UK Political Pressures Rise….Because EU Does Exactly What It Has Been Saying It Would Do on Brexit

The US press has taken regularly to running armchair analyses of Trump which comes off as a waste of energy since it’s easy to predict what Trump will do without having a model of his inner wiring.

While what passes for the ruling classes in the UK has been even more predictable than Trump in its behavior with Brexit, engaging in denialism which is truly impressive in its impenetrability, it is much more worth of amateur psychologist attention. Trump has repeatedly had to contend with not getting what he wanted and having the press go after him. His responses are regularly childish, self-destructive, laughable…but he does engage in a response of sorts to unfavorable reactions, whether to issue a full-of-bluster tweet, lambaste a critic, or, say, try a Big Lie in response. By contrast, the Brexiteers act as if they keep repeating their fantasies, the environment will bend to accommodate their desires. Even Trump is more connected with reality than that.

Astonishingly, the Brexit boosters have clung unwaveringly to their belief system despite over a year and a half of EU officials trying to penetrate their fog. The ritual of “EU official says no way do you get a pony” followed almost immediately by “David Davis [or functional equivalent] says EU agrees with us on ponies” or “Of course, EU has no choice but to give us ponies” has become so predictable that numerous commentators have compared it to the movie Groundhog Day.

Perhaps my reading of the news from afar is faulty, but as I indicated earlier this week, following Richard Smith’s sightings, that it is becoming harder and harder for the Tories to keep pesky Brexit realities at bay. The political pressures within the Tory party seem to be rising to the boiling level even if there is no obvious place for all that energy to go. Even though May is hostage to the hard core Brexit wing, they don’t have the votes to force a leadership battle, much the less win one. And a snap election, after the last fiasco, runs the risk of putting Labour in power, a Tory nightmare.

However, again returning to our steam cooker analogy, as you put more and more energy you put into a system, it hits the point where it undergoes a state change, as in goes chaotic. What that means in terms of British politics is way over my pay grade, but the pressures keep building as the Brexiteers keep taking what they see as humiliating failures due to their own unhinged misassessment of what was attainable. They are unable to lash out at, much the less affect, the true object of their ire, the fact that the EU does not care what they think, and has already factored in the losses they will take due to British recklessness and utter refusal to plan and negotiate. So they make Theresa May their substitute punching bag even though beating up on her accomplishes nothing.

For the sake of completeness, the latest developments, only one of which is actually news:

Last week, David Davis gave an unhinged-even-by-Brexit standards speech on the “implementation period” (as if the UK were showing the official capacity to “implement” anything). As Richard North focuses on the critical element, that the UK has been so unwilling to contemplate Brexit in a serious manner, which is then reflected in a refusal to do even the basics of negotiating, like present a set of “asks,” that the EU is dictating terms:

…he presented the EU fait accomplis as “the bridge that we plan to build, to smooth the path to our new relationship with the EU after Brexit”.

What we were calling the “vassal state” scenario long before Rees Mogg appropriated the term becomes a “strictly time limited implementation period, which forms a sound basis for the UK’s future prosperity”.

The fact that, even now, an extension is being talked of, and Mrs May is said to have abandoned her Lancaster House anniversary speech, is neither here nor there. According to Mr Davis, the EU’s idea of transition “allows us to grasp the benefits of Brexit by setting in place the fundamental building blocks for the country as we leave”.

Now mind you, the UK’s bargaining position is so weak it’s not clear how much more it could have gotten if it had tried, particularly since it has set up red lines and completely ignored the fact that they have dictated what sort of arrangement the EU can offer given its agreements with other countries. North also argues the UK has totally ignored that it would have had more latitude as well as leverage were it to pursue trade relations within the EEA framework, since the UK is already a member of the EEA. I think North greatly overestimates the attractiveness of that route, since among other things, a services deal for the City would fall outside the EEA purview. But just about anything would be less bad than the course the UK is charting.

Monday, the EU needed all of two minutes to approve key elements of its transition period, in the form of new directives to its chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Consistent with the speed of the up vote, the decision was no surprise to anyone paying attention. The UK will get only till December 31, 2020 (as we have been predicting). The EU also, again completely predictably, said EU rules would be in force, including any new rule instituted after the Brexit date. UK Brexit boosters howled, acting as if their demand that the UK be able to veto EU rules implemented during the transition period would get any traction. Even the FT’s comment section, which has a decent representation of Brexit stalwarts, hooted down the idea.

Per the Times, the ultras are again ritually threatening May with defenestration as a result of her horrible failures depicted above. Despite all the yowling, there’s no reason to believe that anyone seriously wants to replace her.

A new May sin, per the Times, is a Government leak of an analysis that finds that every possible Brexit leaves the UK worse off. My bet is that the soft Brexit backers planted this story to take some of the wind of the sails out of the ultras, who have been getting more even more rabid. From Buzzfeed, which broke the story:

The government’s new analysis of the impact of Brexit says the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled, BuzzFeed News can reveal.

The assessment, which is titled “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” and dated January 2018, looked at three of the most plausible Brexit scenarios based on existing EU arrangements.

Under a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, UK growth would be 5% lower over the next 15 years compared to current forecasts, according to the analysis.

The “no deal” scenario, which would see the UK revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, would reduce growth by 8% over that period. The softest Brexit option of continued single-market access through membership of the European Economic Area would, in the longer term, still lower growth by 2%.

These calculations do not take into account any short-term hits to the economy from Brexit, such as the cost of adjusting the economy to new customs arrangements.

Needless to say, that “cost of adjusting to new customs arrangements” is going to be a monster hit, particularly given the utter refusal of the Government to even engage the problem, which has been compounded by the wipeout of Carillion, which will in turn lead to the bankruptcy of a significant number of contractors who do things like build port infrastructure. And those of you who do financial modeling know that reducing growth figures early in a time series has a much bigger overall impact than reductions in outer years.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the EU has repeatedly asked the UK to put forward its negotiating demands. Again, I can’t stress how utterly outside the pale the UK’s behavior has been. From the Associated Press:

Monday’s guidelines include a demand for clarity on what future relations should look like.

“The sooner the Brits are clear about the future, the better for everybody,” said Italy’s EU affairs representative Sandro Gozi. “We have to use our time and energy not in shaping the transition, but in shaping the future relationship.”

Richard North describes how things will play out if this dynamic holds, and there is absolutely no reason to think anything will change:

Nick Gutteridge of The Sun is closest to the mark. “The EU is now just desperate for UK to put forward anything it can actually work with. Last Autumn there was a sense of irritation that we’d been harping on about trade but not come up with anything. In December, that developed into concern. It’s now fast turning into panic”.

