Will Upcoming Brexit Negotiation Round Finally Cause Hard Core Brexiter Heads To Explode?

Brexit enthusiasts have managed to come up with such creative forms of denialism that the word “insanity” does not being to do it justice. Their main tactic so far has been a political version of Schrodinger’s cat. As long as they can keep the lid shut on the Brexit box, they can pretend it amounts to whatever version of Brexit they’d most like to have, even though the particulars, as we and others have pointed out, are internally contradictory.

However, the problem with the Scrodinger’s cat approach, of refusing to open the box and deal with actual conditions (like feed the feline or bury it), is it is putting the UK in the worst imaginable position on every level. The UK is failing to do any contingency planning. The UK is refusing to advance proposals and policy positions, and does so only under duress, and even then typically as napkin doodles, or as petulant reactions to EU efforts to move the talks forward by putting its own proposals on the table. This is making the odds of worst case scenario outcomes higher with every passing day.

Another Tory denialism strategy is more conventional: scapegoating. One avenue is to criticize Theresa May for her supposed lack of decisiveness and her failure to beat up on those meanie Eurocrats. The reality is that May’s stasis is a reflection of the incoherence of the Tory position and the deep divisions in the party. She can’t forge a consensus in her own party because there are too many MPs on each flank. She could perhaps have attempted the bold gambit of a softer Brexit grouping of the non-Ultra Tories plus the at least 100 or so Labour party members who also want a softer Brexit. But UK politics are over my pay grade, and I have to assume this sort of cross party alignment is not workable (as in both parties have enough party discipline to block it).

And of course, the other regular scapegoat is the EU.

The UK and EU are supposed to resolve what the transition phase looks like in their upcoming round of negotiations. The EU also told the UK in the December talks that it needed to codify its solution for the Irish border. Since that solution is in fact not viable, requiring the UK to reduce it to sufficient written detail as to be a basis for rules and procedures will reveal it to be a fraud.

As an aside, I still cannot fathom why Barnier, Juncker, et al. allowed the UK to not merely think its Irish border fudge was workable but allow them to think it was a brilliant success. May was looking extremely wobbly then and there was a school of thought that she would be taken down by the Tories and either Johnson or Rees-Mogg would become party leader, which was arguably a worse outcome.

But if May will be toppled when the hard Brexit wing lashes out as a result of not being able to get its way, why would having that crisis happen in March, when things now look like they will come to a head, any better than December? Perhaps there is some 11th dimensional chess logic that escapes me, or maybe this is the EU doing its own bit of kicking the can down the road because it is at a loss as to any other thing to do.

Since we mentioned the Irish border mess, pressure is indeed building, as a Financial Times story in links on Tuesday indicated. The Torygraph has more not pretty news today: Ireland digs in over Brexit border question in renewed threat to talks.

And on Tuesday, the UK press was in an uproar over what is arguably the only sensible position the EU could take regarding the enforcement of law and regulations during the transition.

Recall that we said that the only possible arrangement was a standstill, that negotiating anything else would be as time-consuming and draining as sorting out the end-state trade and services pacts, and would thus serve to be a huge distraction.

However, even a standstill isn’t as simple as it seems. The transition is an accommodation by the EU after the UK will have exited in March 2019. It is expected to go on for nearly two years, through the end of 2020. The EU is not about to freeze its regulation and legislation just to make life easier for the UK. The UK, being out of the EU, won’t participate in nay new rulemaking. That means the UK will also have to accept any changes in laws and procedures during the transition period in order to maintain unfettered access to the single market. The Brexit fans have been howling about “vassal state” as a result, but they were the ones who leaped off the Brexit cliff without looking down first. It’s awfully late to be showing buyer’s remorse.

The EU side has recognized an additional problem: what if the UK cheats during the transition period? In theory, it is still subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. However, if a matter were disputed, it’s conceivable it would not have gotten though the legal process by the end of 2020. That means, particularly in the later part of the transition period, the UK would have good odds that it it were to play fast and loose, it would be out of the transition periods and free from the long arm of European law before any punishment could be inflicted.

So the EU has decided it wants to close that escape hatch. From the Financial Times:

The EU wants powers to punish UK non-compliance during the Brexit transition by summarily cutting off the country’s access to parts of the single market, according to a treaty draft…

Highlighting fears in Brussels over Britain wilfully breaking rules during the transition period or refusing to implement new laws, the draft treaty text calls for additional enforcement powers so that the EU can respond promptly to infringements.

It says the final withdrawal agreement “should provide for a mechanism allowing the union to suspend certain benefits deriving for the UK from participation in the internal market where it considers that referring the matter to [court] would not bring in appropriate time the necessary remedies”.

