UK Press Making Optimistic Noises re Big Brexit Hurdle: Breakthrough or Headfake?

The Financial Times, The Times, and (hat tip PlutoniumKun) RTÉ all are giving positive signals on the state of Brexit negotiation on the eve of a critically important deadline. On Monday, Theresa May is to meet with the European Commmission’s Jean-Claude Juncker and then European Council chief Donald Tusk. She will present her offers on the three critical issues on which the talks must be deemed to have made sufficient progress for the parties to get a green light to move to the next phase of negotiations, which would include, critically, discussing the shape of future trade relations.

As we’ll see, even though these press outlets are putting a positive spin on where things stand, they still contain plenty of weasel language and say at best that a deal is close. “Close” is not good enough for the meeting tomorrow, nor is is good enough for the European Council to make its go/no go decision on December 14-15.

The most likely outcome of the meeting tomorrow is that the UK gets an extension of a day or at most a few days and whatever is cooked up is not going to be deemed to be adequate. And the reason for the EU relenting on its deadline of having May give her offer by midnight today would be purely optical: to look as if they’d bent over backwards on being accommodating, not based on a view that a deal was nigh and they just needed to tie down critically important loose ends.

Mind you, this is not any great surprise; the odds of a deal have seemed remote. What has been surprising is that May was willing to capitulate on what had been loudly presented as a Tory red line, of not stumping up to settle the Brexit divorce tab, and in the range the EU deemed to be adequate.

Despite the upbeat tone from some quarters, if you read carefully, the UK is no closer to an answer on Ireland than it ever was. Consider this section from RTÉ:

It is understood that the Irish Government is seeking assurances on a transition period; the retention of a common travel area; the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, and a commitment to avoid a hard border.

Help me. I hate to oversimplify the negotiations over the Irish border, but this is all you need to know. When the UK exits the EU for good, there will be a hard border with the Republic of Ireland somewhere, whether on the current border with Northern Ireland or “at sea,” with Northern Ireland either formally getting a special status with respect to trade or some sort of wink and nod that is a functional equivalent.

Narrowly, “no hard border” to the Irish government means no customs and other checks at the now almost entirely ignored Ireland/Northern Ireland border. But the “no hard border” turn of phrase seems to reflect the same sort of denialism that afflicts how UK commentators and pols discuss “hard Brexit”. To them, “hard Brexit,” which means departing without a trade deal, is the worst case scenario. But it is impossible for the UK to have a trade pact with the EU by March 2019, or even after a two year transition period. And as much as these observers recoil in horror as to what that actually means, and bizarrely avert their eyes and assume it will magically not come to pass, that is not the most dire possible outcome. A disorderly Brexit, as in leaving with no agreement at all, would be even worse.

Not only is the EU not going to accept a porous Irish border as a way for goods that don’t comply with EU regulations to pour into the EU, but (without going into the gory details), it’s not on as far as WTO rules are concerned either. There are no fudges here, there are only choices to be made. But the UK had tried to avoid making them.

Any deal that avoids customs checks on the Ireland/NI border will result in the DUP abandoning the Tories, since they see a arrangement that has Northern Ireland complying with EU trade standards and rules (which means EU regulations and jurisdiction of the ECJ) as too close to Irish integration, which is a red line for them. Similarly, one of the big rallying cries of Brexit was that the Brits needed to escape the supposedly stultifying EU bureaucracy. The press barons and Tory ultras won’t stand for Northern Ireland being under EU jurisdiction as far as trade is concerned.

So May faces a choice of opting for a workable solution that would almost certainly lead to the fall of her Government. Not hard to see that she won’t go for that.

That makes the Torygraph’s take on where things stand more credible than the cautiously upbeat accounts:

Theresa May will go into a crunch meeting with EU leaders on Monday admitting she is yet to find a solution to the Irish border problem, as a Cabinet minister suggested for the first time that Brexit might not happen.

Mrs May has until Monday night to meet an EU deadline for Britain to make “satisfactory progress” on the issues of money, citizens’ rights and the border in order to trigger trade talks this month….Government sources were highly pessimistic about the prospect of a breakthrough, leaving the entire Brexit timetable in jeopardy.

And the Independent flags another potential sticking point: the fact that one of the three key issues, that of the treatment of EU and UK emigres post Brexit, has been finessed rather than solved. Recall that Barnier got ahead of his principals over the summer in trying to push them to discuss trade with the UK sooner rather than later. He was slapped down. The “kick the can to the next phase” non-resolution of the status of citizens hasn’t gotten much coverage in the press. However, it appears directly affected individuals and businesses have taken note and have made a stink, with the result that MEPs may also petition the European Council to demand that this be resolved sooner rather than later. From the Independent:

The future rights of EU citizens in the UK – and of British nationals in the EU – are being forgotten as a deal to break the Brexit deadlock gets closer, MEPs and campaigners say….

Key issues will be “shunted” into phase two of the talks, rather than being settled before the negotiations move onto future trade terms between the UK and the EU, MEPs and citizens fear.

