Brexit: Circling the Drain?

Due to managing to take a bit of holiday (and that meant not keeping up with the news) and being distracted by CalPERS (that will hopefully tail off by the end of the month) I have been neglecting Brexit. Even though I am writing this post in the form of an update, it is as much a forcing device for reader to tell me about stories and issues I may have missed that would affect some of the tentative conclusions below.

As this very far remove, I don’t see anything that has happened in the last two weeks that would change the very high odds of a crash out next March.

The EU graciously offering some token concessions is not tantamount to a softening of position. The new “we are gonna have a deal” date is now November, moved back from October. This is not a surprise; some commentators have opined that the negotiations could go as late as January….if there were actual negotiations, as opposed to the EU having to figure out what to do with UK inaction followed by obviously unworkable offers.

Jean-Claude Juncker making positive noises about Checquers is awfully reminiscent of his behavior during the 2015 Greece negotiation, where he would regularly try to play a more central role in the dealmaking than he really had, only to be slapped down or quietly pushed to the sidelines. Juncker has been looking statesmanlike compared to 2015, but that is also not hard with the likes of David Davis and Boris Johnson setting a baseline.

Another rumor, that the EU would let the UK largely out of the “defining the future relationship” seems dodgy. If you recall early on, many Tories, including some noisy Ultras, were insisting that the UK not agree to the Brexit bill unless it also got an “iron clad” trade agreement along with it. Someone apparently pulled them aside and told them it was impossible to get a trade pact done in anything less than a few years, with “five” a realistic minimum.

Shorter: quite a few people on the UK side were noisily of the view that the UK should firm up its trade deal as much as it could before Brexit because it would have more negotiating leverage then than during the transition period. Since all the exit agreement would include is a political statement of intent, it’s not binding.

However, the idea that the UK would manage to get an exit agreement done but decide to omit or fudge the “future relationship” part would seem daft, until you remember that we are already well into asylum territory. The UK needs to come to an agreement as to what sort of trade/legal relationship it wants with the EU going forward. If it can’t get that done in the context of a transition deal, pray tell how will it ever sort that out?

It makes every sense for the EU to be as gracious-appearing as it can be, not just for appearance’s sake, but for the historical record.

The Chequers plan is dead, yet May keeps flogging it. Even EU business leaders are telling the UK to get real. From the Financial Times earlier this month:

German business leaders have raised the alarm over the state of Brexit negotiations and are urging the UK government to soften its position ahead of make-or-break talks with Brussels in the coming weeks…

Mr [Joachim] Lang [director-general of Germany’s BDI industry federation] also voiced criticism of the UK position as set out in London’s recent Brexit white paper, in particular with regard to its proposal on trade. Among other points, the paper calls for a post-Brexit scenario in which the UK remains part of a single market for goods with the EU, while excluding the free movement of services, capital and people. 

“The UK says it wants to keep the free movement for goods but become independent with regard to the other freedoms. We believe that cannot work,” said Mr Lang. Separating goods from services and the flow of people and finance, he added, was simply not possible in the modern economy. 

“When we sell a piece of machinery today, we don’t just sell the product. We also sell services, data and maintenance,” he said. “You cannot pick one freedom but leave the other three on the sidelines. That simply does not work with modern industrial goods. We are not selling a piece of chocolate.” 

His stance was supported by Bernhard Mattes, the president of Germany’s VDA car industry federation, which represents groups such as Volkswagen, Daimler and Bosch. Mr Mattes told the FT: “When you sell an industrial good you don’t just sell iron, steel and plastic — there is always a service that comes with the product.” 

Honestly, this is all you need to know about the Checquers plan. As with every half-baked UK idea, it does not solve the problem it purports to solve. But these barmy proposals allow British pols to present themselves falsely as being oh-so-reasonable and depict the EU as obstructionist when they reject them.

No progress on the Irish border. No surprise, but this is yet another “crash out is coming” indicator.

Possible fading cred of the Ultras not likely to make much difference. Over the weekend, Richard North described how the Ultra’s alternative to May’s Chequers plan was widely ridiculed by the UK press. On the one hand, finally having the media willing to treat the rabid Brexiteers with scorn is long overdue. However, even in decline (if that is really happening), they still have enough votes in Parliament, and enough loyalists in the heartlands to be able to thwart reasonable outcomes, and in particular, a retreat.

Latest dire warning unlikely to have the impact it should. Yesterday, Mark Carney told the Cabinet that Brexit could be as crippling as the crisis of 2008.

Carney is wrong. A crash-out would be worse.

I hope to work this out in more detail in a future post, but the short version is that the financial crisis hit the heart of the financial system. While as we saw, the potential knock-on effects were catastrophic, the concentrated nature of the banking system in the UK and Europe meant that the authorities could identify the institutions and markets that were failing. They had to scramble to find and in some cases create the mechanisms to rescue them, but as we saw, the scale of the problem, although it taxed them to the max, was not beyond the operational capacity of central bankers, financial regulators, and politicians to handle on an emergency basis (as we know, for reasons of convenience and intellectual capture, they were uninterested in holding executives accountable, in restructuring the financial system so as to reduce the risk of large crises, and providing adequate support to real economy victims of the crisis).

The UK civil service is so crippled it can’t even manage to prepare competent Brexit white papers. How is it going to negotiate a trade with the EU and every other country with which it needs to enter into new treaties, let alone negotiate a new airlines pact, gear up massively for new customs requirements, while coping with the immediate chaos of a crashout or hard Brexit at the end of 2020? Another ugly secret is given the UK’s inability to get anything done, it is highly unlikely to be in all that much better shape at the end of a transition period than it will be in March 2019 (however, the damage would be less by virtue of the EU and multinationals being better prepared).

The point is that the UK government will be utterly overwhelmed. It will face real economy problems it is not remotely equipped to handle, and worse, for which it is making hardly any preparation, and will also be hit with stress to its banking system and a probable banking crisis.

The one difference with 2008 is my guess is the damage will not come as fast and dramatically as the Lehman collapse, but will accelerate as real economy and financial upheaval play into each other.

Again, I hate to seem high level and unduly simplistic, but it does not seem that anything significant has changed in the last two weeks. Please feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong, or as important, flag developments that could lead to shifts in due course.

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  1. paul

    You are correct, I don’t see anything has changed, the ultras are calculating they only need to run down the clock and they will get what they want, a hard brexit.

    They are content to act like so many picadors against the government,weakening but not killing it.

    They aim to line their own pockets by looting,being on the right side of the betting and,most importantly to them,use the chaos as an excuse to finally dismantle the welfare state.

    They are, after all, Thatcher’s grown ups.

  2. Epistrophy

    Has anyone considered Jean-Claude Juncker’s importance in this process? It is becoming increasingly tenuous and a Brexit crash out may see him removed from the transition process. There is a block forming against him that includes Italy (as well as a half a dozen or so others) and Germany may turn it’s back on him too, if their trade suffers. We could see a new negotiating team altogether in the new year and this may be by happenstance or it could be by Whitehall strategy. Then there is the nascent IREXIT movement, that a so-called crash out will bolster.

    Further has anyone considered the effect on Brexit of the Articles 11 and 13 of the new EU copyright law – which would effectively establish a link tax, facilitate arbitrary bans of alternative viewpoints and destroy opportunities for small Internet startups or businesses. A Chinese wall of censorship is being erected around Europe that could easily spread across the world; after all, those in power love censorship. Websites such as this one, may be forced to close down. But I suspect, for Europe, this is just the beginning of the Internet (and transparency) crackdown.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      EU leaders (meaning Merkel in code and others, like a very senior minister in France who spoke on BBC who certainly would not be on a vastly different page than Macron) have repeatedly said they’d like to avoid a crash out but they can’t stop the UK from doing this to itself, and they are prepared to handle the fallout. As we pointed out critically in the post, EU multinationals are backing EU leaders and telling the UK to get its act together.

