Brexit: An 11th Hour Referendum Headfake to (Again) Blame the EU for the Goverment’s Failings?

As regular readers may know, we’ve discounted the idea of a second Brexit referendum. Until very recently, it was close to a third-rail idea among the political classes. The People Had Spoken. A second referendum had the air of the sort of dirty trick that those anti-democratic EU members did when they got referendum results they didn’t like.

The second referendum notion is now safe for mention, no doubt in part because there is no way, given the time involved for all steps in conducting a referendum (including the not-trivial process of agreeing on the wording of the question) for the entire process to take less than a year, when we now have less than ten months to B-Day.

However, as Richard North has taken to pointing out on almost a daily basis, a crash-out Brexit is virtually assured. The UK has no realistic solution to the Irish border problem. Perhaps May will capitulate and accept a sea border (and the de-facto partial integration of Northern Ireland into the EU) but the odds don’t appear to favor that.

To make matters worse, UK businesses have stayed mum about the consequences of a hard Brexit (as in one with a transition period) and a crash out, since they bizarrely regard a Labour government as an even worse threat to their bottom lines and social standing. That has resulted in the Government getting no pressure, not even any meaningful feedback, regarding their failure to do any Brexit preparation whatsoever.

And the level of infighting has made this insanely bad situation worse. As the Guardian reported over the weekend:

A damaging culture of “extraordinary secrecy” inside government is blighting its ability to plan for Brexit, according to a comprehensive study of Whitehall.

Officials are being forced to look at key documents in special reading rooms, while some papers are confined to the offices of the most senior civil servants. The installation of a network of secured computers that can only be accessed by officials with very high security clearance is also being accelerated, to keep the documents under wraps.

Meanwhile, the number of documents being restricted is going “well beyond” those containing sensitive details of the government’s EU negotiations. Even basic planning and guidance documents are kept locked away, largely inaccessible to civil service teams that need to see them.

A security clearance backlog has also meant that some officials have waited up to nine months to gain access to the material they need….

It rejects the government’s claim that the secrecy is needed to protect its negotiating position with the EU. Instead, it concludes that secrecy is being fuelled by cabinet splits over the direction of Brexit and the need to avoid “domestic political embarrassment”. It concludes that the drive to restrict information has made effective co-ordination of Brexit work across government “impossible”.

The story mentions in passing that the Government has created over 10,000 new civil service positions to help handle Brexit. That less than 1/10th of what would probably be need to forestall worst outcomes

In the meantime, Whitehall and Parliament are in an arm wrestle over the amendments that the House of Lords attached to the Withdrawal bill that the Government very much wants Commons to remove.

But this is all a sideshow. Despite May’s and Davis’ claims to the contrary, these amendments have no implications for the UK’s negotiations. Most of them involve what the EU would regard as UK internal matters; the ones that involve the UK fantasy that some sort of customs union deal will result in frictionless trade won’t survive a sanity check with Barnier if they even got that far.

So let us assume North is right and the UK is on track for a crash-out. That will become undeniable to the press, pols, and public sometime between the June EU Council meeting (when the EU may tell the UK its at the end of its road as far as Irish border dithering is concerned) or at the very latest October, when the EU said the exit agreement needed to be completed so it could be reviewed and hopefully ratified by member governments.

So what happens in the UK then? You’d expect rational people to go into overdrive in making preparations. But rationality has been sorely absent throughout this entire process.

I would not be surprised to see a last ditch effort to have a second referendum, with the excuse being that a crash out is such a momentous event that the public must be given the opportunity to approve it. Or to put it more accurately, the UK’s feckless leadership desperately needed to shift blame to anyone it can find.

How might this scenario play out? Let’s say in September, when it becomes undeniable that there will be no deal, a hue and cry arises for another referendum so that the public can be given the chance to undo its uninformed decision.

But at that point, it would be impossible to complete the process before B-Day. Remember that the EU has come pretty close to saying that it would let the UK back out of Brexit up to the very last minute…but deadlines are deadlines.

So the next play (mind you, I am not sure this could happen quickly enough from an administrative standpoint, but bear with me…), would be that the Government (after a Parliamentary vote? procedural experts please weigh in) would go begging to the EU to push back the Brexit date to allow the UK to have a second referendum.

I can’t see the EU agreeing to that. For starters, the EU has no assurance that the UK citizens would vote to reverse Brexit. Second, the EU has no reason to cut the UK any breaks, particularly with Italy getting stroppy.

But it would make for a great final spectacle to allow the UK to paint itself as victim for its leaders failing to take responsibility for events it set in motion. So I see something vaguely along these lines as more probable than it would be by any common sense standard.


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  1. Jcf76

    Charles Stross thinks the up to now mainly pro-Brexit press is pivoting, including the Murdoch papers.
    I’m not sure if he’s right but if so maybe reality is beginning to sink in.
    Also the Irish Taoiseach has suggested a Brexit delay is an option
    Late in the day but maybe something is afoot

  2. jabawocky

    ‘The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.’

    The EU comission would jump at any chance to halt brexit, this they have made clear many times. Thus if the UK asked for an extension to the A50 process, and there was a serious likelihood of a second referendum, the indications appear to me that the EU would likely grant this. Whether it is politically possible for the PM to take this route is another question.

    The better-connected brexiteers I speak to factor in a period of major disruption as a small price to pay for a proper brexit. Much as Varoufakis did for Greece in fact. They are not disaster capitalists but accept the economic price for a clean break. They see the negotiations as an exercise in brinksmanship in which the EU compromises only at the 11th hour, once it becomes clear the UK is serious about brexit. They see the biggest threat as the PM offering too many concessions. The question for Theresa May is whether she is prepared to preside over the chaos, even take responsbility for it. If not then she has no choice but to take on the ERG, its just a matter of timing.

    1. larry

      Varoufakis’s prep was not for Greece leaving the EU but for Greece leaving the Eurozone. And most of the prep involved setting up replacing the Euro with the drachma.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That’s not correct. We chronicled the 2015 bailout negotiations in exhaustive detail.

        Varoufakis spent at most 5 days on the idea of Greece leaving the Eurozone. He was never a supporter of that idea. We linked to his articles explaining why it would damage Greece severely (as well as the Eurozone). Moreover, while the 2015 negotiations were underway, the Greek public was also opposed by a large margin to leaving the Eurozone. It was only after Syriza capitulated that the polling results shifted.

        1. larry

          I took it that it went without saying that preparing for reintroducing the drachma would work for either an EU exit or a Eurozone exit. According to my reading of Adults in the Room, V was arguing for amelioration but that if it wasn’t forthcoming then exiting the Eurozone was a Damocles sword he felt he held over the Troika. The Greek population were strongly against leaving the EU as you say. But Schaeuble was in favor of Greece leaving the Eurozone. What might have happened had Tsipras not caved, I don’t know.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Varoufakis is engaging in revisionist history. Syriza never threatened to leave the Eurozone and it was widely reported in 2015, depending on which source you believed, that Varoufakis either never examined the idea seriously or spent only 5 days on his Plan B.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      No, I don’t agree with your take. The EU would welcome the UK asking to get out of Brexit. That is a clear win for the EU because the UK will have had to grovel and admit it made a mistake. Plus the EU could probably extract a pound of flesh in requiring the UK to give up the discount on its EU budget contribution that Thatcher was able to negotiate.

      Asking the EU to pause the Brexit process so that the UK could maybe or maybe not reverse it, and regardless get more time, is another kettle of fish entirely.

      The EU has never signaled it would entertain any sort of extension, only a reversal. It won’t even give a transition period beyond December 2020 when the UK asked for a few months more because it would disrupt the seven year EU budgeting cycle.

      And it would also be a free concession, which you never never never give in negotiations, most of all when you clearly have the upper hand.