And soem European politicians are not prepared to back some of the concessions Barnier is apparently willing to make:

Seb Dance, a Labour MEP and a member of the Parliament’s EU Citizens’ Taskforce, said: “Michel Barnier did not go far enough. There are concerns that the EU is ready to dilute its stance on citizens’ rights – but we won’t sit back and let that happen….

Family reunification is one of the areas that the EU may be ready to compromise on.

“We can’t move on just for the sake of moving on. We should only move on when we are certain that nobody will suffer as a result because of a decision they had no part in.”

Jean Lambert, a Green MEP and taskforce member, agreed, saying: “It looks as if issues may be shunted into the second round of negotiations.

“The issue of family unification is crucial. We can’t have children born after Brexit with different legal status, that’s not going to be satisfactory.”

Ms Lambert said the ECJ “must have a role that runs through these people’s lives”, adding: “We want to see these things cleared up in the first stage of the negotiations…

Meanwhile, British In Europe, an alliance of groups representing more than a million British citizens living in the EU, have written to European leaders urging them to block Brexit negotiations from moving forward.

So while it would be better if I were proven wrong, there does not seem to be any reason for optimism about an EU-UK breakthrough in December. The only upside is the UK press is beginning to bring up the formerly verboten idea of somehow backing out of Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn actually dared to say, in response to a question, that he would not rule out a second Brexit referendum if the Government were to fall and Labour came into power. But Tony Blair rising from his crypt to campaign for reversing Brexit is a great way to discredit the idea.

As always, stay tuned. We’ll know a lot more in a few hours.

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  1. vlade

    There are basically following possible scenarios on the NI border:
    – hard border. DUP, Ireand and NI all spit dummies.
    – no border (UK). This has WTO implications (as you write) – specifically, no UK border checks with ANYONE (under WTO you can’t discriminate unless covered by a bilateral treaty). Moreover, it takes two to tango, and Ireland may have to put up borders anyways (likely) – or a special trearty, which would likely require the point below (I can’t see EU agreeing to a hole in their borders just to appease UK, who created the problem in the first place).
    – move border to the Irish Sea/allow NI in EU. DUP spits a dummy, UK gov’t falls. Possibly Brexiters (who are longing for Empire 2.0, remember) spit a dummy to.
    – EEA/EFTA or Single Market. Brexiters spit a dummy (and possibley DUP as well), UK gov’t falls.
    – oh, and just for sake of completness:
    – Ireland leaves EU.
    – EU disbands
    – another option just occured to me, when I was finishing this – a fake hard border. Technically a hard border, but one where everyone more or less silently (or even less silently, but these things can drag on for years in the EU) ignores it. The major risk here is that the moment a group of terrorist/massively bad batch of good makes it through the supposedly “hard border”, it would blow up and would have to turn into a real hard one. So really just a postponement of point one.

    No-one has come up with another option, and any feasible option will have to accept as immovable that EU will not (formally) compromise their borders to satisfy the UK.

    Incidentally, all of the above also covers Gibraltar, except no DUP, and it would be thus easier to sell the “move border to the sea” case (the “only” opposition being Imperial Brexiters).

    The irony of this is, the “no single market or even EFTA/EEA” interpretation of a referendum created an extremely hard-to-solve problem. May’s botched election, and the consequent reliance on DUP made it an unsoluble problem. But hey, Brexiters dont’ deal in detail, it’s the big picture, right?

    1. skippy

      “But hey, Brexiters dont’ deal in detail, it’s the big picture, right?”

      Freedoms – ?????

      disheveled…. seems like the term d’art for such contrivances….

      1. vlade

        as far as I can tell, the one freedom Brexiters would really like, is a freedom from consequences of their choices.

        1. Andrew Dodds

          Freedom to complain about the EU and blame it for everything, without anything ever happening as a result.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’d agree with these, I’d just make the following comments:

      – move border to the Irish Sea/allow NI in EU. DUP spits a dummy, UK gov’t falls. Possibly Brexiters (who are longing for Empire 2.0, remember) spit a dummy to.

      I don’t think the government necessarily falls if the DUP vote against it. I’m sure Labour (or SNP) could easily be persuaded to ‘match’ DUP votes to ensure that the government would not lose a no confidence motion on the issue. Even without an agreement, if I was Corbyn I think allowing the Tories to totter on with a minority government would be an ideal situation. All he has to do is say ‘Because we are committed to the Irish Peace Process, in any crucial vote I will withdraw one MP for every DUP MP who votes against the government’. As I mentioned below, there is a mechanism, the BIIC, for London and Dublin to agree mutually how to rule NI, it would be quite easy for the Irish to simply say ‘all EU regulations will be dealt with by us, the British do everything else’. So I think a deal would be doable, but it would depend on the Brexiters in the Tory party going along with it. I think they are the crucial problem, not the DUP.

      – another option just occured to me, when I was finishing this – a fake hard border. Technically a hard border, but one where everyone more or less silently (or even less silently, but these things can drag on for years in the EU) ignores it. The major risk here is that the moment a group of terrorist/massively bad batch of good makes it through the supposedly “hard border”, it would blow up and would have to turn into a real hard one. So really just a postponement of point one.