      A transition deal needs only to be approved by a qualified majority. France + Germany alone gets you a long way there. Italy and its buddies don’t have the votes.

      Barnier is the key actor, not Juncker. Despite some views (of which I was very skeptical but didn’t say so because they didn’t make sense to me save they represented yet more unrealistic UK thinking)( that Barnier would be moved aside and the national leaders would take over the negotiations, EU leaders have reaffirmed their intent to have him in charge:

      The article claims that the EU instructions to Barnier, which have not been changed since the end of April 2017, may be modified to allow/encourage him to be more flexible. That is not much of a change given what we wrote in the post. The EU can’t/won’t change its stance on Ireland enough to make a difference and Checquers is unworkable.

      The FT also has too often run stories from “EU diplomats” on positive developments for May supposedly in the offing that never come to pass, so I would put this item as also at risk of being in that category.

      I could also see the EU making only trivial/cosmetic changes in its marching orders to Barnier but having their press apparatus present them as more serious to give a “no cost to them” sop to Theresa May. Barnier himself periodically makes moves that the UK press takes to be throwing a bone to the UK that have close to zero substance to them or are even mere talk. Barnier and perhaps also the rest of the EU do seem to want to do what they can to counter the Government/media baron narrative that the EU is being abusive and unreasonable.

      1. Fazal Majid

        Barnier is far more sympathetic to the British than they give him credit for, but he is in a straightjacket imposed by his real bosses in the Council of Ministers. If the rules change, it will be at his urging, not the other way around. Unfortunately the Brits have not made any reasonable proposals that he can take back to the Council to plead for flexibility on.

        AFAIK even the Canadian option the British claim to reject is better than a crash-out Brexit. It should satisfy Brexiteers other than the vulture fringe with short positions on Sterling and gilts, after all no one has ever claimed Canada is not a sovereign nation independent from the EU. Obviously the British are angling for a better deal, and given their proximity and historical ties, that’s not an unreasonable request, but that’s not the negotiation they are engaging in. I could see a last-minute compromise being a straight copy-replace of UK for Canada in CETA, valid for a period of 5 years to negotiate a comprehensive FTA. Still massively disruptive, but nowhere near as bad as a no-deal.

        1. disillusionized

          Even to the degree this is possible (it isn’t) – this doesn’t solve the Irish border conundrum.
          And from my understanding of the politics of this is that Ireland won’t ever back down (they shot the last PM to agree to a border in Ireland).
          The EU won’t stop backing Ireland, because frankly they are committed to it by this point, Germany thinks of an internal Irish border as their internal border, so they are not going to budge, but worse, a clear majority of the EU members are ‘Irelands’.
          They are all committed to preserving the principle that the EU bats for the small members, as that’s part of their reasoning for joining, Germany and France (and the other bigs) gets to pretend they are in charge of a superpower, while the minnows are backed by the superpower – Of course most of them thought the one they needed protection from was Russia, not the UK, but point stands.

          1. Ruby Furigana

            And from my understanding of the politics of this is that Ireland won’t ever back down (they shot the last PM to agree to a border in Ireland).

            Can you elaborate on this?

            1. disillusionized

              Michael Collins was shot for his failure to negotiate an end to the Irish war for independence that meant a united irish Republic and an end to uk occupation.
              They were the unicorn people of Ireland, as that was plainly impossible to negotiate.

              1. SOMK

                Ah come on now. Northern Ireland was low down the list of treaty grievances, even if the British were of a mind to grant the entire island, there had been a rebellion in all but name by the army who refused to disarm the ulster volunteers in 1913 (a decade earlier) when home rule was in the offing, so it’s questionable if it could have been enforced at all. At the time there was some faith that the border commission would come good, the failure to acquire full independence in negotionation was the main sticking point. To say Collins was shot over Northern Ireland is reaching at best.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          No, having worked on lots of negotiations, I see this differently.

          I agree that there were a couple of times Barnier got out over his skis in advocating some ideas that his EU principals slapped down. But that does not make Barnier sympathetic to the UK. He’s also taken the unusual step of taking a not much coded pot shot at May more than once.

          Negotiators who are tasked to get a deal done want to get it done. What often happens, when negotiations get rolling and a deal looks possible, is negotiators wind up shifting their loyalties away from their principals and to the deal, and to a degree, conspire with their counterparty against their principal. This is necessary since most principals aren’t realistic, and need to be beaten up a bit for their own good. As one dealmaker put it, “In a good deal, everyone is a bit unhappy.”

          You are mistaking Barnier’s posture (his preference for concluding a pact) as sympathy for the UK, when the UK has been grossly incompetent and rude, as in extremely hard to get along with. This has nothing to do with Barnier’s sentiments towards the UK. However, Barnier recognizes and has said the EU has red lines, the most important being, “No four freedoms, no Single Market”. This is not a matter of the EU being arbitrary. As EU leaders have stated repeatedly, any deal with the EU has to be within the parameters of existing arrangements. If the EU were to give a better arrangement to the UK, under WTO rules, other countries could demand that too. So there really isn’t much wriggle room on the EU side.

          1. c_heale

            I agree totally, and would like to add, that Barnier’s forbearance with the UK has not been reciprocated by any of the UK’s negotiators. IMO the key factor in the defacto breakdown of talks was the UK going back on it’s word after signing the backstop agreement.

          2. Fazal Majid

            There’s a difference between being sympathetic to the UK and being sympathetic to its staggeringly incompetent and obnoxious government.

    2. makedoanmend

      Ireland is not leaving the EU.

      It’s fantasy stuff. Crash out Brexit is the bastard child of the Tory party and no one else wants their offspring.

    3. M Quinlan

      Irexit is a non starter no matter how hard a Brexit we have. From my conversations, and reading of the general mood, blame for this mess is allotted to the British and more particularity the English by the vast majority of my acquaintances.
      What domestic political fall out there is will fall, due to a perceived lack of preparedness, on the current government. The opposition is laying the ground work for this, cynically in my opinion because much as I dislike Fine Gael they have been handed a poisoned chalice.
      The prosperity and social change that has occurred in my life time is attributed to membership of the EU while British rule is not fondly remember.
      Fintan O’Toole summed this up well in February.
      And to top it all off we have the Euro, so the only way to do Irexit would be to rejoin the UK, see Yves cutting analysis of the Greek return to the Drachma to see why. Never going to happen, the streets would literally flow with blood first.

  3. Ataraxite

    A few things that I’ve noticed regarding Brexit in the last few weeks:

    A sense of optimistic unreality about a No Deal. The Ultras have held for months that a No Deal Brexit would not only not be a disaster, but actually provide opportunities for growth. This is, of course, laughed at by any sensible person. But I’ve noticed a change in tone lately from the non-insane parts of the British body politic: No Deal is being presented in a lot of quarters – the official “Preparation Notices”, even the Guardian as something which will bring minor inconveniences (e.g. “You may need a IDP to drive in Europe”) but hardly catastrophic. I’d even go so far as to say a consensus is forming about this, despite the explicit warning of major manufacturers.

    No sign of a “drop dead” date. At some point, the EU (if not the UK) will have to switch from “preparing for a deal” to “preparing for no deal”, and that point is likely a few months before March 29, 2019. Again, there seems to be a sense that – like in the Greek crisis – negotiations can be pushed right to the last minute if need be, and even the mooted November council has little sense of a hard deadline. It’s going to be up to the EU to draw a line under the negotiations, but I don’t see any of the dynamics to indicate when this might happen, or even what its criteria might be.

