Corbyn Backs Hard Brexit

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Political operative James Carville’s version of a classic political saying is: “When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil.”

So why is Jeremy Corbyn instead grabbing an anvil and jumping in the deep end of the pool too?

UK based readers who know the ins and outs of party infighting no doubt will have plenty more to offer, but the short version of the story is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now officially backing a hard Brexit.

During the Brexit referendum, Corbyn was a not-terribly-enthusiastic Remain supporter. In the tumultuous fight in Lords over the nowhere-near-as-important-as-everyone-made-out fight over whether the UK should try to stay in a customs union with the EU, Corbyn instructed Labour Lords to abstain. About 80 defied him and voted for a customs union.

Yesterday, Corbyn rejected the so-called Norway or EEA option, which is tantamount to supportig a hard Brexit. From the Guardian:

Jeremy Corbyn has told Labour MPs that a Norway-style option cannot be considered by the party, but faces a party split after rebel Lords passed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would keep membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) as an option.

Speaking at a private meeting of MPs in parliament, Corbyn told them there were significant issues with the Norway-option, which could leave Britain as “rule taker” without influence at EU level. He emphasised the need to unite both leave and remain supporters, according to a senior Labour source.

EEA membership, often described as the Norway option gives countries full access to the EU’s internal market, allowing it to trade goods with EU states without customs fees, except food and drinks which are subsidised by the EU. Iceland and Liechtenstein are also members of the EEA, but the terms mean accepting freedom of movement and, as a non-EU state, the UK would have to accept EU regulations with no seat at the table in Brussels.

Due to the late hour, unfortunately I will not be providing the backup from Richard North’s voluminous work on Brexit, but he has roundly dismissed the idea that the UK would be a mere “rule taker” in the EEA:

Sadly, not only do we get this low drone of ignorance, it embellished by the the same tedious mantra, that the UK “also would have to fully implement EU laws and regulations – while losing any say in drafting or vetoing them” – again an egregious untruth.

For instance, in his Flexcit proposal, North contends that the UK would have quite a bit of control over immigration under EEA rules while still getting the benefit of Single Market access.

It is also important to yet again note, that the “hard” versus “soft” Brexit debate of recent weeks is completely unhinged from a policy standpoint. So I worry about reinforcing confused political and press discussions. So let us stop here and remind ourselves that the big fight of the last three weeks or so over whether Parliament can force May into negotiating a Brexit in which it stays in the customs union, is not going to produce the outcome its backers say it will, that of having frictionless borders. A customs union is just about tariffs. It does not get rid of non-tariff barrier like, “Chlorinated chicken is not on and we are going to inspect to make sure you aren’t trying to ship that in.” To have all of the various procedures in place way upstream before anyone gets near a border so as to make a border a nothingburger, you need to be in the “internal market” too.

But back to the main plot. It’s hard to know how much of Corbyn’s position is due to realpolitik versus misguided British old left positions.

A lot of the “left,” from old Stalinists to other doctrinaires, hate the EU as a neoliberal project and object strenuously to some of its core ideas, like freedom of movement (which creates the opportunity for wage suppression) and EU strictures against nationalization of industries.

While this is all true, the idea that the UK is or would be less neoliberal than the EU, particularly with the Tories having meaningful influence, is daft. Did they miss the memo that the big reason for UKIP and Tory enthusiasm for Brexit (outside the “little Englanders”) is they want to gut EU labor and environmental regulations, among other things, to squeeze workers even more? And did they also manage to miss that non-EU immigration to the UK is greater than EU immigration?

I also wonder the fact that Blairites, as allies of the City, favor a soft or better yet no Brexit, is clouding Corbyn’s perspective. Just because the Blairites are mainly wrong does not mean that they are always wrong. There are many young people who live in the Southeast who aren’t employed in finance jobs, vote Labour, and grew up with being able to visit and work in Europe and will miss that under Brexit, to the degree that some are emigrating.

Another Guardian story, an opinion piece by Rafael Behr, gave some additional theories for Corbyn’s move:

Three reasons stand out. First: a fear of being cast as Europhile saboteurs…Labour is not polling well enough in areas that voted for Brexit to risk letting off a remain-themed firework in parliament.

Second: squeamishness about immigration policy – EEA membership would preserve free labour movement. That doesn’t have to mean totally unregulated borders: there are mechanisms such as work permits for managing migration from within the single market. But to advertise them, Labour would have to take the initiative on a subject that is fraught with risk…

Third: there is ideological hostility to single market rules prohibiting certain forms of industrial subsidy. Those restrictions, it is argued, would obstruct a radical-left economic programme. Whether that is true depends on how radical and how left you want to go. Everything in Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto could have been implemented within existing EU rules. The leader’s office might be fizzing with more drastic anti-capitalist plans, but no one says what they are.

In the end, the debate over what kind of Brexit is likely to be seen with the benefit of hindsight as yet more reckless misrule. The UK is still in denial about the fact that there is no solution to the Ireland border problem save the politically explosive sea border solution, and the deadline for confronting that is fast approaching. What happens in June when it becomes harder and harder to ignore that the choices are crash out or what the UK would scream is capitulation? No one outside Ireland seems to be trying to prepare the public for this outcome.

So it isn’t at all clear if Corbyn giving May a break of sorts she isn’t entitled to matters in light of the bigger forces at work. Since the machinations of UK party jousting are over my pay grade, I hope you Brits will help educate the Statesiders.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I read that this morning with despair. Corbyn was handed a gift by the Tories with Brexit, and has decided to throw it away. He never had to support Brexit, he only had to state that Article 50 should not have been moved until the British people knew what Brexit meant and that people had their right to a say on the alternatives and that reasonable preparations had been made for whichever direction was chosen. This way the Tories would ‘own’ Brexit 100%.

    There are I think two main reasons why he and his direct supporters are moving this way:

    1. The historical belief in British left wing circles that the EU is a nasty plot to destroy the left, and that only a truly independent Britain could be socialist. This ignored the general support for the EU among nearly all spectrums of the left in Europe, which saw it as a means of providing an alternative to the militarism of NATO and a means of providing solidarity among working people across Europe. While I understand many of the reasons behind left wing Euroscepticism in Britain, unfortunately much of it is related to the same sort of misinformation that you see on the right, especially the entirely false notion that nationalisation and stricter controls on capital are impossible within the EU. It has also ignored the reality that historically it was the UK that was the greatest promoter of neoliberalism and anti-environmental policies within the EU. Many on the left in Europe have welcomed Brexit for precisely this reason – it is an opportunity to move the centre of gravity to the left.

    2. The message ‘from the ground’ from many activists that many labour supporters are Brexiters for the same reason many Tories are – fear of immigration, a desire for more (English) freedoms, etc. They genuinely fear a backlash or a flood of voters to UKIP, etc. There is no doubt that much feedback ‘on the doorstep’ is pro-Brexit. There is nothing new to this, anyone who’s done canvassing knows that anti-immigrant talk is frequent in working class communities for all sorts of reasons, legitimate and otherwise.

    In taking this decision Corbyn is running a serious risk of alienating his younger supporters, who are far more pro-Europe than older left wingers. It is also a complete slap in the face for left wing voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland. IMO this is the death of Labour in Scotland. It also raises the new possibility of a devastating split in the left, which could leave even a badly wounded and declining Tory party in power for many years if a pro-Europe centrist party was to emerge. I believe a party like this would do far more damage to Labour than to the Tories.

    1. larry

      As did I, PK. North hinted without actually saying so that Corbyn might be intellectually limited. As of this morning, I am inclined to agree. And Kinnock, for all his faults, indicates that he thinks Corbyn is of the ‘infantile left’. Bill Mitchell would agree with this. Corbyn has so pissed me off with this crap that I am with Kinnock on this, and I never thought I would say that. Corbyn’s comments about the EEA show a dismal level of ignorance, can I say stupidlity? If he is playing a political game, I can’t see what it is. And I fail to see what he can gain. With this crap, he has alienated myself and my partner and you couldn’t call either of us young. This may turn out to be one big clusterf*ck on his part. A good bit of what Baer says is speculation.

        1. Mattski

          Appreciate this, and while there has been pretty universal dismay here at the prospect of Brexit–stumbling incompetence by May & Co. to compound it–my take would kind of accord. In the best of all possible worlds you would have prepared the ground–and economy, not to mention the British polity–for such a move. But if Brexit is a fait accompli, you have to turn and try to use every opening it affords to build a new progressive alternative. I imagine that this is something along the lines of Corbyn’s own thinking.

          For those like me who ARE a little hazy about EU and Eurozone, this is nice and clear:

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          I have not taken the time to debunk that article, but it is utterly wrong-headed. First, they refuse to take seriously the huge costs Brexit will impose on the UK, particularly to ordinary citizens. Richard North has written at exhaustive length on this topic and he’s a very firm Brexit backer. There will be chaos at the ports, for starters.

          Second, they bizarrely demonize the EU for being neoliberal when the UK is even worse in this category.

          Mitchell was similarly insistently doctrinaire on the topic of Greece. He was utterly unwilling to consider that bank operational issues made it impossible for Greece to introduce a new currency in anything less than three years (and that is a very optimistic forecast) and that it will require the cooperation of a vast number of parties over which the Greek government has no control.

          1. andrew d blatchford

            It’s mostly what I have seen from economists (whether Heterodox or mainstream) where they don’t get modern trade which isn’t about tariffs which they are arguing about. I was disappointed by that piece.

            1. Dune Navigator

              Re: so-called “free trade” ”’deals”’. While tariffs are what, 5-10-20%. Monopolies are 100-10,000%, and points beyond.
              Mickey Mouse attorneys, have thy day in the sun.
              – Dune Navigator

    2. fajensen

      The European Left has an unhealthy behavioural attractor for collaboration, for being “the adult people in the room”, to be the people who works out solutions and compromises in spite of adversity – which totally doesn’t work when facing morons and fanatics who will not compromise, ever, and who cannot be explained anything.

      The European Right has no problems with stuff breaking and things falling apart. Especially when they never get to fully “own it” because the EU-lefties always assume the role of “Responsible Mum cleaning up the mess and making excuses after the Drunk Dad Rampage” – We voters don’t wanna keep the family together, we want that bum dad Out even if it means moving to a shelter for a while!

      Dysfunction all around!

    3. Clive

      As with all Brexit matters, so much to unpack. And such little certainty about any of it.

      Firstly, then, I’ll try Corbyn. Remain vs. Leave is still too close to call. Yes, I know, opinion polling and all that. But it’s all the parties have to go on, so we’ll have to go with that as the data. Leave typically polls less well than reality, too, as a fair few Leave’ers are shamed into going into the Leave closet. So for Corbyn to switch to a soft Brexit policy is not necessarily any sort of vote winner. What he’d gain, he’d probably also lose. Besides which, Corbyn is a conviction politician. Rightly or wrongly, he thinks the EU is a dastardly neoliberal project that is, in his remaining political shelf-life timeframes, unreformable. Corbyn was never, ever, going to embrace Remain.

      This, however, isn’t the main point I’d make. What is now apparent as a reality on the ground is that neither the U.K. nor the EU has any *implementable* policy response for dealing with a crash-out Brexit. The integrity of the Single Market, the threat to which is introduced through any crash-out Brexit, cannot be preserved by the U.K. (because of incompetence and can’t-be-bothered’ness) nor the EU (because of the inability to secure the NI / Republic border). Not by next March, anyway.

      I did a little thought experiment last night. Imagining I woke up next April post a crash-out Brexit, I claimed my right to nationality of the Republic thanks to my dearly departed grandfather. I then got on a flight to Belfast, where I placed an order with a US supplier for frozen chlorinated chicken, to be delivered to the Port of Belfast (assuming that post-Brexit I could legally import such a delicacy). Having hired suitable transport, after unloading it from the ship at the port I then set out into the Republic where I had agreed to sell the chicken to a corrupted meat processor, say for use in pre-prepared ready meals.