      There is also no political upside to cutting the UK any slack, except in countries like Poland and Hungary (oh and Ireland for the obvious reason of suffering major collateral damage from Brexit). The domestic press across Europe is not paying attention to Brexit and it is a non-issue for voters. The various national leaders have already psychologically marked Brexit to market, as in they’ve accepted that there will be GDP costs and disruption. They don’t have anything to be gained politically by accommodating the UK, while they see upside in the “kill a chicken to scare the money” of having Italy see how costly leaving the EU is even when you have your own currency.

      1. m-ga

        The EU could offer the UK permanent vassal state. In this, the UK would pay the EU as if it was a full member, but without voting rights, and also without the Thatcher rebate. And the UK would be fully signed up to and observant of EU jurisdiction. But, since the UK wouldn’t technically be an EU member, the EU countries could continue to exploit uncertainty over the UK’s position to poach business from the UK.

        This gives the UK time to hold another referendum.

        If the UK chooses to rejoin the EU, it does so without the Thatcher rebate, and with a massive drop in GDP which corresponds to erstwhile UK businesses relocating to the continent. This is a win for the rest of the EU.

        If the UK chooses not to rejoin the EU, then there is time for discussion of smooth transition to a future arrangement (e.g. some EEA variant). A smooth transition to any end state would be in the interest of the rest of the EU. Alternatively, if the UK chooses a disorderly crash-out, the rest of the EU will have maximised the time available to prepare – again to the advantage of the rest of the EU.

        This is pretty terrible for the UK – so terrible that parliament may not choose it, even if it was on offer. Then again, if it comes to 11th hour and hard crash-out awaits, the UK parliament may be happy to sign anything.

        1. Yves Smith Post author


          The reason the transition deal is a standstill of current Brexit arrangements is that the EU recognized (and basically forced the UK to accept) that) anything else would require negotiations that would prove to be as difficult and time consuming as negotiating the Brexit deal. And no one has the time or stomach for two slugfests back to back.

          Similarly, negotiating another form of arrangement for a Brexit referendum isn’t going to happen either for the very same reason.

          And if the UK leave the EU, it would have to reapply to enter, and it would have to accept adopting the Euro.

          And while the EU leadership sees as transition deal as somewhat preferable since it would be less disruptive, as I said, there’s no political upside to them being nice to the UK. And they have a new incentive to not relent, which it Italy.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      With regard to the attitude of the Brexiteers, I agree that there is a very firmly held view among many (and not just the Ultras) Brexiteers that while there will be 6 weeks or so of chaos, it will eventually sort itself out and by summer/autumn 2019 the dust will settle and they can start to focus on defeating Labour, perhaps helped by a weaker sterling. I think many see it as an opportunity for everyone to pull together, Dunkirk style (not to mention a chance for some to cash in disaster capital style). I strongly suspect that there is a very significant element of Labour who agree, they just hope the chaos is big enough to give them a chance to take down the government before there is a recovery.

      My contacts are very much second hand ones, but my perception is that while there is a strongly growing awareness among the business/commercial classes that the damage will be severe and long lasting, but it hasn’t reached a critical mass yet (the Murdoch media may well be a bellwether for this). But its possible that todays resignation of Philip Lees could be a catalyst. I think Remainers are aware that time is almost run out.

      1. Ignacio

        With regard to the attitude of the Brexiteers, I agree that there is a very firmly held view among many (and not just the Ultras) Brexiteers that while there will be 6 weeks or so of chaos, it will eventually sort itself out and by summer/autumn 2019 the dust will settle and they can start to focus on defeating Labour, perhaps helped by a weaker sterling

        For what I’ve read it looks like they rely on reducing corporate taxes to make the UK attractive. They believe this will do the trick.

  3. Clive

    I’d give anything if I had a stake which I could drive through the heart of this zombie (or whatever you need to finally kill one).

    A referendum, I feel silly for stating this, it’s so obvious, but no-one ever seems to grapple with it seriously, requires a question to put before the electorate. But as the Article 50 trigger has already been initiated, you can’t simply ask, legally, “Do you think the UK should leave the EU or remain in the EU?” again. It would have to be something quite technical about asking (and “ask” would have to be there, the UK can’t “tell” the EU anything on this one) about revoking A50. And whatever the result, you’d get legal challenges.

    But setting all that to one side, all that would do is put the matter before parliament. It still takes 8 weeks of parliamentary time to get anything like a revocation of A50 through (here is the timeline for the original Article 50

    So we’re supposed to have a definition of a referendum question, a referendum campaign (this is an essential step for Electoral Commission signing off the legitimacy of the referendum result — you have to have a suitably informed population plus getting the postal votes printed, polling stations set up etc.), a result, legal challenges to the result and a Bill passed all the way through from drafting to Royal Assent in 6 months flat. Not including Christmas / New Year.

    I know that many, perhaps now a majority, would dearly like to roll the clock back, but living in a dream world doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Energy would be better focussed on putting the abysmal May administration on the rack, telling it exactly how its putting its head in the sand is risking significant disruption and insisting it comes up with a sensible set of responses. The Guardian and the other bastions of Remain media, though, keep channelling their inner Dusty Springfield — just wishin’ and hopin’.

    1. Frenchguy

      I can’t quite believe that those 6 months cannot be reduced and I don’t think EU governments would either. My feelings is that they would be willing to grant a few weeks to do it but not more (that would fail to underline the gravity of the situation). I don’t doubt you that this is what we should bank on in normal times but are there no concept at all of urgency in UK law making ? The greeks in 2015 managed to organise one in a week after all. And if the choice is between trampling a bit (ok, a lot) over procedures vs a crash out of the EU, will the government really have a choice ?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        He’s talking just about getting the referendum approved, not the process. The LibDems set forth a timetable that reading between the lines was the fastest achievable process and presupposed the question was already agreed and approved. It took eight months.

        And on top of that, in the UK, referendums are not permitted during the (January and February, perhaps also part of December) due to the fact that places with crappy weather like most of Scotland are disadvantaged.

    2. Pavel

      Not to mention that the hard-core Brexit crowd (30%-40% of the electorate) would threaten virtual civil war if they tried to reverse the original referendum. Understandably.

      I’d be reminded of the Irish vote against one of the EU treaties (sometimes renamed “agreements” to avert the need of votes) — perhaps Lisbon — where they were pressured into a revote. Somehow the EU always gets its way.

      BTW I am a Brexit agnostic and realise it is going to cause absolute chaos in the UK and probably destroy its economy. But Youtube’s Carl Benjamin (a/k/a Sargon of Akkhad) had a terrifying video the other day about how the EU wants to change copyright law which would basically banish “fair use” of copyrighted material. Really really scary stuff. The EU is *not* a democratic institution.

      Thanks Yves, as ever, for some of the best Brexit analysis around (and thanks also to the combined expertise of the NC commentariat :)

      1. DaveH

        The “Irish revote” is one of those great Eurosceptic myths which enters popular imagination and is just now accepted as fact.

        It’s not. Ireland rejected the treaty in 2008 over concerns that they may lose their reprentation in the Commission as well as other issues around military neutrality and taxation.

        They sought changes to the treaty, which were made. A new Government was elected, with a manifesto pledge to hold another referendum. That referendum was passed with 67% of voters in favour.

        It’s hard to see how a process could be more transparent and democratic than that, surely?

      2. Kat

        About the Directive on Copyright in the Single Market: It’s a bad law (well, Articles 11 and 13 are), but the terrible misleading activism that people use to fight it frustrates me to no end. No, it’s not going to “banish ‘fair use'” of copyrighted material. Articles 11 and 13 have several issues, but that’s not it. And Article 11 isn’t a “link tax”, either, at least not in any meaningful sense of the term. And the problem with this kind of activism is that if people get wise to the underlying dishonesty, it can really destroy the credibility of activists pushing it.

        Oh, and if the directive gets enacted in its current form, it will be with a majority of the elected MEPs in the European Parliament and a supermajority of the elected governments of the member states agreeing to it and after extensive debate in both houses of the EU legislature; this is as democratic as it gets. Democracy does not protect you against bad laws; every democracy has its share of bad laws.

        1. blennylips

          Thank you for that cogent analysis, Kat; you’ve had a long time to be frustrated!