      I think that solution would only last as long as the first shipment of cheap Argentinian antibiotic stuffed beef arrives in Belfast, gets driven down to Dublin, and is transhipped to France. In other words, a matter of weeks. The political/legal implications would be unacceptable in the EU. Even if at a political level the EU could be persuaded, they’d be deluged with legal attacks from day one.

      1. vlade

        I’m not sure whether Labour would allow it, w/o getting some yummy concessions – and whether Tories, who believe (by their internal polling) that Labour is about 12 points ahead. If Tories wanted to quit the government, this would be a good way to do it though.

        Re second point: – that’s what I meant “when a … makes it through”. Which coudl be weeks, coudl be longer if the UK established informal checks in NI that would look supiciously like a hard-border in Irish sea. I agree it would not be sustainable solution

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I wouldn’t have thought Labour would need concessions. It would seem to be that the political benefits would be enough. It would:

          1. Keep a very weak Tory government in power through the most difficult period coming.

          2. Allow Labour to portray themselves as the defenders of the Northern Ireland peace process (while also undermining the DUP’s leverage).

          3. Allow Labour to portray themselves as the sensible party on Brexit (i.e. supporting the softest brand of Brexit).

          And all at the same time they would be really annoying the Tory hardliners, while embarrassing May into acklowledging that she can only govern with tacit Labour approval. It would also allow them to sidestep the trap of Tory strategists deciding the best option for them would be to collapse the government with the aim of forcing Corbyn to cobble together a weak minority government.

          Unless I’m missing something, it seems to be to be a win-win situation for Labour to announce a strategy on those lines.

          1. Meher Baba Fan

            With commentary such as this I wish you were a political advisor PK. Maybe you are already. The UK sure as hell needs some astute non-woolly guidance like yours

          2. vlade

            There is no chance that Labour grassroots and other would forgive Corbyn passing over the ability to shoot down Tory government. Remember, they don’t care about Brexit that much either, they want to see the Labour policies implemented. This is why I’m saying that both Tories and Labour are ideology blinded on this.

            Rational Labour would help Tories to outmaneouvre DUP (and hard-line Brexiters) on this, while still letting them have the poisoned chalice of implementation (who now remembers that Labour voted to activate A50 that caused the whole mess, as there was no plan? They did not even ask for a plan as a condition of activation…).

            Rational Tories would give up the government entirely and hand over the poisoned chalice to Labour.

    3. Meher Baba Fan

      ‘ for completeness : Ireland leaves EU. EU Disbands’
      This REALLY made me laugh, following on as it did from the more serious analysis. thankyou!

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      While I agree that some of these in theory are options, there are many on that list that are exercises in empty verbiage, like the “no border” option. I’m a stickler about using language precisely, and treating “hard border” as a concept that applies only to having customs checks along the Ireland/NI border is a very misleading bit of PR.

      All the trading parties on the other side will impose hard checks. With satellites and even as I understand it coding of containers, receiving ports will be perfectly able to identify shipments from Ireland and treat them accordingly.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    This mornings online papers (Ireland and British that I’ve seen) are reporting that there is no deal on the Irish border, but making noises about ‘further discussions’. Not a surprise really. The Observer yesterday reported that the hard Brexiteers in cabinet were laying down red lines which (they must surely know) the EU would never agree to. So I think it was always probable that even if the Irish and British negotiators had come to an agreement, May would have been forced to back down at cabinet level.

    The noises from the Irish government have been that there was give and take, with a compromise to be reached. I suspect that is solely – as Yves suggests – to indicate that they’ve done their best so the blame doesn’t attach to Ireland/EU for failure to agree. There is zero political pressure in Ireland for the government to compromise – if anything the main opposition parties would be much more hard line.

    The Irish government (ironically on the urging of Sinn Fein), actually offered the British government a way out of their political impasse, by pointing out that there is a mechanism under the peace agreement for overruling DUP objections – its called the British Irish Intergovernmental Council (BIIC), which would allow for a form of joint direct rule over Northern Ireland. If Corbyn could be persuaded to do a ‘match’ agreement for DUP (i.e. never vote with the DUP to bring down the government), which I’m sure he could be, then the DUP’s veto could easily be overcome. But I suspect the DUP’s friends in the Tory Party have done their best to stop this.

    One thing I’m not sure about though is the DUP’s hard line stance on this. They talk tough, but its pretty clear that many of their voters are worried (the voting figures indicate that many voted Remain). The core DUP vote are rural and small town farmers, small businessmen, lower middle and working class, many in border areas and heavily dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture or retail trade. They must be very worried about what ‘no agreement’ means. I suspect that their political base is nowhere near as hardline as their leaders.

    What it comes down to I think is that there is really no incentive within the EU structures to force through a compromise, and the British government has been hijacked by a minority group of extremists who actually welcome a disorderly Brexit (or are too stupid to understand what that means). Its very hard to see how the remaining issues can be dealt within in the next week.