      I could cross the border perfectly legally with my Republic of Ireland passport (I probably wouldn’t even need that, thanks to the Common Travel Area, but I’d have it just to be on the safe side). No-one would have had the time, or the political will, to construct that eternal bogeyman “infrastructure at the border”, so nothing would be able to impede my progress.

      Now, I would be committing a crime under the laws in the Republic (illegal importation of food). Eventually, if I did it often enough, I might be caught. The chances, though, would be very slim. But at around $800-900 per tonne for US frozen chicken vs. £1,200-1,400 per tonne for EU-standards compliant U.K. produce, I’d make out like a bandit. 40 tonnes per trip would yield me an easy £5-10,000 profit per consignment, even after the various bribes I’d have to lay off. And sorry, messers Barnier and Varadkar, there’d be pretty much sod all you could do about it. At least in the short term. Even in the medium-long term, absent a border checkpoint which could handle semitrailer (lorry load) modes of transport in reasonable scale, you’d be forever playing cat and mouse.

      If I, who doesn’t have a criminal bone in my body, have thought it, there’s plenty of less scrupulous and/or more desperate sorts who are planning — or at least sketching out the possibility of — such capers right now.

      It is political suicide / dynamite for the EU to try to cut off or quarantine the Republic to “protect” the Single Market (and it isn’t logistically possible to put it in place in the next 6-9 months or so). It is a political death wish for the Conservative U.K. government, as currently constituted, to adopt a policy of a border in the Irish Sea (which to loyalists is NI continuing to be a member of the EU while the rest of the Union isn’t). It is political seppuku for either the EU, the Republic or the U.K. government to take practical steps to install “infrastructure” at the border. And I can’t see anything in the U.K. parliamentary arithmetic which would enable a soft Brexit / EEA membership / some other second referendum magic sparkle pony idea / getting passed.

      So what we’re seeing now out of all these parties is peak kayfabe. What’s going to ultimately emerge, who knows. But nothing any of them says in their public utterances is worth listening to. There simply isn’t time for anyone to implement any of their so-called red lines.

      1. MisterMr

        My guess is that, if things really explode, the EU will ask very firmly Ireland to put border controls on.

        The reason is that there are a lot of people in the EU who live far from Ireland, would not be negatively impacted by border checks, but would be impacted by the sort of mass smuggling that could realistically happen.

        Therefore I think pressure on Ireland to put border controls in place would mount up a lot.

        After all, why should I have a nearby border control at Gaggiolo (between Italy and Switzerland), but the Irish be exempted from it?

        1. Nigel

          I have been thinking along the same lines as Clive, at a practical level when and who would build the customs infrastructure. Most emphatically the UK will not, indeed the UK probably think this is a bargaining chip regardless of what international trading agreements might require. At least that is the only way to understand the complete lack of action from the UK on this matter.

          MisterMr, I think you underestimate the political costs and practical difficulties associated with building border controls between the Republic and NI. No Irish Government would want to impose let alone police such a border. It is even easier to imagine the whole of Ireland being quarantined to preserve the rest of the Single Market. I say this not as a possibility but merely to illustrate the fundamental problems raised by having a controlled border in Ireland.

        2. Marco

          Excellent comment Clive. Tinfoil hat question. Could the neolib puppet masters controlling the EU benefit (because…price discovery and structural reform) from the existence of one token “soft” border? Then use it as a cudgel to extract more favorable concessions from unruly internal countries with high expectations of quality vetted goods? “Agree to cheap chlorinated poultry because the really BAD stuff is gonna slip through The Republc anyway.

          1. Clive

            No tin foil hat required — the EU has rigorously enforced and been commendably consistent in its treatment of agricultural produce. It’s a form of protectionism, albeit it one with a solid consumer protection underpinning. 3rd country produce must go through EU certification, which imposes a cost on the imports, plus there are also direct tariffs. This policy is baked into the EU’s founding DNA — support and protect indigenous food producers, but only so long as they play by the EU’s rules.

            Put it this way, post-Brexit, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll have to really pay attention to Country of Origin and also only shop at the most trustworthy of retailers (who won’t make “mistakes” in food labelling and mis-describe poorer quality inferior imports), which’ll be a direct cost and a tax on time.

            That all said, the much derided US food — and how that food is viewed in its home country, the US — is interesting to me. The chlorinated chicken is the totemic hiss-boo villain in any citation of how UK food will change for the worse post-Brexit, but industrialised milk production from cattle which do not graze outdoors seems just as bad, if not worse, to me. What do US readers really think of your food, your food standards and the pricing/quality/availability trade-offs? As I mentioned above, the cost differential is huge (certainly in the frozen chicken example I researched). Does this cheap food come at too higher price to you guys?

            1. Oregoncharles

              I, at least, shop mostly at the local co-op and pay the premium for organic – except, to be honest, for milk, which comes from a local dairy that is quite good.

              The co-op happens to be the most convenient store. It’s certainly not the cheapest, and there are a few things I buy at the supermarket for that reason. And for some, there would be a tax on time. Of course, for me it’s also a place to meet my friends, so shopping is rarely quick.

            2. marku52

              My Dog yes. Food quality here in the US is terrible, and terrifying. Latest is an E coli outbreak in Romaine lettuce that has pretty much shut down buying any of it, save at a farmers mart (local farms).

              And the latest outrage, which I had to read about in the Guardian, of all places, is that Monsanto’s glyphosate, which the EU regards as a carcinogen, turns up in almost all processed food stuffs. The FDA discovered this, but then kept it secret.

              The food regulatory and safety mechanisms in this country have been almost totally dismantled for the benefit of industrial Ag.

              “Keep fecal products off the chickens? Nah, cheaper to bathe them in chlorine! And just as Good!”

              We avoid most processed foods, buy organic when it means less pesticides, and shop the farmers markets.

            3. H. Alexander Ivey

              While no longer living in the US, I would say the main reason for this generation of CONUS citizens being oversize is the food, not the so called lack of exercise or larger portions in restuarants.

              I read in amazement at R. North’s description of how meat is tracked, from cradle to grave to digestion by various gov’t agencies &, even more, how those standards are locally enforced.

            4. drumlin woodchuckles

              At the level of primary raw from-scratch basic food ingredients, it differs from item to item to item.

              If you only have enough money for SOME organic food, you want to spend that money where it makes the most poison-avoidance impact. A way to tell that in the fruits-and-vegetables arena might be by using the two lists: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

              The Dirty Dozen are the conventional fruits and vegetables grown with the MOST pesticide use.

              The Clean Fifteen are those fruits and vegetables which are given the least pesticide use of any. Buying these from conventional sources might let you save enough money to be able to afford the organic version of the Dirty Conventional Dozen.

              Mainstream corporate meat in America is chemo-toxic and bio-filthy. If you want clean non-toxic meat you grow the animals yourself and have them slaughtered and butchered, or you pay the price for certified organic non-toxic meat ( and milk and eggs and cheese etc.)

              If you want to avoid GMO-based food or GMO-tainted product, you can’t buy any complex multi-ingredient processed food of any sort whatsoever. Ever. Ever.
              You have to buy primary food ingredients and make your own foods from them yourself. And even then, your only way to avoid GMO-infested food is to either buy certified organic ( and therefor non-GMO) food, or buy those fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. which have not yet been targeted for development of GMO versions. Or, once again, to grow your own.

              And what about beans, grains, seeds which are not yet GMOed? They now carry their own risk of glyphosate contamination. Why? Because glyphosate is now used as a pre-harvest desiccant to be sprayed on the target plants to get them to all mature their beans/grains/seeds together all at once for ease of one-pass harvest. If you eat corporate mainstream wheat/oats/many beans/etc. in America, you WILL ingest the glyphosate used to spray-desiccate them a week or two before harvest.

              That romaine lettuce contamination out of Yuma Arizona reminds me of the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in Britain. If any trace of e. coli reaches any romaine lettuce from anywhere, it gets mixed up with all the other lettuce at the chopping and mixing and redistribution centers for sending back out to everywhere. if one head in a million of romaine lettuce has e. coli in it, and it is mixed up after chopping with a million other clean heads of lettuce into one huge mass of pre-cut leaf bits, then a million people are at equal risk of getting Mad Lettuce Disease from the one infected head of lettuce. Whereas if you buy your own whole head of uncut romaine lettuce and cut it up yourself at home, you have a better chance of getting a head of Happy lettuce instead of getting a head of Mad lettuce.

              How did the e. coli get into the lettuce? Probably blown in on the wind from the dried manure dust of far-distant cattle feedlots elsewhere in the desert. That has happened before.

              So that’s the food picture in America. Islands of safety and cleanliness in a vast sea of chemical contamination and chemically-suppressed microbial disease ( “chlorinated chicken”).

              1. Clive

                Thanks for the information. Those guides will likely be cut-out-and-keep for what to avoid if our food sources change post-Brexit. Certainly in terms of what to look out for and substitute (if possible — you might end up with Hobson’s choice in the matter).

                The big snag is, of course, when it comes to embedded ingredients in pre-prepared foodstuffs — you’ve very little idea where all of it came from.

      2. vlade

        The “obvious” solution to that is to deploy EU navy (I’m sure French would enjoy it) and say that if the UK will not enforce sea-border, EU will. Now, that would be fun!

      3. vlade

        But more seriously, once a few loads of chlorinated chicken find their way to France, EU can and will clamp down on Ireland, and it will have to make choices. It may sweeten the deal by pouring in money for the required infra, and accept some level of smuggling (if someone thinks that Polish/Ukraine & Belorus border is less porous than Ireland/NI, I’d invite them to look at the map. Alcohol and tobacco smuggling is ripe. Chlorinated chicken less so, as it’s not so expensive and harder to store than the above), but Ireland is an island, so the rest of EU can control its imports/exports reasonably well (and I believe there are EU rules that would allow it, as an emergency measure).

      4. PlutoniumKun

        I think you are underestimating the power of self regulation. Your chicken smuggling business would not be threatened by the law, so much as you or your driver would more than likely find themselves the wrong end of a hurley stick wielded by someone in the Irish chicken industry.

        Go to any Chinese restaurant on Dublin’s northside and you’ll see prominent ‘Only Irish beef and pork used’ signs. They aren’t BS – the local butchers do a thriving trade selling meat to the main strip of Chinese hotpot places. This isn’t because of the inherent commitment of Chinese restaurant owners to good quality ingredients, but because they know full well their reputation, and that any public scandal would harm each and every Chinese restaurant owner – and they know Irish customers only trust Irish meat (a sometimes misplaced trust, but thats the reality).

        The Irish food industry is highly dependent on its reputation for quality – and deeply resents it if the trade is threatened by outsiders – they only this year got the go-ahead to export beef to China due to Mad Cow Disease. The horse meat scandal (which thanks to good PR work they managed to deflect blame away from the Irish industry) did huge damage. There is simply no way any major Irish producer or trader would find supporting smuggling over the border to be an attractive option. I can absolutely guarantee that it would be chicken farmers (who, as it happens, tend to cluster in the border counties) who will resolutely defend their products honour, and they would not hesitate to ask the local ‘boys‘ to send a message if someone got greedy and so threatened everyones livelihoods.

        So yes, on the margins, there would be some smuggling, but when a government and a local industry, from local supplier to the big operators are united in being determined that the Irish food industry will not be destroyed by a scandal involving dodgy meat from the UK, you can be pretty sure they will have means of ensuring it does not happen on any significant scale.

      5. Oregoncharles

        Once again: various Irish commenters have told us the border was and is unenforceable, even WITH infrastructure.