          With Disney’s eternal copyright of Mickey, there is plenty of fuel for sides who feel the copyright maximalists are highjacking culture for crapitalistic purposes (across state lines, no less).

          A couple of weeks ago, in response to comment on “The case for quarantining extremist ideas” in theguardian, I added the next item in the sequence:

          The means for quarantining extremist ideas

          Mandatory upload filters in the EU?
          by Janos Pasztor • published Mar 20, 2018 • Law

          A new EU proposal would mandate all online platforms to institute upload filters. Let’s talk about that.

          (upload filter cannot differentiate between legal uses of copyrighted works, commonly known as “fair use”-only mention)

          Then, this from today at the internet archive:

          Proposed EU Copyright Measure Threatens the Internet
          Nary a mention of fair use.

          1. Kat

            Well, these articles discuss a version of the directive that’s almost two years out of date (the original proposal by the EU Commission), which since then has seen some pretty significant amendments.

            And again, I think it’s still bad legislation, but it would be nice if they were discussing what has actually happened to the original Commission proposal since then in the Council and Parliament.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Thanks for the clarification on that, Kat, I agree with you entirely about the need to be up to date and informed with whats going on in the Commission – there is plenty of bad legislation brewing without getting excited about non-issues.

    3. Tony Wright

      “Suitably informed population”???? Well, that makes the 2016 Brexit referendum null and void then, given that the whole process was overwhelmingly uninformed/misinformed, with no serious effort on the part of proponents, opponents or the mainstream commentariat to detail what Brexit actually meant, and its consequences.
      Sounds like an escape clause to me. Anyone interested?

  4. liam

    I think Ireland would support an extension to allow for a referendum. As JCF mentions above, and from the Irish Times today:

    The Government has called on the British to show substantial progress on the Border issue by the European Council summit of EU leaders at the end of this month but have said that this was not a hard deadline for a deal on the Border.

    Asked about the risk of no deal being reached given the impasse in talks between London and Brussels, Mr Varadkar raised the possibility of transition periods and extensions if faced with a disorderly Brexit.
    Not helpful

    “It is probably not helpful at this stage to talk about hypothetical scenarios,” he said.

    I can see the calculation: hold the line on the border. If they need time to see sense, well we can be generous. If it means a cancellation of Brexit, all the better. If not well, it allows even more time to prepare. I have no insight into other countries.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I originally thought the Irish government would crumble when the pressure was on, the desperation to minimise damage is so great. There are lots of whispers around of the damage caused by Brexit already, lots of development schemes being put on hold, etc.

      But I think there is an awareness now that the British government is happily driving off a cliff and Ireland has no choice but to stand firm and hope that some sort of A.50 suspension can be agreed if and when the British government finally realise the cliff edge is at hand and the EU will not compromise.

      1. liam

        I completely agree. There must be a lot of worried heads though. Diplomatically we’ve been on the ball, but I don’t think we’re in any way prepared for this. The scale of the challenges will be enormous. Oh, there’re definitely opportunities in this. For one, I can see huge potential for the revival of southern ports, which would add some contra-Dublin gravity. I sincerely hope Rosslare, Waterford and Cork are doing advance and strategic planning on this. I’m also delighted that we’ve had such a flow of migrants here over the past couple of decades. It mitigates the language skill deficiencies we have as English speakers, and can help with engaging with continental countries. It also adds an additional cultural buffer.

        With that said, this could hit almost every sector of the economy, whether its supply chains for consumer goods/producers, ag exports to the UK, tourism from the UK, distribution networks, finance, etc. And you’re right to mention development projects. I wonder about anyone beginning any large scale building project right now.

        But what also strikes me, is the lack of awareness I notice, when talking to people who’re looking to settle, and are looking at the housing market. I think there’s been an attempt here to just keep the ball rolling, which whilst necessary doesn’t quite inform people enough. As with Rajs comments, I think people assume competence and have discounted the possibility that the Brits might just be utter fools. Enda Kenny used the word appalling. I think that’s appropriate.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There has been a change in tone from the Irish government in recent weeks, which I think is now accepting a strong possibility of a chaotic Brexit. I’ve not seen however, any evidence of intense planning for it – it would require a full army/police mobilisation to back up customs officers on the border.

          The private sector is however adjusting. I posted this before, but I was recently at a talk when an Irish concrete industry spokesman said openly that they were advising clients of a likely strong downturn next year. Despite rapidly rising property prices and rents, I’ve heard many anecdotes about building schemes (offices/residential) which are on the starting blocks, but not actually starting, mostly through to funders getting cold feet. Although having said that, a line chef friend of mine was just offered a job today by a very upmarket UK based restaurant which is opening a very large, and very expensive branch in the highest rent part of Dublin, so at least someone is optimistic.

          As for immigrants, I heard about some research recently on immigrants to Ireland which indicated that Ireland was seen as too ‘exciting’ economically! A great place to come to experience upturns, but too prone to downturns to commit to for the long term.

          But as you say, a lot of people are just not engaging with Brexit, I still here the ‘something will be sorted out at the last minute’ comment in conversations. The economy is doing exceptionally well right now, and nobody wants to rock the boat. But Kenny’s comments indicate that people at the top are well aware of the coming crisis.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Yes, I meant and forgot to say that the trucking, ferry and supply chain industry has been much faster than any other to make the changes needed – there are many proposals being worked on right now to upgrade harbour capacity (this is essential, as so much trade for Ireland goes through Larne in Northern Ireland).

              While to an extent they are just bringing forward proposals which were always in the pipeline, they’ve made some quite impressive progress, including those new ferry routes. Fortunately, there is a lot of capacity right now in the ro-ro industry due to cutbacks in the Mediterranean, so there is plenty of scope for creating new routes.

            2. Ignacio

              And new ferry and cargo lines are in the pipeline. Direct fligths to Cork from EU cities… It seems this is accelerating. Friends of mine are visiting Hobbiton –sorry, Dublin, Madrid is in Mordor– this summer, however fligths are too expensive from Madrid compared with other EU destinations.

                1. Donn

                  Yeah, new ferry and cargo lines will be crucial…this really is a potentially historic divergence point for the two islands; it’s just a shame that it looks like it’s going to be more disruptive and traumatizing for people than it ever should have been.

                  I see the Department of Business and Enterprise has published a report on the Firm Level Impact of Brexit on Exposed Sectors, which suggests that the private sector is not quite as on the ball as one might hope, PK: “Firms across sectors did not appear to be systematically taking action to mitigate the potential impact of Brexit: “Only half of the fifteen sectors were active in this regard, undertaking scenario planning, investigating alternative sources of inputs, reviewing product mix, assessing legal entity status changes, and establishing UK companies. The other sectors reported few significant preparatory steps at this point”.

                  It should be noted though that the report itself states “While the research provides some quantitative analysis of the responses provided, it is important to note that these do not draw from a representative sample.”

  5. Raj

    So what’s a hard and soft brexit? Us Indians would warn against underestimating the British. They are cunning b**st**ds!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You need to follow current UK politics. Our readers have described in detail how the civil service is a pathetic shadow of what it was 30 years ago. For starters, please identify anyone in the Cabinet who is clever at anything more than political self preservation (you are speaking in terms of advancing broad administrative agendas, which is vastly more difficult).

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think a lot of the European establishment did indeed suspect that the antics of the British was all part of a cunning plan to undermine Europe.

      It took them at least a year to realise that what appeared to be rank stupidity and incompetence was indeed, rank stupidity and incompetence.

    3. Clive

      The UK’s National Audit Office has specifically investigated the capability of the Civil Service and found that getting on for 10 years of austerity have undermined its expertise and the ability to manage current governmental activity — let alone any significant expansion in its responsibilities. Particular reference was made to the civil service’s ability (or lack of ability) to handle Brexit.