    The whole thing is strange to me, I see very little sense of urgency on either side, despite the fact we are self-evidently very close to the end game.

    1. c_heale

      From my experience of visiting family and friends in the UK recently, the thing that stood out was none of them talked about Brexit. I think a no deal is almost certain now. There will be a lot of anger when it happens though.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t add much to this, this is pretty much the state of play. The Ultras are in obvious disarray, even the right wing press are mocking them, but they still have enough votes to block a deal and they seem convinced a no deal exit would be worth it. The concessions offered by Europe seem entirely cosmetic and intended to help May.

    Here in Ireland the private sector is now openly talking about a severe downturn next year due entirely to Brexit, despite very healthy growth so far. The banks are still lending for construction – a number of big construction projects have broken ground in the last few months in my part of the city, but it may be that they are looking at longer timeframes. The government is desperately trying to engineer an early election before the storm but the opposition are not playing ball.

    1. larry

      PK, re “The government is desperately trying to engineer an early election before the storm but the opposition are not playing ball”, I thought it was the other way around. Could you elaborate?

      1. kolyn phlabyn

        The ruling party Fine Gael have a confidence & supply agreement with the largest opposition Fianna Fail. The prime minister- Leo Veradkar, is quite popular and his party is streets ahead in the polls. The latest were along the lines of 33% FG to 23% FF . The public don’t want an election so Leo is finding it hard to capitalize on his high poll ratings. There’s a lot of public anger building regarding a housing emergency, women’s health scandals, police corruption, Northern Ireland the opposition know if they keep FG in power they can slowly erode FG support levels before withdrawing their support and forcing an election at an opportune moment. It’s believed that whichever of FG or FF trigger the election will be punished by the electorate (this is speculation,no polling I know evidences that view)

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Fine Gael are very strong in the polls now for a mid-term government and Varadkar still has the new-leader bounce. There is virtual unanimity within FG that an election before the NY is the best chance they’ll get to kill off any chance of a FF revival. But they also know that the Irish electorate hate unnecessary elections and will punish a party that is seen as opportunist, so they need an ‘excuse’. So they either want an Independent to flounce out of government, or better yet, FF to pull the informal arrangement not to vote them down. Unfortunately for them, the Independents and FF can see this coming so are doing their best to not be provoked.

  5. liam

    Unfortunately, I think you’re correct. It genuinely seems that they don’t realise they live in la la land. From this mornings Irish Times.

    The Conservatives may be committed to what May likes to call “our special union” but the unresolved issue of the Border serves another purpose in the negotiations. It remains a strong argument against the Canada-style free trade agreement favoured by the Brexiteers and could serve as a lever to persuade the EU to bend their rules on the single market and customs union to Britain’s advantage.

    British ministers believe that if Dublin doesn’t blink when confronted with the cost of a no-deal Brexit to Ireland, the other EU member states may agree to move final resolution of the Border issue from the withdrawal agreement into the negotiation of the future relationship. If it is still unresolved after Britain leaves the EU next March, the Border could become more useful still to Britain as it negotiates the terms of its future trading relationship with Europe.

    The idea of “la perfide Albion” is deeply engrained in the European political consciousness, summed up brutally by Charles de Gaulle in his memoirs:

    “Pour l’Angleterre … il n’y a pas d’alliance qui tienne, ni de traité qui vaille, ni le vérité qui compte.” (For England, there is no alliance that holds, no treaty which is respected, no truth which matters.)

    1. MichaelSF

      “Pour l’Angleterre … il n’y a pas d’alliance qui tienne, ni de traité qui vaille, ni le vérité qui compte.” (For England, there is no alliance that holds, no treaty which is respected, no truth which matters.)

      That seems like something that carried through as a policy of governance to the former English colony, the USA.

      1. jsn

        De Gaulle was coming to terms with a rotting empire which was no longer “agreement capable”.

        plu ca change…

        1. JTMcPhee

          Let us not apotheosize the French. Not exactly a stellar exemplar of Right Conduct, then or now. But the language does promote the notion both of “le bon mot,” and “le mot juste,” though that’s not enough in my book to forgive many original and mortal sins of omission and commission.

      2. c_heale

        I think this is just the way empires work, the UK isn’t a special case (but I would say that, I’m British!)

    2. Synoia

      “Pour l’Angleterre … il n’y a pas d’alliance qui tienne, ni de traité qui vaille, ni le vérité qui compte.”

      More literally

      For England…there is no alliance held, no treaty valued, no truth counts.

      Subjectively, the French original was harsher than your version of the translation. De Gaulle was more than firm, even harsh, in his opinions of l’Angleterre.

      The same is the view of France from the UK. Personally I believe the difference in the question/answer process in the two countries, Cartesian in France, I experienced as a very wide cultural gap. My personal experience is getting residency in the Waloon part Belgium was a very interesting exercise in the differences in the cultures.

      1. Bugs Bunny

        This is a very astute comment – I would add that in France, a scholarly assumption in practice can replace facts and therefore become essential elements in your Cartesian “synthèse” describing a solution to a literal problem.

        In Britain, bare facts prevail.

        I’m somewhat convinced that Brexit was a correct decision based on facts – though I would have had a hard time with the vote because of an emotional connection with the idea of the “EU”.

    3. makedoanmend

      I believe Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was somewhat or largely opposed to the peace process, as it was eventually constituted, on the basis of de Gaulle’s observations.

      It may prove very unfortunately germane these days with regard to the Good Friday Agreement.

    4. RBHoughton

      Harking back to those times, Pitt and Grenville’s response today would be to ‘sell’ the lorry fleet to the Low Countries and smuggle our production through the rivers of N W Europe. That might have to be on the cheap but better than nothing.

      PS – You are not neglecting Brexit Yves – indeed, thank Heavens, you are one of few reliable source on the subject. This reader is bowing in your direction as the only antidote I know to avoid the absurdities of the London Editors. I imagine many others feel the same.

  6. JATW139

    As a VAT registered business based in Britain, I received a letter from HM Customs and Excise today headed Changes to the way you trade with the EU.

    It starts, UK will leave the Customs Union on 29 March 2019. It goes on to say
    “The UK government has reached agreement with the EU on the vast majority of withdrawl issues, including the terms of the implementation period.”
    The rest is about securing a future partnership with EU blah blah based on the recent White Paper which sets this out in detail.
    Then goes on to say
    However, in the unlikely outcome of leaving without a deal blah blah government is preparing for all scenarios blah blah.
    They must have sent out hundreds of thousands of this letter.
    Who are they kidding?

    1. Epistrophy

      I would have thought VAT agreements would probably be one of the easier issues to settle, at least initially. This, under current EU regulations, already varies on a member by member basis, I believe.

      Customs duties will probably be handled as ‘crisis management’ to coin a phrase from David’s post below.

      There are a lot of other issues that are going to be even more difficult; like how to tax profits from EU subsidiary companies, for example.

  7. David

    I’ve been saying for a while, and will repeat, that we are now beyond the point where there can be any meaningful “negotiations”, because the UK side is incapable structurally of putting together a realistic negotiating position. This has really been the case since the early summer. We are therefore beyond negotiation and into crisis management, with an awkward and interlinked combination of four crises at different levels; One is the internal crisis in the Tory Party, the second is the crisis of the UK political system, the third is the criss between the UK and Europe and the last is the (so-far largely dormant) crisis within the EU itself. All of these interact in different ways. There is no “negotiated” solution to any of these problems around an agreed text, only a political one around an agreed way out of parts, at least, of the mess. The, the derision heaped on the ultras is good news, not because it makes negotiations more likely, but because it sharpens the political crisis and makes it more obvious.

    1. vlade

      I’d argue this was the case before the referendum. North says it was on purpose, since it was the only way how all the brexit camps could be made to vote one way, and win the vote.