In the absence of any serious proposal the EU will end up deciding for us drawing up guidelines for a basic FTA based on our red lines. It will take us at our word that we are leaving the single market, the customs union and ending freedom of movement. Says Gutteridge “Process will begin in less than 4 weeks if May doesn’t produce anything. Feeling is UK’s told us what it doesn’t want, but hasn’t (within bounds of realism) told us what it does”.

That though presents both sides with a number of physical and technical challenges which raises the spectre of an actual implementation period following 2020 geared toward the UK becoming a third country, for which there is presently very little preparation coupled with a profound ignorance of what that actually entails. The lack of preparation could well mean that a basic FTA is only marginally less disruptive than a no deal Brexit.

It is hard to imagine how the UK could have handled what was always going to be a monumental challenge worse. Unless the UK holds a second referendum and winds up backing out of Brexit (which has gone from looking like a non-starter to remotely possible), Tory utter incompetence and opportunism will permanently diminish the UK and deliver a permanent reduction in its citizens’ standard of living. And ordinary people will take the biggest hit.

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  1. c_heale

    As a Brit living abroad, who has just come back from a short vacation in the UK, it became obvious to me that many Brexit supporters have lost all contact with reality, if judged by the articles in the tabloid press (which consistently blamed everything on the EU, even it meant taking opposing positions from day to day). A disturbing factor was the lack of analysis from the BBC (which is now really poor on analyzing anything) – in fact although the radio was on BBC Radio 4 nearly everywhere I stayed, I don’t recall hearing anything serious about Brexit – even though it is the single most important issue facing the UK at the current time. The lack of discussion of the issue now in the UK is appalling, and I think many people are either fixed in their views or are just hoping it will all go away.

    I know the above is all anecdotal, but what is a fact is that it isn’t going to go away. What I think will happen is that we will get the transition period, but since we will have no power to influence things during this transition even more blame will be heaped on the EU. This will lead to an increasingly poor relationship between the two sides and eventually a no deal scenario, at which point the shit will really hit the fan.

    If Corbyn gets into power (this is my only hope) this may change, but he will face unremitting hostility from the press (who in my opinion are primarily responsible for Brexit, and the increase in racism towards anyone who is a ‘foreigner’ over the past 20 years), the BBC, the political establishment, about half the population and many inside his party. This means he may not be able to steer Brexit away from a no deal scenario.

    I’m no fan of the EU’s current neoliberal policies – but they have tried to negotiate and the British Government (no surprise to anyone who comes from anywhere in the former British Empire) has done nothing but try to bullshit both the EU and it’s own uninformed populace. The only grim satisfaction I get is that several politicians like May, Johnson, Davis etc. have already shown themselves up, and that of all the countries in the world, the one which has probably done the most harm to others (through the British Empire) is about to find out it has absolutely no friends. However, most of all I feel sorry for many of the people of the UK who don’t deserve what is going to happen.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      As someone just looking in from outside, this is how it seems to me too. The lack of clarity in media reports from is quite staggering. I’ve had two recent trips to the UK – one to the Midlands, the other to Scotland, and spent a lot of time just listening to the radio while driving and browsing random newspapers. The poor quality of reporting and discussion was very disturbing. The only UK news source I regularly read is the Guardian, which should on a topic like this be fairly good, but its reporting, especially on the economic side of things, is hopelessly uninformed and incoherent. The comments btl on its website are vastly superior to most of its reporting (with a small number of honorable exceptions, most notably John Crace’s hilarious Parliamentary reports).

      If I was UK based and just got my information from casual news sources I think I’d be hopelessly confused and would probably have just tuned out long ago. This is why I think that by far the most likely outcome is that the UK is simply going to stagger into an incoherent Brexit which is going to create many, many years of economic and political chaos.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I should add, by the way, that Yves point on the British attitude to Trump is spot on. There seems quite a lot of cognative dissonance going on when the UK media openly mocks Trump for his undoubted stupidities, but completely ignores the astonishing ineptness of the British govenment. Britain is becoming a worldwide laughing stock, and it is entirely self inflicted by that small core of Eton and PPP graduates who run the country as if it was a university debating/drinking club.

      1. Anonymous2

        Thank you Yves and other commenters. Good points as usual.

        Just one additional thought to offer. I get asked the question: why do UK politicians talk such nonsense? Do they not know they are talking nonsense?

        For me the main explanation now is that they know they are talking to an electorate many of whom are to a major degree woefully misinformed about the world, Europe and the UK’s relationship with these larger entities. Decades of disinformation have done their work. UK politicians in their public discourse therefore feel no need to address realities (even if they know what they are) but aim mostly just to court popularity by saying whatever they judge their audience wants to hear – down to Johnson trying to ape Churchill and calling to ‘let the (British) lion roar’.

        So, for many UK politicians now it is unimportant whether what they say makes sense. It is what the punters want to hear. And for all the politicians know (and I fear many of them are very ignorant), if they have not checked their facts, what they say might be true, might it not?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’m not sure there is an answer to your question, but I suspect that a major problem in the UK has been the progressive weakening of the civil service since the days of Thatcher. Politicians have always spoken nonsense, and every government had its share of idiots, and were sometimes led by idiots. But, as in any well functioning State, there are the Sir Humphreys of this world to steer the ship in the right direction discreetly. The classic example being Belgium, which has managed to stay functioning fine even when it had no government at all for up to a year. Its an essential feature of a functioning democracy I think.

          I think the loss of competent Sir Humphreys has meant that the system has become more and more dependent on competent people getting elected. When that doesn’t happen, then the consequences are very damaging. Why this has particularly stricken the UK right now, I don’t really know.

          1. Adrian Kent

            The reason UK politicians can talk so much nonsense is that they’re allowed to get away with it. It’s a mixture of the Oxbridge PPE outlook, London establishment over familiarity and indifference to ‘the provinces’ and rank bias (especially at the BBC where ALL the significant editorial posts are held by Tories).

            I wouldn’t get too dewey-eyed about the ‘Sir Humprheys’ though – they’re the types greasing the wheels for our arms sales to the Saudis.

            Having said that, I can’t wait for Brexit – a touch of Disaster Socialism under Corbyn is just what this country needs.

          2. animalogic

            “Why this has particularly stricken the UK right now, I don’t really know.”
            I’ll take a guess: nearly 40 years of uninterrupted ultra neoliberalism ?

            1. Mark P.

              nearly 40 years of uninterrupted ultra neoliberalism ?

