Brexit: Knives Out for Theresa May (Again) Over Extending Transition Period

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Theresa May has finally managed to unite the Tories. Sadly, it’s against her latest Brexit fudge-making idea, to extend the transition period to 2021 allow more time to negotiate a trade pact. Another year wouldn’t be enough additional time to achieve a trade agreement unless the UK capitulated to EU terms. And a big motivation for this idea seemed to be to try to kick the Irish border can down the road.

As we’ll get to later in this post, the press has filed more detailed reports on the EU’s reactions to May’s “nothing new” speech at the European Council summit on Wednesday. The reactions seem to be more sober; recall the first takes were relief that nothing bad happened and at least everyone was trying to put their best foot forward. Nerkel also pressed Ireland and the EU to be more flexible over the Irish border question but Marcon took issue with her position. However, they both then went to a outdoor cafe and had beers for two hours.

May’s longer transition scheme vehemently criticized across Tory factions and by the DUP. Even pro-Remain Tories are opposed. The press had a field day. From the Telegraph:

Theresa May was on Thursday evening increasingly isolated over her plan to keep Britain tied to the EU for longer as she was savaged by both wings of her party and left in the cold by EU leaders…

The move enraged Brexiteers who said it would cost billions, and angered members of the Cabinet who said they had not formally agreed the plan before she offered it up as a bargaining chip. Mrs May also faced a potential mutiny from Tory MPs north of the border, including David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, who said the proposal was “unacceptable” because it would delay the UK’s exit from the hated Common Fisheries Policy.

From The Times, Revolt grows over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit talks:

Theresa May is facing the most perilous week of her premiership after infuriating all sections of her party by making further concessions to Brussels. Her offer to extend the transition period after Brexit — made without cabinet approval — enraged Remain and Leave Tory MPs alike.

And Politics Home, DUP reject moves to extend Brexit transition period in fresh blow for Theresa May Politics Home:

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has rejected calls for the post-Brexit transition period to be extended, claiming it would cost the UK billions and not break the Irish border deadlock….

His comments came after Tory MPs on all wings of the party also rejected extending the transition period.

Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: “I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion – people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation.”

Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous.”

Scottish Tories say they would veto an extension to the Brexit transition period in support of their fisherman.

And apparently the European Council didn’t take the extension idea seriously. City AM reported that European Council president Donald Tusk said it wasn’t discussed after May left.

And members of the hard-core Brexit faction are also up in arms about May conceding that an Irish border backstop can’t be time limited. From The Sun:

Theresa May has conceded the Irish backstop cannot have an end date, risking the threat of fresh Cabinet resignations. The PM told Leo Varadkar she accepted Brussels’ demands that any fallback border solution cannot be “time-limited”. …

But a fudge could cost Mrs May two eurosceptic Cabinet ministers, with Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom threatening to resign if there’s not a set end date.

Merkel pushes for more Brussels-Ireland flexibility while Macron disagrees. I am at risk of seeming unduly wedded to my priors, but Merkel’s effort at an intervention came off like a clueless CEO telling subordinates who have been handed a nearly-impossible task that they need to get more creative. While Merkel is correct to point out that no-deal = hard Irish border, an outcome no one wants, she does not appear to comprehend that the “sea border,” which is politically fraught for the UK, is the only alternative that does not create ginormous problems for the EU. Merkel’s seeming lack of comprehension may reflect the fact that EU nations don’t handle trade negotiations. From the Financial Times:

At an EU summit dinner and in later public remarks, the German chancellor expressed concerns about the bloc’s stand-off with the UK over the Irish “backstop”, a fallback measure intended to ensure no hard border divides Ireland if other solutions fail. This has become the biggest outstanding issue in the talks.

Three diplomats said that at the Wednesday night dinner Ms Merkel indicated that the EU and the Republic of Ireland should rethink their approach on Northern Ireland to avoid a fundamental clash with London.

Ms Merkel also signalled her concerns in a press conference on Thursday, highlighting that if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal a hard border for Northern Ireland could be inevitable.