    2. Pavel

      Excellent summary. I have started following Brexit obsessively the last few weeks (coinciding with some work downtime). Within the UK it seems to be boiling down (as others have noted) “Chequers or No Deal”. The mere fact that No Deal is being seriously contemplated should be cause for extreme alarm. Rees-Mogg and the other “Ultras” will call for a Tory civil war if Chequers is put up to a vote. I really can’t see how May survives all this — either there will be a Tory leadership contest (possible), general election (unlikely, I think, as the Tories are scared of a Corbyn victory), or a No Deal crash-out leading to general UK chaos (increasingly likely).

      It would all be cause for amusement for anyone without stakes in the UK, EU, or global economy…

  8. larry

    I would like to see your analysis of the financial vs real economy crash-out scenario. One of Carney’s forecasts is that house prices would fall 35%. I am not familiar with the London/SE housing situation, so it could come to pass there, but with respect to the North, the comment seems to be on the hyperbolic end of the spectrum. Carney has neoliberal leanings, just like the Treasury (and, consequently, Hammond).

    1. vlade

      House prices are really a finger-in-the-air speculation, as they are a secondary effect (depend on rates, employement, foreign buyers etc).

      TBH, it all very much depends on how it will play out. That a crash-out happens will be obvious earlier than March 29., not just on the day. That means sterling will start tanking earlier, question is how much. I believe UK companies are already finding that they are getting fewer orders from EU, and that will drop off.

      When a crash-out happens, then the question is how long will the chaos last. It’s entirely possible that the UK carmaker operations just close on March 30, not to be opened. But if it looks like it would be a few day disruption before UK/EU managed to coble something together to avoid the worst, it may be different.

      It’s really unpredictable, and the only thing I’d say right now is to be long sterling vol, as I’d say sterling up and down is likely to continue.

      1. JTMcPhee

        And it would be a short- to medium-term pain, that all those supply-chain-dependent globalized operations get thrashed, and their employees and the knock-on businesses that feed off them. A lot of pain, absolutely, and premature deaths and diseases, for a lot of mopes, while the People Who Always Profit shrug and Carry On…

        But what of the long term results of ending the whole fraud of “globalized markets” and clarifying the BS about the “virtues of market-regulated Free Trade (sic)”? “Autarky” has been turned into one of the Very Bad Words, but something closer to autarky in terms of local self-providing, is that a bad thing really? For the species, for the biosphere, for the long haul? In small ways, it’s already happening, and one of the current trade war effects seems to be to add incentives and urgency to many elements of an increasingly autarkic system. (AutarCHy, on the other hand, is and continues to be an actual Very Bad Word:

        Since it seems to be a given that what the world runs on at the moment, the FIRE right next to the gasoline, being serviced by global war providers, is not something that can “safely” continue… “Fill ‘er up, Jock, and don’t forget to check the oil and wipe the windscreen!”

        1. paul

          I think jm keynes, who was slightly more intelligent than the year zero types, reminded us that in the long term: we are all dead.

          The ultras are all ‘you change, so we don’t have to’.

          They have no interest that does not include self and disregard,with extreme prejudice, those that do not directly serve this.

          They are not the vehicle to transport us from the iniquities you illustrate.

        2. HotFlash

          JT, I too have the thought that Brexit, although ill-conceived and probably ill-intentioned, might be the thing that saves Britain, or at least England, from the post-carbon apocalypse. For instance, Transition has been working hard on developing food, currency, and skills within local networks.

          I think it may work out like Cuba — not what they actually planned, but working out for the best, despite all.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think the problem with property is not an X% drop in values, but, as in Ireland for a few years after the crash, a complete absence of a functioning market. If banks are hit hard by debt defaults and a dropping sterling, then the housing market will become cash only, and foreign buyers will want to wait for a while to see a bottom. So in other words, nobody buying, nobody selling. The potential for a chain reaction of debt defaults seems very high (I believe the BoE is particularly worried about car loads and PCP’s).

      The problem with the housing market in the North of England, is that it is very much in the backwash the boom in the SE. A rise in house prices in places like Leeds may have been much slower than in London, but that doesn’t imply its more sustainable. It might actually be more vulnerable.

  9. Maff

    There seems to be a presupposition here that anyone who wants a hard Brexit is insane. I’d like to separate implementation (handled v. badly, I agree) with destination. The decision should be rooted in a rational optimisation process. I propose a benefit function F with a form something like this

    F = e E + c C + s S + o O

    E for the economic effects (unemployment, GDP etc)
    C for convenience (not standing in the “other nations” line at passport control, risking a shortage of rocket salad etc)
    S for Sovereignty (making ones own laws, controlling ones own borders, making ones own free trade agreements etc)
    O for other.

    The lower case parameters signify our own subjective weighting parameters. These depend on how each of us individually prioritises the corresponding contributions, in turn requiring us to make a personal choice of timescale for the test (1 year, 10 years, 100 years etc)

    It seems that most on this board prefer a relatively small value for s. It is possible to favour a larger value of s while remaining perfectly rational.

    1. vlade

      There are assumptions made in the “sovereignty” which do not hold, because people do not understand how world today (in the business area) is different from the world in 19th century, which is what they (think they do, they don’t, it wasn’t like that even then) understand.

      North calls aspects of that “double coffin lid”, but it’s really much more than that.

      I keep saying that sovreigny can be had only in two ways:
      – depending on how much anyone who’s stronger than you allows you (stronger does not mean necesarilly military)
      – in North-Korean, autarky way (which I doubt is what most people talking about it in the UK want).

      So there’s no objectivity.

    2. ChrisFromGeorgia

      This is a really strong point in my view. Any consent-based society should be free to determine by consensus what they value most and how to weight other values. It seems that since the crisis of ’08 the function weighting for most of Europe and the US is nearly 1.0 for “Economy” and nearly zero for every other term on the right in your proposed function F.

      Prior to the crisis the economy was not the highest value in society. Personal freedom, autonomy and in the US the “pursuit of happiness” were definitely higher values. I am not sure anymore what the consensus is, but I suspect that if our highest value is economic security there are other other values we are implicitly surrendering. At some point if a society over-values or values only one thing then that one thing becomes its’ god. It might be science, or religion, but you get my point.

      In Britain’s case those arguing for a crash-out may indeed be rational. They are going to have to walk the walk when it happens though.

    3. Lambert Strether

      I like the approach but let me play. Consider this term:

      …. c C …

      where C is for Cake, and c is our own subjective weighting parameter.

      But what if there is no Cake?

      Perhaps the benefit function is multiplicative not additive?

      F = e E * c C * s S * o O * c C

      Then if c = 0, F = 0. Complete dysfunction, in other words. And where we are now?

    4. disillusionized

      It may be possible to put a greater Value of S, and be rational yes.
      The problem is just that since the EU is the local regional hegemon, the reality is that brexit won’t deliver any more sovereignty, that’s why it’s irrational.
      the UK is going to be the EU’s Canada –

  10. Tom Stone

    “It’s contained”.

    Really, nothing to worry about for anyone not in the UK.

    Trust me, Suzanne researched it.

  11. rtah100

    The single market in services has largely been stillborn compared to the single market in goods. It is supposed to enable UK architects or doctors to work in Italy, for example, based on mutual recognition of qualifications. In practice, national barriers remain intact.

    The single market has no impact, good or bad, on Siemens ability to sell a hardware product with, for example, an asset condition monitoring service. This is obvious, Siemens sells the same packages in 3rd countries like US and China, as does GE from the US etc.

    The single market also does not prevent or help existing UK service exports, e.g. Legal advice, banking etc.