Such a suspension of access rights in the single market could include curbs on cross-border financial services, airline operating rights or the free flow of goods to the other 27 EU states without customs checks. ​

Mind you, the EU plans to allow the UK input into policy-mkaing in some areas, like fisheries, which is more than it had to do. And let us also not forget that the UK could just as well have recognized that this was a potential issue and come up with a remedy….if it could devise one that the EU would see as having enough teeth to provide for adequate incentives for compliance. As FT reader SJ put it:

Why is this controversial or a surprise? In any normal contractual arrangement there are consequences for breach. A trade agreement is a complex multi-party contract. If the UK breaches it there should be consequences. I’m sure the UK would argue this if the opposite were to happen (EU breaches the agreement first).

Needless to say, that is decidedly a minority view, as least if you believe headlines. Of course, the press isn’t necessarily presenting the facts in what one might argue is an evenhanded manner, since the UK really really does want (and presumably need) access to the single market during the transition period, and that means accepting EU rules. Politico confirms that the UK will not have much negotiating room on transition rules.

A sampling:

We will use sanctions to punish you, says Brussels The Times

Brexit: EU to have power to punish UK at will during transition Guardian

If the Independent’s home page is a valid indicator, pressure with the Tory party continues to rise. As of this hour, there were four Brexit stories critical with headlines critical of May or the process. Even at this remove, the even-louder threats to remove May, with no corresponding intensified action, is another sign that the Tories find the situation they’ve created more and more unpalatable, yet see no way out or rather won’t allow themselves the “peace with honor” style retreat of a second referendum. As one NC wag noted, the Brits are a bit too willing to glorify disasters, as the Charge of the Light Brigade demonstrates. But this is sizing up to be disaster on a catastrophic scale.

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  1. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves.

    ‘But I don’t want to go among mad people ‘Alice remarked.

    ‘Oh you can’t help that ‘ replied the Cat ‘we are all mad here ‘.

  2. c_heale

    There is another factor that the proponents of Brexit have failed to take into account. Should the UK wish to trade with the European Union after Brexit, its goods will have to adhere to European standards to be sold in the European Union.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Goods are not the issue. This is not the 1970s, tariffs are low, and third-countries like Japan are perfectly able to trade without a FTA. Of course, much of British industry is foreign-owned and the Japanese will stop investing in British car factories and switch to Eastern Europe.

      The main issue with goods is both sides need to build customs facilities, and neither have started construction.

      As for financial services, I was surprised to find out they make up only about 10% of the British economy, and financial exports to the EU around GBP 26B, or 1% of the economy. I would have expected much larger numbers.

  3. anonymous

    The denizens of cloud cuckoo land (UK media and Westminster based politicians) seem to have developed resistance to evidence based analyses of the Brexit consequences. Indeed much easier to focus on emotions, individuals and cabals, anything else might upset the country.

    After the magic Brexit date, ordinary citizens will feel the effects in their everyday life. Considering the way the UK media have been informing the public on Brexit, it ‘ll be easy to predict the next phase, a blame game . “Who is” to blame, and a UK version of the Dolchstosslegend will come in handy. The EU of course; we played a fair game and those familyblog continentals stabbed us in the back. Lets stick together and show them.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    In many ways, I think the December agreement might have been the worse thing that could have happened to the UK – it made everyone think that a solution was in sight, so allowing more balls to be kicked down the road and for the Tories to keep bickering as the clock keeps on ticking. I think that even the transition period now looks shaky, it seems more and more likely that the hardliners quite relish the cliff and will declare a transition period unnecessary and use the new EU rules as an excuse.

    According to Rafael Behr in the Guardian its rumoured that the cabinet Brexiteers were giving a detailed no-nonsense briefing on the Irish border issue which sobered them up somewhat. This may be why Davis and Gove have been a little quieter of late.

    As to why the soft-Brexit Tories haven’t made common cause with likeminded Labour members, I think that quite simply both parties are in too much internal turmoil for this. And it must be said that there is little or no real tradition in British politics for this sort of cross-party alignment, there aren’t the sort of informal structures you get in countries with more concensus based based politics to facilitate it. I also think that Corbyn would stamp on it firmly as it might provide the seed for a breakaway center party.

    As for the attitude of Europe, I think they have known from the beginning that this is likely to end badly, and are determined, mostly for internal reasons, not to appear the ‘bad guys’ and so inflame more euroscepticism in other countries, especially in eastern Europe. And they may well have decided to follow the old dictum of never interfering when your enemy is making a mistake. I think they are surprised May is still in power (I think it was ‘recieved wisdom’ last summer that May would not make it to Christmas) and are still assuming that a hard Brexiter is likely to be PM within a matter of months, so are keeping ammunition for that battle.

    From the Irish side, the border issue has gone quiet. I’m not sure it has quite sunk in at the highest level that a fudge on the border will be well nigh impossible to achieve. The Irish PM is riding high in the polls so I think he is determined not to shake the impression that the agreement in December was ‘job done’. I think they are hoping that the whole issue can be kept under wraps until the next election, which will probably be 2019, although there is the possibility of an earlier one. There are rumours of ongoing work on trying to come up with tech fixes for a border fudge. Its also been noted that there are two new direct ferry routes launched this summer between Ireland and the continent, which is being widely seen as a precaution to ensure trade is not disrupted (a very high proportion of Irish trade with Europe goes via the UK). It was also quietly announced that the IDA, the main Irish government agency tasked with bringing in manufacturing industry, has reorganised with a large new ‘UK’ unit – its almost certainly been created specifically to poach as much industry from Britain as possible.