      And I have to say, from personal experience, British management, never the sharpest knife in the draw even 20 or 30 years ago, has continued to plummet in competence. TCS, Wipro, Cognizant and Infosys eat my TBTF’s lunch and play it like an old fiddle. Some of their services are little above a scam (promising to provide this- or that- skill set as an established pre-existing resource pool, but in reality dragging enough people off the street and throwing them at an assignment, hoping that they can get to grips with their upskilling on-the-job). But their senior management are ruthlessly effective operators and run rings around the British-based counterparts, not that that is difficult to do. I have no reason to expect that in the civil service too, British management ability is anything but dire.

      What used to sustain the UK’s civil service’s well-regarded ability and reputation for competence was it being founded on offering a proper career path and in-it-for-the-long-haul continuous development ethos. While that may still be true for the top 1%, for the rank-and-file, this is now just crapified into the usual management consultant blag-a-thon and poorly paid, demoralised and treated badly (“churn is good”) permanent employee pool. This is not, ah-hem, setting itself up for success.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, Clive.

        Just to add that the civil service had a reputation for honesty, too. That has gone and started going from the late 1980s. Mum, who works as an auditor, has horror stories to tell and, if she sold / told the stories to the Mail, she could be worth millions.

        With regard to the parasites feasting at your TBTF, at my current and former ones, it was the same as yours, but joined by ATOS and MacKinsey.

      2. jabawocky

        This advert for an information manager at DexEY highlights the challenges. They are offering ~30-35k for an information ‘manager’ . Worryingly, their only criterion is that they are proficient excel! So is excel dexEU’s information management system!??

        Main Duties:

        Key responsibilities include:

        Supporting the analytics lead to develop our Management Information strategy including identifying which tools and packages will best support departmental decision making.
        Overseeing the management of DExEU’s workforce database and end-to-end production of workforce statistics
        Analysing large and complex datasets in a timely manner to report on emerging workforce issues, and hence drive improvements and innovation across the organisation
        Creative development, implementation and management of dashboards across the department, including top-level board meetings
        Proficient use of Microsoft Excel, as well as other appropriate tools and techniques to gather, store and organise people data in an efficient and user-friendly way

        1. Clive

          They want (what sounds like a reasonably proficient DBA) to slog it into central London full-time for £30k-ish? Even if it’s not a senior position and you get some supervision, that’s low. And reading into the description’s subtext, they want more than an entry-level applicant.

          I hope they’re not disappointed with the response rate.

          And it’s not like Brexit isn’t particularly important or anything…

          The other option is that it’s one of those special job searches which doesn’t remotely intend to result in anyone being found, but is nothing more than a means to an end to say they can’t find anyone suitable, so they’ll need to recruit overseas and get one of the body shops to fill it.

          1. ChrisPacific

            Translation: Our analytics capability amounts to a bunch of Excel spreadsheets of uncertain number and varying antiquity, sitting on various network and physical drives. We might have a database as well, but nobody knows what’s in it.

            We have a bunch of rather ambitious outcomes in mind, the descriptions of which form the bulk of this application. We have no plan for how to get from A to B. We want someone to come in and create a plan for us, but we have no idea what kind of skills that might require, or what the market rate for them is. The successful applicant will be expected to deliver miracles with an authority and budget that is totally inadequate to the task, and will be blamed for the inevitable failure.

    4. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Raj.

      Your fear was echoed by a French MEP and a Maltese minister.

      My parents came from a former colony, a few thousand miles south of your peninsula, in the mid-1960s. Mum has been in the civil service, including briefly at the Bank of England, since 1973. Dad served a quarter of a century in the Royal Air Force until 1991 and has worked part-time in the National Heath Service since 2013.

      The pair say that this is not the same country that they emigrated to. They say the rot started under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Under John Major, there was some respite, but the Blairites accelerated the process. That also coincides with the passing of the WW2 generation.

      Please don’t confuse the current British ruling class with that which ran the country and empire until a generation ago. There are some descendants of the ancient regime around, but the new(er) and often provincial money is the master now, to adapt a phrase from a Labour politician after their 1945 landslide.

      Over breakfast this morning, my parents and I mused that the UK may have been better off with a cabinet dominated by Harold MacMillan, Ian Gilmour etc. type Old Etonians than the pitiful rabble on the government and shadow benches in the House of Commons. As a family who would have happily voted (for) Labour(‘s longest suicide note in history, especially as dad had just returned from saving Maggie Thatcher’s @rse in the Falklands) in 1983, except that we live in the most true blue part of England, the current opposition does not inspire.

      Still, some of that cunning is still around, vide the Salisbury false flag, the MSM’s abysmal coverage of Brexit and obsession with Russia, and the collaboration with Israel Firsters to smear Labour as anti-semitic.

  6. John B

    The UK actually might have sufficient negotiating leverage to get an extension of the Brexit date, for the reason your column mentioned — the elite dread a successful Labor government.

    That may not sound like much but it’s actually a lot. For example, nobody in the US government liked the South Vietnamese government, but the alternative was Communism — sufficient reason for the US to fight a decade of war (which seemed back then like a very long war indeed).

    May has already played this card as deftly as Nguyen Van Thieu. Back in December, the EU and UK issued that surprising “joint report,” in which negotiators pretended to have reached a sort of quasi-agreement. As Richard North revealed in his May 20 column “Brexit: Betting the Farm” to which you previously linked, that was a concession to the UK to avoid weakening the Tory government so much that Corbyn might take over.

    So, I’d expect the EU to give the May government whatever extensions it needs to prevent Labor from rubbing the Tories’ noses in their collective failure.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The problem with this is that while most of the main European governments are in theory ideological bedmates of the Tories, years of their eurosceptic antics in Europe ensured they have little or no support at any level within the European centre-right establishment or in Brussels. The Tories burned their boats when they refused to join the EPP, the main centre right political grouping in the Parliament, instead sitting with a bunch of far right fringe groups. Likewise, May and her colleagues have little or no personal contacts with the key players in Europe and I suspect they are personally disliked. I suspect that the attitude of Merkel etc., is that Britain deserves Corbyn.

      1. vlade

        Corbyn is still pretty tame by European standards TBH – Europe is (still, one wonder how long for) pretty soc-dem compared to Labour even now. My feel is that EU just would like to deal with someone rational and knowledgeable, whether left or right – but they are getting not much luck with either Tories or Labour.

      2. Chris

        Your positive spin, John B, is based on an assumption that an additional 12 months or so would give the UK enough time to unearth and apply the hitherto unrelealised competence and professionalism needed to organise a well managed departure.

        Evidence so far suggests that an extension would simply allow another 12 months of clown car fustercluck.

    2. vlade

      It’s fascinating that “the alternative was Communism”, which just shows the level of US ignorace (do not mean your personally). Ho-Chi-Min was a great fan of the US, for a very long time. That is, until US screwed Vietnam over independence by supporting French (much fat good did it to them).

      But even then the US didn’t understand that Vietnam would rather fight Chinese than get in bed with them.

      1. John B

        Quite true! A few in the US State Department pointed that out at the time. If they were lucky, they were merely ignored.

  7. c_heale

    The only hope (and I say this as an expat Brit) is for the May administration to lose a vote and collapse and complete political chaos to ensue, and then some kind of cross party national administration to form (like in the second world war). However, it is probably too late. The UK is in a hole and the first thing to do is stop digging, but the May administration is too stupid to stop digging.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I agree with you that only some sort of political collapse could allow a sequence of events where the EU decides to allow some sort of face saving measures to minimise the damage. This is why I think the Ultras are so anxious not to bring May down too early. By playing the loyalty card they can keep the government on course until its absolutely too late for anything to change.

      1. vlade

        Technically, there’s a way out for the UK, which is that it’s High Court would rule some part of the process unconstitutional. A50 is pretty explicit – the exit must be constitutional in the exiting country.

        There are two schools of thoughts on some of the demands and stuff May’s government was making (like not having parliament to vote on anything, the legislative super-powers etc.) One was they wanted to get as much power for themselves as possible, the other was that they hoped it would get through, and someone would at the last minute initiate “unconstitutional” lawsuit, which would torpedo the whole thing. TBH, the latter is IMO just wishful thinking, it would require more brain cells than available in the UK political establishment.