              Yup. Thatcher came into power about eighteen months before Reagan so the experiment has run a little longer in a smaller testbed.

              Though I live in California and the disease is far more advanced over here in the US because there’s always been less social cohesion and the average American mope has always been brainwashed into fancying themselves a temporarily-embarrassed millionaire rather than a temporarily-housed homeless person.

          3. tempestteacup

            The civil service has indeed been weakened, but whispers from those within it now or who have recently left/retired suggests that there are still plenty of individuals working in its that have a firm grasp on the realities of what’s going on. The resignation of the Ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rodgers, 12 months ago was both early warning of what was to come and, in the reasons he laid out then (and subsequently), a demonstration of how the civil service was being forced to act, essentially, as enablers for their political masters. That requires, needless to say, the suppression of their skills, experience, insights, and reality-based advice.

            So I suspect there is still talent in the civil service, although it was no doubt under-equipped for this mammoth task since it was under-equipped before the referendum as well. I recall reading that the service was unhappy with May creating a special DExEU rather than placing responsibility with the FCO, or the Treasury, or both. New department = logistical nightmare. Add David Davis into the mix, and it shouldn’t be surprising that his department has become notorious as the one to avoid being seconded to at all costs (you can add the Dept for Trade under Liam Fox as well). The poor staffing of the pivotal department therefore becomes self-perpetuating and the initial mistake of May’s – to create a new department, and then to have the three most relevant ministries headed by 3 avid Brexiters – meant that the UK govt’s entire approach to negotiations developed from wonky foundations.

            It became obvious when May announced her first Cabinet that she was not going to be the sort of stolid but pragmatic, steady but dogged leader that the media fawned over (including the Guardian, then at the height of its Corbyn-hysteria). Before that, though, I do wonder if there hadn’t been an opportunity to set these negotiations on a completely different path. I agree with Yves that the UK has almost no leverage today, and that it never had much to begin with. At the same time, it was a political decision to treat this process as an adversarial rather than a collaborative one. It was a political decision to assay ludicrous acts of brinkmanship or grand-standing designed really just for domestic consumption.

            Perhaps I am being naive here, but I imagine there was a window during which a fresh Tory leader could have reached out at her first EU summit to her colleagues and said something to the effect that, “As you know, I did not support this outcome and I’m sorry it is what the British people voted for. Unfortunately, however, political realities at home mean that as much as many would like it is not currently possible to ignore, re-run or reverse the referendum. Reluctantly, then, we will have to been seen to carry out the will expressed to leave the EU. What I hope, however, is that we can work together on a solution to this issue that does not produce excessive harm to either of us, that maintains as many close relations as possible along with the benefits of our long-term collaborations, while at the same time satisfying the political demand expressed by the referendum. If circumstances change in the future, perhaps even this can be looked at again, but for now, Britain will approach this as a shared problem which we hope we can solve together while respecting democratic processes, even if we regret their outcome.”

            I appreciate that because of the UK’s barmy red lines, they have precluded the possibility of a more flexible or, as it were, mixed-message Brexit, but that didn’t have to be so. I wonder if the Tories had approached things somewhat as I’ve described, and came to discussions with no red lines but instead an entirely open mind, whether we wouldn’t be faced with much more positive possibilities.

            Of course, not only did May not do that, she appointed leading Brexiters to key posts, she and her colleagues made a series of inflammatory speeches, in the process blundering into obvious, avoidable circumstances where she becomes a prisoner of her own promises or rhetoric. She sent Davis et al to schmooze European leaders in the hope of driving a wedge between them, even though this provocatively ignored the fact that by mandating Barnier as negotiator, the EU set guidelines that didn’t allow individual governments to be lobbied directly. She, or her imbecilic colleagues, floated various ideas based on holding hostage various collaborations not even based on EU membership, including security and policing, not to mention the attempts to barter citizenship rights among those EU citizens living in the UK.

            All of these needlessly poisoned the water before the negotiations had even really begun. The govt’s also seemingly turned ambiguity/incoherence/masterly inactivity into a permanent state. Caught between irreconcilable Tory factions and within what may be a chronic ideological crisis, reliant on a DUP with its own Brexit demands, May and her government seem to have simply abandoned efforts to craft a real approach with actual demands.

            Final thought: this is what happens when you create a politics where short-term success/failure is the only measure that anyone in power cares about. May’s govt lives headline to headline. And even if Brexit is a total, utter catastrophe – the entire Cabinet will walk out of government and into whatever plum jobs they’ve networked in order to get. Cameron showed the way – being probably the worst PM since 1945 doesn’t stop him coining it on the international speaking circuit, hob-nobbing in Davos, and taking his pick of directorships. I wonder then how invested any of the govt really are in Brexit or its consequences – remember, these are people for whom Thatcherism is bone-deep. They really will be alright whatever happens, and so doubtless will their friends and families. That being so, and since the alternative involves lots of hard work, unpopular decisions, and facing a probably very nasty backlash from the press and bits of your party, why not just let things bumble along safe in the knowledge that when the s___ hits the fan, you’ll be well-protected from the splatter.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Thank you, excellent summation. I would just add the point that for whatever reason Tory politicians have never understood, or attempted to understand European political dynamics. The refusal of the Tory party to join their fellow centre right grouping in the Parliament both baffled and angered their ‘natural’ allies in the German CDU, Spanish PP, etc.

              They entered Brexit with no allies at all apart from a few fringe extreme right east Europeans, and even they quickly became disenchanted due to the overtly anti-east European immigrant statements of much of the Brexiteers.

        2. Synoia

          Just one additional thought to offer. I get asked the question: why do UK politicians talk such nonsense? Do they not know they are talking nonsense?

          With no apologies whatever.

      2. rd

        I have been utterly baffled by the British assumptions regarding Brexit “negotiations”. It has been clear from Day 1 that the EU has very few reasons to offer Britain any favorable terms and many reasons not to. If Britain won’t let continental workers in after Brexit, why wouldn’t the EU strip Britain of many of its most profitable jobs, especially finance which is highly portable?

        The EU needs to make it clear to members that they will be worse off outside the union than inside, otherwise more viable countries would splinter off. So Britain needs to target getting something like NAFTA with the EU. they will not just have free rein to sell goods and services in the EU and have ex-pats live in the EU while restricting the rights of the EU in Britain. Not going to happen.

        Ultimately, the EU’s BATNA is just to sit and wait. The financial firms will soon start expanding operations in Paris and Frankfurt in order to have full access to the EU, so I expect the London job and real estate market to continue bleeding in 2018.

        The negotiations are reminiscent of another great British event immortalized in poem.

