT is ‘holding’ up, why NOT, more of the same? All CBers can keep on buying their own sovereign debt, to the infinity! Is that the grand plan?

        Even QE4 is NOT out of the question by recent quote by Ms. Yellen!

        DEBT and nothing but the DEBT has been the panacea, since the last crisis!

        Brexit or NOT is a minor act on the world stage. Where is the first domino to fall, come from is an unknown factor but will be obvious retrospectively. just like LEH, it will be CREDIT busting event!

        Until then, DEBT induced WEALTH will keep growing! LOGIC remains subdued by the collective CBers’ irrationality!

      5. ChrisPacific

        Re: “Sorry, folks, I know you voted for this, but really, it ain’t gonna work, so no can do.”

        “It might have been possible at the time you voted for it, but we’ve made such a hash of it and wasted so much time now that it’s not possible any more. What? No, of course we weren’t covertly trying to sabotage the outcome of the referendum! We just really are that incompetent. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. Vote Conservative!”

        1. Joel

          Chris, they’ve already killed UKIP which was the no. 1 goal.

          I think it’s time to declare victory and go home.

  15. ChrisPacific

    “Contingency plans” from Davis on customs alternatives isn’t going to cut it. Even if we charitably assume that it isn’t a face saving statement to buy time (i.e., a lie) there is an enormous amount of work that would need to happen to implement even a contingency plan, and many many people who would need to be clear on the details and work together to make it a reality. Ultimately the customs process, when it arrives, will be determined by the systems supporting it and the people implementing it at the points of contact. The best contingency plan in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans if it only exists in Davis’ head, and the people responsible for putting it into practice aren’t fully aware of how it works and what they need to do and have the necessary systems in place to support them. If that was happening then the preparations would need to be under way now, and it would be hard to keep them secret given the scale involved.

  16. WorkerPleb

    The utter collapse of the UK political class is stunning. The only method I can assume from the madness is that the vast majority still want to call the whole thing off.

    Less obvious owing to their stronger position is a related, if not collapse, then paroxysm inside the EU as a reaction to Brexit. The EU’s stance may be firm, but it is no less irresponsible or dangerous that the Brits’ incohesion. One of the largest trade disruptions in the continents history is about to occur and everyone involved is fiddling while the future burns.

    If a hard Brexit hits and billions rots in trucks halted by IT, legal, and monetary holdups, the force of public reaction will not be confined — to anything. The cost, the farce, will be enough to shake faith in the State or at the very least the institutions public and private of the modern world. We’re already living in a continent of 30% Front Nationales and AfDs. A Brexit omnishambles could crash the whole bullshit market our democracies are now built on.

    1. vlade

      It’s going to be less dramatic for EU, because not all countries will be hit the same.

      Ireland is in a special category, and who knows what will happen there.

      Belgium and Netherlands will be hit the hardest (because of their export ports, some of which deal pretty much UK only, so may be in a lot of trouble). Germany will also suffer some (as I wrote above). But say France is not entirely unused to trucks full of rotting food (although usually it’s due to domestic strikes).

      It will be the UK that will bear the full brunt tough, with possibly Ireland/NI also being hit extremely hard. The other will have issues, but not existential ones – which is why EU has the economic cards, not the UK

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