    There are specific regulatory regimes for financial and transport services but these have to interact with multinational treaties (ICAO) and nothing prevents UK traders operating from EU subsidiaries.

    The single market in goods offers real benefits at the price of antidemocratic customs policy making. This hue and cry over services, in contrast, seems to be project fear again.

    1. vlade

      Single market has severe, and non-trivial implications for financial institutions outside EU trying to do business in the EU. If you are not aware of those, I have to suspect other parts of your commentary too.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        To your point, software support agreements are an integral part of most enterprise software sales. Similarly, as we know, autos, trucks, and agricultural equipment are full of telematics which tie them way more strongly to the manufacturer. They won’t sell them cross border if they can’t enforce the software agreements related to the hardware.

  12. Other JL

    I have one major question about a crash out brexit: what will the EU actually do about the Irish border? It will take physical infrastructure to manage trade and passport control across a post-crash out border, and that doesn’t build itself overnight. At some point the EU will need to put shovels in the ground. I know ports on the continent have been gearing up, but I haven’t seen anything about building in Ireland.
    Anyone have any insight here?

    1. d

      I suppose they will start on that when its obvious the crash is going to happen. course they could some of the work now so that preliminary work is done and construction can start immediately. course they may have done that already, they just didnt make it public

      1. Fazal Majid

        If the Good Friday Agreement is rendered null and void by a no-deal Brexit, then presumably Éire’s historic claim to Northern Ireland would resume. The border would then become disputed.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      From the point of view of trade, the most important border is not on the border, but at factory gates. Plenty of goods will move across the border, and then be rejected at their destinations (especially food processing plants), because its not EU compliant.

      The Irish government will be very slow about actual physical barriers. There is talk of ‘borrowing’ customs officers from France, but in reality the main focus will be on industry to ensure there are no issues with products failing EU compliance regulations. There will have to be checkpoints originally on the dozen or so major road crossings – I think it will take time to roll out the numerous smaller roads, but I don’t see them as being an immediate priority as nobody will be too worried (at first) about things like smuggling things to avoid VAT, etc.

      In reality, in the event of a no-deal, there will probably be very little cross border traffic simply because of the uncertainty, nobody will want to make unnecessary crossings.

      There is a lot of activity in developing direct Ireland to Europe sea crossings, as at present most trade goes via Wales and Britain, this is likely to be the most disruptive element.

      1. Other JL

        Thanks PK. It’s possible nobody will be too worried about smuggling at first, but IMHO that just gives the smugglers more incentive to work quickly.

        I agree the factory gates will be a significant barrier, and also that nobody will want to send a shipment if they’re not confident it’ll be accepted. Somewhat perversely I think that’s a strong reason to focus on smuggling and illegal activities first: law abiding businesses won’t take a risk regardless so the first movers are likely to be already operating in a gray area if not the wrong side of the law.

  13. dunning kroger

    The EU is still doomed though so does it even matter how you get out ? If you are first out then you might have time to get your shit together before the other shoe drops. Swoop in from a position of relative strength and form some sort of new group with yourself at a central position.

    EU is unsustainable . Remaining at this point is just dumb

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is an ideological handwave with not much foundation behind it.

      People also keep predicting the reserve currency status of the dollar as doomed. That may be true but not on a time horizon that will make a practical difference.

      The Eurozone is not breaking up due to the bank IT issues we’ve flagged. It is practically not possible to launch a new currency in less than 5 years, and that assumes cooperation from tons of parties outside the control of any national government. Announcing a plan to leave would crash the country in question by producing massive capital flight to avoid forced redenomination into a currency certain to be worth less.

      Being in the EU without being in the Eurozone confers lots of advantages, the big one being access to the famed Single Market. The UK is still going to have to accept EU rules to trade with the EU and have much worse terms (border controls) plus no influence over the rules. Tell me how this makes anything better?

      And the UK believes just as much in balanced budgets and austerity, which is the feature of the EU that is leading to all sorts of stresses. So the UK will continue to inflict that bad medicine on itself, EU or no.

  14. Northern Umbrella

    I think Yves and everyone commenting here is underestimating the chance of a second referendum.

    Theresa May is now pinning her hopes on the crappy “blind Brexit” deal, and selling this as a better bet than the armageddon of “crash out Brexit”.

    But in fact there is no majority in the British parliament for any of the Brexit options, so it seems to me possible that, deadlocked and staring down the barrel of crashing out on 29 March 2019, MPs will throw up their hands and say, “So complicated! People of Britain, you decide!”

    The Trades Union Congress has had its annual conference this week and the General Secretary Frances O’Grady made a very straightforward and relatable statement that any trades union takes a deal struck with an employer to its members for ratification, so the same should apply to the Brexit deal.

    The Labour Party annual conference starts on 22 Sept in Liverpool. The young Corbynistas (Momentum) and now the unions are agitating for a second referendum as Labour policy then Corbyn will move and they will get it. The unions still wield clout in the mainstream party. Winning a vote in parliament to have it will then be fairly easy, there just need to be more Tory rebels than Labour rebels against the party whip. Given the state of the Tory party, easy to do.

    Then it’s going to Europe and saying, please can you delay Brexit day so we can have a referendum? If they say yes, then it’s on. If they say no, then the Bill to introduce the referendum would itself repeal all the regulations etc that require a 6-9 month period prior to a referendum.

    The messaging now is a clever one: Imagine there was a button to press to stop this madness:

    1. Synoia

      If Labor was for a second referendum, than the Tory party would move heaven and earth to prevent it.

      Which is not difficult. All they have to do is stay in power, crash out and hold an election. Leaving who to win the election and be rewarded with the blame for the crash out?

      Assuming Yves and others are correct, the party in power for more than few months after crash out will be become the wounded opposition party for years.

      This however helps the average Briton in no manner at all.

      As to the Irish border, there is a English joke:

      Whenever the English get close to being able to answer the “Irish Question,” the Irish change the question.

      1. Mark Pontin

        If Labor was for a second referendum, than the Tory party would move heaven and earth to prevent it.

        Not necessarily so.

        FWIW, inside word is that May and her camp currently have a cunning plan to go to the country in January or shortly after and propose a second referendum. It will be run on the basis of ‘this cock-up is the best we can do in the way of Brexit so do you proles –’ yes, this phrase was used in the account I got – ’still want to go ahead with it?’

        The proles may get a ranked set of options in this potential second referendum. These options, from most favored (by the May government and the U.K. elites; remember May was never really a Brexiteer) to least favored will be: –

        [1] No Brexit. Call the whole thing off.

        [2] EEA/EFTA or some strain of the ‘Norway option’.

        [3] Hard Brexit.

        Where does this scuttlebutt come from? A member of my family went to Oxford with Gove, David Cameron’s secretary, etcetera, and is friends w. many of those currently in the Tory upper echelons. In August, while back in the UK (like myself, he lives in the US), he went to dinner with Gove and others. This is what they told him.

        Of course, if this is the May government’s plan, it’s a cunning plan from the same geniuses who thought, forex, that Cameron was going to beat the rise of UKIP by holding the original Brexit referendum and that Teresa May would give herself a free hand to run Brexit by holding a general election that would give her clear superiority over Corbyn’s Labour.

        In other words, when have these people ever got anything right before now?

        Particularly, IMO, they underestimate the proles’ deep class-warfare-based consciousness and the bloody-mindedness of much of British society outside London, especially after years of Thatcherian neoliberalism.

        1. Tony Wright

          The sheer incompetence of Brexit planning and negotiations – and I use that term very loosely here – throughout the “process” thus far supports the idea that Brexit is being subverted by the Government as suggested above.
          The opposition to Brexit on the part of the Finance sector and those who work within it (as evidenced by the largely pro Remain vote in London in 2016) further supports this suggestion.
          And remember your Yes Minister – “does anything important happen north of London?” . The reference above to “proles” suggests such attitudes are alive and well amongst the elites.