        …”Forward, the Light Brigade!”
        Was there a man dismayed?
        Not though the soldier knew
        Someone had blundered.
        Theirs not to make reply,
        Theirs not to reason why,
        Theirs but to do and die.
        Into the valley of Death
        Rode the six hundred….

        When can their glory fade?
        O the wild charge they made!
        All the world wondered.
        Honour the charge they made!
        Honour the Light Brigade,
        Noble six hundred!

    3. Mark P.

      I live in California and go back twice a year to visit my father. The void in terms of media reporting and analysis of Brexit is very striking when I’m there.

      The BBC specifically seems to have succumbed to — and is nowadays run by — the same core of Oxbridge-produced elites that PlutoniumKun refers to, and who infest the Tory and Blairite Labor parties.

      It’s a pity. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when their class’s hold on all the privileged positions in the UK was being broken up. With Thatcher they came roaring back, stupider than ever.

      I have encountered a few of these people — in fact, my brother was at Oxford with Gove. Their toxic combination of utter incompetence and utter arrogance means that there is literally no hope for anything in which they are involved.

    4. Tom Bradford

      UK born and bred I left the UK for good in 1990, after 11 years of Margaret Thatcher and what I thought was the worst of Toryism put the writing on the wall for me.

      Now, securely settled in small, secure, inoffensive, well-run little British enclave on the other side of the world I can only watch appalled as the proud, confident, still moderately powerful and respected country of my youth staggers like a drunken, bow-tied ya-hoo towards a cliff-edge, to the entertainment of some and shaking off what little help and advice a few well-meaning are trying to offer.

      At least Thatcher and her Tories had a plan, repulsive as it was, a genuine plebiscite to implement it and the competence to do so. The present shambles beggars belief.

      How are the mighty fallen. By the waters of Babylon I’d sit down and weep to remember that sceptered isle, that demi-paradise, that flawed England of my youth now circling the plug-hole as the clowns in charge gesture and prance in front of their mirrors, crying ‘la-la’ loudly with their backs to an aghast audience.

      1. tempestteacup

        It’s true, if unpalatable to remember: there was a strand of genuine populism to Thatcher’s refashioning of the Tory Party. It may have been wrong, it may have been the unfortunate result of propaganda, but there were plenty of voters, including working class ones, for whom she in particular appealed with her shopkeeper’s daughter demeanour. And, of course, some of her policies benefited sections of the working class – those who were able to buy their council homes, for example. And, of course, even in the early years when her initial application of neoliberal shock doctrine “reforms” had the inevitable disastrous results, the right-wing of the Labour Party were conspiring to undermine Michael Foot in order to prosecute their long-term obsession with destroying the socialist left while the Falklands War provoked a surge of jingoism at just the right time to re-elect her comfortably.

        The problem is two-fold: first, the ideas that appeared new when Thatcher trumpeted them in late 70s/80s Britain are now familiar. Their consequences are well-documented and their flaws have been brutally exposed. 2008 was the catalyst for a widespread politicisation in the UK that was first express in Scotland before manifesting in UKIP and, finally, a resurgent Labour Party under left-wing leadership. Counter-hegemonic forces are gathering and developing a thorough yet also easily digested explanation of what has happened in Britain, why, and what to do about it now. The Tories, by contrast, have not just remained faithful to Thatcher – they are like fundamentalists of the most basic, reflexive version of neoliberal ideology. Privatise, privatise, privatise; deregulate; slash deficits; never borrow to invest; always attack the public sector; never intervene in the markets.

        The sons and daughters of Thatcher have neither her energy nor her intelligence – people like Chris Grayling are little more than ideological goons providing the muscle for whatever is demanded by Tory donors and corporate interests. Without new ideas or insights, though, political movements grow moribund and die, and this is what’s happening with the Tories. In current form, they combine the most reactionary aspects of the atavistic upper middle class (fox hunting, anti-environmentalism, complete disinterest in anywhere outside the Home Counties) with the most venal, ideologically doctrinaire version of a discredited neoliberalism they have actually forgotten how to criticise or think beyond. The result is a party interesting only in maintaining itself in power in order to further dismantle, sell-off and wage class war in total defiance of current issues or reality. The question is, unfortunately, how much damage they can do before they are turfed out – and how much of it can be undone when they are.

  2. Frenchguy

    I’m guessing you have seen that funny bit:

    At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Angela Merkel naughtily poked fun at Theresa May, in a secret briefing for journalists.

    Here’s what transpired, according to those there.

    Mrs Merkel said that when she asks Mrs May what she wants the shape of the UK’s relationship with the EU to be, Mrs May says “make me an offer”.

    To which Mrs Merkel says, “but you’re leaving – we don’t have to make you an offer. Come on what do you want?

    To which Mrs May replies “make me an offer”.

    And so, according to Mrs Merkel, the two find themselves trapped in a recurring loop of “what do you want?” and “make me an offer”.

    1. vlade

      Merkel’s answer should be easy – “third party status, like most of anyone else. If you want anyting better – well, what do you have to offer?”

      1. Frenchguy

        Well, I guess she would say it’s not an offer but rather the default option and she is not there to explain how the world works to May.

    2. Expat

      I’ve been pointing this out since the beginning. Brits said, “we’re leaving.” Europe said, “Okay, piss off. You were never really keen on us anyway.” Brits said, “No, really. We’re going.”. EU said, “Yes, thank you. You said that already.” Brits said, “We’re leaving and going to hold our breath until you give us presents.” EU said, “Sorry? What? Go away already”

      And now, we are back to the first stage all over again. Repeat the conversation once more. Yet, the Brexiteers still don’t get it.

      My prediction: Brits will vote again, stay in, and the Tories and Brexiteers will blame the evil Europeans for the “Stay” victory.

      Can’t make this stuff up. Not sure even “Yes, Prime Minister” would have run something as childish and outlandish as Brexit

  3. Christopher Dale Rogers


    Many thanks for your input, and like you, I’m a British immigrant living in Asia who has himself only recently returned from a month’s visit to Wales. To be blunt, and as someone who voted like a majority of his fellow citizens on EU membership, the fact remains that the Tories are making a hogs breakfast of the Exit negotiations, to the extent that the UK government is a laughing stock globally, much of this based on their day-to-day incompetence, notwithstanding the Brexit disaster.