“If you don’t have an agreement you don’t have a satisfactory answer [to the border issue] either,” she said, noting that on Northern Ireland “we all need an answer”….

Diplomats said the German chancellor was more forceful about the issue at the Brexit dinner, although some other leaders remained puzzled about the chancellor’s intentions.

The Financial Times also said that the UK and Germany would meet Thursday to “discuss a way out of the Brexit impasse.” Given that Barnier has offered a lot of new ideas in last month, it is hard to see how anything new could be cooked up, unless the UK hopes to sell Germany on its already-rejected techno vaporware idea.

Macron made clear he was not on the same page. Again from the Financial Times:

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, struck a more uncompromising tone. “It’s not for the EU to make some concessions to deal with a British political issue. I can’t be more clear on this,” he said. “Now the key element for a final deal is on the British side, because the key element is a British political compromise.”

Vardakar also made a statement after the dinner that reaffirmed the importance of the EU affirming the principles of the single market. From The Times:

The European Union would have “huge difficulties” in agreeing to extend the Northern Irish backstop to the rest of the UK, the taoiseach has warned. Leo Varadkar said he did not think “any country or union” would be asked to sign up to an agreement that would give the UK access to the single market while also allowing it to “undercut” the EU across a range of areas including state aid competition, labour laws and environmental standards.

“I would feel very strongly about this, as a European as well as an Irishman: you couldn’t have a situation whereby the UK had access to the single market — which is our market — and at the same time was able to undercut us in terms of standards, whether they were environmental standards, labour laws, or state aid competition. I don’t think any country or any union would be asked to accept that,” Mr Varadkar said in Brussels.

Robert Peston deems odds of crash out high; sees only escape route as “customs union Brexit”. Robert Peston, who is one of the UK’s best connected political reporters, described in a new piece at ITV how May has at best a narrow path to avoiding a disorderly Brexit, and that is what he calls a “customs union” Brexit. I am sure if Richard North saw that, he’d be tearing his hair, since he has been describing for months why a customs union does not solve the problem that virtually everyone who talks in up in UK thinks it solves, namely, conferring “frictionless trade”.

One key point in his analysis is that the UK will also have to accept “a blind Brexit,” meaning a very fuzzy statement of what the “future relationship” will be. The EU had offered that in the last month or so, presumably as a fudge to allow May to get the various wings of her coalition to agree to something. But Peston says it’s too late to do anything else. From ITV:

Hello from Brussels and the EU Council that promised a Brexit breakthrough and delivered nothing.

So on the basis of conversations with well-placed sources, this is how I think the Brexit talks are placed (WARNING: if you are fearful of a no-deal Brexit, or are of a nervous disposition, stop reading now):

1) Forget about having any clue when we leave about the nature and structure of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. The government heads of the EU27 have rejected Chequers. Wholesale. And they regard it as far too late to put in place the building blocks of that future relationship before we leave on 29 March 2019. So any Political Declaration on the future relationship will be waffly, vague and general. It will be what so many MPs detest: a blind Brexit. The PM may say that won’t happen. No one here (except perhaps her own Downing St team) believes her.

Erm, that alone may be a deal killer. We quoted this section of a Politico article on October 10:

5. Future relationship – Blind Brexit

Opposed: Brexiteers, Tory Remainers, the Labour Party, Theresa May

I’ll let our astute readers give their reactions to Peston’s recommendation to May:

3) …There is no chance of the EU abandoning its insistence that there should be a backstop – with no expiry date – of Northern Ireland, but not Great Britain, remaining in the Customs Union and the single market. That would involve the introduction of the commercial border in the Irish Sea that May says must never be drawn.

4) All efforts therefore from the UK are aimed at putting in place other arrangements to make it impossible for that backstop to be introduced.

5) Her ruse for doing this is the creation of another backstop that would involve the whole of the UK staying in something that looks like the customs union.

6) But she feels cannot commit to keeping the UK in the customs union forever, because her Brexiter MPs won’t let her. So it does not work as a backstop. And anyway the Article 50 rules say that the Withdrawal Agreement must not contain provisions for a permanent trading relationship between the whole of the UK and the EU. Which is a hideous Catch 22.