        Sea borders are a lot more enforceable (albeit not completely), so that’s the only practical solution – barring a lot of wink-wink, or the EEA. Maybe if Germany sent experienced border guards to “help out”?

        And there’s the answer to my question about another referendum.

      6. Oregoncharles

        “So what we’re seeing now out of all these parties is peak kayfabe.”

        Yes, and the most important point. But they don’t have very long for extend and pretend.

    4. Alex Cox

      Unfortunately EU membership and NATO membership go hand in hand. I lived in Spain when they joined the EU, and both the mainstream media and the Socialists (then in power) promoted NATO and the EU as the same package.

      The same bill of goods was sold to more recent entrants, and is one of the reasons Serbia is so conflicted about EU membership.

  2. paul

    IMO this is the death of Labour in Scotland.
    It’s been dead for a while,but they keep on twitching.

    They bafflingly recommended tactical voting for tories at the last general election and are allying with the tories in councils where the SNP are the largest single party. That is hardly going to enthuse potential corbyn sympathisers here.

    The tactics are to paint the SNP as the party of austerity, when they have voted enthusiastically for the measures (and the SNP consistently against)

    The labour branch manager, Leonard, repeatedly confuses the relatively simple matter of devolved and reserved powers so he is unlikely to have any great insights into something as tricky as brexit.

    They have also trotted out their tired old federal ideas which, even if they meant it any more than all the other times, just don’t really fit within a UK structure with different legal systems.

    There is a palpable fear of independence gripping the unionists, the papers and broadcast news are at war mobilisation and basically indigestible. The huge turnout for independence the other week certainly rattled them.

    More generally, Corbyn has painted himself into the same corner as the tories, without any reason to. He has blown it, I’m afraid.

  3. Nigel

    Of course Corbyn is playing a political game. A political stance in line with the opening quote, do nothing to throw your opponent a lifeline. At the moment the Conservatives are drowning because of their ineptitude over the Brexit negotiations. However, Labour does not command a majority in Parliament and cannot force a successful vote on any measure without the support of Conservative rebels regardless of what happens in the Lords. Consequently until such a time as those in the Conservative Party who are willing to support a softer Brexit come into the open, Labour must hedge its position. Imagine the way the press and Conservatives would use any weakening on the Brexit line to attack Labour and bring any Conservative rebels into line “A vote for the EEA arrangements is a vote for a Corbyn government.” I think many who expect a more aggressive line from Corbyn fail to see the parliamentary arithmetic and the difficulty of encouraging support from Conservative rebels.

    1. m-ga

      This was my take as well. With the slightest mis-step, Corbyn is at risk of being painted as a scapegoat for Brexit failure.

      At the moment, the Tories are making a total hash of things, and the Tory infighting makes continual headlines. There is nowhere for Theresa May to go, and she is running out of road quickly.

      One solution for her would be for Corbyn to “thwart” Brexit. Then, she can set up a scenario in which her rabid ultras are targetting their ire at Corbyn, while she steers towards the nearest safe port (probably some EEA variant) with the comment of “I tried my best, but Corbyn’s Labour has thwarted the will of the British people”.

      The Lords vote on the EEA amendment might provide some support for this idea. Labour peers were ostensibly whipped to oppose the EEA amendement, but 83 (nearly half of the total) rebelled, with nearly all of the rest abstaining. This would make sense if the actual messaging to Labour peers was “We are officially whipping to oppose this bill. By the way, it would be very good for Labour if it passes anyway.”

      The alternative explanation (also believable!) is that Corbyn has basically no authority with the Lords.

      Whatever the case, media reporting of the Lords rebellion worked well for Corbyn. The focus was on the treacherous peers (both Tory and Labour) with the delicious spectacle of Rees-Mogg – the archetypal cheerleader for hereditary peerages! – fulminating that the Lords was in need of reform. Amongst all this negative coverage, there was no mention of Corbyn. The media is currently reduced to playing up the anti-Semitism angle to attack Corbyn.

      When the EEA amendment comes to the commons, Corbyn could play the same game. There’s an additional factor which will be important. Pro-Brexit Tories will be reluctant to vote against Theresa May and with Corbyn. But, it would be easier to vote for EEA (i.e. against both Corbyn and May) as long as Corbyn is at least nominally opposing the EEA amendment. This will probably require Corbyn to whip against the EEA amendment, although I suppose “vote of conscience” might get traction if public mood shifts. There’s probably a majority in the commons for the EEA amendment, and this might be enough to get it through.

      It’s high risk for Corbyn, though. The optics are terrible to pro-Remain Labour supporters, and particularly to the young metropolitan professionals who have been creating a buzz around Corbyn. I was personally appalled when Corbyn whipped in support of triggering Article 50. It may have been unavoidable (he couldn’t have stopped A50 being triggered) but endorsing one of the most stupid actions carried out by any government anywhere ever is never going to be a great look.

      1. vlade

        I would very much like you to be right, but don’t buy it – as the chances of this leaking are yuuuge, and if that did leak, the damage to Corbyn (“publically saying whip abstain/vote no, privately saying vote for or even conscience”) would be terminal.

        It would be an extremely high risk strategy, which would also go against Corbyn’s nature (as much as I can claim to know what his “nature” is from the remote observations).

        For example, the A50 vote could have been by Corbyn easily done as conscience vote, while spelling out (left right and centre) the risks of having a hard deadline w/o a plan. Or he could have easily say “I will vote for A50 the moment Tories share with us a plan”, otherwise we’re abstaining. A50 would have been still triggered, he would get a month or two of hard time, but by now he would have been massively vindicated.

        Ultimately, there’s 48% of remainers, and 52% of leavers. Since at least some of the leavers are hard-Tory types that will never ever vote for Labour, no winning strategy can be found that does not get both camps.

        Labour will not win appealing to leavers, but it will lose by alienating remain.

        It’s been running a very close line, reasonably sucessfully, but I believe it took it as far as it can go.

        IMO the best place for Labour would have been “we believe the way Tories did this is disaster, and they are even refusing to cooperate on mitigants” – yes, ignoring the leave vote, because the act of leaving is now baked in – in all likelyhood with disastrous consequences.

        There’s literally nothing that Labour can do that would get Daily Mail and the like on its side, so why keep trying?

        If they consequences will be disastrous, post the disaster Labour would pick pretty much all of remain, and all disgruntled “I didn’t vote to lose a job” leavers, who could be easily shown it was Tories that caused it all.

        If the consequences will not be disastrous, a good Brexit would be claimed by Tories anyways.

        A so-so Brexit would be ambiguous, and as a question would be probably quickly off the political radar, so Labour could fight on other grounds.

        In other words, I do not see any practical reason for doing what Labour is doing (assuming they want to win), and a lot of downside to the ideological approach it’s taking.

        1. m-ga

          I did wonder about this too. Corbyn couldn’t very well whip in exactly the way I’ve described. The leaks would be too damaging.

          However, I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of possibility that Labour whips might have sounded out the peers, and provided enough information that the peers would draw their own conclusions. It’s all a bit House of Cards. But the numbers do support this – 83 of 187 peers rebelled, with just three voting with the whip and the rest abstaining.

          Not sticking his head above the parapet may be the preferred route to power for Corbyn. He would intend to get through the Brexit fiasco unscathed, and pick up when the Tories implode. It’s risky.

          But the alternative is to directly oppose the government, and risk the wrath of the Brexiteers. It sounds like a slam dunk, since Brexit is going so badly. But imagine for a moment a Labour party, perhaps led by one of the Milibands (you can pick!), continually advocating in favour of EEA (or perhaps even full EU remain) and with the entire Conservative party and UK press opposing them.

          This doesn’t look to me like a route to power. It looks more like a way to get tarred with the blame for whatever bits of Brexit go wrong. The opposition would have “failed to get behind Brexit”, “thwarted the will of the British public”, “weakened the PM’s hand with the EU” and so on. This coverage would be endless.

          If I was a UK Labour politician, I would be super-careful to make sure that nothing I said or did could draw this kind of ire. Far better IMO to let the Conservatives fight it out among themselves, and shift gradually towards a saner position as it becomes politically viable to do so. In some ways, this does seem to be what’s happening. Labour’s backing of the (pointless) customs union is in some ways a trial balloon for backing single market membership. It mightn’t take too much (e.g. a sterling drop, accompanied by a retail price index increase) to harden public mood against Brexit. This could be the moment to publicly back EEA.

          It may be wishful thinking on my part though. I expect we’ll find out in the next few months.

          1. vlade

            I agree on the conservatives to fight it out themselves. But what would Corbyn really lose on abstaining on A50? It would still get through, and he would be in the position to deal with it.

            Whether the UK leaves or not is now out of the UK’s hand – unless EU does something, UK will leave. As I wrote, all indications are it will be a disaster.

            Tory press (which is a majority of the UK press) will put blame on Corbyn and EU, not matter what Corbyn or EU does – they live in their own reality, which cannot be altered aby anything Corbyn or EU do. Chasing them is pointless.

            Corbyn would be in danger if he voted for EFTA/EEA, and it actually passed, but EU refused to consider this and hard catastrophic brexit ensued. If you really wanted to do 11 dimensional chess, Corbyn’s best outcome would be for majority of Labour MPs to vote for this, but the vote to fail. But at the same time he could not be seen as whipping to ‘vote no’, as that would stain him, personally (the same way A50 vote will I believe). So giving his MPs a vote of conscience (which he could easily put in as “vote of constituency”) of this would be the best way IMO.

            I’ll rephrase what I wrote above:
            There are three possibilities for Brexit:

            – It will be a good one for the UK. In such a case, Tories will take all the glory, and likely some remainers will switch. Sucessfull Brexit will not see Labour to take power. Tories may want to push for early elections, to consolidate, and IMO it’s unlikely Labour would do better than now.

            – Ambiguous Brexit. It will be argument on what went wrong/well, but IMO politics would shortly switch to pre-brexit type arguments, where leave/remain would be relatively irrelevant quickly, certainly by 2022 when the next election is due.

            – Disastrous Brexit. At least part of leave will blame EU and/or Labour. Remainers will blame Tories, and IMO Labour are also open to blame from at least part of Remain – more so, if Corbyn whips to be seen supporting government either directly or even by abstention. All the polls show that a very significant part of remainers (approx 50% of them, i.e. 20-25% of the voters) WILL blame Labour even on their CURRENT ambiguous policy. That means Labour would have to pick 20-25% of leave voters, which I do not believe is realistic. If LD pick 20% of votes, that may be sufficient to keep Tories in power.

            Corbyn is sitting on a fence, which worked. But no later than a year from now, the fence will come down crashing, and Corbyn will end on one or the other side of the fence, disappointing someone. Right now it looks to me like all that sitting on the fence will get him THEN is both sides blaming him for crashing it.

            1. m-ga

              There’s a hint here of how Corbyn could get to power:


              Heseltine was a cabinet minister under Thatcher and Major. He’s on record as saying he’d prefer a Corbyn government to Brexit.

              If a few more Tories start thinking the same way, it becomes possible firstly to pass the EEA bill in the commons, and secondly to force a no confidence vote (e.g. if Theresa May doesn’t change tack if the EEA bill gets through the commons).

              The scenario isn’t too far-fetched, since neither of Theresa May’s currently-debated solutions will get traction with the EU. Thus, it will become increasingly apparent to the pro-remain Tories (the majority of Tories) that they’re looking at economic meltdown for the UK in March 2019. This might be enough for them to press the self-destruct button on Theresa May’s premiership – even in the knowledge that the Tories wouldn’t have enough time to prepare for the general election that would follow.

              There’s still the issue of how what arrangement the UK and EU have past March 2019. But if Corbyn gets to be PM, I suspect this would be a secondary concern to him.