    As far as I can tell, Corbyn’s stance has been since day one of the vote to honour the UK electorates decision, whilst aiming for a trade agreement that affords us access to the EEA, which, and he’s clear, can only be undertaken once we have exited the EU. Unlike the Tories, Corbyn has been cultivating sound relations with Left-of-Centre political leaders across the EU, whilst the EU bureaucracy itself has indicated it would prefer negotiation with the Labour Party, rather than the Tories. However, this may be due to the fact a majority of its MPs are pro-Europe and, on the whole, opposed to leaving the EU, which is not the stance of Corbyn or McDonnell.

    Further, and for anyone who’s read this Blog since before the GFC, or followed Bill Mitchell, the fact remains it was, and is, clear that the EU bureaucracy was always going to treat the UK harshly if ever it decided to exit the EU. And this is exactly what is happening. That the Tory Brexit fanatics can’t grasp this fact is rather shocking, a fact made worse by the empty promises they made during the run up to the referendum itself – although, most Lexit voters took zero notice of such BS. Others did not though!

    Whilst Yves has not touched on it, the fact remains that many who wanted a reformed EU structure, one not obsessed with EMU, have been struck by the fact that the EU bureacracy is unwilling to countenance any change, or massive structural & institutional reforms necessary to make it both more democratic and protect/enhance living conditions for all the EU’s citizens. This usually referred too as a People’s Europe, which many on the left aspire too.

    How to achieve the above is anyones guess, however, if the UK electorates desire to exit failed to raise alarm bells, God knows what disaster must befell Europe and the EU before it finally engages seriously with radical reforms, reforms the Tory Brexiters were never interested in.

    Still, interesting times and looking forward, fingers crossed, to a leftwing Labour government within the not too distant future.

    1. vlade

      Corbyn supported A50 invocation, which was IMO idiocy (for too large a number of reasons to enumerate for me now). There are at least approachable arguments why terminating EU membership does not terminate EEA unless the UK says so explicitly (which the Tories are). Similar for a number of other things.

      Corbyn’s mantra of “we want to be outside of EU but with the benfits of single market and customs union” is either a fantasy, or a proper “vasal state” (i.e. to be a full rule-taker in EU) which I doubt he wants. If he does know it, he’s incredibly dishonest with the electorate, if he doesn’t he’s deluded.

      The EU beaurocracy is actually treating the UK way better than the UK deserves, the EU could have easily throw they hands up in the air and given up by now (I think I would have after meeting DD more than twice). What few UK people are willing to grasp though, is that the EU has responsibilities towards its own electorates, who are heartily fed up with the UK – so any sweetheart deals must involve large compromises from the UK side so far. Where there was just “red lines” (followed by a total roll-overs, go figure).

      I do agree with you on the EU reform, but given how EU works, it’s not something that can move quickly. The main thing there would be actually to build a block for the EU reform – which the UK could have done, if it really wanted to.

      Scandi, Holland, CEE countries, Portugal and Greece are not really that keen on more EU government. The main pusher is France, who sees it really as shoring up France’s otherwise declining role. Even in Germany, the “EU federalization” is seen as the price EU has to pay if Germany is going to put more money in, but there’s no real appetite for either, while Spain and Italy sit on sidelines, probably not that keen on it, but wanting the financial support that it came with. It would be a slog, but France could have been isolated in this – but the UK never really cared about the Europe much except it’s narrow view, and there wasn’t anyone else who would be willing to step up and take the leadership of it.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I agree with that 100%. I was shocked Corbyn supported the A.50 motion. On a purely politically tactical sense he should have opposed it on the grounds that more time was needed to prepare the UK. Having supported it he now ‘owns’ a least a portion of the problems from prematurely launching into the exit. I believe that Labours incoherence on Brexit might have been good tactics in the early days, but in the longer term will I think have a political price. If things go really badly, voters are just as likely to say ‘a curse on both your houses’ as they are to jump ship from Tory to Labour.

        I also agree that the EU has gone out of its way to be helpful – most probably because of internal pressure from countries such as Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark, who all have their reasons to want the gentlest possible Brexit. It could easily have gone full mercantilist on the UK – in fact, I thought this would be the immediate response – and overtly sought to hamstring UK business. While no doubt there are behind the scenes preparations for this – there are lots of schemes being launched at national level to aid relocations and to intercept foreign investment – the EU itself has not indulged in this.

      2. Christopher Dale Rogers


        Do you actually follow what Corbyn himself states on relations with Europe, both economical and political post-Brexit?

        First and foremost, to the best of my knowledge, Corbyn has always promoted democracy and upheld democratic outcomes, as such, his invocation of enacting A50 straight after the vote came as no shock to me.

        Further, Corbyn did not call the Referendum & Corbyn is not in Government. He is the elected leader of the Opposition, although most of his MPs oppose him.

        I state this, because I have participated twice in the leadership election of the Labour Party, only to have my nose rubbed in it by those opposed to democratic reform within the Party, namely the Bitterites/Rightists. This is their contempt for democracy. I have no such contempt. The Tories own Brexit, as do New Labour in my humble opinion – remember Lisbon and the promise of a Referendum under Blair/Brown? I certainly do.

        I detest Trump, much as I detest the Tories (a life times detestation), however, both were legitimately elected, which is why I’m amazed from Brexit vote Day One, the vote was denigrated, which, makes a mockery of democracy, something I care greatly about, even if the outcome has economic downsides, the extent of which, still remain unknown in the grand scale of things – this despite Yves efforts to enlighten.

        I’ll stick with Corbyn, who at least has the wellbeing of the average Joe in his heart, which is more than I can say for Trump, the Tories or many of those running the EU institutions, which, lest we forget, were quite happy to inflict massive austerity and ruin millions of lives all for the much vaunted goal of EMU – none of which is worth it in my humble opinion.

        1. vlade

          I will assume you’re not intentionally straw-manning (that would break the policies), but just projecting what you assume I mean.

          The idiocy of voting for A50 last year has nothing to do with democracy (and please, don’t take out the will-of-people thing. If a referendum on death penalty was run in the UK tomorrow, it might well win, even if extremely narrowly. Do you think Corbyn, if PM, would implement it? ).

          A50 was in fact about the only real lever UK had in negotiations in the EU (and it was seen by the fact how desperately the EU wanted the UK to trigger it). The MPs, including the Labour ones (since they got to vote on it), were advised by the public that a large part (enough for the referendum) wanted to leave. Not how, when etc. If we assume they wished to implement the “will of people” (i.e. leavers, slightly over one third of all registered voters), it was still their duty to implement it best in the interest of ALL (i.e all 50+ millions + the as-yet-unborn) the people in the UK. Invoking A50 w/o a plan was a gross dereliction of this duty. The invocation would have passed even w/o all Labour abstaining, which they could easy have done arguing that no plan, no invocation.