  8. Keane

    What if a no-confidence vote is passed. Will there be a general election? If so, if corbyn labour wins, will they have the capacity and talent to handle brexit?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I wish the answer were otherwise, but Labour also seems to have no appreciation of what a train wreck Brexit will be. UK readers feel free to correct me, but my impression from afar is that they hope to be able to enact all sort of reforms (like building what we in the US would call affordable housing and taking a lot of privatized services back under government auspices) when they would be fully occupied with thing like trying to manage Customs and keeping the NHS from collapsing due to the fall in tax revenues and departure of EU nationals (5% of doctors and 10% of nurses).

      1. larry

        I agree, and Corbyn has shown that he has absolutely no understanding of the EEA. Nor it seems do any of his colleagues. This might provide some time for contemplation if nothing else and avoid a train wreck.

        The fall in tax revenues should not be a problem but Labour seems to think it will be because they have given no indication that they understand how their own monetary system operates. McDonnell has told me that he gets it but then contradicts himself within days. As you say, they will be so preoccupied that they will have no time to relearn what they seem to need to. Should they get into office, they may well be less austere than the current group of Tory fanatics, but that will not be enough. They will need a New Deal-like program and I see no indication that that is ever going to be considered.

        1. vlade

          Yes. In fact, for the UK to have any chance on a hard Brexit, it needs war-like mobilisation of effort and resources. That also means the population has to go with it – which I’m not so sure they will be willing too, given how it was all sold to them.

      2. Adrian Kent,

        Yves – from the UK I’ve got a couple of points. There’s certainly a strong tendency over here to blame Corbyn for Labour’s ‘confused’ Brexit stance without properly noting that his hands are tied by the 90 or so MPs who would reject a EEFA/CU membership right now and a fair number who’d just want him gone anyway.

        As far as I’m concerned he’s perfectly entitled to ‘fudge-along’ for a while now, given that the negotiations wouldn’t be where they are had he been in charge from the outset. His remodelling/democratising of the party is just as pressing for him (rightly so in my mind).

        As for your specific case of the NHS doctors and nurses – all of those issues could be addressed by a less doctrinaire (Labour) Home Secretary – overnight they could make the NHS a special case – and as the recent Windrush debacle has shown, contrary to the view from the tabloids, there are quite a lot of immigrants that the UK public really rather like – so this could be done at little or no political cost. Likewise most EU residents could be given right to remain or return by such a government – even if they had left or been flung out by then (neither of which are certain).

        As for Brexit being a train-wreck – maybe this version may be for a while, but consider the situation had the remainers won – we’d now almost certainly be suffering under a Prime Minister Osbourne with a broadly united Tory party – I’d take May’s current shambles over that version any day.

        As for the customs / regulatory issues – it’ll be interesting, but seriously where’s the evidence that any of us are better off due to the ludicrous JIT supply chains, the hub airports and the free movement of capital anyway?

        Bring on the disaster socialism.

      3. beachcomber

        “Keeping the NHS from collapsing” can be achieved by the simple expedient of spending as much money on it as is required for that purpose. Whilst that would be anathema to the Tories (emulating both the Republicans and the Democrats) a Corbyn govt wouldn’t have any choice.- even assuming they would want any other, which I doubt.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You seem to miss that this is not just a matter of money but skilled people, who are departing now and more will pack up, particularly if there is no transition.

          And where is this money going to come from? The UK will wind up being constrained by inflation in its spending. The currency will plunge (the pound trades in accordance with the standing of the City) and with so many non-tariff barriers rising (aka customs hassle), a cheaper pound won’t lead to an export rebound. The UK will face a plunge in tax revenues and will face too much inflation to be able to “print”.

  9. hemeantwell

    I can’t see the EU agreeing to that. For starters, the EU has no assurance that the UK citizens would vote to reverse Brexit.

    How frequently is the question being reliably polled?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There are regular polls, but in truth they don’t show much variation – the country is still very much split down the middle, but with some evidence of increasing nervousness about the consequences. I suspect though that polls since the vote are slightly distorted by the number of those who don’t support Brexit, but believe the vote to leave should be respected.

  10. Ignacio

    Does anybody think that early general elections in UK are much more likely that a second referendum on brexit? Wouln’t this be enough to stop the clock on brexit?

    1. Clive

      So long as the DUP prop up the U.K. government (and the DUP are staunchly in favour of leaving the EU) then it is hard to see how the parliamentary arithmetic — it requires a no-confidence motion being passed — would ever stack up for an early election.

      And Article 50 has been triggered. This starts an EU (not U.K.) withdrawal process. Only the EU could halt the withdrawal, a change in the makeup of the U.K. government doesn’t bring anything to the party.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      As Yves above and Clive say, its hard to see a government collapse making a difference so long as Labour is divided as there would be no clear mandate for a new government of whatever form to reverse course.

      I think its clear that the Ultra Brexiteers (including the DUP) won’t bring down May until they are certain its too late for any reversal of course (probably late autumn). I suspect there are some in the right wing of the Tories who would not be unhappy with an election, reasoning that if Corbyn does get in, at least let him get control right as the train goes over the cliff.

      But the only scenario I think where you would have a ‘Brexit’ election is if May concedes the idea of an Irish Sea border and the DUP help with a no-confidence motion. Even then, the election would almost certainly be argued around details rather than the principle of Brexit, so I can’t see this changing course.

      1. Ignacio

        Thank you Clive and PK!
        It seems that Ultra Brexiteers will almost certainly prevail. I don’t know if I understand the process correctly but in case of no deal, UK parliament should urgently have to pass after brexit rules, not the government.

      2. beachcomber

        Who are these so-called “Ultra Brexiteers” I wonder.

        In truth that term is synonymous with:- “people who exercised their democratic right to vote to leave the EU”, or (more crudely) “people who don’t agree with me, a remainer”.

        Why not come right out with it, instead of using circumlocutions?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          The meaning of the term is perfectly clear to anyone who’s been following the discussions.

          1. beachcomber

            @ PK

            I have been, and based on that made the translation which I made. Words have literal meanings and also a host of imputed meanings inherent in the context and coloured by the hidden (subconscious even) motivations of the use – as well as those which are overt.

            What you don’t seem willing to face-up to is that in using loaded language (“ultra”) you and others are deliberately or otherwise stigmatising more than half of those who voted in the referendum. And please don’t try to argue that its use refers only to those whom you accuse of pushing for a so-called “hard” Brexit. It’s manifestly clear that it’s being applied by those here who are opposed to Brexit per se as code for “all those who are in favour of leaving the EU”, without exception. Any distinction having to do with the terms of exit is sophistry:- all alike voted to leave and that is the only distinction with any meaning.

            I voted “remain” but I nevertheless deplore that use of language.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Oh, stop being precious. None other than Richard North, who not only voted Leave, but remains a very staunch advocate of Brexit, regularly uses the term Ultras, as has this site. It is a fitting term for the extremist and dogmatic Brexit faction represented by Rees-Mogg. It’s not “loaded language”. It’s apt.

              And I don’t know of any members of that group saying their feelers are hurt. In fact, they’d probably embrace that label as a badge of honor.

            2. PlutoniumKun

              The term ‘ultra’ is widely used, including in the Tory and generally pro-Brexit media to describe the hard core of Tory Brexit campaigners and to distinguish them from more moderate pro-Brexit conservatives. The term ‘ultra’ can be found defined in any dictionary, under none of those definitions is it considered derogatory.

              For insulting Brexiteers, there are a whole range of words widely found BTL on various websites, ‘Ultra’ certainly isn’t among them.

  11. Mirdif

    I don’t believe Brexit can be stopped. Any party that prevents it or is seen to do so faces the prospect of being faced with the allegation of going against “the will of the people” at the next election.

    Calls for another referendum are deeply misguided. It will only exacerbate the situation. IMO, the next referendum will be to rejoin the EU after a horrendous crash out. At that point English (I expect Scotland to have left the union by that point) euroscepticism will be well and truly dead and as PK has pointed out a number of times, like the Iraq invasion, you will hardly be able to find people who thought it a good idea.