              One possibility is that, after becoming PM, Corbyn signs up to whatever the EU will offer. Very late in the day, the EU might not be minded to offer much. But I suspect that if Corbyn committed to either EEA or full remain (perhaps with the currently mooted transition period as a bridge, and removal of the UK’s rebate if it did remain a full EU member) the EU would be likely to agree for their own convenience.

              1. vlade

                I agree with your Haseltine comment – see above re Grieve.

                The only (and it’s really “only”) problem with this is that there’s no runway for Corbyn to operate unless EU works with him – and he wants to operate with EU.

                Which they may, or may not – it’s hard to say at this stage, how much would both parties want to work together.

                So Corbyn may end up with the bag of crap that Tories are fully responsible for, and that severly limits what he can implement as his own agenda.

                And all of that is assuming that Corbyn would actually win the next election held pretty much now, instead of having a well and good hung parliament, with no sensible coalitions possible (I don’t believe he would be able to win outright, he needs Scottish seats for that, and he won’t get them), and that the coalition talks can happen super quick.

                1. m-ga

                  Corbyn’s nothing if not tenacious. It’s only three years ago that David Cameron, as PM, was confidently mocking Corbyn’s unpopularity and urging Corbyn to resign for his own sanity. Seems like a distant political era now.

                  If Corbyn got to be PM, I can’t see him battling with the EU. You can see a bit of his intended programme in these “Labour needs ‘at least’ two terms” stories which slipped out at the end of last year. He’s not going to get any of this done if he’s preoccupied with fixing the Tories’ mess.


                  By the way, I doubt the intention is for Corbyn to be prime minister for 10 years, as in the second article. The plan is more likely to be to groom and promote successors who would advance a left wing agenda with Corbyn gone. This seems to be the aim of the Momentum grouping.

                  The problem for Corbyn is how to win the next election. Brexit is just part of this – he’s somehow got to present a positive vision for the UK which addresses all of the problems built up in the Thatcher/Blair/Cameron eras. And he has to put it to the electorate without falling into the very many traps set in the media. So, for example, it’s impossible to simply promote Green QE. That would get reported as “Labour invents a Magic Money Tree”, with endless repeats of the mis-reported story of Gordon Brown selling off the UK’s gold reserves.

                  Corbyn’s recent EEA pronouncements might be an example of realpolitik. It’s notable that he waited until after the UK local elections to make them. If he’d generated anti single market headlines in the days or weeks before the elections, it may have cost him support with the (largely pro-EU) Labour support base. However, there aren’t now elections scheduled in the UK anytime soon, so it doesn’t really matter what he says. Corbyn can indulge in messaging which is aimed at MPs or the media more than the electorate.

                  On the other hand, I may be too generous. Corbyn did, after all, make the bone-headed comment that Cameron should trigger A50 immediately on the day of the referendum result.

      2. Oregoncharles

        Would it be so stupid if Labour was in control? Yes, there’s a financial cost, but the neoliberal EU policies could be reversed.

        1. Oregoncharles

          To be clear, I should have said “if Corbyn’s wing of Labour was in control.”

        2. IguanaBowtie

          This is my take as well. Corbyn is prepping for the scenario where he wins. No political machinations required, though Corbyn seems canny enough that I really doubt he’d commit political suicide. Young Labor supporters might be angry but they’re also smart enough to know what happens if they split the party.

          1. Lambert Strether

            > Young Labor supporters might be angry but they’re also smart enough to know what happens if they split the party.

            Indeed, “they have no place to go” worked with the left and Democrats. Until it didn’t.

            1. vlade

              That’s my worry – and in the UK, there’s a place for them to go – LibDems/Greens. And the polls indicate that they are already going there, and would leave even more if Corbyn comes on the hard-brexit side of the fence.

              If Tories really wanted to crush Labour (fortunately for them, they are too wrapped up in internal fights), they would make all possible moves to associate Corbyn with hard brexit – as it’s unlikely they would lose enough votes to him, but would alienate his remain base.

    2. Ignacio

      I pretty much concur with your analysis Nigel. I would add that IMO Corbyn could not afford to keep without stating his position on brexit and bearing the risk of becoming irrelevant. If he hasn’t done it yet he should also offer a workable solution for Ireland. Now it will be interesting to see how this translates in parliamentary action. Will he try to avoid a crash-out brexit, supporting May if necessary?, will (can?) labour MPs rebel against Corbyn? How do you think Labour should/will vote in the following months on brexit proposals?

      1. vlade

        “will he try to avoid crash-out brexit, supporting May”. Nothing May can do, short of pretty much a complete capitulation to the EU, can avoid a crash-out brexit now, TBH. There’s not much time, and EU will not budge. It will be sterling crisis, not EUR crisis that we have coming in the summer (or once markets realise that there will be a crash out)

        1. m-ga

          The EU might go for some EEA variant (or some other off-the-shelf option) for their own convenience. Crash-out Brexit is a nuisance for them.

          1. vlade

            Indeed it is – but with a limited lifetime.

            The problem with EEA is, as PlutoniumKun said here before, that Norway, Swiss, not to say Iceland or Lichenstein are all small fish.

            UK is a big fish, and if the UK could show that EEA works for it fairly well, then the whole EU integration project would be jeopardised.

            EU’s optimal outcome is UK revoking A50, and ending up humiliated.
            The second most optimal outcome is UK having a really hard time, with limited EU damage.

            Hence I suspect EU is more likely to grant a short extension to A50 or fudge a bit, heavily conditioned on “this is the solution, the extension will be used to deal with technical implementation only”, than accept EEA/EFTA. Also, Norwegians, Swiss etc. would have to accept that, and again, they may have a problem with the UK getting there, as all of sudden their interests will be much smaller than UKs.

            In fact, I suspect that the most likely outccome is a short-termed fudge with a transition period, as that will show the UK the realities of the third party (like not having any trading agreements with non-EU parties on day 1), while minimising the damage to the EU itself.

            1. m-ga

              The UK is going to be humbled whatever happens. So, the precise nature of the optics in the short to medium term may not be too much of a concern for the EU.

              Long-term, who knows? The EU project, and the Eurozone in particular, is already in trouble. I’m not sure how it shakes out after the next financial crisis. It’s wishful thinking, but there may even be a benefit in reduced exposure for the UK as Brexit causes big finance to exit from the City of London. If so, this would be an ironic and totally unintended side effect.

              1. Oregoncharles

                A while back, there was a big study (posted here, I believe) showing that financialization and an oversize financial sector are bad for the economy. So long term, Britain would benefit; the question is how long term, and what does it cost?

    3. vlade

      Disagree. If that was the play, the game for Corbyn would be ambiguity or silence – to encourage the breakaway Tories.

      A flat statement “no to EEA/EFTA” is not going to encourage them, and WILL create the anvil on Corbyn. I keep saying that the Labour “we won” meme last year ignores that a non-trivial part of the vote was a soft, pro-Remain vote, that dumped LibDem for a chance to make a difference. On the moment Labour MPs vote “no” to EEA/EFTA, and a hard brexit (or, more likely, a crash-brexit) ensues, those votes are off, and Labour is left with voters who don’t care about Brexit (which will change from today), and chasing hard-Brexit votes that Tories got.

      1. Nigel

        First of all, my understanding is that Corbyn did not give a definitive no to the EEA. He was in fact being ambiguous in a very nuanced way. You have to be careful with Guardian reporting, Silence was not an option as he is coming under increasing pressure to speak out one way or the other.

        Second, you misunderstand Conservative party loyalties. As long as Corbyn espouses a policy the Conservative rebel will find it hard to support it openly, it is as simple as that, odd as that may seem to you. Indeed, the fact he is stated as saying no to EEA gives the the Conservative rebel cover. Less time for the Conservative party whips to cajole the person into supporting the party line.

        Third, the Labour party itself has potential Brexit supporting rebels. Antagonising these risks losing a vote at some future date.

        1. vlade

          He might have felt being ambiguous, but it did not come across like that at all – especially after the Lords vote.

          Re second point: ” ambiguity or silence – to encourage the breakaway Tories” Is what I said if he wanted to encourage breakawawy Tories. TBH, I’m getting a feeling that even those are now so deseprate in what they see, that even a potential Corbyn victory may not be too bad, if that’s what it takes to stop Tory party from splitting – Grieve is as loyal a Tory as you get, so him giving an interview to Guardian, and saying “it’s my private view we’d have a second referendum” was pretty damn close to a war declaration on the ultras (although one does wonder how much behind that is local politics in Wimbledon).

          Yes, Labour has a few deluded Brexiters too, so overall it may not be a win for the EFTA (and the question is what would have happened even if they do vote for that, as the time’s pretty much run out) – but TBH, after a disastrous Brexit, being on the side that can unambiguously say “we did not want this” is likely to be a vote winner – while even Labours sitting on a fence is unlikely to get them into position where they would win a majority, as I strongly believe, and have more than anecdotal evidence (i.e. a number of polls) that a large part of the remain vote would run from Labour to LibDem (evidence few weeks back was that in such case, LD would get about 20% of the total vote, with pretty much all of the increase coming from Labour).

          1. tegnost

            (and the question is what would have happened even if they do vote for that, as the time’s pretty much run out)
            Shades of the Greek Tragedy there, and the eleventy dimensionality of the justifications is imo a bad sign

          2. Lambert Strether

            > that even a potential Corbyn victory may not be too bad, if that’s what it takes to stop Tory party from splitting

            The Tories could then try to cripple him, and they would have a lot of help from the usual suspects. A period out of the power would be good for the Tories if it helped clear away the fools. Of course, the Tory party might be fools all the way down.

    4. PlutoniumKun

      I can’t see any logic to this argument. By arguing against EEA/EFTA he is siding with the hard-liners in the Tory party against much of his own party, not to mention most opinion in Scotland. He will get no credit for this from the Tory press and won’t get any hard Brexit votes that are already going to the Tories. He is increasing the chance of a deep and maybe permanent split within the Labour Party. If you want to play a political game with Brexit the best option by far is to keep quiet and let the Tories destroy themselves over this.

      1. Nigel

        Indeed, political logic can seem to have no logic at all. As I said to vlade above, one has to be careful with Guardian reporting, Indeed later in the article it says Corbyn did not give a definitive no. He could not stay silent given the Lords amendment otherwise he would have been accused of being indecisive. Remember all that is said now counts for little, all that matters is the vote in Parliament.

        Importantly by saying what he has, he made the Conservative party position harder, they continue to own all the negotiations. Nothing has changed here. However, internal compromises are tougher given that Corbyn has expressed a view similar to hard-liners. Corbyn must succour divisions within the Conservative party which isn’t necessarily by supporting the group with like views.

        This is not about getting credit in the Tory press but minimising further damaging attacks and most definitely he is not looking for hard Brexit votes.

        1. Ape

          Something else important – for Corbyn, avoiding Brexit is not a goal in itself. Gaining power to institute some form of socialism is much more important.

  4. Marshall Auerback

    Of course, the EU has (as usual) been singularly unhelpful, as there have been a raft of articles in the UK press recently (particularly the Times of London) indicating that the EU would block a raft of Labour’s proposals under a Corbyn government. That simply confirms much of the Left’s view that the EU is a neoliberal project designed to entrench the rule of markets for good, regardless of what the electorate chooses.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its not the EU’s job to correct others poor understanding of the technical issues. Whatever its faults, EU Directives are generally models of clarity and simplicity (they have to be so, so they can be successfully translated into numerous other languages and legal systems). Labour has plenty of MEP’s who can fill them in or who can ask the right questions. And if Corbyn believes a Murdoch newspaper on the topic, well, that’s hardly a good reflection on his judgement.