          The fact that Corbyn did not call the referendum, and is not in government is irrelevant. Neither Attlee nor Churchill declared the war, yet they had opinions on it. If Corbyn does not wish to be in a government that would deal with Brexit or the consequences of Brexit (which is likely to last for a generation), he should say so now. If he does wish to be in such government, he will have to deal with the fact of Brexit – and then we have a right to ask “how?”. Which he refuses to say any more than Tories do. And, as I wrote above, what he does say is pretty similar fantasy (“part of single market but being outside EU and not bound by its rules, including free movement”) to the Tory one.

          Oh, and did I mention that Corbyn’s web says “Jeremy Corbyn generally voted for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU” – i.e. he did call it (one amongst many, true but still)

          I’d like to see where in my post I denigrate the vote. I do think it was stupid – because while I have no love lost for EU, my position stated here on NC even before the referendum was that the UK politicians would make an extreme hash of it – and they are taking it even beyond what I though possible – and because Cameron called this extremely high-risk vote that will affects generations just to settle an internal Tory squabble that looks like it will blow up the Tory party anyways.

          You imply to me that I don’t like Corbyn. I have a number of problems with him (his belief in magic of state is fundamentally the same as his opponents in the magic of markets. Both state and markets are social constructs and work only as well as the society they operate in allows and tolerates. Both can work, and both can fail miserably), but despite that I voted for him in the last elections, and would vote for him over the current crop of Tories any day of the week.

          Lastly, you , as many people before, conflate EMU and EU. They are NOT the same thing. They may never be the same thing (yes, I know about the technical requirement that new states joining join EMU. Neither Poland, nor Czech Republic, are likely to do so within a generation, and Hungary has only a slightly better chance. Politically, it’s the same as “never”. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy all CHOOSE to join EMU of their own free will, which often tends to be forgotten as well. And it’s not like the consequences of tying to a gold standard weren’t know for at least 50 years by then cf one Keynes).

          They overlap a lot, but among the things you don’t seem to realise is that EMU is much more controlled by the bureaucrats (and, if we go by nationality, Germany) than almost any other EU institution. For one, if you want one really non-democratically selected body in the EU, you don’t need to look further than the ECB board of governors, as the individual state CB governors are quite often not even nominated by government or parliament, but appointments by the respective presidents (Bundesbank for example, which has about the most power in ECB).

          And that these are some of the worst kind of – old bankers and old economists (and I speak as someone who makes livelihood from banks).

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            A critical bit in casting doubt on the idea that the Brexit referendum is that (as our Richard Smith has pointed out) it was clear what a Remain vote meant. It was not at all clear what Leave meant, not just to voters (as in lack of even remotely adequate specificity in the Leave campaign) but because, as we are seeing, Leave covers a vast range of options and even the Tories can’t agree on what Leave means.

            1. vlade

              I wasn’t explicit on this, but it is one of the reasons why I believed UK pols would make a hash of it. TBH, I had similar arguments in the Scottish referendum – that Scots were peddled clear lies by SNP, and there was no clear plan. At the time (I can’t remember whether it was at NC or somewhere else), I said if there should be a referendum that was anything close to rational, it should actually be two referendums. Ref A – “Do you wish Scotland to draft a plan on how to leave the UK, and run another referendum whether to implement it in X years?”, and Ref B (implied by ref A, if it passes).

              Then, and IMO only then, a proper political process would be done. Unfortunately, referendums are becoming a favourite weapon of a certain type of pols, who know that with a craftily enough phrased question they run a major likelihood of getting their way, whatever it is.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                The wording of the Brexit referendum was astonishingly bad. It left it wide open for people to vote exit based on a general feeling of ‘I want things changed’. In countries with more experience of referendums, there is a greater consciousness that people tend to vote against change if either they don’t fully understand the question (‘I don’t really know what its about, but if the government are in favour I’m against it’), or if one option encapusulates peoples general discontent about change.

                I can only assume the thinking behind the wording of the Brexit vote was to engender a fear of the unknown if people voted to go. That obviously backfired, as people associated ‘yes’ with ‘I’m happy with the way things are right now’.

                In the case of the Scottish referendum, it was clearly worded to favour a ‘no’ vote. I suspect that if people were given a more nuanced choice as you suggest, Scotland would be on its way to independence.

                In Ireland we have lots of experience of the trauma of referendums. They really are not a sensible way of doing things unless the options set out are very clear-cut and easy to understand (an example of a good one was the recent Irish gay marriage referendum). We are facing into yet another one soon (on abortion rights) and it will no doubt be both traumatic and could lead to an outcome that leaves nobody happy, as the last one did.

      3. begob

        Corbyn supported A50 invocation, which was IMO idiocy (for too large a number of reasons to enumerate for me now).

        I think the idiocy was inevitable:
        1. The referendum as prepared and framed was idiotic – as Davis himself wrote several years ago, a binary question like this should only be posed to the voters after the parliament has debated and delineated the consequences of either outcome.
        2. The 2 year time frame was always meant to be inadequate. May had to pull the trigger sometime, and the time she chose fitted with the Euro parl elections. That she did so without proper debate and consideration is really a function of the failure to prepare the referendum. So Corbyn’s support may have been necessary rather than idiotic. It’s hard to judge from this distance, and I think we’ll know more when the AG’s advice to May comes to light – I think Corbyn voted last week to have that published, but was defeated by May.

        Yves expressed curiosity last week about the popularity of the Churchill/Appeasement/Dunkirk theme in Britain. Another curiosity is the whitewashing of Attlee’s role in that epsiode.

        1. vlade

          There is a large amount of work that could be done outside of EU law (like a number of non-trade treaties) that could have been managed before triggering A50. Once A50 was triggered, all those treaties had to managed in the same 2 year window as all else – which is too short a period for anything except for really negotiating the basic divorce agreement.

          Triggering A50 w/o a plan – and it’s clear there’s no plan, and MPs when voting on it didn’t insist on seeing a clear, detailed plan (hell, the govt can’t even do any analysis now, and the one it does, it denies propmtly, bare 12 months before the UK will leave) they were IMO abrogating the duty to all of the UK.

          I’ll stress it again. It has nothing to do with stopping the Brexit. It has all to do with not crashing out of EU (and all the treaties), causing a national catastrophe of warlike proportions. Even ardent Brexiters like North, who campaigned for Brexit for years agree with this entirely (in fact, they not just agree with it, they tell it to anyone who would listen).

      4. Darthbobber

        I think labor’s position is now in the process of changing.

        Id agree about Corbyn’s a50 stance if it had seemed at all likely that his opposition would have stopped it. But such was not the case.