7) There is a solution. She could ignore her Brexiter critics and announce the UK wanted written into the Political Declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – that we would be staying permanently in the customs union. This is one bit of specificity the rest of the EU would allow into the Political Declaration. And it could be nodded at in the Withdrawal Agreement.

8) But if she announces we are staying in the Customs Union she would be crossing her reddest of red lines because she would have to abandon her ambition of negotiating free trade deals with non-EU countries. Liam Fox would be made redundant.

9) She knows, because her Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins has told her, that her best chance – probably her only chance of securing a Brexit deal – is to sign up for the customs union.

10) In its absence, no-deal Brexit is massively in play.

11) But a customs-union Brexit deal would see her Brexiter MPs become incandescent with fury.

12) Labour of course would be on the spot, since its one practical Brexit policy is to stay in the Customs Union.

13) This therefore is May’s Robert Peel moment. She could agree a Customs Union Brexit and get it through Parliament with Labour support – while simultaneously cleaving her own party in two.

Finally, in an elegiac piece, Richard North contends that the UK didn’t need to wind up where it is:

A reader takes me to task for making comparisons between the Brexit negotiations and the Allied invasion of Normandy…

Yet it is precisely because Mrs May seems to have chosen an adversarial route rather than a consensual process that I have projected her failings in militaristic terms..

In reality, it would have been best to approach the Brexit process not so much as the end of a relationship as a redefinition, where the need to continue close cooperation continues, even if it is to be structured on a different basis…

Here, though, lies the essential problem. The EU, as a treaty-based organisation, does not have the flexibility to change its own rules just to suit the needs of one member, and especially one which is seeking to leave the Union. Yet, on the other hand, the UK government has political constraints which prevent it making concessions which would allow the EU to define a new relationship…

But, having put herself in a position where she is demanding something that the EU cannot give, she herself has no alternative but to adopt an adversarial stance – if for no other reason than to show her own political allies and critics that she is doing her best to resolve an impossible situation.

If there is a light at the end of this tunnel, it sure looks like the headlight of an oncoming train, the Brexit end date bearing down on the principals.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t help but wonder whether the proposed time extension was proposed mischievously by EU negotiators precisely to set off divisions among the Tories. While Barniers no.1 aim is a deal, the close to no.2 aim must surely be to ensure that in the event of no deal (or a clearly clapped together bad interim deal), 100% of the blame goes to London. So far, they are doing a good job with that.

    Its a little concerning that Merkel was so off-message, even though she is obviously correct that a no-deal means a hard border, which is a failure by any standard. I’m pretty sure we won’t see any overt disagreements among the EU 27 as they won’t want to give the UK the satisfaction of having sown dissent. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be frantic background pressure from some (probably pushed by business) to do some sort of deal, even a bad one. That will inevitable mean leaning heavily on Dublin, if it is seen as the last obstacle. Any such pressure will be private, not public I’m sure.

    1. vlade

      The damage limitation is there, for sure, but it’s always aimed on rest of the world (i.e. all but the UK, where the EU will be target in any outcome). TBH, I’m not sure how much that’s needed now..

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        I think this is the Prime Minister showing her hand too early at the end game. Ultimately, she has to cave into the EU and dare the DUP and the hard right to crash the economy.

        This was always my sense of what she would do. She knows what happened to Greece in 2015, she knows she would have to fold, it was just a matter of timing. She is doing it too early.

    2. Fazal Majid

      Barnier wants Juncker’s job. He won’t get it if the Brexit negotiations fail, no matter how much blame (justifiably) goes to the British.

  2. Clive

    I wonder if the various negotiating teams are reminded of that nursery rhyme I learned as a child — “and the wheels on the bus go round and round…”.

    As line one of section one of Article 50 explicitly states (and would therefore be given substantial weight in any reading of the Article itself):

    Article 50 – Treaty on European Union (TEU)
    1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

    The U.K. government cannot change the constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland without the agreement of the people of the six counties and the Republic and the rest of the U.K. “Nothing about us, without us” in popular parlance. And Republicans need to give their consent for any change affecting devolved matters (which is enforceable via a Petition of Concern). EU laws and directives are devolved matters. Constitutionally, no one can force anything on anyone in the province.