      1. begob

        Here’s an example of what the Labour left are concerned about over EFTA/EEA – the right of establishment of an EU business overrides old-style (pre-EFTA) union agreements that effectively bar the EU business from using its own stevedores:

        That’s from a year ago (not sure what the latest position is), and did send a shudder down the spine of Corbyn associates, as the old-style agreement is what they’d want to encourgage in the UK’s fully privatised ports. The article is interesting too in showing the EFTA tensions within Norway, and the style of labour-led resistance that Corbyn would approve.

        At the same time the EU Commission is trying to get port services regulations passed that will probably equalize all EU ports to the LCD of the UK on labour/state aid rules, while adding a layer of regulation to the UK. So I think Corbyn is justified in seeing a ratcheting liberalisation across the EEA. But does he see how the WTO/FTA equivalent works? Maybe. Or how to get there? Well, if he did he’d tell us, wouldn’t he?

        ps. What is it about Brexit and ports?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          That particular situation is pretty unique – its hard to see that applying in many situations, not least because in the UK and elsewhere traditional union control over docks is long gone. There is a long established exemption under EU competition rules for restrictions based on collective bargaining. I think in the Norwegian situation the problem was that restrictions were being applied to ‘third party’ operators, not to employees of the Port.

          Of course, the big issue is free movement within the EU, which makes it almost impossible for an EU employer to discriminate against any EU citizen, which of course means they can hire cheaper labour from eastern Europe, etc. This could create problems for specific local employment schemes.

          1. begob

            Yes – decision was based on protecting freedom of establishment rather than of movement.

            Actually, that port services regulation comes into effect right about 1 year after Brexit, so would apply during a transition period. UK port owners are complaining about going toe-to-toe in the same regulatory space as state-aided competitors.

    2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

      I for one do not need any confirmation & also do not require the likes of the Times to provide me with information in terms of that state of play. There are many examples that show that both Neo & Ordoliberalism, are thriving on the continent & as for the European Left, I see little evidence of any functioning version, but rather various flavours or brands of Blarism.

      My position on Brexit was & is in agreement with that of Mark Blythe which basically stated that the UK had a privileged position, so why give it up ? & I agree that Brexit becomes more disastrous by the minute.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      There has been nothing even remotely consistent with the claim re that alleged demand in the UK press, which has regularly been somewhere between unreliable to dishonest on the topic of Brexit. And I’ve seen that only in the Times, which further calls it into question. It is based on the bizarre notion that the EU is somehow threatened by a post Brexit UK, where there is no evidence of that whatsoever. The prevailing attitude in Europe is that the UK needs to get over itself.

      The EU puts out its negotiating position via published position papers, well in advance, save occasional trial balloons via Barnier which have without exception been pro UK and have been him out over his skis relative to where the EU27 are.

      1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

        My understanding of the Nationalisation issue was perhaps incorrectly based on comments made here quite some time ago – which if I remember correctly concluded that there was nothing within EU rules that stated it was forbidden, but that it would likely be frowned on.

        I steer well clear of the majority of the British press as I do not want to end up in a straitjacket, which is why I am here & have been preparing as best as I can for the worst.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There is nothing in EU rules about nationalisation or state ownership, plenty of EU countries have far more direct State ownership than the UK, without any issues. The difficulties a left wing government would face would be in addressing rules on state subventions for industries and competition rules, especially in transport. These would provide extra legal ammunition for disgruntled operators and owners, but there is nothing to suggest that it would stop any proposals.

          1. vlade

            Indeed, some time back I posted articles on how German municipalities in effect “nationalised” (from the town perspective) utilities, and the big boys couldn’t do squat.

            Fundamentally, EU is a game to play, but the UK politicians don’t want to be restricted in what games they play, and prefer to keep the playground to two parties- Tories and Labour. The “democratization” of curretn Labour is a joke when you can see that it has about zero wilingness to ditch FPP and support proportional representation, which would mean that Labout would have to compromise. Sometimes I get the feel that in the UK Labour and Tories would rather compromise with each other than anyone else.

            1. larry

              vlade, do you have links to these articles about the German municipalities? If you don’t have them to hand, no worries.

              1. vlade

                no, but I think I posted it here when I was having an argument with “EU says we can’t nationalise” bloke some time back.

                1. Clive

                  The EU has only (not) said the U.K. can’t renationalise the railways because it’s not been asked. But it does have the power of veto and it does have to be consulted on — and approve — any changes in ownership structure which has an “EU dimension”. Or, as per the linked-to example above, it can deem the member state to have competence. Or it can rule that the member state is too conflicted to be allowed to decide, in which case the EU gets to decide it is the final arbiter.

                  Which covers pretty much any scenario a Labour government might want to enact.

            2. Clive

              I think the question of whether EU Single Market rules do or don’t prohibit nationalisation is a bit nuanced. In the U.K. High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 (and London’s Crossrail) are publicly underwritten by state funding. But they won’t (can’t) be run by a state operator.

              It’s not so much the state ownership where the problem is, it’s the enforced opening up of any market within the Single Market to “competition” and the prohibition of “state aid”.

    4. beachcomber

      “That simply confirms much of the Left’s view that the EU is a neoliberal project designed to entrench the rule of markets for good, regardless of what the electorate chooses”.

      Are you implying that it isn’t?

      Personally I applaud Corbyn’s steadfastness in holding fast to his longstanding allegiance to his political mentor, the notorious right-winger and Tory stooge Tony Benn (RIP).

  5. The Rev Kev

    The only thing that comes to mind in what Corbyn did by aligning with May is a bit of tactical thinking. If Labour offers an alternative vision, then after Brexit kicks in the Conservatives might resign and throw the baby to Labour to catch and deal with all the mess with their alternate vision. By aligning themselves with May, that might shut this down from happening. I would guess that the Conservatives would love nothing more than to have Labour to deal with post-Brexit while they snipped them mercilessly from the sidelines about how they are doing everything wrong. Let Labour have all the grief. Just a guess here.

  6. Paul O

    So far there seems to be silence on this in the UK press. Nothing in RSS feeds from any paper or BBC.

  7. bob mcmanus

    I am with Corbyn. After watching the Euro austerity after 2008, the politics and failure to get expansionary fiscal policy in France and Greece, there is absolutely no way the European powers allow Britain, or any other member country to move left economically or toward socialism. If Corbyn tries to renationalize the railroads or bring the NHS back, they will get stomped by monetary authorities, aided by hedge funds and shadow banking. There is a reason the most socialist countries in Scandanavia are careful and leery.

    Neoliberalism was the whole point, and remainers, as we have seen with Clinton and Obama in America, are very willing to sacrifice their nations to the vampire squids to get the cosmopolitan and soft neolibeal social goodies and elite opportunities.

    I advocated Grexit, no matter the cost years ago, and now I advocate Brexit, Spexit, and Italexit..

    1. vlade

      Do yourself a favour, and educate yourself on various EU policies vs UK ones. Like for example the fact that Greece got stomped by ECB, which *gasp* has precisely zero control over UK monetary and fiscal policy – unlike the UK government, that went for austerity from the word go.

      Or, if you want a different fiddle, look at Poland and Hungary, and how EU struggles to deal with their current political elites.

      EU is a nice and good scapegoat, that presents the various local politicians the target they need to hide their incompetence. In the past, european local wars tende to serve the same purpose, and I for one believe that using EU for that is a good move.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Your argument would be more convincing if you demonstrated that you knew the difference between the EU and the Eurozone.

      1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

        It strikes me as a two competitor competition as to who is the worst between the Tories & European Neoliberals. Making a point that consists of the latter being better than the former is for me like praising US Democrats for being marginally preferable to Republicans.

        I would ask the Greeks who like their British counterparts have suffered from austerity measures, how they feel about their situation, especially as for them it appears there is no way out due to a possible alternative being stomped on from a great height. Whereas although the chances are admittedly very slim, the British Deplorables have at least a small ray of hope.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          The interesting thing about Greece is that much of the population still seems to be quite pro-EU and even pro-Euro. They attach much of the blame for what happened to their own politicians, and of course they well remember what it was like to live with the Drachma. Much the same happened in Ireland of course, where most blame was put (with a lot of good reason) on Irish politicians, not the Troika, and (less reasonably), few questioned the role of the Euro itself on the boom and crash.

          The reality is that smaller, weaker countries have a very different perspective on the EU than larger countries, especially those larger countries that dream of Imperial days of the past. Those countries who’s historic role have been as convenient by-pass routes for neighbour’s armies have a very different perspective as well. And I think to say that all the Mediterranean countries take it as assumed that while northern European bureaucrats may be just as mean-minded as their domestic ones, they are at least more competent.

          1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

            Yes, I agree with that & in an imagined scenario of the UK having been in the EZ at the time of the banking crisis, i imagine that the Troika setting up shop in Westminster would have provoked a very different response.

            Ports in a storm are becoming increasingly unavailable.

          2. Ekatarina Velika

            Thank you, PK. That, in fact, is exactly how we from the small Mediterranean countries see it. Although at least now we freely admit that the mean-mindedness of the northen bureaucrats is starting to grate a bit, too. So euroscepticism is on the rise, though not significantly so, and the perceived benefits of the EU far outweigh any considerations of going solo again.

    3. Matthew G. Saroff

      I actually advocate Gexit, where the Germans leave the EU, or at least the Euro.

      They are a mercantilist predatory exporter, China writ small, and their inability to move beyond the Weimar hyperinflation past, which led to their central bank clamping down throughout the great depression, which led to the rise of that guy with the funny mustache, is a recipe for disaster.

      To a very large degree, the problems in Europe are an artifact that German hegemony of the allegedly multilateral structures there.

      1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

        It does not strike me as a recipe for success with the likelihood of at least a recession somewhere on the horizon. How much can people take ? & how repressive will the states have to become in order to keep desperate people down ? If I could see some likelihood of an improvement in the lives of those at the sharp end whose number is steadily increasing, I would not be so pessimistic.

        Whatever Corbyn’s limitations, he does appear to be the best hope for the many & I believe should at least be given a go at climbing what would in effect be a mountain. I do not see any other possibilities except for the use of economic variants which of course need political will to be at least tried – which judging by the majority of those presently running things who are all doing very well nicely thank you, is sadly unlikely.

    4. djrichard


      I’m still waiting for Grexit. Apparently the story back when Syriza initially threatened Grexit wasn’t that they didn’t have their ducks in a row. It’s been years since then. Syriza should have their ducks in a row now if they truly wanted to pull the plug. Have to assume that they don’t want to – that that’s not part of the plan. That the plan was to let the people’s voices be heard, and pretend to carry the flag for their voices. Until reasonable heads had to prevail to go with plan B: buy time until a nicer EU eurozone evolves from the darkness.

      1. Oregoncharles

        As noted above, there was never popular support in Greece for leaving the Euro – even though it’s been an economic disaster.

        And similarly in Italy, although that might be shifting, as the recent election suggested.

        1. djrichard

          Polling before the referendum on the German bailout proposal said Greeks would vote yes for it. But surprise, surprise, they voted no, by a healthy margin.

          Similarly, the polling on whether Greeks wanted to stay in the euro said that they did. Unless of course, the polling was wrong there too.

          Greek leadership could have sold their people on the need to go through the pain of leaving the euro. That’s what leadership is all about: selling your constituents on tough programs as a promise for a better future.

          Instead they sold them on a future of hoping that the eurozone will be nicer in the future. And I say that generously, because really, it was like Greek leadership pretended the referendum didn’t happen. Worse, Greek leadership took the game of playing chicken and deployed it against their own people: feeding them FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt). With leadership like that, who needs enemies?

          I can imagine the people of England who voted for Brexit saw what happened to the Greeks and figured out how to play this game differently. Hold your leadership’s feet to the fire and don’t let them get away with FUD. When they play chicken with you, don’t blink. Force them to be leaders.