    1. vlade

      Last time Labour and Tories worked togehter was in WW2, and that was after the Tories put in the former LibDem Churchill. I believe you’re right re Corbyn – which TBH I believe is a pity, as the UK could do with a proper centre party (not Lib Dem) where I believe quite a few Tory and Labour MPs belogn “naturaly”, and then a proper right and left wings on top of that.

      1. Fazal Majid

        What’s your objection to the LibDems (apart from Clegg, who was an outlier in the party’s history)?

        1. Clive

          The LibDems were wiped out at the last election — quite justifiably in view of the Grand Bargaining betrayal while in coalition with the Conservatives.

          They’ve become irrelevant, certainly to this discussion.

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Further to your aside about allowing the EU27 to let May (and most of the UK, frankly) think the December fudge was workable and a success, contacts in Brussels and London suggest that the EU27 have no desire to bring May down, do not want the Corbynites showing the EU27 left what’s possible and last, but not least, as we are all human, it has been a long process and Christmas was near, so kicking the can to the spring was no big deal, especially as the EU27 (but not Ireland) can afford the UK to crash out. Also, most people in the EU27 (but not Ireland) no longer care about the UK leaving and, in some cases, want the EU27 to give the UK a good kicking after the way some of their migrants have been treated by Home Office.

    As long as the Tories can manage the media, very easy as card carrying Tories and their associates, run the BBC (state owned), Channel (state owned) and Sky (controlled by the Murdoch family) and the rest of the media is dominated by anti-EU and anti-Corbyn families, the Tories have nothing to worry about. The Tories are doing well in the polls, neck and neck with Labour. A bit more smearing of Labour (sexist, anti-Semitic etc.) will do the trick.

    I am meeting Spanish and French regulators this month as part of the transfer of business from London Branch to the branches there. The exit is happening and real. The dole queue beckons after next year.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Speaking of media coverage, the BBC’s economics editor (not a professional economist, but a political scientist who had to have remedial lessons when he joined the BBC from ITV) reported, a couple of days ago, that EU rules prevent the UK from trading with China and the US. His wife, who he met at Oxford, is a novelist and Observer columnist. Her column is usually an attack on Corbyn for being white, male, middle class, socialist, sexist and anti-semite, not necessarily in that order.

      1. EoH

        The columnist sounds typically Tory. It also sounds as if the Beeb’s political scientist needs another tutorial in economics and the law. Are all the PPE firsts in Parliament and none at the BBC?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I wonder if the polling companies have correctly adjusted their models after their flop last year. Having said that, the Tories really are doing remarkably well considering their obvious incompetence. They are lucky that the Lib Dems have been so inept and that the media assault on Corbyn is still holding Labour back.

        Ironically, I think the uncertainty around Brexit may be helping the Tories. When people are in deep personal debt and worried about the future, this can make them very reluctant to vote for change. They prefer the devil they know.

        1. begob

          Survation were the ones who called the 2017 election most accurately – dismissed at the time in the media as an “outlier”. I think their vindication was in weighing more heavily for turnout among young voters.

          I expect a lot of voters are sticking with the Tories to make sure Brexit day arrives. After that they may scatter to the winds, but it’s hard to see the Tories retaining support.

  6. Andrew Dodds

    Regarding cross-party alliances.. if we can read anything from the 2017 election result, it was for a ‘grand coalition’ to be formed from Labour and Tories, which would have had enough of a majority in Parliament to sideline the headbangers from both sides. We could also have had Kier Starmer in charge of negotiations; he is by all accounts competent and knowledgeable, rare commodities indeed at the moment.

    As it is.. a minority administration in which any vague mention of the truth is quickly jumped on, held hostage by a group of fanatics (or more cynically, people who have their money out of the UK already and stand to profit from disruption). I can’t see this ending in any other way than calling Brexit off entirely or a cliff edge.

  7. John A

    Basically, the mainstream media in Britain are now in 2 camps. On the right, the Mail, Telegraph, Sun etc., having fervently whipped up anti EU hysteria for decades and cheerleading for Brexit, are sharklike sniffing for the blood of any ‘backsliding’ or remainer positioning that is against the ‘will of the people’, while on the centre left, the Guardian and Independent are fervently whipping up anti Trump, pro Russiagate hysteria, pretty much to the exclusion of any meaningful debate (and yes, acc these media, Brexit was caused, in part, by the dastardly Putin!). The end result; utter and absolute chaos and puerile name calling all round..

  8. The Rev Kev

    Can the British political establishment really “muddle through” Brexit negotiations successfully?