    What the EU is asking the U.K. to do is impossible.

    What the U.K. is asking the EU to do is impossible.

    A hard border is also impossible, both as an outcome of treaty obligations and also as a practical matter.

    Therefore a no-deal Brexit is inevitable. Therefore, so is a hard border. Which is an impossibility — politically and operationally.

    No wonder this can got kicked down the road last December. But now we have, oh, look, what’s this here? Who left this can lying around?

    1. David

      I’m not sure. I had always read that sentence as meaning “in accordance with its own constitutional requirements for withdrawing from treaties in general” ie much more narrowly focused. Normally, any government has a sovereign right to withdraw from treaties, but it could be the case, for example, that in some countries parliament has to be informed, debates have to be held etc, and that’s the case that’s being covered here. Not to say that my interpretation (if correct) makes the situation any easier.
      I posted a long comment on the French media reporting of Wednesday’s talks yesterday. If I have a moment, I’ll look to see if there’s anything fresh today. One thing to look out for will be signs of tension between Paris and Brussels.

      1. Clive

        I would need a lawyer well versed in international treaty interpretations to give a proper opinion and ultimately a court to rule on this.

        What the wording definitely does not say (we can all read it for ourselves) is anything along the lines of “… may initiate …” or “… may invoke its right to withdraw…” or suchlike followed by the bit about constitutional adherences. Thus the requirements to act constitutionally must likely be expected to apply to Article 50 in their entirety. Apart from any lawyerly parsing, this is also common sense.

        The section says a Member State may withdraw and it has to (this is so stating the obvious the treaty drafting must have had this specifically in mind to mention it) be constitutional about it. The EU cannot ask a Member State to conduct its withdrawal unconstitutionally.

        1. disillusionized

          No, that’s not what it means – what it means is that as far as EU law is concerned, EU law ends there. It’s wholly up to the withdrawing state to define and consider.

          1. Clive

            Yes, and the Member State can’t act unconstitutionally in respect of its own withdrawal proceedings. The EU is reserving the right not to accept any instruction in the matter of a withdrawal from the EU from the said Member State which is unconstitutional for that Member State. Nor can the EU foist unconstitutional acts onto a Member State in respect of the withdrawal. Its a basic principle of any legal system and any law and any jurisprudence that Party A cannot induce Party B to break the law as a result of an agreement between them and for that agreement to then remain valid.

            As a simpler example, I draw up an agreement that says you’ll pay me £100 in a week’s time and you must get the money by whatever means possible. Fast forward a week and you don’t have the £100. I can’t use our agreement as an excuse for you to commit an unlawful act (say, go and steal someone’s wallet) “because we’ve got an agreement you’ll pay me, so that makes it okay no matter what, so long as you give me the money”. Nor can you use your being party to the agreement to say “sorry, I don’t have the money, but you can steal it from my Aunt Flossie, she’s never gonna know you took it”.

            1. David

              I have a suspicion we are (nearly) saying the same thing. See the separate thread below. A country that signs the Lisbon Treaty accepts that any decision to withdraw will have to be taken according to its own constitutional arrangements. This is a national obligation, but I don’t see how the EU could refuse to accept the notification on the basis that it had been unconstitutionally arrived at, or what standing they would have. I’ve never heard of anything similar happening elsewhere.
              To rephrase your example. My partner and I lend you £100 and you say that we can have it back any time we want. I ask for it back, and you refuse to give it to me on the basis that, in your view, this has to be a joint request from my partner and me.

              1. Clive

                I think because “withdrawal”, in my analysis, is both a one-point-in-time event and a continuous process, means that the demand for constitutionally-compliant actions extends not only to the triggering, but to the negotiation.

                Just as “divorce” is both a single action (such as a serving of papers) and also a series of essential intrinsically-related procedures (such as a judge-led hearing, a schedule of community property, testimonials etc.) so is withdrawal from the EU.

                That’s why I’d say that section 1 of Article 50 reminded all parties (Member States and the EU itself) of the need to withdraw in line with the constitutional considerations in play.