          1. Oregoncharles

            Yes, I thought that was a factor, too.

            Nothing like pulling the wings off flies to alarm the other kids.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        We’ve written at exhausting length about how Grexit is a non-starter unless you want to take the Greek GDP down another 20% and have food shortages. You got a taste of Grexit like when the ECB largely shut down the Greek banking system for 3 weeks. Food shortages and difficulties with fuel supply were starting. Fish was rotting at docks due to lack of petrol.

        It would take bare minimum three years for Grexit with impeccable planning and phenomenal IT execution. And it requires tons of work and cooperation from parties over which Greece has no control.

        Please don’t advocate fairy tales and unicorns.

        1. djrichard

          Yes, it would have been like going to war. All wars are fairy tales and unicorns. And yet people let their leaders sell them into war all the time.

          And this war effort would have been different. There would have been light at the end of the tunnel. To your point, there would have been little advance planning and the hardships would have been extreme. Such is war.

    5. bruce wilder

      Me, too.

      Britain did have an extraordinarily privileged position vis a vis the EU, but it was a privilege that benefited the few, not the many, as Corbyn might say. That the Tories would be the ones to walk away, and do it in the most administratively incompetent manner, for the worst reasons of arrogance and stupid greed, will go down as an irony of political history. There is no good left reason to get in their way as they do work no conceivable left coalition could accomplish against their opposition.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You seem to have missed that the rationale for Brexit was for the few to benefit even more. As we stated, the UKIP/Tory reason for backing Brexit was to be able to squeeze workers even harder by getting free of EU labor regs.

  8. Mattski

    The EU IS a neoliberal project–somewhere floating around here I have an amazing anthropological investigation of the EU culture as it developed while the extraordinary number of regs were being elaborated by, in the main, corporate reps in Brussels as the crazy beasty came online; eye-opening to me. The lack of control over their own currencies might be reason enough for countries to leave–or threaten to leave–at least until that was devolved. (Has been a marvelous excuse not to expand social programs for right governments like Spain’s.) But I am at a loss, initially, to understand Corbyn’s moves.

    What do people think, does this put the kibbosh on any prospect of a vote for reversal? Maybe so. . .

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The currency argument is utterly irrelevant to the UK, which has its own currency.

      And if you think the UK is less neoliberal than the EU, you are smoking something very strong.

      1. Oregoncharles

        That’s why Corbyn is rising, and the reason I asked, up above, whether Brexit would be nearly so stupid if Corbyn and his wing of the party were in charge. As they probably will be, after the next election.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You keep missing my point.

          Brexit will be a train wreck. Whoever is in charge will be fully occupied with things like getting customs to work and keeping the NHS from collapsing due to the EU nurses and doctors on which it depends leaving (NHS is already super strained so it can’t afford personnel losses). Corbyn won’t have the bandwidth to effect a positive program. The budget will face huge revenue pressure and he won’t be able to “print” due to inflation and the risk of triggering a currency crisis, which could trigger a banking system collapse. Former central banker Willem Buiter, who created the concept of “cognitive regulatory capture” and famously called the Fed out for it at a Jackson Hole, who is also a top expert on the Iceland collapse, described this risk in a well regarded post in the runup to the crisis. None of those underlying risks have changed, since they result from the UK being a small open economy with an outsized banking sector.

          1. beachcomber

            So you’re in the Old Testament Prophet game, and your guiding light is Willem Buiter?

            I’ll make a prophecy too:- all your prophecies will be wrong.

            No one can predict the future. The fact that you do so with absolutely unconditional certitude – and that I’ve just done the same – doesn’t make either of us (or Willem Buiter) – right.

            The die was cast when a majority voted to leave. We’ll just have to wait and find out what the eventual outcome of that will be, and there is a wide range of possibilities – only *ONE* of which is the train-wreck you so dogmatically predict.

            1. vlade

              Unlike you, Yves has a pretty good track record of major predictions – in fact, you can find the list even in comments on this post.

              Usually it’s based on the fact that when reality meets hands-waving and wishful thinking, reality wins – that’s not really that hard a prediction to make (as long as you can actually tell the reality from wishful thinking, which is actually pretty hard for most people, so you do have an excuse there).

  9. Mirdif

    A point not considered so far is that the EFTA/EEA policy is portrayed as BINO and Corbyn would be accused of ignoring the will of the people and reawakening the “UKIP” dragon in the form of haemmorhaging voters to the party most inclined to a Brexit that is not portrayed as BINO i.e. the Tory party.

    Look at the UKIP performance in the 2015 election in the Labour heartlands and you can see why Corbyn fears not backing Brexit or being seemed to not back it. The two main parties have, since the referendum, managed to re-assimilate the voters from their natural bases who had previously started to vote for UKIP. There is no way that either party is going to advocate any policy that re-awakens this “UKIP” dragon and lose support to the party that is seen as the Brexit party. If Labour did back EFTA/EEA then May would likely call another election sharpish and take more seats from Corbyn with Corbyn being portrayed as a “Remoaner” and “ignoring the will of the people” in addition to the rest from some sections of the media.

    Unfortunately, the way things are stacked too much of the populace are dismissing everything as project fear and will stop, if they stop, only once they experience the absolute worst effects of car crash Brexit. However, the politicians have a straight up get out clause – “the will of the people” and they’ll just make some excuses I guess similar to how Blair has done.

    In regard to the smuggling point, I think there’s going to be much more smuggling from the continent and elsewhere to Blighty rather than the other way. My guess is within weeks meat marked “not for human consumption” will enter the food chain.

    I know nothing about constructing border posts but if I had to proceed (from and Irish/EU perespective) I would block roads off in ROI to commercial vehicles and direct them down specific routes – it’d hit the economy massively on both sides of the border though. This wouldn’t stop people from smuggling using their cars but that would need to be dealt with by having more staff conducting random spot checks and you need to recruit and train them first.

    Unless May sacrifices herself and possibly the Tory party by signing up to BINO or a permanent vassal status then Britain is frankly speaking family-blogged. The Tories can probably recover from hard Brexit but I think “UKIP” dragon would destroy the Tory party if there was a BINO and anybody who understands British history will know that the Tory party isn’t going to let that happen.

  10. tonyslair

    “Sadly, not only do we get this low drone of ignorance, it embellished by the the same tedious mantra, that the UK “also would have to fully implement EU laws and regulations – while losing any say in drafting or vetoing them” – again an egregious untruth. ”

    This may or may not be the truth, I have no idea, but it certainly isn’t intuitive. He fails to convey (to me at least) why this is the case in the article. How is it going to be conveyed to the general public in soundbites/headlines? It isn’t.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      North is THE expert on EEA and EFTA. He has written voluminous posts on this topic. I indicated I didn’t have the energy to track them down but you can read them at his site.

  11. Oregoncharles

    (Intended as a reply to PK, up top.)
    “The historical belief in British left wing circles that the EU is a nasty plot to destroy the left, and that only a truly independent Britain could be socialist. ”

    The big fight in France right now is over privatizing the railroads – which is required by EU rules. On its face, the socialists have a point.

    The problem, as Yves implied, is that EU rules come down on both sides. But just judging by France’s situation, the claim that it is neo-liberal and forbids public ownership of industry is true. The human rights improvements and precautionary principle don’t cancel that.

    1. vlade

      There is no EU rule or law that the railroads have to be privatized.

      There is a rule, that if someone wants to establish a private rail operator, they have to have access to the tracks etc. with the same conditions as the state one.

      A large number of EU states has public rail (usually two companies, one running the trains, one owning the tracks – which btw includes UK, where NetworkRail is a public company, renationalised!), and quite a few of them have also private operators leasing the tracks (I’m not aware of any EU country where the rail infra is private, on any substantial parts of the network – but there could be some). As long as the latter is allowed, and as long as the state provides the same subsidy to the private operator as to the state ones, EU is absolutely fine.

      1. Clive

        So a Corbyn government could nationalise the U.K. railways (infrastructure, RoSCOs, franchisees) but then would have to let private sector players re-enter “the market”? Presumably, they’d be happy, as they are now, to cherry pick the nice profitable commuter and intercity routes, leaving the state with a rump of unprofitable but socially useful regional sectors. As these would have to be subsidised, because they have a social good but that doesn’t pay their overheads, the private sector could then say “oh, great, state funding, we’ll have some of that, thank you very much”. And if the U.K. government resisted, off they’d trot to the EU…

        I think it’s a tad misleading to say the EU wouldn’t prevent nationalisation without mentioning that it would then support interventions from private capital which would undermine it.

        Rail industry regulation is, a-hem, not exactly the EU’s finest hour. It was that, plus energy (groans and despairs) “markets” which tipped me into Leave. That plus incipient pet corporate national interest backed favourmongering.

        1. Oregoncharles

          That’s the classic issue with “globalization,” only in this case Europeanization.

        2. vlade

          tldr; – look at how it works, pretty damn well, in Germany, with state owned Deutsche Bahn being the single largest operator, but private operators (including infamous Veolia and Abelio) running local routes. It’s all about how you want to set it up.

          long version:

          He would have to tender (well, I’m not an expert on this, I believe there are some situation where he would not have to, but let’s assume he would have to) – and state and private companies would have to have the same conditions on the tender. He could not prefer state company just because it’s state, and any state subsidies would have to be the same as part of the tender (so say if a ticket is subsidised by 10GBP, the state would have to subsidise it no matter who was doing it). And the tender does not have to rest on who can run it more cheaply either – it’s up to the state to set up conditions.

          It’s a tad misleading to say he would be forced to give it to private companies.

          Look at Deutsche Bahn, which is entirely state owned, and happily operates in the Germany, running vast majority of the trains – but for example Veolia (which is an extractor par-excellence) is also running some _local_ routes. But the moment the state (which owns the infra) would feel it’s not getting value for money from Veolia, it would be out. Same for other private rail (even the infamous Abelio operates in Germany).

          But to achieve, you actually need to have actual experts, not political appointees, to run it (my understanding is that while that used to be the case in Germany, it’s getting harder these days too, so who knows how it all ends up).

          1. Clive

            The “well, you can just re-run the franchising competition if you don’t like the way the incumbent is doing things” canard, like a lot of privatisation theory, skims over the cost of running the so-called market based solutioning and price discovery.

            This is exactly the pitfall which the U.K. rail industry has succumbed to — as more complexity has to be added to the rendering process (to overcome issues in “light-touch” competitive tendering or no-bid contracts) the cost of preparing the quote increases. It is currently running at £5-10m per bidder. Per franchise. All of which is merely a make-work scheme for the credentialed classes of lawyers and consultants who have to prepare the pro-forma bid.

            Only a few deep pocketed private sector companies (or, ironically, other member states state-owned operators) are willing or able to put up this risk capital. So far from being a spur to innovation and investment, you end up with a pool of the same old half a dozen participants playing a game of franchise round-robin. And if the domestic member state wants a state owned enterprise to be at the table, it has to pay the same admission fee.

            It is totally unproductive and a 100% wasteful exercise, all for the highly dubious benefit of introducing alleged competition into a natural monopoly business.

            I struggle to get why anyone would defend this cockamamy free-market fundamentalism. It’s awful by any measure you can think of. It’s things like this which conjured up the far left’s anti-EU stance. Trying to make out it is all just fantastic Because The Sun Shines Out of the Wonderful EU’s Backside simply adds grist to that mill.

            1. vlade

              I’m not arguing that the privatization is the best way to run this – if you believe so, point and quote.

              I’m saying that the system like that has instances that work, in majority of the EU countries, and in pretty much all of them way way better than the UK (I can’t think of an EU country I used trains of that would have it worse than the UK, and that includes former Soviet Union block countries, although admitedly I did not train travel in Balkans). In addition, quite a few of those have sucessfull state run rail companies.