  9. vlade

    IMO, the only thing that could stave a total off-the-cliff disaster now is a a picking up in business exiting the UK. Yes, small businesses are the “backbone”, but that backbone mostly supplies the large ones – only a few SMEs in the UK are exporters, and fewer yet non-EU exporters.

    No-one starts to pay any serious attention until the economy starts tanking properly.

    The danger there is that most (definitely not finance, those are in bags-packed situation mostly, at least for the sales parts of the businesses. Some other bits like some of middle and back office + IT can stay in the UK, and with the sterling drop it will likely even become an attractive near-shoring operation) of the UK businesses have people in charge who never knew anything but EU, and don’t pay enough attention to what it means to be outside of it. So likely complacency all around.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Again, this may well have been a good reason to say that the December agreement was a bad thing in the long run. Its allowed a certain amount of complacency to set in, which runs the clock down more. As you suggest, I think only an out and out economic panic could force the government to see sense. A drip-drip of bad news won’t have the same effect. Its a frog in a pan situation.

    2. IsabelPS

      Just asked a friend that has a small but highly successful IT firm in UK if she was getting ready for Brexit and her answer was that UK would survive with or without Brexit. I insisted: “Aren’t you worried?” and her answer was brief: “No”.

  10. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    This is just supposition on my part, but is backed up by my cousin who has deep community contacts.

    If the idiots do in fact charge headlong into the cannons, it is I think likely to have large repercussions for Northern Ireland even without the border issue. Since the Brexit vote it seems the general resentment especially in the Catholic community to being largely subject to the whims of a Westminster government, which is itself elected mainly by a minority of English people, is growing.

    I have regular contact with three small businesses whose owners have consistently reported a decline in income – two of these state they are only still in business due to their wives having decent public sector jobs. My cousin has a longer list telling the same story & it appears that many have cut back their spending on certain items, which could be partly to do with the UK’s exponential rise in debt – particularly unsecured.

    Some of the worst austerity measures I believe have been successfully deflected, as have some of the cuts to public sector jobs, which NI is heavily reliant on, but if an actual Brexit disaster results in much more in the way of cuts, I don’t think the results would be very pretty. The recent cuts in child tax credits has it seems hit people hard, especially among the Catholic community who tend to have larger families.

    Universal credit is being ushered in as a general replacement for welfare provision, but without knowing the details, chances are high that it will not help matters. A friend was telling me the other day that his elder brother had turned up a few weeks back with his family from England as an almost refugee, from what he called a version of hell much like that shown in the film ” I, Daniel Blake “. For whatever reason those dealing now with his plight due to having lost his long term job, are in NI much more helpful.

    I imagine that many in the Protestant community are also being stretched & they of course for the main part voted Remain. The majority are not Union Jack flying lunatics & I imagine that if the s**t really hits the fan in the case of a hard Brexit, some at least might be amenable to a possible ” All Ireland ” agreement – according to Cuz, Sinn Fein are quietly weighing their options.

    This is all of course conjecture, but it does strike me that it is one of those possible scenarios of unintended consequences, as was the Brexit vote itself, which also ignored the plight of a population who are very fed up. It is ( fingers crossed ) unlikely to lead to another ” Troubles ” scenario, as was explained to my cousin by a once Provo OC ( technology mainly ) except perhaps possible expert rioting in Belfast, & maybe Derry. There could also be interesting reactions in border areas such as Newry & South Armagh.

    I am just guessing & hopefully being OTT but there are plenty of ingredients here for a recipe to disaster, as in – a hard Brexit, Tories holding on to power a reaction in NI & then troops being sent in…….

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think there has been a sea-change in NI politics the past few years, which Brexit and the associated issues have brought to a head (I should state that I’m only a sort of part time observer of NI politics, as it takes a strong stomach to dive deep there).

      The first is the complete destruction of the so called ‘moderate’ parties. Sinn Fein and the DUP are completely dominant in their respective communities. Its not necessarily a case of people getting more extreme – in both cases I think people who would be considered ‘moderate’ nationalists or unionists are now seeking the main parties in a tribal sense, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.

      The second is that there has been a complete loss in faith by all catholics/nationalists in the notion of the British government or ‘reasonable’ unionists. They see themselves as being cast adrift with nobody to represent them. Oddly enough, I’ve heard a few northern catholics who would be fairly radical in politics speak highly of Varadkar, they are impressed at how he ‘stood up’ to the UK over the border issue (for non-Irish – Varadkar comes from a very anti-Republican tradition, his party are widely mistrusted by most northern republicans and nationalists).

      There are rumbles that the small rump of middle class ‘moderate’ unionists now see that NI is doomed economically and would probably reluctantly accept a united Ireland on entirely pragmatic grounds (i.e. future prosperity and EU membership). These are not big in number, but they are a wealthy and influential minority.

      Thirdly, the main thing stopping a revival of violence on the Republican side is that in demographic and political terms, they see things going their way. There will quite likely be a majority catholic population in 10-20 years. The more the DUP act up, the more likely it is that this will be reflected in a majority for unification.