    The Tories can survive crash out Brexit, by calling a election soon after and letting Corbyn get in and handle the fallout. They will not be electable for a generation at least where they are seen to have not delivered it or delivered Brexino, IMO.

    I always find Richard North’s site fascinating – all the knowledge and yet no appreciation of how things will work in the real world. His article today is a case in point, British unilateralism at the WTO to manage food shortages post Brexit…but no appreciation that other countries will then do the same or use other arm twisting mechanisms: Paris club, sanctions, removal of infrastructure investment etc.

    He rails against the Ultra’s and yet he is one himself, Brexit is better than the alternative in all cases according to him. He rails against bubbles and yet some of his long time readers bemoan the reality that there are more remain supporters posting on his blog. The comments on his site are even more fascinating in that even after all he has written some of his long time readers exhibit just the same old meme’s, “no deal is better than a bad deal” (admittedly this is only one person who is unspeakably stupid), “they need us more than we need them” sometimes modified to “they need us as much as we need them”, “the EU is going to implode”, “the Eurozone is on the verge of collapse” and so on.

    That even his long time readers who are a microcosm compared to the more vociferous voices in the comments on the Daily Express and Daily Mail sites have not really come to terms with how hard Brexit is going to hit is indicative of people not really believing it until it hits and then maybe some will change their minds. That alone shows why it cannot be reversed.

    There is only one man shameless enough to stop Brexit though, step forward Alexander Johnson (Boris is his stage name, his family call him Al according to Peter Hitchens). He alone is the only person that can perform the volte-face and take a some part of the Brexit support with him. But I don’t think this is likely as like Cameron before him he believes in nothing other than being Prime Minister for its own sake.

    As for the Murdoch press turning against Brexit – Hah! Look at the front page of The Sun today.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, I can’t always figure out Richard North*. His expertise in trade is undeniable, but it must be remembered that he is, among other things, a climate change denier, which strongly indicates someone who when faced with facts interfering with ideology, chooses ideology. He reminds me a bit like the man who when asked directions says ‘well, I wouldn’t be starting from here…’. His Flexcit proposals were always non-starters as there has never been the slightest incentives for the EU or EEA/EFTA members to agree to go along with them.

      I haven’t read his earlier books on the EU, but from the reviews I’ve read any good points he made were more than balanced out by fairly unhinged rantings blaming pretty much every ill on the world on the organisation.

      *Bizarrely, there are two English far-right libertarian anti-EU, climate change denialist writers by the name of ‘Richard North’, its hard sometimes to tell them apart.

      1. larry

        PK, I agree pretty much with your assessment of North, but I read him slightly differently. I read him as saying that leaving is good but not the way it is being done, thinking that the present stance will lead to chaos and possible disaster. One example: no essential infrastructure preparations have been made at all. I am restricting myself to his Brexit comments.

        I agree as well with your comments on North’s commenters. Unlike NC, they seem to me to be rather ill informed.

        Yes there are two Richard Norths, amazingly. The one I think you are referring to blogs at I trust we are talking about the same person.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, I repeatedly get them mixed up. Richard D. North (the ‘other’ Richard North) wrote a particularly shameful book on the environment 25 years ago which was essentially a hidden climate change denier manifesto disguised as a ‘concerned rational environmentalist’. I don’t think ‘our’ North (the EUReferendum one) is that bad, although anyone who makes common cause with someone like Christopher Booker has to be looked upon with caution.

          1. larry

            We are the same page on this. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could be a climate change denier given the awful consequences that have taken place, like species extinctions.

      2. Mirdif

        His Flexcit proposals are just nonsense. It goes something like:

        1. Leave the EU
        2. Remain in EEA via joining EFTA
        3. Reform EEA to take directly from UNECE
        4. Reform the British political system

        Cart before horse me-thinks. The current rubbish in government demonstrates quite clearly why that won’t work.

        In reality Flexcit is just “Johnny Foreigner’s getting uppity, send a gunboat in” for the 21st century. All about unilateralism and no appreciation or thought that other nations might not react too well to “Now look here Johnny Foreigner, old John Bull is here now and you’ll do as we tell you to reform the EEA, comprende.”

        I’ve not read any of his other works either, only and wasn’t aware there was somebody else with the same name. He demonstrates quite clearly why nobody in positions of influence or power pays any attention to him, calling people idiots, morons and so on may well be true but you should perhaps not do so if you want to actually influence them. I guess he needs to read “How to win Friends and Influence People.” As for unhinged rantings, he does that sometimes on the comments on his blog, even better where somebody opposes his viewpoint and he bans them or comments get mysteriously deleted. Article 112 is another one where people have pointed out gaping holes in his argument that it can be used unilaterally.

        1. vlade

          He’s an ideologue. But, unlike some other ideologues, he’s at least in some thing able to see the detail.

          What fascinates me is that he entirely ignores the fact that if the Brexit is going to be a disaster – which he expects at the current course – he still seems to believe that there will be no push to get back to the EU ASAP, and that the Brexit will be “irrevocable”.

            1. vlade

              ok, if you want to be picky, Brexit is irrevocable. UK’s EU membership or not is not decided for once and ever though.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Oh, no, he writes all the time that it’s going to be a disaster. He’s even advocated stockpiling 3 months of food.

            But he argues that that result is not necessary, if everyone went for his EEA idea, there’s be some hiccups, but no train wreck.

    2. begob

      I wonder if anyone knows who the commenter JDD is? He gives plenty of clues, and seems to have direct insight on the unfolding disaster, yet his posts always seem like they’re cobbled together on his phone.

    3. beachcomber

      @ Mirdif
      “Any party that prevents it or is seen to do so faces the prospect of being faced with the allegation of going against “the will of the people” at the next election”.

      It wouldn’t be an “allegation”; it would be cold fact. Insofar as any electoral process in any democracy can justly be described as reflecting “the will of the people”. But if it doesn’t what else does, and better?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Look, I’ve said there will be no second referendum but the idea may be used late in the game to try to get a time out from the EU, which they won’t agree to anyhow.

        But this “will of the people” business is wrongheaded. The public knew what staying in the EU meant. But there what leaving the EU meant was not defined. Tell me how many voters understood what losing access to the Single Market meant. Or falling out of the airline pacts. The odds are over 50% that planes won’t fly in UK airspace the day after Brexit. And what about the crashout v. hard Brexit v EEA issue?

        The public was not properly informed, not even close. If this were medicine, the doctor would be sued to kingdom come for the failure to get informed consent.

  12. Jim A.

    From this far remove, it seems to me that many Brexiteers are confused by the EU’s preference for no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. They think that this gives the real leverage, but a crash out means border controls on that border. I simply don’t think that the EU’s preference is strong enough to force it to agree to whatever misbegotten thing that the UK will bring in for signing if May can ever get her own coalition to agree on something.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        When the Brexit result was announced, my big fear as an Irish person was that the Tory right would see Ireland as the ‘weak link’ in the EU, and use a mix of threats and bribes about border, trade and peace issues to force a weak Irish government to be the ‘cookoo in the nest’ in the EU, essentially blocking any hard line on the UK. Fortunately, that presupposed they actually had a rational negotiating strategy. The Irish government has so far come out rather well from the negotiations.

  13. Toni

    Since the referendum I’ve been trying my best to make career moves that will give me the opportunity to emigrate to Canada. My great worry is the rapidly approaching deadline hitting before I can get out of here, destroying my earning potential between 30 and 40, just as the global financial crisis set me back during my 20s. I see the argument that people have accepted the “short term contraction”, but that’s easy to say when they’re not already starting from an indebted position and face losing the expected earnings growth to dig yourself out of that hole and provide for a family. I have no idea what the future holds, but if Brits of my generation leave for other Anglophone countries it will exacerbate many of the systemic issues that are piling up in this country.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Toni.

      I am looking overseas, too, not just because of Brexit, but as my TBTF employer is holed below the waterline and most of us spear carriers feel like the band on the Titanic.