        2. Anonymous2

          Interesting. It would be nice if this is what happens. Sadly, in my experience British politicians are capable of lying in private as well as public so I would not put too much trust in this.
          Ivan Rogers gave a speech recently in Dublin (available on Richard North’s site) in which he says the UK faces its worst crisis since 1945. I am afraid I think rather similarly.
          One aspect which may be changing is the position of the Daily Mail. The editor is changing, with the passionately anti-EU Dacre being replaced by the much more Europhile Geordie Grieg. I do not read it but hear it is supporting the Chequers plan. That plan is of course dead but if this is an indication the Mail will support May rather than the ultras, this is not without significance.
          FWIW, I think she will be offered a deal by the EU that is essentially: accept the Irish backstop in return for a political agreement that there will be a trade deal negotiated that will mean this is never needed (the FT Brussels correspondent said this will be the offer at a meeting I attended a few days ago). It will then be up to May, unless she actually wants to crash out, to try to sell it in the UK. If she cannot get the support in the Commons, I think she could call a ‘back me or sack me’ election either late this year or early next.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I think thats a credible scenario. While no ‘deal’ seems possible now, I do think that if and when things start getting serious both sides will be keen on some sort of postponement of the final date, as nobody is really prepared for the consequences. I think for this to happen May will have to find some way around the Ireland border backstop.

            RTE was floating an odd story a few weeks ago suggesting that the EU could ‘compromise’, in a way that looked to me like offering an Irish Sea border that simply isn’t called an Irish Sea border (in other words, simply a semantic fudge). May would then have to face down the DUP and the ultras to push this through. But I think with the arithmetic this is doable if the Lib Dems and others refuse to bring down the government. The problem is that May has been inept at greasing the skids for the inevitable climbdowns and compromises she will need to implement.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      We have discussed before that a second referendum will make no difference. It cannot be concluded under the existing rules before the Brexit crash out date. The Ultras are sure to challenge any attempt to short cut referendum requirements, and their odds of prevailing in court ought to be high.

      1. Northern Umbrella

        Yves, it has been discussed on here before, but the argument has never IMHO been firmly settled in favour of your opinion.

        Firstly, if the British Government substantially changes its policy, a lot of European leaders have said that they may extend the Article 50 deadline day of 29 March 2019.

        If that postponement is not available, the Act of Parliament that sets up the second referendum could contain in it clauses that amend the existing rules on referenda. The process could be held up by court action, but I see no chance of any case prevailing in court against clear statute. Not having a fixed constitution has its advantages, sometimes.

        Although the second referendum option is not perfect, it is one million times easier for everybody than any form of Brexit, including catastrophic crash-out Brexit, so I think it is perfectly plausible that legislators and administrators will reach for it.

        1. Clive

          Statutory changes require, stating the obvious, parliamentary approval. Legislation which, in effect, gutted the Electoral Commission, would not have any kind of path through either the Commons or the Lords. And the courts can — and do — strike down unlawful legislation (the Supreme Court decision on Employment Tribunal fees contains a good overview of how this works in a real-world example — “Judicial Reviews” have wide ranging powers to overturn unlawful legislation).

          Clutching at straws isn’t a strategy. I do wish so many in the media would cease and disist from regurgitation of this nonsense. It just encourages wrong thinking.

          1. Clive

            And, for a special bonus, here’s the pertinent section from the judgement:

            At the heart of the concept of the rule of law is the idea that society is governed by law. Parliament exists primarily in order to make laws for society in this country. Democratic procedures exist primarily in order to ensure that the Parliament which makes those laws includes Members of Parliament who are chosen by the people of this country and are accountable to them. Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law

            Parliament cannot, in other words, just make shit up.

            1. Northern Umbrella

              Clive, what are you actually saying? That it runs contrary to the concept of the rule of law that there should be a ratification referendum? That, in the unlikely event that the EU27 didn’t give an extension to the Article 50 deadline for referendum to be held, that Parliament could not see fit – in circumstances of real & present danger to the nation – to amend the regulations surrounding the notice periods for holding an advisory referendum?

              A snap general election can be held at 6 weeks’ notice, or a time period similarly short – one certainly was in 2017. Amending the notice period for an advisory referendum could scarcely be described as “gutting the Electoral Commission”. They serve the nation as does everybody else.

              You say “clutching at straws is not a strategy”. There are no good options in the situation UK has put itself in. But revoking the Article 50 notification is by a long chalk the least worst option. A second advisory referendum to cancel out the first advisory referendum ain’t perfect, but it’s the best and most democratic way forward in the circumstances. I don’t believe it is a straw, I think it’s a good strong branch that we can grab hold of whilst circling the Yves’s drain and avoid UK being swept down it.

              You talk about “ceasing and desisting this nonsense”. That’s OTT, and offensive given the reasonable tone of my original comment. You talk about resisting wrong thinking. So what I ask is – what is your strategy? What is your version of “right thinking”?

              1. Clive

                You proposed circumventing the Electoral Commission’s rules on referenda. This was implicitly justified on the basis that you don’t think Brexit should go ahead so the rule of law should be watered down in response. It was, essentially, an ends-justifying-the-means argument.

                The rules around referenda are derived from UN Human Rights treaty obligations and strict rules on how a campaign should be run plus referenda question composition which aren’t things which can be tossed aside just because they are a bit of an inconvenience.

                Frankly, your willingness to have the U.K. government act like some banana republic and have a “snap” referendum that not only refused to adhere to the lawful procedures for holding one but also swept away the whole Electoral Commission’s statutory powers to regulate democracy is dumb.
                Nothing better than the infamous US commander explaining why they’d razed a Vietnamese village to the ground because they had to do that to “save it”.

                As is a fair few hardened Remainers’ lack of self-awareness which leads them to suggest damn-the-consequences countermeasures like yours. It’s completely counterproductive. One of the biggest impediments to the Remain cause is the Remainers themselves. Like the crazy guy who gets in shot of the cameras every time there’s a TV crew interviewing people in Parliament Square wrapped in the EU flag with hand-scrawled signs and a megaphone shouting ‘Stop Brexit!’, it just makes you look like a bunch of cranks.

                However heartfelt your views, it ends up being a death-knell to credibility. You can’t afford to throw that away.

                1. Northern Umbrella

                  My post noted that a range of European leaders have said that they will make the necessary time should the British government make a big change in policy – eg a referendum to authorise revoking Article 50. I then outlined a backstop position in case of need – dire need. This is supposedly a death-knell to credibility.

                  Your other ad hominem stuff I will ignore, but please don’t make them, you don’t know me.

                  >>>So what I ask is – what is your strategy? What is your version of “right thinking”?

                  What is your version of the least worst option? We stop struggling and go down Yves’s drain?

                2. Northern Umbrella

                  I have had a look at the three lengthy documents that you linked to. In the first two, unless I have missed it, not a single word that would prevent a timescale such as referendum being announced in December, held in February or March.
                  In the third, a useful reference to the actual British legislation, the Political Parties, Elections and Referenda Act 2000.
                  The relevant sections appear to be s101-104. It’s not clear to me that these would even need to be amended. The Act places requirements in the Electoral Commission, but nowhere says these cannot be expedited. In 2016, the Electoral Commission wrote a good report. I suggest it could produce another one just like it in a month, including the time to market test the question wording.
                  Three months (say) is not prima facie an unreasonable timescale for holding an advisory referendum. In fact, many would say that in the circumstances, dragging it out for longer would be the unreasonable thing to do. So, in your own words, be careful about throwing your credibility away.

                  1. Clive

                    You clearly did not read the documents.