      And on a final point, the DUP have I feel overplayed their hand over Brexit. They have made many enemies, in Britain as well as NI and abroad. They may find themselves distinctly friendless at a time when they’ll need them.

      My feeling is that if there is a hard Brexit, this will heat politics up big time, but it is not likely to result in a shooting war – the Republican side will see more to gain by playing the ‘good guys’ in this, and will leave the DUP to keep digging itself in a hole. But the wild card would be a bad Brexit followed by a Corbyn victory. The DUP are genuinely terrified of Corbyn, they consider him little more or less than a terrorist, and I think many in Labour will delight in putting the boot into the DUP. This could result in a big upsurge in violence from Loyalists.

    2. Christopher Dale Rogers


      Your statement could have been written with info anywhere outside of London & its environs, in a nutshell, and despite the Polls consistently showing the Tories at the 40% mark, the fact remains in NI, Wales, Scotland, the North East, North West, South West & the Midlands the Tories are detested by more than 50% living in these regions. And, to be blunt, London & Westminster themselves are both detested.

      Regrettably, this detestation is masked by the UK’s electoral system, specifically First-Past-the-Post, which means in tight seats the Tories can gain a seat with a Polling of 35% & above, which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

      As Colonel Smithers quite rightly points out, everything MSM & power wise is centred upon London, which means outside observers only get a London-centric opinion, which is hardly representative of the nation state or four countries that constitute the UK.

      As everyone, Yves included, focuses on Brexit, i think our problems in our country are more deep rooted than that, indeed, I’d start looking back at the Scottish referendum to start to understand whats going on & how the UK is now at the Brexit gate. In my humble opinion, had the Scottish referendum swung the other way, namely with a vote outcome similar to that we had with Brexit, we’d have had a massive Constitutional crisis, one that probably would have resulted in a fudge, but a good fudge, namely the adoption of a federal structure of governance for the UK. Regrettably, the MSM run with ‘Operation Fear’ and the Scottish over 65 voters swung it the Unions way.

      In a nutshell, the Union is busted, and the London-centric model of governance is busted, as is putting all our eggs in one basket as far as the economy is concerned, namely financial services, or perhaps more appropriately, the FIRE economy that benefits London & the South East to the detriment of all other regions.

      I find talk by Vlade and PlutoniumKun of an opening for a Centrist Party in the UK hilarious, hilarious because, and despite political grouping, at least 500 of our MPs are one and the same, namely, they have little political philosophy behind them, they are bland, they support the London-centric status quo, they support neoliberalism and they support warmongering – and, if this is too much to accept, may i point readers to the fuss the London-centric MSM, MPs and political pundits are making over Haringey Council in London 7 the resignation of one Ms Kober, the Labour (Blairite) head of that Council – obviously democracy is too much for the UKs ruling elite!

      I’m in no doubt in the UK I’m considered a radical, a radical because i support proportional representation, a radical because I support a Federal solution for the UK’s governing structure and a radical because I believe in democracy for all, not an Oxbridge educated elite. Indeed, I find it strange when we have all this talk of a Centrist Party, that said new centrist party will be composed of persons a majority of the UK electorate actually detest. And why, oh why, the need for a centrist Party, given what the Tories & new labour offered in the GE of 2015 was much the same, namely austerity, attacks on the welfare state and a penchant for warmongering.

      In a nutshell, the Labour Party of Corbyn & McDonnell, based on the 2017 Labour manifesto, is a centrist party, that is, it is not far removed from the social democrats in Scandinavia, who’s nations suffer less inequality than we do in the UK. Further, the Liberal democratic Party under Kennedy was an actual centrist Party and to the left of New Labour – it was hijacked by the Orange Book brigade, much as the Labour party was hijacked by Blair & Mandelson.

      Again, in all our discussions, lets be blunt, as with the Democrats & Republicans in Washington, there is hardly bugger all between them – different words, but same actions & this applies equally to the UK.

      Actually, the reasons the UK is in this mess is because more than 500 Parliamentarians are spineless buggers, and, if the BITTERITES/BLAIRITES with Labour want a fight, please bring it on, but, if they desire to drop Labour, have the decency to resign their seat and fight under their new banner. This applies to the Tory pro-EU fact too – they are moral cowards, greedy buggers and bubble heads, who live in their own little bubble world – the rest of us, that’s the majority of the UKs citizenship just suffer – WE NEED A BLOODY REVOLUTION, not a new neoliberal/neoconservative centrist/moderate Party, which is itself an oxymoron – these buggers ain’t moderates!

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think you seem to be misunderstanding our comments about a centrist party. I can’t speak for Vlade, but I’m simply interested in its potential for changing the electoral dynamic. And I also agree with Vlade that a proper centrist party is essential to allow Labour to become a proper left wing party.