    1. The Rev Kev

      I’m probably wrong in this opinion but I see how suddenly it was all important that Ireland be happy with a negotiated deal with the UK over Brexit. European Council chief Donald Tusk even flew into Ireland basically to say ‘We’ve got your back, jack!” I just have the feeling that say, Ireland and the UK suddenly announce a negotiated deal and that everything was cool, that Donald Tusk would then fly into another place like Gibraltar and say that now it was vital that everything be resolved there to Gibraltar and Spain’s satisfaction.

    2. begob

      I suspect that their political base is nowhere near as hardline as their leaders.

      Big opportunity for the DUP. They have to assume their moment will pass, and bringing down the guillotine on the Tory neck can only harm them. I wonder if we’ll start hearing about the Channel Islands – ex-EU + ex-UK (although still under the Queen), but in-CU + in-SM (latter for goods only).

  3. kk

    What can’t happen won’t happen. In the US you don’t seem to realise the UK rightwing newspapers are the creatures of the government, as are the backbench MPs, they are told to growl ,no surrender’ so the leader can say, ‘ I’d love to do that but they won’t let me’, then the leader does what the leader has to or wants to do, and the papers and backbenchers obey. The mad Brexiteer SUN, was saying on Saturday that £50B+ was a cheap price to pay for freedom! In the next few days the orangemen will be sold down the river and all the papers and backbenchers will support it – remember, British democracy is elective dictatorship, not as a bug but as a feature to coin a NC phrase.

    1. Anonymous2

      I would put it the other way round. It is the government which is the creature of the right wing press most of the time. Will this prove an exception? We shall see.

      In the meantime there are indications reportedly that UK public opinion is turning against Brexit on the grounds that it is going to cost too much. The widely touted £50bn. figure seems to have had quite an impact. The reaction of course represents a misunderstanding of what the financial negotiations have been about but misunderstanding of the real issues is pretty much par for the course where Brexit is concerned. Of course the idea (false ) that the UK might get back £350mn a week post Brexit was thought to be very influential in the referendum result so that the idea that the UK will be out of pocket rather than better off is bound to have an effect.

      1. vlade

        I know that plural of anecdote is not data, but I have met a number of people who did base their decision making solely on the 350m/week number (and the vague implication it might go to NHS).

        Ironically enough, often the self-same people put in another claim (which wasn’t aired so much) on how much are the migrants costing NHS. That one was much easier for me to debunk, as I could point out that the number they quoted was pretty much larger than the NHS budget, which could be found easily via google..

        Mind you, migrants are costing NHS – because the number of staff who are migrants is large. But w/o them, NHS will be in even more trouble than it is.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, again anecdotal, but the the red busses (with the 350 million a week NHS claim) were seen as critical by the PR types to Brexit having passed.

          1. Christopher Dale Rogers


            Are these the same PR types who stated a Labour Party led by Corbyn was dead in the water, the same PR types who suggested the UK had no stomach for a radical manifesto that broke with 40 years of neoliberal dogma?

            For what its worth, from the Facebook groups I belong too that are all pro-Corbyn, some with 30,000 odd members, not one person has suggested the Red Bus had any influence on their vote, this despite the fact a minority of said members of these Groups voted to leave the EU, despite Corbyn going for a Remain vote.

            I can’t talk for those who were voting UKIP, but sentiment towards the EU in many of the areas that voted leave has been low to say the least, despite plenty of EU funds being visible, and this has been the case for a generation – vanity projects don’t endure themselves well to those in near poverty.

            Indeed, in areas such as Aberavon (South Wales)& Scunthorpe (North East), the dumping of Chinese Steel played a part as neither the EU or Westminster were swift to do anything about it.

            I think, as with the Clinton brigade, that fact remains the Remain group led a lacklustre campaign, one that was only marginally offset by the murder of Joe Cox, prior to her death the Polls were looking like a 55%/45% split in favour of leaving, after her murder a 2% drop was recorded for the Leave camp – but to claim the NHS Red Bus influenced the vote to such a degree Remain lost, seems a slight exaggeration by the PR/Marketing types and the Remain camp.

            Indeed, having Kinnock, Blair & Mandelson involved was absolutely toxic to many, and that’s Labour voters, not Tory or UKIP ones.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              This is an extremely long piece by one of the key people running the Leave campaign. He explains in detail why Remain had overwhelming institutional advantages.

              The message on the red busses was one of his campaign’s five key messages. And the Remain side thought it was very effective too:

              Our story rested on five simple foundations that came from listening very hard to what people really knew, thought, and said:

              1. ‘Let’s take back control’. The overall theme. When I researched opinion on the euro the best slogan we could come up with was ‘keep control’. I therefore played with variations of this. A lot of people have given me a lot of credit for coming up with it but all I really did was listen. (NB. ‘back’ plays into a strong evolved instinct – we hate losing things, especially control.)

              2. ‘The official bill of EU membership is £350 million per week – let’s spend our money on our priorities like the NHS instead.’ (Sometimes we said ‘we send the EU £350m’ to provoke people into argument. This worked much better than I thought it would. There is no single definitive figure because there are different sets of official figures but the Treasury gross figure is slightly more than £350m of which we get back roughly half, though some of this is spent in absurd ways like subsidies for very rich landowners to do stupid things.)

              Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic. Even with UKIP voters it was level-pegging with immigration. Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No. Would we have won by spending our time talking about trade and the Single Market? No way (see below).

              NB. Unlike most of those on our side the IN campaign realised the effectiveness of this, as Cooper, Coetze and others said after 23 June. E.g. ‘The power of their £350 million a week can’t be overstated.’ Andrew Cooper, director of strategy for the IN campaign.

              Some people now claim this was cynical and we never intended to spend more on the NHS. Wrong. Boris and Gove were agreed and determined to do exactly this. On the morning of 24 June they both came into HQ. In the tiny ‘operations room’ amid beer cans, champagne bottles, and general bedlam I said to Boris – on day one of being PM you should immediately announce the extra £100 million per week for the NHS [the specific pledge we’d made] is starting today and more will be coming – you should start off by being unusual, a political who actually delivers what they promise. ‘Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. We MUST do this, no question, we’ll park our tanks EVERYWHERE’ he said. Gove strongly agreed. If they had not blown up this would have happened. The opposite impression was created because many Tories who did not like us talking about the NHS reverted to type within seconds of victory and immediately distanced themselves from it and the winning campaign. Unlike Gove and Boris they did not learn from the campaign, they did not listen to the public. Until people trust that the NHS is a financial priority for Tories, they will have no moral authority to discuss management issues. This obvious fact is psychologically hard to absorb because of the strength of gang feelings in politics.

              (There are already myths about some of these events. The press conference of 24 June is now written up as the two of them ‘terrified of what they had done’ but this is completely wrong. They were subdued partly because they were genuinely sad about Cameron and partly because they did not want to be seen as dancing on his grave. Some of the media created the psychologically compelling story that they were regretful / frightened about victory but this was not at all their mood in HQ on the morning of 24 June. Boris came in punching the air like Maradona after a great goal, hugging staff and clearly euphoric. It is completely wrong to portray him as regretful.)

              3. ‘Vote Leave to take back control of immigration policy. If we stay there will be more new countries like Turkey joining and you won’t get a vote. Cameron says he wants to “pave the road” from Turkey to here. That’s dangerous. If we leave we can have democratic control and a system like Australia’s. It’s safer to take back control.’

              I was surprised at what a shock it was to IN when we hit them with Turkey. By the time this happened they were in an almost impossible position. I wanted them to announce a veto. It would not have been believed and would have had the opposite effect – people would have taken the danger of Turkey joining more seriously. If your life depended on winning for IN, the answer is clear: they should have said long before the campaign started as part of the renegotiation process that they would veto any accession.

              4. ‘The euro is a nightmare, the EU is failing, unemployment is a disaster, their debts and pensions are a disaster, if we stay YOU will be paying the bills. It’s safer to take back control and have a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation instead of the European Court being in charge of everything…’ (This is not an official text, just a summary of the notion off the top of my head.)

              5. Anti-Establishment. E.g. We aligned our campaign with those who were furious with executive pay / corporate looting (about 99% of the country). We aligned ourselves with the public who had been let down by the system.


          2. Mark P.

            The $350 million claim was influential. I get back to the UK — and outside London — every six months, and anecdotally that’s what I heard from every Leaver I talked to.

            1. Christopher Dale Rogers


              Not too sure where you hang out, but having spent the best part of a month in working class pubs and clubs in South Wales, in four distinct areas, one of which voted Remain, I’ve yet to hear anyone discuss Brexit whatsoever. However, on more politicised mediums, such as Facebook groups set up to support Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party, again, I’ve not read anything about this red bus. Indeed, in my focus groups anything that comes out of a Tories mouth is treated with contempt, so, again, people persuaded by the claim were stupid, or its import is greatly exaggerated – and given the result of the GE vote in Wales, when compared with both the EU Referendum & National Assembly elections, I’m not going to call 17% of my peers stupid, when a large percentage of them moved back to the Labour Camp in June this year. I can’t talk for Tories or UKIP as avoid like the plague, but this Red Bus NHS claim seems to be similar to all the crud the democrats come out with for losing to Trump. Lets face it, Clinton was crap and the Remain campaign in the UK was crap, worse than crap actually as it was led on the whole by Tories – Corbyn would have nothing to do with it, and for good reason – see Scotland.

            2. Christopher Dale Rogers


              Just ensuring we are on the right page, here’s regular folk in South wales talking about Brexit, and the fact that prior to the EU, the sentiment was if we had a vote, most would vote Out, now that comes from Welsh political scientists who teach at the University Of Cardiff – again, South Wales is South Wales, certainly not the Midlands, North East or North West, but, from a socioeconomics perspective, all these regions share the same problems:

              1. Mark P.

                Christopher Dale Rogers wrote: Not too sure where you hang out ….

                I talked to people in Cumbria, Yorkshire, and Manchester, and did it gingerly because I’m aware that people are loath to be drawn into an argument on a highly divisive issue. Also, I’m over there to visit my old dad, who’s of an age when — for better and worse — he has frequent contact with NHS workers. Thus, the people I talked to were in many cases NHS employees in the North of England.