              Therefore argument “EU would prevent us from getting better train service” is manifestly untrue, as a number of EU countries have a better train service than the UK has, at least from the user-experience point of view.

              Same goes for “EU would force us to use private companies to run our trains”, as clearly it is not true for a number (possibly majority, I don’t have time to do the research) of EU countries. I am not saying that there is no EU company whose rail is purely private, but I don’t know of any.

              Yes, EU may well stop Corbyn from renationalising the rail the way he would like, but that is a different story – nd it’s about means, not ends.

              Observable reality is that say Germany has a well working state rail, and the UK failed to get one with both with the old British Rail, and the new system. So to me, there’s more to it than just the form of ownership.

              It could well be that with London and its commuting belt, the problem of well working rail is unsolvable, as outside of London there’s not that much demand for it w/o creating massive infrastructure, and inside of London commute belt no amount of additional infrastructure will help.

      2. Oregoncharles

        So Macron is just using the EU as an excuse? This gets pretty esoteric. There are problems with esoteric rules made far away.

  12. Roland

    Before you can do anything leftist, the country has to get its full sovereignty back. EU curbs sovereignty. QED.

    Full sovereignty also means UK could become more capitalist. But that’s why you hold elections.

    Bear in mind that nowadays most of the capitalists in the developed countries are integrationists/globalists of
    various flavours. Brexit curbs integrationism. That’s why the Blairites hate Brexit so much.

    When you’re regionally or globally integrated, it’s easy for your country’s capitalists to sell the TINA line. Brexit makes it easier for UK to make major policy changes, which makes it harder for the capitalists to say you can’t.

    Brexit is going to drop living standards in UK. You don’t do Brexit for the sake of prosperity, you do it for the sake of independence. It’s up to people in the UK to decide what full independence is worth–there can be no objective answer to that question.

    Socialism will also drop living standards. You don’t do socialism in order to consume more goods and services. You do socialism for the sake of liberty and dignity. Again, there is no objective answer to the question of what those things are worth.

    Of course, EU and globalists are going to punish UK for messing with their vision of Europe/World. The integrationists and the globalists have become increasingly extremist in their ideas and methods. They have long since ceased to be pragmatists. There is no solution to this problem. You just have to accept the punishment, and get the hell away from those fanatics.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There is no such thing as full sovereignity for a country which is not an autarky. The UK is a small open economy. It has to comply with the regulations of other countries to trade with them.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Hmmm. Transition Towns, focused on local self-sufficiency, started in Britain. I wonder how much progress they’ve made?

    2. makedoanmend

      “Of course, EU and globalists are going to punish UK for messing with their vision of Europe/World. The integrationists and the globalists have become increasingly extremist in their ideas and methods. They have long since ceased to be pragmatists. There is no solution to this problem. You just have to accept the punishment, and get the hell away from those fanatics.”

      I’m so glad you stated the real reason that the Tories held the referendum given the utter amount of nonsense and little Englander nationalist roundaboutery that has been used on this thread to justify England’s desire to leave the EU.

      Direct and to the point. That’s the ticket.

      Now can you remind the rest of us what bus with this message tattooed on it travelled around the UK before the vote? A picture reference would be nice. Thanks in advance.

  13. beachcomber

    Yves:- ” It’s hard to know how much of Corbyn’s position is due to realpolitik versus misguided British old left positions.

    A lot of the “left,” from old Stalinists to other doctrinaires, hate the EU as a neoliberal project and object strenuously to some of its core ideas, like freedom of movement (which creates the opportunity for wage suppression) and EU strictures against nationalization of industries.

    While this is all true, the idea that the UK is or would be less neoliberal than the EU, particularly with the Tories having meaningful influence, is daft”.

    That strikes me as a bit confused. And why the knee-jerk disparagement contained in loaded vocabulary like “misguided British old left” and “from old Stalinists to other doctrinaires (sic)”? Has it escaped your notice that the appeal of Corbyn – to the young especially – was precisely that he was and I presume still is a man of what you call “the British old left” (which to be fair is about as far removed from Stalinism as you could get)?

    I don’t know if anyone is peddling the daft idea that UK would be less neoliberal than the EU so long as the Tories remain in power. The whole point, surely, is what might become possible outside the EU if Corbyn’s Labour Party were to gain power. That was exactly why “the old left” (by which I mean the Bennites, of whom Corbyn was one) campaigned so strongly against UK ever becoming a member in the first place. Why is Corbyn being disparaged for remaining true to his political origins?

    And why are you, an American, so dead set against UK leaving the EU? If you need convincing of the case for doing so just read Bill Mitchell’s articles on the subject (or is he a Stalinist too?).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Corbyn’s main adviser IS an old Stalinist. Praised the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Richard Smith was an exact contemporary of his at Oxford. Went on at much greater length about his views over time.

      We have written at exhaustive length what a disaster a Brexit will be for the UK economy. Any government will be fully occupied dealing with the resulting crises. Its ability to do anything beyond that will be severely constrained.

      The UK is very likely to suffer a severe fall in the pound. That will produce very high inflation. The UK’s export industries will be severely weakened by non-tariff trade barriers, so the weaker currency will not provide an export lift. Corbyn will not be able to engage in any large scale spending because it will be too inflationary. MMT experts tell you that the constraint on a sovereign currency issuer on spending is inflation, and the UK will most assuredly be very constrained.

      1. papabaz

        The question here is, would Mr Stalin have done anything as risky (ie, stupid) as invade Afghanistan? Perhaps Mr Milne’s judgement was based on the highly realistic fact of a secular state being in danger of being overrun by Saudi trained religious fundamentalists and self trained regional warlords, and he had not then fully understood the lesson of Vietnam, Algeria, Kenya, Rhodesia and the British Mandate in Palestine, inter alia and how it might apply to the USSR. Perhaps he thought, doctrinally, that attempting to save a relatively socially liberal state under a communist military government which allowed women to enjoy many of the freedoms Western women took for granted was preferable to the alternative.

        As I recollect, US liberals were pretty solidly behind the cretin Bush and his Dr Strangelove vice-president when the US chose a policy of regime change and brought down an unsavoury but tolerable and increasingly flexible Taliban government which had finally worked out how to run a country halfway effectively only to hand it over to the warlords. I don’t know if that was your view at the time, I merely make the point as a general comment.

        Conscience, sympathy, guilt, hatred and anger are rarely the best guides to policy as I’m sure Mr Milne is now fully aware.

        And most people who have known me closely over my lifetime would rate me as a pretty rightwing social and economic conservative locked into an idealised version of the Britain of the 1950s (you know, before all the world went wrong) and I even voted for Mrs Thatcher in 1979, but people do change their views when faced with new realities, as I have. Mr Milne can, no doubt, be uncomfortable at times and does not suffer fools gladly, but as long as he serves Mr Corbyn, he will continue to serve Mr Corbyn. His past (and his enemies at the Guardian) help to make him a pretty good bogeyman though, not least because he is very rarely visible. But he’s very effective.

  14. Pinhead

    The EU has one and only one priority, namely ensuring that no other member country is tempted to exit. It follows that there will be no serious concession to Britain. Brexit will either be “in name only” or a crash-out. What May or Corbyn want is utterly irrelevant.

    Political leaders in all EU countries understand actuarial tables, something that seems to elude May and Corbyn and the entire London media. The 52/48 Brexit ratio will be reversed by mortality within a few years. The economic consequences of a crash will also become increasingly evident with each passing year.

    How many years after a Brexit crash-out until a new political majority in Britain demands re-entry? I would guess fewer than 20, quite possibly more like 10. How long before Scotland and Northern Ireland start seriously itching to exit the UK?

    1. Maff

      It will quickly become apparent to young Amelia & Theo, post-Brexit, that they aren’t prevented from visiting Europe, or even working there, in spite of what they read on facebook.

      Give it a few years of the UK quietly taking the beating that Brexit brings down. Media/public opinion will shift. Re-entry would be on unfavourable terms, kill any new trade deals, mean adopting the euro, promote immigration & reduce sovereignty. Thats a political sick-bag, right there.

      When the UK voted to enter the EEC in the ’70s it was sold as a trade partnership, nothing more. Today the EU is writhing around in full view, in its fully developed adult form. The trade partnership story-line isn’t going to fly next time.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I have very serious doubts that the UK will ever accept the euro, which is now a requirement for EU entry. Even the more recent EU27 members who are not Eurozone members are no longer keen to pursue that, and they’d been gung ho before.

  15. papabaz

    Corbyn is an acute observer of British politics. He spent a lot of time sitting on the backbenches in the House of Commons (literally so; not a match for Dennis Skinner, perhaps, but close enough to be the contender).

    Corbyn reads politics and policy and is able to see the way things will inevitably go, acts on his insights and, usually (always?), gets it right.

    Corbyn reads electoral politics as well as he observes the antics at Westminster, hence his growing majority in his parliamentary seat despite the ups and downs of the national mood; hence his ability to secure a second Labour leadership victory and increase the number of Labour seats in the House of Commons at the last general election despite starting at a disadvantage because of parliamentary colleagues who clearly opposed his leadership and a significant polling deficit at the start of HIS campaign.

    Corbyn is a political operator of the very first class, a patient electoral Huey Long sans the rhetorical hyperbole and the weight of Louisiana’s tradition of political corruption to hold him back (I fully recognize that Huey Long is way, way outside the spectrum of US liberal opinion, but try T. Harry Williams’ biography for an idea of his political potency and the relevance of his ideas to today’s world).

    Corbyn has read the runes and his position makes absolute sense. Some of his MPs lack party discipline and will rebel and the EEA option will pass; similarly, the second referendum will go through; Brexit will fall apart; Corbyn, as a longstanding opponent of the EU will argue that the EEA option will leave the UK as a ruletaker and not a rulemaker which is against his democratic instincts, and he will reluctantly feel forced to accept the democratic demand that one option on the ballot paper must be to retain the status quo, and he will ensure that is so. Very, very reluctantly. Democracy is never one vote, once.

    I’m sure that Mr Corbyn has some fixed ideas – respect for democracy, a detestation of colonialism whatever the form it takes, a horror of racism, including Zionist racism, &c – but he is not an ideologue in any normal reading of the term.

    The lesson? Do not take any analysis the UK media offers too seriously. It has a gift for getting things wrong. As do the great grandchildren of the Gaitskellites drifting around the fringes of the real Labour party and wondering if they are going to still fight for their seats in the Commons after the Labour party selection processes which, due to their lack of discipline, will inevitably have to occur before the next general election. QED.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You miss that one of Corbyn’s most important advisers, Seamus Milne, IS doctrinaire and appears to be having disproportionate influence on Corbyn’s Brexit positions. As indicated earlier, he’s an unreconstructed Stalinist.

      1. papabaz

        And you miss the fundamental point about Mr Corbyn. Seamus Milne may or may not be doctrinaire (I read his Guardian column for years and could see a profound sense of realism and a great deal of (doctrinal?) flexibility in his analysis of world events and political affairs (which seems to be sadly lacking in today’s Guardian, although that kind of flexibility may be the ultimate expression of the Stalinist Tendency as it was for Mr Stalin himself); and, whilst advisors merely advise and their views may or may not go into the mix, Milne is a much more effective enforcer in areas where it really matters than, say, Alistair Campbell ever was. In a parliamentary system, enforcement is as important a function in any party Leader’s office as tendering policy advice, if not more so. And knowing when to be lax in enforcement and who to be lax with, is the main determinant of the governing party’s parliamentary membership after the next general election.