      Not just to Canada, but to elsewhere anglophone and francophone, but there’s not much demand for financial services timewasters (TM, Clive), especially in the francophone world where an EU27 passport is preferred.

      I would consider casting the net more widely.

      Happy to compare notes, privately.

      1. Clive

        Yes, France. Another on my list (see below). If only my French was better. I got a loathing for it when I was in school and can’t get past descending into franglais when tired or stressed out over something. In Monaco I’d be fine, as that awful euro-English is the norm, but, well, Monaco, you just couldn’t, could you?

        1. Mirdif

          Can you not just speak louder and more slowly and call the person you’re speaking to Garkon? ;)

          I too am looking overseas. I do have the fallback that I’m a dual national by descent (non-EU) and so do have somewhere to run away to if things don’t pan out as I would hope.

    2. Clive

      I do have a great deal of empathy for the difficulty of your decision. I continually cast my eye around for another place to call home but I can’t say I’ve come across a huge choice of lands flowing with milk and honey. Australia and NZ began to pull of their drawbridges a good couple of years or so ago and when you’re pushing back 50 so firmly you’ve got cramp in your wrists, it’s pretty obvious (though no less depressing to note that) they and similar countries are simply not interested in anyone who will in fairly short order become a burden on the state rather than a contributor to it.

      I could claim Republic residency, as per Tracey Ullman’s advice but am now simply too British to fit in there (witness that I found her sketch side splitting but people in the South were apoplectic so I can’t see me ever overcoming that one big problem of cultural acceptance, the fault would be mine that I can’t de-British myself as some things just get engrained).

      Canada’s property bubble is scary. Japan in theory allows immigration but in practice makes it difficult without someone sponsoring your long-term stay (and again, with big question marks about what happens when you get seriously aged).

      The only viable option which I did actually get an outline acceptance for was, of all places, the US, where if I was prepared to gamble on investing my entire net worth I could get an investor’s visa. But while I have a fairly sound business idea, I simply do not, ever, want the stress and uncertainty of running my own company. Plus healthcare is enough to keep you awake at night, just on its own.

      In the (almost) words of Dorothy Parker:

      Brexit pains you
      FATCA claims you
      Visas, they don’t give
      You might as well live (in England)

      1. Biologist

        You can still move to any EU country, as long as you do it before Brexit day, and you’re willing to stay in that country (i.e. as a UK national you’ll likely lose the right to settle to any other EU country, as you can now).

        1. Clive

          The problem is that post-Brexit, it’ll be tricky on day-1 and things will only get trickier as they years and decades roll on. Not least is the possibility of a residual claim by the UK government for tax liabilities unless you’re really — really — prepared to emigrate. Sever all ties (to use HMRC’s language) means exactly that — sever all ties. I, for example, would have to cash-in my defined benefit pension for the cash lump sum. That immediately transfers the investment risk onto me — a huge implication. I’d have to sell my UK property — and once off the UK housing market ladder, it’d probably be prohibitively expensive to ever to try to get back on it again, given the (multiple) government’s propensity to ensure it outpaces all other asset classes (regardless of the cost to the rest of the economy, but that’s another story, not for the purposes of this discussion).

          It would be impossible to have the NHS standing by as a handy stash of healthcare-of-last-resort provision. Another big risk especially in older age. No matter how much you might think that another EU country might try to put a good, inexpensive, healthcare system as a priority, there’s simply no telling how neoliberalism will unfold in the EU in the next 10 or 20 years. Certainly the trajectory is far from encouraging. Not that the UK is exactly a rose garden in that respect, of course, but seriously eroding the NHS is still and electoral third-rail and it would have to get very, very bad for that to change.

          Not that I have any sympathy for anyone bemoaning the fact that they can’t have their cake and eat it — if you make visits back to the UK while living in a third country, you drive on the roads and use or rely on law enforcement, the rule of law and environmental protections (these are things you can never claim you don’t take advantage of, amongst many others) and if you get hit by a car while walking on the street and expect the NHS to send an ambulance to scrape you off the pavement and take you to a hospital, then you jolly well should pay your taxes* here. But I’m not sure I’m up for the implications of having to do the paperwork to avoid double-taxation or the equally onerous steps that the HMRC demand to nullify your liability.

          * Yes, I know that taxes don’t fund spending, but individuals cannot simply decide that taxes (which are necessary even in an MMT environment) “aren’t fair” and think they shouldn’t have to pay them when a tax collection regime is in effect.

          1. vlade

            I believe that if you show HMRC you left UK and went into employment, there would be relatively few, if any, residual claims. That said, defined benefits private pension may be a problem.

            Of course, as you say, it’s about whether you really want to emigrate or not.

          2. Biologist

            Thanks for the reply, all very valid points indeed. When I moved to UK from EU it was so easy, including with taxes, but I don’t have property back “home”, or get any salary from there. For now I’m planning to stay here but who knows how the wind blows 2 years from now.

          3. fajensen

            I, for example, would have to cash-in my defined benefit pension for the cash lump sum.

            Don’t do that! Your future self will call you an idiot, sucker and a straight-up moron for doing that!!

            I shouldn’t say this since I like the space we have here, but, a highly qualified British person willing to work in IT & Finance could live quite nicely in Denmark. And also in France, Netherlands, Belgium too.

            The Danish health service is quite good. Income Taxation is supposedly high but having lived in several other countries, including the UK, the rule is that – as a salaried person – one will always get screwed for about 50% of ones income regardless of location. Tax, Insurances, Rent or Mortgage – doesn’t matter to the bottom line. If you have significant investment income, in Denmark it can be an advantage to separate your money and property from your person – placing them into a limited liability company, basically. This allows one to regulate ones taxation to some degree. A good accountant is needed for this to work out.

            To me it sounds a lot like you are at risk of falling right into the “intelligent persons trap” – Overthinking and Over-planning: With enough thinking applied, Everything becomes just too risky and very difficult resulting in one doing nothing until a breaking point is reached and then one overreacts and set off on the wrong foot, as it were. Been there, done that, and life still works out OK, somehow :).

            Realistically, it will take 2 decades for HRMC to get over the crash-out Brexit and thus they won’t have time / resources to come after you for most of that time. People who bet heavily on the EU integration never quite catching up with them, they are still ahead. That’s an entire career.

            The real loss is that you are going to become distant to all of your UK friends. No going to pubs after Sunday walks, no strange opinions to argue over, the landscape. It gets you after a while. Flying to visit people takes a lot of energy and dulls the soul.

            1. Clive

              Yes, you (and PlutoniumKun below) are right. And it does all boil down to risk tolerance. Which, I have found, decreases substantially with age. This is logical — you can to a degree bounce back from mistakes (even unintentional ones, things you thought after careful consideration would be a good idea) in your 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s.

              But in your 50’s and 60’s, a financial setback or even just ending up in a situation you thought you’d like but it turned out made you miserable by entering into is not something you can easily recover from. I’ve, historically, earned my way out of quite a lot of trouble. That simply is not something which it is possible to guarantee to be able to do in your 50’s and positively an outlandish expectation in your 60’s. So preserving what net worth you’ve managed to accumulate takes on a whole new significance.

              Put it this way, a lot of Brits moved to Spain on the basis of a strong pound / weak local currency (and even a weak Euro, which in its early life was indeed the case) plus EU-underwritten rights. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it was not wise to pin your hopes on living happily into your 60’s and 70’s (and beyond) on some words written by politicians on a piece of (Treaty) paper. They’ll just have to stick it out and hope everything works out okay. Not an especially appealing prospect in old age. Not, though, that I am thrilled to be writing this. Its always nice to have options and the dearth of them is in itself demoralising. Doubly so when the realisation that probably the main limiting factor – old age — isn’t something that is amenable to your efforts to modify it.