                I’m not unsympathetic to the general UK Leavers’ sentiment. In Greece, the ECB and European Commission — since even the IMF finally stepped back from the Troika’s hardcore policies — prioritized German and French banks over the Greek population to the extent of 25,000 to 50,000 extra mortalities among that population, it appears.

                ‘5 years of austerity takes its toll on Greek health care’
                ‘Health inequalities after austerity in Greece’

                So that’s a part of the reality of the EU, which in general isn’t at all as pretty as Remainers imagine. That being said, the Brexit discussion in the UK has never been about that, and has in general been deeply dishonest and ignorant. The difficulties involved in the task of leaving the EU after forty years have been totally misrepresented and minimized, given that what’s entailed more resembles the multi-year disassembly of a giant bomb. As we’ve found out.

                The EEA exit path — with enforcement of qualifying rules on which visitors have the freedom to remain in the UK after three months — may be the most sensible route.

  4. Host Q. Public

    Unrelated question: If the people on the entire Irish island were to vote to be one Ireland, or remain Ireland and Northern Ireland, which position would win?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Almost certainly a united Ireland (although no doubt many public Republicans would vote ‘no unification’ in the privacy of the polling booth as they wouldn’t want the cost and hassle of sharing a country with the NI lunatic fringe). But as part of the NI peace agreement it was agreed that any vote on unification would apply to NI only. In reality, demographic changes would likely produce a small majority for reunification in a few years (at least in theory, there is no guarantee that all ‘nationalists’ would in fact vote for it).

  5. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t have time to read through in detail, but the latest headlines in the Irish Times and Guardian is that a deal has been reached on the border issue. It seems May has conceded the principle that NI will maintain regulatory convergence with the EU up until a full trading deal is agreed with the EU.

    Presumably though the devil in the detail on this would be how it is managed within the UK (i.e. trade between NI and Britain) and whether May can sell this to her party.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Just looking at the live Guardian news feed and the Irish Times.

      Basically, Britain has agreed to sign up the entire UK, not just NI to ‘regulatory alignment’ with the EU. That seems completely incompatible with Brexit – the EU would never agree to this unless the ECJ was the final arbiter of regulatory conflict.

      And it seems May has signed up to this without agreement in her cabinet.

      So basically, May seems to be taking an enormous gamble that she can force this through – effectively neutralising nearly all the main points of Brexit. I can’t see her succeeding with this, but no doubt there will be many more surprises to come.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        To correct that, it does look like its ‘implied’ that it is NI only. Not just Scotland, but Sadiq Khan, mayor of London says the same rules should apply to London as it voted ‘Remain’!

        Maybe there is more to come, but it all looks very sloppy to me, I can’t see this deal hanging together.

        Of course, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that this is a way for Ireland/EU to make sure the blame for the deal failing falls on cabinet Brexiteers and the DUP. Maybe May sees this as an honourable way to bow out and pass the poisoned chalice to someone like Gove?

    2. makedoanmend

      From what I can gather, the entire situation hinges upon the wording – i.e. the difference between “not diverging” from EU regulations versus “aligning” with EU regulations.

      Not-Divergent is a much more clear cut case of the North and South (of course) abiding by EU regulations on an island wide basis. The UK refuses, from what I can gather, to use this wording. Alignment is a much more vague term meaning that the North would mostly follow EU regulations but there is wiggle/fudge room for “interpretation” of how much the North exactly aligns with EU regulations.

      Further to this “fudge” is the stated belief by hard-core Brexiteers that the UK and the EU will roughly “align” in a regulatory sense because the EU will provide the UK with a free trade agreement that fulfils the wish lists of Brexiteers. Nevertheless, this wording would allow them to move onto phase 2 of the negotiations without having to agree to no hard border.

      If Fine Gael has agreed to this wording, then I would consider that they have largely caved and we’ve turned a decent hand into a busted flush. Our influence is very negligible post phase 1. That is, if this is indeed the state of play.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Its very hard to tell now as everything is just rumour, but I’d be inclined to agree with you. If you allow any sort of fudge in the wording, then the implementation will be fudged. If you are right then yes, its an appalling loss of nerve by the Irish government (unless they are playing a double game, hoping that an inevitable failure will be blamed on the DUP, etc).

        The key point of course is the ECJ. If NI was still subject to ECJ rulings on key regulations, then it would be workable. If not, then I don’t see how its anything but semantics.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Oh dear, its all getting too confusing. I really should stop reading rolling news and get back to work. I’m sure it’ll all be clearer…. next week maybe.

          The Telegraph is reporting ‘no agreement’ on the basis that the DUP won’t live with what May has signed up to. And presumably, that the Telegraph doesn’t like it.

          The BBC is saying ‘no agreement yet‘, still things to settle.

          RTE is saying that Varadkar ‘will make a positive statement’, and also that ‘there is no deal yet.

          By the looks of it, May seems to have conceded lots at the last minute, perhaps so much that the technical work hasn’t caught up. But she is on a solo run it seems. Oh to be a fly on the wall on her first meeting back in London with her lovely government comrades.

          1. makedoanmend

            Now BBC press personnel seem to be in the rumour business as well:

            “Laura Kuenssberg

            Hearing it was the DUP call that sunk today’s chances of a deal – Foster held her press conf, 20 mins later May leaves talks with Juncker to call her, goes back into the room and the deal is off.”