        Nor, if the tories had let the government fall over that and gone for basically a single issue snap election framed as purely about respecting the result of the just-held vote, could labor, then in a state of civil war, fought it successfully. The most likely result would have beeb a labor debacle, the defenestration of corbyn, and the invocation of a50 in any case.

    2. Synoia

      the fact remains it was, and is, clear that the EU bureaucracy was always going to treat the UK harshly if ever it decided to exit the EU.

      You have answered your own questions, and many posts here.

  4. vlade

    One can safely say, that when a bunch of Tory politicians comes to a room, there are no adults in the room. In fact, I suspect the same holds for any UK politician now.
    The damage from Brexit referendum for the UK is going to be untold, regardless of how this story ends now.
    I suspect that the “soft Brexit” 2% impact down is now the same as no-Brexit would have.
    The damage to the British body politics is terrible (and not just Tories – because Labour still doesn’t realise they are getting voters who are just anti-Tory, and given UK’s FPP system they don’t want to waste their protest vote).
    If the referendum result is overturned (and a second referendum is now preferred by a large margin, although as usual, no-one has any idea what the second referendum should be about) by a narrow margin, AND the underlying problems (where I believe for majorioty EU is a scapegoat for their real problems caused by Westminster) will not be addressed, it’s going to get even worse.

    One thing which fascinates me now is that if people complained about being ruled by Brussels, right now EC looks like a model of well run government compared to the UK one, which managed the extremely dificult feat to make even Junckers look statesmanlike.

  5. hemeantwell

    Good post, Yves.

    However, again returning to our steam cooker analogy, as you put more and more energy you put into a system, it hits the point where it undergoes a state change,

    This is my no frills understanding of what a “dialectical” understanding of social change is about. Against the conservative hope for system continuity and the blindness to change that goes along with it, a dialectical view assumes discontinuities. I still don’t quite get why Lenin felt he benefited so much from reading Hegel’s Logic while WWI dragged on, but the Tories need to give it a shot, or at least stop by here.

  6. John B

    Does the Tories’ stubborn refusal to admit reality suggest their strategy? Keep promising ponies. Get an “implementation period” of some kind — almost any will do. Maybe all that happens in the period is the UK loses its EU voting rights. But whatever does happen during the period, promise that the ponies will arrive at the end of it. Extend the period until Labor takes over. Blame them for failing to get the ponies.

    The thing is, the EU might go along. Many EU leaders dislike Labor.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think plenty of people have been wondering if there is a ‘cunning plan’ such as you suggest brewing.

      But I think that applying Occams Razor, and looking at the objective evidence, it is pretty obvious that there is no such plan or strategy – they really are indeed this stupid.

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists?

        Agree with PlutoniumKun here.

        From the UK’s perspective, you have to think about the process less like dealmaking, since dealmakers have calculated that there can be no deal, and more like outright racketeering, where the Tories create a problem for the future Labour government that only a future Tory government can solve. At a price, of course.

        The EU playbook is pretty easy to assume based upon their actions with Tsipras and Greece in the 2015 Syriza election/debt negotiations and Rajoy backed by the EU dealing with Catalonia late last year. Essentially they threaten the opposing party with apocalypse (threatening to crash Greece’s banking system in 2015, and Catalonia with dictatorship in 2017) and wait for the opposing party to collapse like a house of cards.

        So if you think about it, the two sides will accidentally back into a politically symbiotic relationship, each getting its best remaining alternative, as a bonus, having each other to blame. Poisoning European politics for years.

        Really the only question here is whether the British electorate figures out the endgame for the two major parties down the road and rejects both parties, perhaps for an extremist, autocratic alternative. Then it gets interesting.

        Yves, what would help I think in the future, between now and March 2019, would be the outlining something of a timeline where events occur that start limiting negotiation options. Like, for example, getting some sense of the point when it would be impossible to modify the customs clearance procedures (maybe that has already passed), or when enough banking jobs move to Frankfurt that such a factor no longer has a bearing on the negotiations. These timeframes will help shape the course of the negotiation and/or associated political dynamics.

  7. jfleni

    The situation is best described by a pithy Americanism: “The Tories could **** up a box lunch”! I feel bad for the ordinary Brits who are not at fault, but that’s the situation!

    1. Synoia

      It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure
      It’s the poor wot gets the blame.

      It’s the same the whole world over,
      isn’t it a blooming shame!

      Red Flag (anon?)

  8. Ignacio

    Tory (May et al.) incompetence, Trump stupidity, Rajoy do nothing (please!). Conservative frikis & neoliberals are out of bounds of what the least demanding observer would consider a working government. They look like perplexed administratives (Tories, spanish conservatives) or crazy horses (Trump). Then, as commenters say above, we have the “Press” administrating confussion to the interest of who knows who. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the bottom yet.

  9. Matthew G. Saroff

    It’s amazing how politically tone deaf the Tories’ Brexit negotiations have been.

    They could have invoked Winston Churchill, and talked about how it would be difficult, but in the end they would prevail against the French and German dominated EU, but they are so in the thrall of the City of London that they missed that.

    So they have attempted to sell a fairy tale instead, and will as a result, remain under EU jurisdiction without any voice in it.

  10. Tony of CA

    I find these articles quit humorous. They read as if Merkel & Micron are in position of strength. Both are hanging by a thread as well. The whole lot of them including May are struggling with the collapse of Neoliberal policies.

    1. Anonymous2

      The latest instalment in the saga has now arrived: UK Government economists projecting that the further away, economically, that the UK ends up from the EU the poorer it will be (soft Brexit, FTA, WTO rules as the variants). All doubtless informed by gravity trade models.

      A cue for a string of UK politicians to line up in front of the cameras and say ‘economists – what do they know?’ All depressingly predictable.

      1. Tony of Ca

        I’m sorry at this point these so-called economist have no credibility either. The neo-liberal model is drastically failing. All these trade agreements come from the position of the capital class not from the point few of labor. The EU itself is an Neo-liberal nightmare which is completely void of democratic influence by design. The system as a whole needs a democratic reset.

  11. Jabawocky

    Anyone up for some brexit comedy should check out brexit secretary David davis’ evidence to the brexit select committee on January 24th. Start at Q728 by Joanna Cherry QC (SNP).

    Also gives some insight into government thinking about the border, which it is suggested could work like the US Canada border. Having no personal experience of this, is this like to satisfy ‘no hard border’?

  12. Tony of Ca

    I believe must countries in the EU would vote to leave if given a choice. The EU has morphed into something beyond it’s original design. The Davos class has failed their host countries.