        1. Christopher Dale Rogers


          Again, and no misunderstanding on my behalf I trust, but how can the electoral dynamic be changed. I mean, my revoked Labour Party membership cards mentions that Labour is a democratic socialist party, which is quite strange given at least two thirds of our Labour MPs are anything but Socialist – this cannot now be said of the over 600K membership, which is at least 75% Socialist. Again, and as my comment suggested, those in the Tory ranks and Labour ranks who talk about a new Party, just do that, namely talk about it, and usually not in the open. Further, who’s going to lead this new neoliberal/neoconservative entity? No doubt on Tony Blair or one of his spawn.

          Where I do concur is we actually do need a deep pit to put these so called ‘moderates’ into, one that will be vanquished come any General Election. Indeed, I welcome a return to an actual democratic socialist Party in the UK, much as I welcome a return to a Burkean Conservative Party, which does leave ground for the LibDems to fill, but this will only be possible if they have another Kennedy-type figure who actually stands for something.

          As it stands in the UK, we have an urgent requirement for at least one mainstream political grouping to embrace ecological concerns and address head on the inequality that destroying the fabric of the nation, notwithstanding a political State structure not fit for purpose.

          Now, apart from being pro-EU, pro-greed, pro-war, what exactly will this new party stand for, given pronouncements from Progress are hardly inspiring, and any input from Blair or Mandelson would be a death sentence. But the structure, form & membership of this new grouping would be odd indeed, I mean Stephen Kinnock, Chuka, Osborne et al all working together. Perish the thought.

          Again, I agree that those who don’t subscribe to Conservative values, namely those set out by Burke and Robert Peel, should not call themselves Conservatives – I’m fine with Tory, as in the actual Irish meaning of the term. I’m also fine with New Labour types exiting Labour, if only because the UK deserves an actual Left-of-Centre Party, not the Party we currently have, whereby most of the Party bureaucracy & MPs don’t subscribe to what’s written on the membership card.

          Now, if I get you and Vlade correct, you are suggesting this new neoliberal, neoconservative grouping will supplant the LibDems, which is appropriate because they only have a handful of MPs presently, which begs the question of what will actually become of the LibDems? Perhaps they could revert back to the Liberal Party again, whilst the neoliberal/neoconservative Moderate Grouping could call itself the ‘Status Quo’ Party.

          Actually, I think the real question is what’s going to happen to the extreme Right bring of the Conservative Party? Perhaps they can move to UKIP and salvage that wreck. However, I do look forward to a new political grouping, one that espouses the socioeconomic model that’s on its last legs. It will be most popular in my opinion and suffer a right drubbing at the Polls – the UK by inclination being a rather conservative nation, with a fair bit of liberalism thrown in.

          Interesting times brought to fruition by 40 years of neoliberal ascendancy, the Scottish question and lately, Brexit.

          1. vlade

            I can’t speak for PK, but I’d say a few things.

            A centrist party doesn’t have to be neolib and a neocon party would very definitely not be a centrist one.

            To me, for example an SNP is a centrist party (it has former Socialists as well as former Tories), slightly left-skewed. LibDems under Clegg were right-skewed centrists (but before that, they were left-skewed centrists). You seem to forget that LibDems did actually pretty well in the elections that ejected Labour – until they shown that they are willing to move to pretty much Tory position, at which time why vote LibDem?

            The main problem in the UK is FFP system. The story is how Labour caught up with Tories in the last elections. Well, my anecdotal evidence, as well as evidence from some polls (make it of what you will) is that Labour got quite a bit of anti-Tory, anti-Brexit vote, which decided that there’s no point voting LibDem and letting the votes go poof.

            Similarly, Tories got a helping of UKIP vote, which decided that letting their votes to go poof doesnt’ make sense (after getting 12% of the vote and 1 MP in 2015 vs. DUP that got 0.6% of the vote and 8 MPs – or SNP, that got 4.7% of the vote and 56 MPs).

            In other words, you’re making projections based on the system that is there now, and which you say you don’t like – I don’t either, but Labour likes it, as do Tories, because it keeps those pesky other ones out. That is, until such a time that one or the other party suffers a catastrophic (for them, not necessarily the party) split, which I believe Tories are heading for.

            1. vlade

              TBH, if there was one change I really really wished on the UK system, it would be to get rid of FFP and replace it with something better. Even MMP would work for a starter, if someone doesn’t want a pure proportional one (and that one would be a problem in the UK unless it turned into a proper federation).

              What the UK pols call the main problem of this – i.e. that there are coalitions, not single-voting-parties I actually believe its strong part, as it forces the parties to talk to others – or to have a clearer mandate for change if the voters see you can’t talk to each other. Of course, the problem is when the voters aren’t willing to talk to each other and hate the opponents guts on political principles. But that’s really a bigger problem than a voting system.