            Love to know the wording regarding the border. Might be Fine Gael dodged a bullet today?

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Well, its hardly news that the DUP would oppose a deal on those lines, so I’m astonished that they hadn’t been kept them (and the rest of her cabinet) on board with discussions.

              My tin hat theory:

              May knew no deal was possible, but didn’t want to be blamed. So she made a deal deliberately knowing the DUP would scuttle it, so she has a scapegoat for everything going pear shaped. Perhaps she learned from how Cameron made the Lib Dems scapegoats for problems created by the Tories (e.g. student loans).

              FG may have dodged a bullet, or they might have known well the DUP would veto any deal, so they decided, along with the EU, and maybe even a core of the British negotiators (including May) to ensure that a third party, i.e. the DUP get the full blame for the failure. Everyone walks away looking like they did their best, they were just foiled by those horrible DUP types. If this is what happened, then I think it was pretty smart of Varadkar and Coveney.

            2. PlutoniumKun

              Incidentally, unless I’m missing something, it would seem that May has been engaged entirely on a solo run in the negotiations and did absolutely nothing to keep her cabinet, party, and the DUP on board for the inevitable compromises.

              If so, this is quite astonishing political incompetence.

              1. makedoanmend

                Given the circumstances and the series of events, it seems your explanations would be the most likely and therefore the conclusions that follow.

                I have to say I’ve been impressed by Coveney (so far) – and also by the professional Irish civil servants who’ve done so much hard work at home and in Brussels.

                And I do so hope that they can eventually come to an acceptable deal.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  A while back, when Coveney was Housing Minister, I heard from some people I know who work in the Department that they were pleasantly surprised with him (these individuals would not be FG supporters). He came to the job with a reputation as a charisma-free Tory Boy, but they said he was always on top of his brief, and was very open minded and pragmatic and showed a lot of integrity.

                  And yes, unlike their London counterparts, the Irish civil service has not been entirely crapified. Small countries without nukes don’t have the luxury of allowing second raters or buffoons represent them abroad.

          2. Clive

            If you ask me, which is no guarantee of hearing anything sensible, but, if you ask me, all this “the DUP won’t stand for it” theatre has the look of a Suez-style manufactured crisis about it.

            Like, how come Arlene Foster, who can’t even remember basic information about things which were her responsibility (the RHI scandal for example), is all over the TV news, word perfect for once, in nicely choreographed set-pieces trotting out sound-bite red lines (in crayon, in her case)?

            It comes across to me as all so stage-managed, I find myself thinking I’ve been transported across the pond and am waiting for the curtain to come up for an off-Broadway premier.

        2. makedoanmend

          Yes, definitely in rumour stage and the Juncker with May meeting apparently came to naught.

          This>>>”The key point of course is the ECJ. If NI was still subject to ECJ rulings on key regulations, then it would be workable. If not, then I don’t see how its anything but semantics.” = spot on imho.

          1. Irrational

            According to German news: deal is off, negotiations to continue this week, everyone – including London, Wales and Scotland came out wanting a special status with single market access as well, while Foster said NI has to leave EU on same terms as rest of UK. BBC blames DUP as well.

            1. makedoanmend

              Thanks for the German news angle. I tried looking on Die Welt website earlier today and found nothing. I know most countries in Europe aren’t that interested in Brexit at this juncture, and in fact some are sick and tired of it. I suspect many in Ireland would like to forget about it if the economic damage can be contained – and maybe, possibly the Good Friday Agreement somehow salvaged.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      The FT’s lead story says the reverse:

      Brexit deal falls through over Irish border dispute

      A carefully choreographed divorce deal between London and Brussels was derailed at the eleventh hour on Monday after Northern Ireland’s hardline Unionists rejected Theresa May’s agreement to potentially keep the province aligned with EU law after Brexit.

      Mrs May, who had travelled to Brussels to finalise the deal with Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, was forced to back away after the Democratic Unionist party objected that it would prevent Northern Ireland from leaving the EU “on the same terms” as the rest of the UK…

      Dublin is insisting Brexit does not create a hard border with Northern Ireland, potentially undermining the 1998 peace accord that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

      “Despite our best efforts and significant progress . . . it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today,” said Mr Juncker after the talks with Mrs May broke down. “This is not a failure; this is the start of the very last round.”

      I don’t see how May and the EU convinced themselves this would fly. The DUP was very clear that they’d view NI under the same rules and trading regime as the Republic as a step too far towards integration. Unless/until May finds a new coalition partner, this idea was a non-starter.

      But this does at least get May and the EU off the hook re being the bad guys. I wonder if May “misread” NI politics or instead mislead the EU.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m a bit astonished that anyone would have thought the DUP would buy the deal, they’ve been absolutely consistent (one thing you can say about Ulster loyalists, is that they don’t change their minds easily). And its not much of a secret that they’ve been getting large sums of money from pro-Brexit rich funders. I don’t have a particularly high opinion of May’s acumen, but even she and her advisers couldn’t possibly think the DUP would give in without a fight.