                    Both the Electoral Commission and the local campaign overseers have a duty to consult. That’s a month or so, just there. Then the Electoral Commission has to define the question in the referendum, a process which took four months the last time, but at least three months, best case, because any “quickie” question definition will simply be challenged by Leave in the courts”. A month is best-best case for uncontroversial questions. This isn’t going to be one of those. Then you have to have a campaign, a minimum of six weeks.

                    None of this can happen in the absence of Parliamentary authorisation through a passed referendum bill. Primary legislation takes a bare minimum of 8 weeks to clear both houses and get Royal Assent. I’m up to six months, minimum, just on that little lot — that takes us to mid-March at the very earliest. Which is why you originally proposed railroading the Electoral Commission (which you’re now apparently backtracking on) — that would be the only way any executive action would be able to “announce” a referendum then “expedite” the holding of the vote.

                    It is a bitter irony that Miller v. the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU forced the issue and set the limits of what was possible for executive action — if Remain hadn’t advanced that case, it would possibly still be get-away’able-with that executive action alone could rescind the A50 trigger. Now, it’ll need a full vote in Parliament. But regardless, Parliament is sovereign and doesn’t need a referendum to rescind A50. It can simply vote for it. It won’t because there isn’t the numbers to pass the vote. Hence your having to fall back on referendum hoodwinking.

                    I’ve explained the importance of the Rule of Law to you. I’ve provided case law on how the Supreme Court currently interprets that vis-à-vis the limits of executive action. I’ve provided the statutory guidelines from the EHRC and the Electoral Commission in the area of elections and specifically the last EU referendum question composition. I’ve documented the timescales of these activities from the most recent occurrences.

                    And all you’ve done is put your fingers in your ears and go “niyah niyah niyah, I can’t hear you” followed by “I want a referendum and I want one now”. I can do nothing more to help with your being tone deaf. If you like, you can follow on with an “If I don’t get my referendum, I’ll scream and scream and scream until I’m sick — and I can!”. But none of this will change the facts or change the law.

                    1. Northern Umbrella

                      “Niyah, niyah, niyah, I can’t hear you”.

                      Because that has so much been the tone of my posts, and not yours. Please give me the page reference for the information you quote in the documents you linked to.

                      And meanwhile, on the subject of not hearing the other person, what is your answer to my polite question, “so what is it you would do?”

            2. vlade

              Sorry Clive, you’re misreading it. The statement above says “Government cannot make shit up”. Parliament can – it’s explicit in your qute “Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced.” vs “That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law

              What you linked to is a dispute in so called secondary legislation, i.e. using statutory powers granted to the executive branch by parliament. Courts can, and will, adjudicate on that, to the extent that it’s in line with the law and not contradicting other laws. UK courts CANNOT strike down a law passed as a primary legislation (i.e. one that was approved by parliament). It has even limited powers when such a law contradicts another law in question, as in clarifying what takes precedence.

              This is the reason why no referendum can be more than advisory, and if Parliament really wanted (unlikey) it can easily bypass the whole Electoral Comission – you actually state that in your lower responses.

              The problem is that Parliament is so split, it will not act in either way. It’s a typical case of “action will be always attributed, inaction can be blamed on circumstances”.

              It was interesting seeing the Observers call for referendum, which recognises that both parties are equally split (and, according to a poll I saw public actually sees Labour as more split than Tories), and none of them will act except in self-interest, but then wants a second referendum which none of them wants/can get (even if they wanted).

              1. Clive

                No, Parliament can’t be prevented by the courts from altering previous laws in any way it likes, but — and this is the crucial and oft overlooked point — you can’t just update or repeal the law you want to change where this treads on provisions made as a result of other laws or (even more importantly) affects certain “inalienable” (fundamental, inviolable) rights such as access to justice or democracy.

                Yes, Parliament could theoretically shred the powers of the Electoral Commission. But those powers are derived from other powers (such as the right to be consulted by a change in legislation and a right to have free and fair votes).

                If I could put it in simpler terms, the amount of shredding Parliament (or the executive — it could certainly try to circumvent Parliament and has done so before) would have to do would extend the shredder’s reach way beyond the legislation granting the Electoral Commission the powers it has been given. Like I mentioned, you’d have to ditch the right to be consulted (a different piece of legislation and the UN Human Rights treaty

                This is why I tried to convince our erstwhile friend above that Parliament cannot simply go and swing a wrecking ball through the Electoral Commission and force it to ram through a second referendum in the absence of following its prescribed procedures. A legal challenge would be inevitable and almost certainly succeeded unless the other legislation from which the Electoral Commission’s powers are derived is also taken out to the woodshed (the right to be consulted and the UN Human Rights treaty, amongst others).

                Never. Going. To. Happen. If it did, we’d end up the worlds worst banana republic.

                The Electoral Commission, the powers it has and the rules it defines were created through legislation as a handy way of implementing the other (you’d probably call it more fundamental) older legislation — where that created obligations with respect to how votes are organised. You can’t merely flick the Electoral Commission out the way if you think it’s a nuisance. Because the Electoral Commission isn’t really the “problem”. The “problem” is all that other pesky fundamental rights protection legislation.

                Even simpler: constitutions aren’t like the Pic ‘n Mix sweet section at a funfair. You want to go pulling on one thread (the Electoral Commission, here) and you have to unravel the whole lot.

                1. vlade

                  Yes, if the parliament ignored all the other existing legislation in taking in the referendum, that would result in court challenge – but that’s the clash of two primary legislation laws where it’s courts’ job (but, it’s important, in absentia of further direction from Parliament) to decide the primacy. Here common law and precendens it built is also considered and likely the EC role would be upheld.

                  That said, the other route, a much more feasible one, would be in the legislation explicitly state that for this one purpose Electoral Comission rules (etc.) do not apply (that is, parliament clearly indicating its intentions in case of any clashes with existing laws). It would require some clever (although possibly quite simple in the end) drafting to be bullet proof, but I believe could be done w/o unravelling it all – as long as it’s done on a one-off basis.

                  1. Clive

                    Parliament could give it a go. But you’d absolutely guarantee to get a legal challenge. This would have to wend its way all the way to the Supreme Court. As with Miller vs. Dept. For Exiting the EU, it would be such a fundamental point of law and with the potential constitutional impacts, all UKSC justices would need to sit and give an opinion.

                    Three months. As the most scanty minimum. That’s after the legislation got Royal Assent. That’s another two months, minimum.

                    Even if it was all found to be legal and constitutional, you’d then have to have the “quickie” referendum. Another 6 weeks for campaigning.

                    But why bother? March 29 would have come and gone long before a single vote was cast.

                    All Leave would have to do was drag out the legislation-making process and drag out the legal challenges. It’d have plenty of potential avenues to do exactly that; we’ve covered these above.

                    Remind me again why this (rubbish about the possibility of a second referendum) is even a thing ?

                    1. vlade

                      Don’t disagree with your last para. The only way how this would flow would be with EU’s blessing (willint to wait), but I have my doubts how well that would go (unless it’s was pretty clear that remain would win, in which case it’d be hard to see why there’s a referendum needed in the first case given most MPs are remain at heart).

                      That said, I disagree with your time estimates – if Parliament wanted, it could push it through much faster (again, it makes its own rules, and no court would argue with parliament passing something too fast especially if there was a conclusive majority). The legal challenge would have to show that there is indeed a non-trivial ambiguity (it can’t challenge the law just because) between various primary legislations (and I can imagine the law saying something like “this act it outside of scope of any previous primary legislation”, in which case the courts could go and whisle – but while this would be bullet proof, it would be also nuclear, as an acceptance of the courts they WOULD have a right to judge on that woudl be a direct challenge to parliament and massive constitutional crisis)

                      But neither of us is a consititutional lawyer, and, more importantly, in the great scheme of things it makes no difference as Parliament is way too split. Even when there was enough time, it wasn’t going to happen, so now, when it would require nuclear powers and massive cross-bench cooperation, the chances are nil.