              1. Christopher Dale Rogers


                Interesting to read your response, of which I concur probably 90%, but I can’t for the life of me understand your belief that a new Centrist/Moderate Party need not be a neoliberal/neoconservative entity, when, all the talking heads & Westminster types considering forming a new grouping are very much in the neoliberal & neoconservative camp. I mean, whom may I ask is going to form such a grouping, given its hidden proponents within Parliament are those you are actually opposed too.

                On the other hand, the political change you aspire too is very much held by a significant number of the Labour Party membership, namely support for PR, support for a Constitutional make-over and support for grand alliances that reject the present neoliberal/neoconservative consensus prevalent within Westminster and the UK’s ruling elite – which itself is split on the issue of Brexit.

                The vehicle to achieve much of what you desire already exists, but first the membership has to transform it, which has been, and is, a huge struggle given the Party machinery that opposes full moves to democratisation from the grassroots up. And of course I make no bones about the fact that Corbyn is no fan of PR or Grand Alliances. On the other hand, MPs such as Clive Lewis are on board and it is they who are the future of the Party, in combination with its membership.

                Indeed, given the negative MSM portrayal of Labour’s new grassroots, its a triumph that membership stands at over 600K. Alas, if we had a fully democratic process within place within the Party that membership would be above 1 million, which ain’t small change shall I say!

                The fact is, and despite some vocal Leftists, on the whole much of Labour’s new membership aspires to Scandinavian social democracy and opposes the current managerialism we currently have. Again, look at events is Haringey, where a coalition against the HDV has had some success in opposing plans that are detrimental to the community.

                My advice to many in the UK is not to believe a word the MSM says and get stuck in. However, if you do get stuck in understand that the change you desire is a long-term project, namely 5-10 years, which takes a certain amount of stamina.

                1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

                  Due to internet loss I am only just returned.

                  PK, I fully agree on NI.

                  CDR, I agree for the most part, as I cannot see where the candidates would come from for this Centrist party, other than for the most part from the greasy pole Blairites. Even looking at the Green party, aside from the Green issues, they appear to be following the playbook of the US Dems since Bartlett turned up. I stopped viewing their FB page when they posted a link that alleged that the Russians had fixed the Brexit vote, which stuck out among a pile of identity politics links.

                  I think it is all going to get too interesting.

            2. animalogic

              “the other party suffers a catastrophic (for them, not necessarily the party) split, which I believe Tories are heading for.”
              Oh, were it to come to pass !!
              The Tories essentially destroyed for a decade. A huge Labour majority. 10 years for Corbyn to roll back the gross excesses of nearly 40 years neoliberal viciousness. No, it wouldn’t justify the Brexit horror show, but …well one can dream….

  11. David

    I fear that the answer to the question is “no”, because the Brexiters within the Tory party do not think that that is the question. A good but depressing rule of politics is that there is no pole so short and so greasy that people will not try to scramble to the top of it, and the actual question, as seen by any ambitious Tory politician, is how to be the next leader after May. What actually happens in and after Brexit is largely irrelevant to this way of thinking, and the analysis that is going into scenarios is exclusively of the “how do I turn them to my advantage?” type. I don’t think any ambitious Tory politician believes that their chances of advancement will actually be enhanced by trying to stop Brexit (calling for another referendum etc) or even necessarily trying to soften it. On the contrary, this seems to me an example of a Nash Equilibrium, where it’s in no-one’s interest to act differently, in spite of the potentially disastrous effects for the system (even the Tory Party) as a whole.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think this is a very good call. I suspect that whoever follows May will feel there is more to lose by changing course – they will feel they can blame others for a Brexit car crash, and will no doubt be hoping to cling on for long enough to benefit from a post-Brexit recovery (those people are eternal optimists).

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Please note that my headline said “heads explode”. The point is coming soon when they can no longer pretend that Brexit will not even remotely resemble the fantasy they’ve sold voters, and in most cases, themselves. This is going to be as difficult psychologically as admitting to yourself that your spouse has been cheating. If you think you see emotionality now, what is coming will make the last few months look tame. All of this “vassal state” screeching is yelling into the wind. What happens to the hard Brexiters when they can no longer pretend that this sort of thing and worse is inevitable?

  12. flora

    Watching from the sidelines from the US (which has its own problems wrt short-sighted politicians), I keep thinking the the long (relative) peace – from 1945 on – has had the effect of narrowing the outlook of politicians, turning too many of the last 25 years’ sets of politicians into overage adolescents. Both liberals and conservatives seem to believe they should have what they want because they want it; refusing to listen to larger and wider reasons against this or that scheme; willing to muck things trying to get what they want; in full belief there won’t be serious consequences for a muck up; and that others will clean up whatever mess they make. What they want seems to be limited to the narrowest area of personal enrichment and power. Applies to the US, certainly. My 2 cents.

    1. Anonymous2


      I think that there is a great deal in what you say. To my mind a major change in UK politics in the last 50 years has been a switch from approaches that aimed to deliver real results to an approach that is concerned above all with managing appearances. I think this reflects the fact that in wartime reality matters. The governments of 50 years ago had many who had been through WW2 and of course thought of themselves as engaged in another (cold) war. Reality mattered then. Now, it seems to me, politics is about managing appearances. Provided the media tell people that all is well, enough of them may believe that for long enough for a politician to get in and out of office and clean up afterwards when all those nice little opportunities come their way to make well – paid speeches or whatever.