  13. Unknown Gnome

    I read your occasional columns on the Brexit point with interest but feel the debate restricted to the success and failure & strength of various positions of the Brexit negotiation process.

    As a first point it is worth noting that the career prospects of certain UK politicians and the overall interest of the UK are not necessarily aligned.

    The EU’s position to date has been to the effect that the best the UK can hope for is becoming a nonvoting member of the EU – with all of the obligations of the club and none of the rights to vote.

    To this end government of the UK is supposed bring their few negotiators from what is left of the foreign office to the table who will face off to the EU and their significantly larger team – a game the EU exceeds in.

    Given the sky high expectations of the British public that with Brexit they really can have their cake and eat it and somehow pick and choose between the bits of EU membership that they liked and drop the rest any career politician must realize that any active association with the Brexit process is likely to see their career ending in infamy.

    Tony Blair’s support of the Iraq war comes to mind.

    This probably goes a long way to explain Theresa May remaining PM.

    Nobody else wants her job and her cabinet members are probably personally better off in denial but with public acclaim even if they thus poorly serve the interest of the country.

    On a second point the EU has previously pulled improbable compromises out of a hat at the last minute – admittedly not something to count on given the recent experience of the Greeks.

    Finally and thinking out of the box here – as chess teaches us – there is an opening, middle and end game.

    In the case of a disorderly Brexit what would the EU actually do on the day – coached in terms of 3 of the 4 EU freedoms?
    – Block capital transfers – in both directions?
    – Block the movement of people – in both directions?
    – Block the transfer of goods to and from the EU?

    The government of Great Britain might take heart from another widely ignored EU law around the transfer of refuges that the countries of Eastern Europe oppose and refuse to implement.

    So far nothing particularly bad has happened to those EU scofflaws.

    Would the EU attempt to use police or military force to ensure their laws were kept – for instance that import duty was collected on goods entering the single market?

    Nostalgia being all the rage these days Great Britain might be tempted to indulge in a little gunboat diplomacy in Rotterdam rather than Athens.

    The UK maintains one of the Europe’s larger standing armies and remains – if Trident still works – one of its two nuclear powers.

    Brussels on the other hand had to call in French security forces to deal with a rag-tag bunch of home grown Muslim terrorists.

    We live in interesting times.

    1. Frenchguy

      So much wrong here, but let’s stick to the second part:

      The government of Great Britain might take heart from another widely ignored EU law around the transfer of refuges that the countries of Eastern Europe oppose and refuse to implement.

      So far nothing particularly bad has happened to those EU scofflaws.

      Hum, EU’s game is soft power. Poland has lost a lot of influence and goodwill with the refugees affair. So no, they will not be invaded but they will get a bit less money in the next budget and the future EU laws will be less in their advantage. It is not good.

      Would the EU attempt to use police or military force to ensure their laws were kept – for instance that import duty was collected on goods entering the single market?

      If the UK was declaring that they will not pay any import duty there will be no need for the police. UK businesses will not send their goods because it won’t be worth the hassle and even if they do their ships will not enter Rotterdam. Come on, how do you think things work in reality ?

      Nostalgia being all the rage these days Great Britain might be tempted to indulge in a little gunboat diplomacy in Rotterdam rather than Athens.

      The UK maintains one of the Europe’s larger standing armies and remains – if Trident still works – one of its two nuclear powers.

      Brussels on the other hand had to call in French security forces to deal with a rag-tag bunch of home grown Muslim terrorists.

      Straight up fantasy. But let’s lose our mind too and say the UK do send its “army” to Rotterdam. I can predict with a lot of confidence than not only there will be an international coalition against it (don’t bring up your security council seat please) but that China and India will be most keen on sending their own troops to the UK to “restore the peace”. I mean, all they want is a reason, just one…

  14. Tony of CA

    EU soft power is rapidly losing its sway. I believe most people in Poland would be happy poorer than accept forced multi-culturalism. I find it interesting everybody on this site seems to ignore the underlying weakness of the EU core economy itself.

    1. Mark P.

      I find it interesting everybody on this site seems to ignore the underlying weakness of the EU core economy itself.

      Sure. But that’s the longer game and the EU project has already lasted longer than many of us thought it would, and we may all be dead before that comes to a climax. (Though probably not.)

      In the meantime, the Tories and the UK establishment are playing what was a bad hand to start with with almost unbelievable incompetence

    2. vlade

      I disagree on Poland. An argument in my favour is about 1m of Poles who emigrated from Poland since late 80s. I have quite a few friends amongst those, and it will be interesting to see whether the current ruling party of Poland will keep its way when the large Polish community will return from the UK. L&J party (or PiS as they are known in Poland..) won 51% of the seats – but only 37% of the popular vote, due to about 10% of the vote lost due to the 5% clause (a party needs at least 5% of the vote to get a seat).

      What we can see – and it’s not a case of just Poland, or the UK, or the US, I can see it pretty much anywhere I look, is a significantly increased polarization of the societies, in most cases split almost perfectly half-half (well, often actually third one way, third other way, third doesn’t care at all). And most of the splits are showing up on what really are, IMO, proxy issues. Immigration in the UK is a proxy for a number of things – insufficient investment in public services and infrastructure and growth in low pay, low security jobs, ignoring of regions just to name a few.

      What I like on the current Labour is that it actually recognises that, in a way, and wants to address it. I don’t think all its cures are viable, but at least it wants to move, unlike the >10 years of governments, so I’m willing to give it a chance, because it may well be a last chance before something truly catastrophic (from a society perspective) happens.

  15. IsabelPS

    The very faint echos that arrive to me, here on the Western Edge of Europe, is that the people that have some idea about the mess that Brexit (in whatever form) would mean, even people directly involved in preparations for it, just think: it won’t happen; it’s so bad that it won’t happen.

    I haven’t understood yet if that is wishful thinking or a real possibility.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There are echoes throughout history of bad things being all to obviously on the horizon, but people*, rather than face up to the issues, simply assume that ‘something will turn up’. You could see it in the run up to WWI, as an obvious example (not that I am suggesting that Brexit is as bad as the Great War, but the same head in the sand psychology applies). You could say its analogous to climate change.

      I do think that the absence of leadership at the very highest level in the UK has meant that a sort of collective blindness has taken hold, so only a small minority of people are making plans, and most of those are making their personal or business exit plans. Ironically enough, I think this is one reason why the UK economy has been relatively uneffected so far – only a minority of businesses are making real plans for what to do if the worst case scenario unfolds.

      *by ‘people’ I mean both the population in general, and those individuals with real power to do something

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