            2. Irrational

              So long as you don’t want to buy a car in Denmark, which will cost you an arm and a leg.
              Luxembourg is also quite nice if a lot less lively than London.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I don’t think there is much doubt that for any British person, Ireland is the most straightforward option for a Brexit exit (assuming the Irish economy isn’t equally negatively impacted upon). The Irish government has made it pretty clear they will not reduce the availability of passports or change the criteria for UK citizens after Brexit, and there are a variety of formal and informal arrangements over the years making it easier to transfer pensions, and a blind eye has invariably been turned to the tax and welfare entitlements of people who have moved regularly between Britain and Ireland (this predates the EU of course). Health cover isn’t really an issue if you get an major company employer, as you can get insurance relatively easy through employer schemes. The Irish health system is well behind the NHS, but they are converging at pace, mostly thanks to the Tories active degrading of the NHS rather than the Irish system catching up.

        I’ve quite a few British colleagues, and they all seem to have found a fairly easy transition, even those who found themselves living here ‘by accident’ (one engineer I know who works for the Irish government admitted to me once he only had a vague conception of Ireland as an independent country when he applied for the job). I’ve heard far worse stories from English people who have gone to Scotland to work. Basically, Irish people assume I think that anybody with an English accent working here is either an Irish person who grew up in England, or has an Irish spouse, so they aren’t really seen as ‘incomers’. For various reasons (not least the transfer of operations from London), the Irish financial sector is doing pretty well now, with plenty of jobs available, and the workplaces are remarkably cosmpolitan.

        While my personal financial advice is generally to be avoided in most circumstances, I would say that selling up in Britain to invest in Irish property is relatively ‘neutral’ in terms of long term gain/loss potential.

    3. vlade

      Re Brits leaving – well, and that doesn’t take into account the older generation that was happily retired in Spain/Portugal/Italy coming back and stretching the social services and NHS even more.

      On the exiting the good ship Britain – I tend to joke that due to my misspent youth I have more passports than James Bond, some of them even in my name ;) (I still can’t beat my grand-grandfather, who had five different passports w/o ever being more than five miles from the place he was born in his life).

      The main problem though is that I too belong to that “financial timewasters” category for most people who would look at my CV, and as such, it’s not easy to get a productive job – unless I wanted to move my family to Oz or NZ, which would be really a last possibility.

      1. Toni

        I suppose I could always go back to the Balkans where I was born! My family left during the civil war, and our glorious socialist Yugoslav passports were no longer valid. Not sure my partner would quite appreciate the drop in living standards and prodigious increase in turbofolk music that would ensue.

        1. vlade

          But if it’s Slovenia or Croatia, it means you’d get an EU passport and then move somewhere better :).

          I was joking once that as Yves has some Hungarian ancestry, if she learned Hungarian (not an easy task… ), she could get HU passport and then to move somewhere within EU.

  14. The Rev Kev

    Just a comment about all that secrecy that has broken out in all levels of the UK government mentioned in this article. Throwing out a theory here, and it is that the UK government has finally realized that Brexit is going to happen and that it is going to be a hard exit. Having already established that the present generation filling Whitehall appears to have been recruited from the shallow end of the gene pool I think that they simply do not know how to handle it. Call it a failure of both pragmatism and imagination.
    The only way that they have been able to get a handle on it is to compare it to like going into a war situation. And what do you do when a war breaks out? You classify everything in sight, operate on a need-to-know basis and start evoking the Official Secrets Act. Totally the wrong thing to do here but I think that this explains what is going on here.
    In idle wicked moments, I sometimes wonder what would happen if the UK government swapped places with the management for CalPERS and what difference it would make.

    1. Mirdif

      I have to agree with this. My own feeling is also that preparations are afoot for a crash out and that’s the real reason for the secrecy.

      I must also concur with your statement about the shallow end of the gene pool but it’s compounded by incompetence and Parkinson’s law writ large: Director, Deputy Director, Assistant Deputy Director, Assistant Deputy Director(Corporate), Assistant Deputy Director(Executive), Head of, Deputy Head of and on and on and on.

  15. David

    Traveling today so apologies for joining the discussion so late. But just two quick points on the (essentially medieval) UK system.
    Sovereignty lies with the Crown, which in practice means government, not Parliament. As I have pointed out before, Parliament can refuse budgets and vote down laws, but Art 50 is an executive decision, about which Parliament does not strictly speaking need to be consulted. Art 50 could therefore be revoked by the government tomorrow. There would thus be no need for a referendum, which was only ever a political device to buy votes, and, in the event of a withdrawal of the Art 50 notification, would only be used as a political device to provide a veneer of popular legitimacy.
    Second, a government that withdrew the Art 50 notification could in theory be brought down by a vote of no confidence. But if the result were a general election and a Labour government, even the Brexit ultras might hesitate. And even if the government fell, the Art 50 situation would be unchanged, and a new government would have to reach a consensus to decide to invoke Art 50 yet again, leading to hilarity all round.
    I still think that we should not rule out a direct approach to Brussels to put the transition on hold. This could be done, again, by an executive decision of the government, and does not require parliamentary approval, referendum or anything else. Unlikely perhaps, but what isn’t in this tragic-comedy of errors?

    1. vlade

      Didn’t the High Court rule it was not in government’s gift, which is why there was an A50 vote in the first place?

      1. Clive

        Yes indeed, it (or rather the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision and then the Supreme Court justices agreed — if I can be pedantic about it) did exactly that.

        1. vlade

          be pedantic all you want on this :).

          I was simplifying – not just on courts, but on the whole issue, as amongst theothers sovreignty is not with Crown, but Parliament, where the Parliament is sovreign (the bill of right 1689).

          Technically UK parliament can put in any law it wishes, including things that are a no-no elsewhere, such as retroactive bills (this IIRC happens now and then for taxation actually). It could, if it wished, abolish the monarchy anytime it felt like it, but I guess it has too much fun to do so.

          The only limitation is that no act of parliament can bind any future parliaments, which is really more of a truism, or to put it differently, no parliament feels bound by any prevous parliaments, and can do whatever it wishes. To an extent, this is why the whole “sovreignty” issue was really a non-issue, as technically the UK parliament could struck down any ECJ/EU law it felt like it. Not that it would not cause a furore and massive complications..

          1. David

            The actual sovereignty issue is known as the Crown in Parliament, which is effectively a devolution of the Crown’s powers to make policy and law to the government of the day. Laws should made with the consent of Parliament, as you suggest, but substantive policy decisions, including signing, ratifying and withdrawing from treaties are prerogatives of the Crown and are not subject to formal Parliamentary agreement. (Lots of MPs were horrified to discover in 1992 that Parliament did not ratify treaties, in this case the Political Union Treaty.) In reality, the government has a lot more room for maneuver here than is often appreciated, but it’s probably incapable of using it. It’s especially important to understand the difference between initiatives that require laws to be passed, and those that don’t.

            1. vlade

              Govt is responsible for policy, as setting that by legislation would be pretty cumbersome. it can use royal perogtive to get some things done, and foreign policy at the moment elongs there.
              that said, the court standing court decisions make it clear that where RP and statue books clash, Parliament takes precedence – and that RP can be used only to support them (or in areas which are not covered by law). in fact, this was the basis of A50 ruling. exiting EU would impact rights of the uk citizens that are enshined in law, and thus can only be changed with explicit parliamentary consent.

              again, the parliament could paralyse the govt by simply revoking all RP, which would pretty much kill any govt. In recent history, the govt took parliament for granted, given party loyalties, but it is not based on any sort of constitutional interpretation.

  16. Synoia

    Officials are being forced to look at key documents in special reading rooms, while some papers are confined to the offices of the most senior civil servants.

    The projections are dreadful. One conceals bad news.

  17. Schofield

    For the last two years instead of working out the details of a Brexit plan that would be in the interests of most UK citizens the Tories have been playing “Games of Thrones.” Many voters are too stupid to realize this and will continue to vote for the Tory Party. The UK is going downhill fast!

  18. WorkerPleb

    A second referendum, voting Remain, would be the worst possible outcome at this point. They wouldn’t remain anyway, the voters would never forget it, and the political class would never live it down.

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