      1. animalogic

        Appearances are all important now for politians and Elites because reality for decades now has been about NOT serving the public interest.
        Reality still matters (to some degree) it just can’t be mentioned in public. Thank god for what PCR calls the presstitute media.

  13. PKMKII

    As an aside, I still cannot fathom why Barnier, Juncker, et al. allowed the UK to not merely think its Irish border fudge was workable but allow them to think it was a brilliant success.

    My view from remove, as well, is that the primary goal of the EU in these negotiations is not the deal with Britain itself, but in preventing Brexit from becoming a domino effect. Which means it’s in their best interest that the British economy suffers as much as possible as a result of Brexit. Kicking the can down the road serves that purpose, as either it means chaos when the deadline hits, which economically hurts the UK much harder as there’s nothing the EU can get out of Britain that they can’t get elsewhere. Or, the Tories realize they’re losing the game of chicken and either agree to terms much more favorable to the EU, or they back out of Brexit entirely, also most likely involving agreeing to terms putting them off worse than they had. Either way, the message is clear to other EU member states: try the same and you will get nothing but pain for it.

    1. vlade

      I’d modify this. Try the same idiocy, and you’ll sufer the same.

      There was going to be dislocation and problems no matter what. But there were realistic plans (like for example North’s Flexit) that would recognised this, and try to minimise it. I still believe he’s too optimistic on how the UK outside of the EU would preform economically even with Flexit, but it would be orders of magnitude more rational approach than what’s happenign now (well, there’s no recognizable rationality tot he current approach)

  14. Fastball

    It is expected to go on for nearly two years, through the end of 2002

    I believe the author meant 2022.

  15. ChrisPacific

    As an aside, I still cannot fathom why Barnier, Juncker, et al. allowed the UK to not merely think its Irish border fudge was workable but allow them to think it was a brilliant success.

    As an uninformed outside observer, it does make some sense to me, although I could well be missing something. I think the EU is trying to set the options up as follows:

    1. BINO (Brexit In Name Only – what critics have called the vassal state option)
    2. Chaotic Brexit/no deal
    3. ??? (You tell us).

    I read the agreement (and the follow-up work on establishing legal and enforcement mechanisms for compliance) as shoring up #1 and making it watertight. This sets the EU up for the case where the UK government proves so incompetent that they can’t come up with anything at all for point #3. Even if both parties know perfectly well that the UK has no intention of keeping to the agreement, they may end up with no choice if the UK government consistently fails to come up with any non-catastrophic alternatives – which looks to be a fairly high probability outcome right now.

    Granted, that would mean abandoning all the red lines and utterly failing to deliver on all the promises implied in the referendum, and would likely bring down the government. But that’s not the EU’s problem. They can just wait for the dust to settle and then offer the new government the same choice.

    It’s a somewhat risky strategy in that it relies on the awfulness of #2 becoming clear while there is still time to do something about it – obviously chaotic Brexit would be a worst-case scenario as far as Ireland was concerned, even if the rest of the EU would be less affected. But I think the idea of preparing a ‘default’ option on EU terms that the UK can choose to accept if it fails to come up with anything workable on its own is reasonable.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think thats not an unreasonable theory – I think certainly within the EU (specifically Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark, traditional allies of the UK), BINO is seen as the least worst option. But within Brussels itself it is seen as crucial that the UK does not get whats seen as a good deal, as this would encourage eurosceptics to think there is a ‘free-rider’ option.

      So I think a very obviously humiliating BINO deal would be attractive to a lot of power brokers in Europe, although I’m not sure they care so much at this stage what happens. As others have noted, most of the EU has ‘moved on’ from Brexit, they have other concerns. They see it a self-inflicted wound by the UK and their only real concern is to minimise the damage above and beyond what they have already built into their calculations.

      The one thing that did puzzle me is why the EU went so far as to facilitate the British governments delusions. I think that if the British government was led by more capable people the EU would have taken a far more aggressive stance. But as I said above, an old saying, well known to European power brokers, is never to interfere when your enemy is making a mistake. I think they are both baffled, while smugly satisfied, at the absolute ineptness of the UK.

  16. Charles Parselle

    The UK political system is the exact opposite of the US system – UK runs on power hoarding and secrecy; US runs on power sharing and openness. That is why the Tories cannot ‘get together’ with Labour; it would take a war to do that. The Tories are not only in-fighting over Brexit, they are also fighting for their political lives. Here, Congress just passed a bipartisan spending bill, but that does not happen in the UK, ever. The Tories have been fighting over EU membership for 40+ years, but finally this has become the defining issue for the Tories for a generation, or at least until Labour screws it up which will probably be a lot sooner than that.

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