                2. vlade

                  That said, the reality is that the Parliament does not need the referendum except for (quite) a bit off CYA. It’d grow balls and decide to go one way or another, on an issue like this.

                  1. Clive

                    Oh, I agree with that 100% with knobs on. Parliament could vote to yank A50 tomorrow, if it wanted to.

                    If people want that to happen, that’s where I wish they’d focus their attention, not on second referendum nonsense.

                    When I hear politicians mithering on a second referendum, politicians who aren’t that dumb, some of them at least are not idiots, I can’t help but think they are merely doing some Remain posturing. Being seen to be trying to “do something” without the risk of that something ever going to come about.

              2. PlutoniumKun

                Yes, thats always been my understanding, although the British Constitution has always been something of a mystery to me (which no doubt is why lawyers love it). My understanding is that in theory there is nothing to stop Parliament voting for an immediate referendum at any time they please (subject to House of Lords approval), and the courts cannot interfere in principle. In short, if the Executive and Parliament say up is down, and down is up, then it is indeed so and no court or anyone else can say otherwise.

                The problem of course is, as you say, that the numbers just aren’t there for the sort of extreme guillotine that such a Referendum Act would require. That could only really happen under the most extreme emergency, and with a clear consensus across the two Houses and the executive (and the Queen). That just won’t happen. That doesn’t of course mean that someone in government doesn’t have a cunning plan on these lines – someone here a few days ago suggested that the ‘real’ plan was an emergency vote in January, in the teeth of a crisis – to call the whole thing off. But I wouldn’t trust May and her merry band to organise the proverbial booze up in a brewery, so they can plan all they like.

                And in todays news, the EU is making it clear that May is digging in hard over the Irish Sea issue. This as much as guarantees a no deal.

                Fintan O’Toole had a good take on the stupidity of the DUP yesterday.

                1. vlade

                  DUP are idiots to start with. But then, I’d say all ideological-blinders (whether of left, right or centre persuation) make people into idiots.

      2. David Campbell

        Lord Adonis offers a ray of hope on this podcast (about 40 mins in). He claims that if the British people were offered a referendum before March, on the terms of the withdrawal treaty, theEU Council would, by convention, automatically grant extra time

  15. Jeff N

    FT had a post yesterday where someone in the UK was proposing to allow immigration (and all 4 freedoms?) with indiv EUcountries that struck trade deals with UK. Does the EU even allow a member to cut a trade deal?

    1. makedoanmend

      No. The EU negotiates trades deal for all members of the EU – one for all and all for one.

      The single internal market and doing trade deals as a large bloc to gain favourable terms for all member states are fundamental benefits of being in EU.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The UK has made some noises about doing individual deals with EU countries, which just goes to show yet again that they are flailing desperately. With the possible exception of being able to revive some dormant pre-EU agreements (such as those covering the free flow of people between the UK and Ireland), there is zero possibility of the EU permitting any such agreements. These are all reserved powers of the EU, not individual countries.

  16. rtah100

    I am not claiming financial services providers do not benefit from the single market. What I was trying to say (pecking at a mobile screen, wasn’t up to putting the effort into more words, sorry) is that there is nothing that prevents UK owned financial services providers operating a European subsidiary for market access. Please correct me on this if I have missed something.

    Yes, there are operational costs to capitalising the subsidiary, reporting to Frankfurt, staffing the office with enough people to pass any establishment test, but either the size of single market makes it worthwhile or it doesn’t and if so it’s not much loss.

    Also, bigger picture point, what is good for finanzcapitalismus is not necessarily good for consumers or industry – rolling back the financial services single market into national puddles would, as a side-effect, be a small-is-beautiful solution to TBTF.

    @Yves, I will not be voting for more austerity in the UK and nor I think a majority of the rest of the country. It is quite clearly falling apart, even in true blue Tory shires like Northamptonshire. Like the end of WW2, the end of the 40 years national civil war on Europe will be followed by a Labour government rebuilding society.

    @NorthernUmbrella, If we have a second referendum, we will logically have a third referendum and a fourth and a fifth and so on. The country is divided (and not evenly: the referendum should include the option of each of England / Scotland / Wales, NI leaving the UK to pursue its separate preference and there would be a landslide for that option). Moreover, none of the Remainers on here ever makes an argument for Europe in Europe’s (coded) terms, ever-closer union, fellow feeling, nailing the lid on the coffin of WW2/German expansionism. Instead, it is always a cost-benefit calculation about market access! If Hard Brexit could deliver the numbers, one rather feels they would go “oh, all right then” and give it a whirl. There is no desire to buy what our fellow Europeans are actually selling, which is a anti-democratic “banker’s ramp” of simulated political and monetary union. There is merely a view that we can have our brioche and eat it with the status quo as a half-in, half-out peripheral member. If we have a referendum, it would have to be on the future relationship with the EU if we stay in, given we would have to withdraw the article 50 notice and nobody knows whether we would be entitled to return to this happy status, rather than fully commit. We would have to decide if we have any genuine red-lines, like the German constitutional court does, and whether we like where the European train is headed. I just don’t see a second referendum happening without a real political crisis rather than the phoney war we have now.

    1. c_heale

      The financial sector seems to be remarkably complacent about the prospect of a no deal. I wonder if this European subsidiary plan will work as well is is supposed. The devil is in the detail isn’t it?

  17. PlutoniumKun

    Incidentally, its not been connected with Brexit, but yet another nail in the coffin of a possible agreement over Northern Ireland is May’s decision to appoint a complete idiot as Northern Ireland Secretary. This was greeted with scarcely concealed dismay by the Irish government – an indication that the Conservatives continue to treat all Irish politics (north and south) with contempt. I have little doubt this will harden the commitment of the Irish government to refusing to compromise on the border issues.

  18. disillusionized

    “Another rumor, that the EU would let the UK largely out of the “defining the future relationship” seems dodgy. If you recall early on, many Tories, including some noisy Ultras, were insisting that the UK not agree to the Brexit bill unless it also got an “iron clad” trade agreement along with it.”

    To a degree this is (or would be) a concession from the EU, since they want a destination for the transition, their fear being that the transition drags out in perpetuity otherwise.
    On the other hand it isn’t a big concession, as the terms of the transition is atrocious for the UK, compared to EU membership, but it’s a long term consideration, so can kicking shouldn’t be disregarded.

  19. Schofield

    Hands up those wanting a March Economic Tsunami. You can pretend to support the ERGnomes’ unworkable plan or the Softly Softies unworkable Cheqeurs’s plan. The choice is yours!

  20. Pinhead

    Yves is 100% right on two important points. 1) A non-deal Brexit will be far worse than Mr Carney’s scenario. He almost certainly knows this too but, given his position, how can he say more than he did? 2) The EU is not going to collapse in any remotely foreseeable future. A break-up of the UK is more likely.

    Concretely, Mrs May will or will not negotiate a deal with the EU this year, or later if the deadline is pushed back. It is hard to see how Parliament will approve any such deal, which must mean another election. Failure to achieve a deal would almost certainly lead to an election too. I

    A Brexit-induced election should produce a Tsunami. A huge majority of MPs, most of whom will hold their seats, oppose Brexit. An election will allow them – even force them – to raise their voices. Polls show that Brexit no longer commands a majority of voters. Relatively few Britons will miss Mrs May and even fewer are clamouring for Mr Corbyn to become the Prime Minister.

    A huge political realignment, like the one that happened in France, may be coming in Britain. It only takes a determined leader.

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