        I can only assume that May thought that she could outmanoeuvre them somehow with a fait accompli and whatever she had in mind didn’t come off. Or perhaps someone within her own party deliberately led her to believe that they would stay on board and this was in effect a deliberate ambush of May herself by her internal enemies? Its no secret now that plenty of Tory Brexiters are happy with a no deal, perhaps they preferred the DUP to be their agent of chaos than to do the damage themselves.

        I’m sure the Irish government and EU are not unhappy with this. They can’t be accused now of not going the extra mile for a deal. But there seemed genuine surprise at the DUP reaction, so they may have been led to believe that May had them in the bag somehow. Varadkar is known for having a poor feel for NI politics (he’s said some very odd things about it in the past), but I’m sure Coveney and his advisors are not so uninformed.

        My other thought on this is that May has had enough of being PM and is simply trying to engineer an honourable exit for herself – to be let down by the DUP would be better than being knifed in the back by her own Brexiters. If she resigns at the end of the week (not impossible I think), then this would be confirmed.

        Another random thought is that this is actually an ambush for the DUP cooked up by the Irish with some co-operation from the British side (if not May herself). There is a mechanism under the peace agreement for the Irish government to compel the British to form a joint council to directly rule NI – its called the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference. In terms of NI politics, the DUP could be cut out entirely if the BIIC was reformulated. But that wouldn’t change British Parliamentary arithmetic, especially as the DUP have close friends among the ultra Brexiteers, so unless there is another surprise somewhere I don’t see how this could work.

        So really, between cock-up or conspiracy, I’ve no idea.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          This take seems pretty balanced (the RTE writer is pretty well connected with Irish and EU sources on economics matters). One way of looking at it is that by making the DUP the barrier, it could put a soft Brexit back on the agenda for the UK as a while. In other words, the strategy is to put wind back in the sails of the moderates by flushing out the DUP. But I think its too late for that.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            As of this morning, the consensus in the media seems pretty clear – May and her team thought they had linguistically ‘finessed’ the border issue with Ireland, but underestimated the stubbornness of the DUP, and were outmanoeuvred in London as the DUP got the hard Brexiters on their side. She seemed to have genuinely thought that the DUP would never pull the plug as this would let Corbyn into power. The Irish Times gives what seems a well sourced timeline and overview. The Irish and EU were convinced they had an agreement, until May pulled the plug over lunch.

            Diplomacy is largely about subtlety. The way that officials had found to break the deadlock was to remove a pledge for “no regulatory divergence” in the text and replace it with a promise that “regulatory alignment” would be maintained.

            The Taoiseach said later in his press conference that the two things meant the same thing, although some of those involved in the process said that was not quite the case. “Alignment” sounds a bit weaker than “no divergence”, and that was certainly the British view. But crucially, for the Irish side, the British had made what they viewed as a “cast-iron” promise that there would be no hard Border; that meant a special deal for Northern Ireland.

            The details could be worked out in phase two. But a subtle distinction to one is a dangerous ambiguity to another. And the plain-spoken men and women of the DUP are suspicious of ambiguity, especially when they smell betrayal in the air. And subtlety, in any case, is not the DUP’s strongest game.

            For all the DUP scaremongering about Dublin’s designs on the North through the Trojan horse of Brexit (which presumably they know is poppycock), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what the DUP fears is what unionists have always most feared – not Dublin’s designs, but betrayal by London.


            May went into her lunch with Juncker in Brussels ready to sign off on the morning’s deal – not just on Ireland, but also citizens’ rights and the financial settlement – to clear the way for the phase two talks to be rubber-stamped by EU leaders next week. Midway through lunch, May stepped out to take a call from the DUP leader Arlene Foster. By the time she returned, the deal was off.


            When it eventually convened, at 5.15pm, the mood had swung wildly. Varadkar didn’t mince his words. The British had agreed, and then withdrawn. It was now up to them to come up new language, but the Irish would not be budging from the substance of their position.

            So it seems it was more cock-up than conspiracy. May simply didn’t have the political skill and strength to bring her people with her on an agreement.

            For the EU and Ireland though, the good news. It seems the British press is largely blaming the DUP. For Junker, etc., I think this is very much job done.

            There are plenty of ‘there is still time to do a deal’ type quotes floating around, but it seems checkmate to me. The EU is not going to shift to satisfy the DUP (the Irish PM has already said as much). May is fatally weakened, and unless she can somehow do a deal with the hardliners (threaten a new ‘soft Brexit’ coalition with other parties in Parliament?) I find it hard to see how May can stay PM by Christmas now, she has been utterly humiliated by this. I almost feel sorry for her.

  6. TedHunter

    Frankfurter Allgemeine published an exclusive on 01.12, based on leaked docs from the EU Commission.

    The EU is preparing contingency plans. A working group called „Brexit Preparedness Group“ and reporting directly to Juncker is working on various scenarios, of which one is a possible complete failure of talks.

    In one of the documents, Michel Barnier is quoted saying that the Commission is looking into the effects of a complete breake-down of discussions and its effects in various fields, from customs to airlines to fisheries.

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