        As I said, Mr Corbyn can read electoral politics, and I might add in a way that very few politicians in the UK have been able to do in living memory, and he will act on his understanding of how ordinary people (the people of the commons) think and, in doing so, he will help to re-shape public thinking. Just as he’s done in Islington over more than three decades. And he hasn’t consistently increased his majority in Islington by relying overmuch on his advisors.

  16. Knute Rife

    He could be sending a message to the Tory Remainers that a vote of no confidence would fail. If I were Corbyn, I’d use any means available to keep May in No. 10 until well after the Brexit train wreck is obviously happening.

  17. Synoia

    Labor, Corbyn, cannot pursue Socialist policies under the NeoLiberal EU regime.

    Brexit is the Tories albatross. But Corbyn has to deliver on (some of) his promises, and old fashioned socialism is inimical to the EU,

    There is no shortage of cognitive dissonance in the UK. Wanting socialism, and EU membership (which the Scots like) is a clear example of cognitive dissonance.

    The EU wants a hard border with a Brexited Britain? Good luck with that. Pointing to the UK and stating “that’s your problem” is no solution for the EU. The EU wants Customs enforcement? What paid for by the UK?

    It is not incumbent on the UK to enforce EU law after Brexit.

    Nice idea. next?

  18. juliania

    Won’t the situation after Brexit be somewhat similar to what Russia faced in turning away from the ‘help’ being offered to it by the western economists? If indeed Britain can face adversity feeling that independence is worth the sacrifices that will come, won’t that revitalize support within the nation even as hardships inevitably result from the separation? It is clear that Russia has regained its national identity, and whether that can be called sovereignty or not; or whether the differences in size and congruity offset an exact comparison, perhaps some of Russia’s achievements can be taken as an encouragement by a tiny big country like Britain if the leadership follows the same priniciples of caring for the entire population.

    Undoubtably it will be a challenge. Brits are actually quite good at challenges.

  19. rtah100

    Yves, you need to distinguish between current UK policies and electoral leanings. The UK has some neoliberal policies, hardly surprising after 40 yrs. It also has the NHS and, still, a sense of fair play, jumble sales, jam & Jerusalem etc. Some of these are small c conservative policies, some of these are post-War consensus, Fabian type policies. The national tenor is not ideological and is largely not represented in New Labour and the Tories. Brexit for many people was a chance to refound the country in communitarian ideals. The goal £350m pw for the NHS was a case in point. It may turn out we were sold a lie (MMT would point the finger elsewhere anyway) but there is potentially a higher truth in the vote. It seems to me you have decided we are all a priori racist and autarchic xenophobes.
    Also I am weary of the inconsistencies inI your position. Take food issues – how do you smuggle significant food onto an island that previously you said lacked port capacity, are the smugglers just more enterprising at solving problems now? And as for pass through inflation from a devaluation, it too shall pass (and the easy solution is to substitute our stranded exports). With high disguised unemployment and a significant domestic market and resources and, as an island, less physical demand leakage, we are well placed to apply MMT to salve the transitional and distributional effects of Brexit. You have never been this dogmatic on an issue – why has Brexit got under your skin so? Other countries start civil or foreign wars and nobody cares! A few points off GDP for some internal distributional choices seems much less important.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t like seeing people hurt by ideologues at the top of the food chain, which is what Brexit will do in a massive way.

      You also forget that Brexit was never intended to happen. It was an intra-Tory power play that got out of hand.

      The Government has not even done the most basic preparation.

      As for the NHS, that was the product of an era long past in UK politics. The Tories have been doing their level best to degrade it, with some success. Europeans have universal health care too, or did you miss that part? So how are they supposed to be “worse”?

      I’m not saying Europe is a paragon. I am saying that leaving EU will inflict massive damage on the UK with no meaningful benefit. The UK will still be significantly subject to EU rules by need to trade with them and will have less influence than in the past. The Tories have also been dishonest about immigration. Non-EU immigration is greater than EU immigration now, and on top of that, the UK had the ability to impose some restraints it never used because it wanted cheap workers.

      You appear to have fallen for 30+ years of Tory propaganda which assigned blame for neoliberal policies on the EU, when they were largely if not entirely the UK’s doing.

      Brexit is going to hurt a lot of people in a big way and for no upside save maybe for a small group of well positioned profiteers. It is shocking that you don’t get it.

      1. vlade

        On NHS, I’d go as far as to claim that a number of EU states has a much better healthcare than the UK one – overall speaking. My (limited) experience with French and German/Austrian healthcare is such that I’d take those over most of NHS (with an exception of a few, usually university aligned hospitals) anytime of the day. And don’t get me started on the UK GP’s (and I had experience of about six different ones, in different parts of the country, for years).

        In fact, one of the reasons we sort of half-moved out of the UK (even before Brexit) was after the NHS failed my wife in a massive, life-threatening, way.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          My impression is the French system is better, based on house calls in Paris and the great care one of my mothers friends got when he had a heart attack on a cruise and was dropped off at the nearest port, in France, plus oddball news sightings…but that is far from definitive. The US likes to hold up the NHS as a bad example of “socialized” health care, so I am never sure the complaints about it are well founded (you can always find even good MDs making mistakes….)

          1. vlade

            IMO, NHS has a bit of a problem of being a sacred cow. It needs change – but Tories and New Labour used that as an excuse to half-kill it. So it gets exactly the wrong change than it needs, or no change at all, because then people are scared of the change. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t learn from other systems (like the French, or even Aussie etc.), although the attitude of “it worked for Victorians, it’s good enough for us” seems to be a very wide-spread attitude in the UK.

            There are changes hospitals need, but IMO the main problem is actually on the GP side (including the GP/hospital interface), which people don’t tend to see as NHS, even if it is + hospital support staff (which is overworked, underpaid and held in low esteem).

          2. PlutoniumKun

            Its hard to make direct comparisons, but in general the French system appears better funded and better run. The standard of care can be outstanding. The Australian husband of a friend of mine fell ill with a bone cancer while temporarily living in France – although not covered with insurance he was given entirely free treatment and recovered. My friend is a very experienced nurse who has worked in Australia, the US and Britain, and she said the quality if his care was equivalent to the best private or public hospitals in Sydney or Dallas where she had worked, despite it being in a relatively small peripheral city, and vastly better than he would have received in his native NSW. But the French system is significantly more expensive to run than the NHS.

            Much as the NHS is terrific, the overall quality I’ve found is ‘very good’, while rarely ‘outstanding’. There are though a few poorly run hospitals. It is, however, an exceptionally cheap health system by developed world standards, something which astonishingly few British people are aware of.

      2. beachcomber

        Yves:- “You appear to have fallen for 30+ years of Tory propaganda which assigned blame for neoliberal policies on the EU, when they were largely if not entirely the UK’s doing”.

        Your memory appears to be playing you tricks. Historically, “30+ years” would take us back to the Thatcher era. Tory propaganda throughout that era trumpeted both the inevitability (remember “TINA”?) and the superiority of neoliberal prescriptions, whilst far from “assigning blame” for them to the EU Tory dogma famously characterised the EU as “socialism by the back-Delors” – to appreciative laughter and prolonged applause from the Tory party-conference audience listening to that Thatcher speech.

        You’ve got it back-to-front.

        Ironically, Tory propaganda had completely misread the situation. Far from being “socialist” Delors was in fact spearheading the inexorable drive of the EU towards adopting a full-out neoliberal agenda (after having already done just that in France). But that only became clear in hindsight.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its you who have it back to front. The fact that Tories attacked their particular bete noir, Delors, by describing him as a socialist is irrelevant, that was just another of the random insults they liked to throw around at the time. Delors was an old style French corporationist, neither a socialist nor a neoliberal and he always saw the EU as a political project, economics having little to do with it. The Tories fought long and hard to sabotage the more progressive worker and environmental protections coming from Europe at the time, although New Labour was more subtle in its approach to the same end. The classic example was in water services, which the Tories privatized on the basis that this was the only way to pay for EU clean water regulations. But the enthusiasm for privatisation and marketization was something at which the UK was always at the vanguard from the late 1970’s onward, something which took hold within the EU in the 1990’s due to the steady political weakening of the left throughout Europe in the period.

          1. beachcomber

            @ PK

            “the steady political weakening of the left throughout Europe in the period” isn’t the way I would put it. The *old* left did go into prolonged retreat, only recently reversed by the likes of Corbyn and Melancthon. It had no choice because it found itself outflanked and marginalised by the “new left”, which was “left” only in name whilst being scarcely less neoliberal than the right in its policy orientation.

            However, you (and Yves) are quite right in saying “the enthusiasm for privatisation and marketization was something at which the UK was always at the vanguard from the late 1970’s onward”. Where Yves goes astray, in my opinion, is in failing to differentiate clearly enough between the Labour Party’s two very different components. She continually writes as if the remnants of “Old Labour” which survived were somehow party to or complicit in the conversion of the party as a whole to neoliberalism. They were anything but; the most casual reference to Corbyn’s (notorious) voting-record would have sufficed to confirm that.

    2. larry

      New Labour and the Tories are both ideological and both are neoliberal, though NL evinces what could be called neolib-lite. As a consequence of this and other factors, the UK is not well placed to apply MMT doctrines anywhere, unless the UK ‘elite’ dramatically alter their mind set. Labour can certainly ameliorate the Tory damage and begin the roll back of some of their awful cuts, but this is not equivalent to a fundamental change of narrative and, hence, leaves out much needed changes on a level deeper than just attacking austerity. The 350m quid back to the NHS claim was nothing but a lie on many fronts. Besides, because the UK operates a fiat currency system, it has never been financially constrained (certainly since 1971). With the usual caveats, it has the funds it needs for whatever domestic projects need attention.

      1. beachcomber


        You seem to have conflated “new labour” (a term which ever since it was coined, by Blair and co, has been associated exclusively with the Blairite wing of the Labour Party) with the Labour Party as it is actually now constituted with Corbyn in the saddle.

        The rest of your analysis seems to be based upon that erroneous conflation. I hardly think Corbyn’s and the corbynistas’ vision of Labour’s mission can be termed “neolib-lite” – a diametrically-opposite characterisation might be more appropriate, I suggest (such as “left-wing progressive”).

  20. Sound of the Suburbs

    For the traditional Left the EU is a problem.

    It was woven neoliberalism into its treaties ensuring no really progressive policies can be carried out within the EU.

  21. Clive

    I was in two minds whether to add this comment because, after reading this:

    … which I found by accident looking for something else, I simply didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how we find ourselves now, a mere 8 years on (the “Europe” section is the one to go to).

    But whether you’re Leave or Remain minded, I hope everyone can see the funny, as in tragi-comic, side to it. Especially as no-one ever looks all the way down here, anyway.

  22. rtah100

    I wrote a long comment (on my mobile) and then some server error ate it. To summarise, though:
    – The EU is profoundly anti-democratic (the only bit you can vote for on a national level is the boondoggle parliament and you can only vote a tiny portion of it out, like being a US state rather than a free country). This is by design: Jean Monet was funded by the CIA and the EU was a bulwark of what, subsequently, is styled the Washington consensus.
    – the combination of national and EU institutions is a neoliberal ratchet. What gets into the acquis communautaire stays there, with no way to vote it, or the technocrats who tend it, out.
    – ergo, the road to Westminster lies through Brussels.

    Thanks to Brexit, the road to Westminster is open. Labour and the Tories are racing to Berlin, to switch analogies. It may be a Whacky Races race but it is still a race and who will arrive first will determine the British politics of the 21st century. Of course, both parties are unedifying coalitions. So, will it be the austerians, the libertarians, the third wayers or the socialists?

    The point is, we have angency and, having established the principle of Brexit, we now have to fight for the benefits. The disbenefits, we will get them anyway. Although not as many as you wish upon us, Yves, because you seemed determined to throw shoes rather than suggest any constructive approaches to prevent the neoliberals hijacking the whole thing.

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