                The intention was, I suspect, to try to avoid the exact situation we find ourselves in (there’s no deal because the UK cannot in a constitutionally-compliant way fulfil an EU prerequisite to avoid the EU having to implement a hard border, but which it will have to do because there’s no deal; except that there’s never going to be a hard border, because it’s too hard to implement one).

                1. JW

                  So the Republic can’t inspect goods coming in post-Brexit, because of the Good Friday Agreement? But it also has a treaty obligation with the EU to do just that? Because the EU wasn’t a signatory to GF, the Republic was.

                  I mean when you say EU you really mean Republic of Ireland because that’s who’s on the ground.

    2. vlade

      I buy this only partially, as Scotland has some freedom to set taxes, and NI has also diverged from other UK laws (the infamous abortion rights).

      Of course, from that, to staying in single market is quite a jump, but one could argue that since majority of the NI voted “remain” (by some margin) they clearly DO wish to stay in the single market.

      Also the “the rest of the UK” is dubious – it’s really “without the say so from the Westminster Parliament”. See Scottish Indy referendum – I didn’t notice they run it in England as well? (if they did, I suspect Scots could have been independend by now).

      That said, even the above can still be done by a single poll that NI republicans actually already called for i.e. if there’s a hard-border Brexit, NI should get a reunification vote.

      TBH, that’s MY suggestion to the impasse. The backstop becomes a reunification referendum. Not time limited – once the transition period is done, it’s done, nor really challengable. You want SM, you go European, or you stay within the UK. I’d like to see DUP to froth on that..

      1. Clive

        It’s stated right at the top of the Good Friday Agreement absolutely explicitly:

        It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements – an Assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and any amendments to British Acts of Parliament and the Constitution of Ireland – are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other.

        Treaty texts rarely get so unarguably clear.

        This is why I suspect there was such a push in February to get Stormont up and running again. Without it, everything was stuck in constitutional limbo and lacking any possibility of constitutionally-authenticated approvals. Similar any possibility of a border poll. Without a vote in the Assembly, how can the U.K. government have any pretence (that would withstand a UKSC challenge) that it was responding to a democratic imperative issued by NI?

        Of course, the U.K. government could do whatever the heck it likes by a reintroduced Direct Rule. At which point the Good Friday Agreement is toast (and the Republic would have to explicitly buy-in to Direct Rule being initiated). This must be one of the DUP’s main game plans. They really don’t care that much about borders in the Irish Sea if they can get rid of the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP would be quite happy to paint the Garvaghy Road emerald green from end to end if they could rip that up for good.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          An additional complication to this though is the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which explicitly gives the Irish government a say in non-devolved matters, including the Common Travel area and EU matters. So at least in theory, the British government must (if the Irish government insists on reconstituting the Council, which they haven’t so far) engage with the Irish government for any change – including Brexit – to be constitutional.

          Its been speculated here that Varadkar has not called for the BIIC to be held in order not to inflame matters with the DUP.

          1. Clive

            Yes, I think this holds a lot of water. Especially since the Republic amended its constitution to facilitate the GFA, it shows how seriously it took the matter. While politically it may be gruesome for the U.K. to contemplate that it would not be possible to leave the EU without as a minimum consulting the Republic, I too think there is at least a possibility it was in fact legally obligated via the GFA to do exactly that.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      I read that entirely differently again – my (completely laymans) interpretation is that it means a countries request for withdrawal must be internally constitutionally based. In other words, a rogue leader can’t simply say ‘I’m launching A.50’ in defiance of his own Parliament or courts. Or put another way – the EU can refuse to accept an A.50 application if it can be argued that it was not generated legally in the first place.

      1. David

        I think that’s right, though most treaties like this contain some ambiguity in their wording. Interestingly, the French text gives a slightly different impression.
        “Tout État membre peut décider, conformément à ses règles constitutionnelles, de se retirer de l’Union,” which would be translated as “Any member state may decide, in accordance with its constitutional provisions, to leave the Union.” The commas make it clear that, in French at least, the only decision that has to be taken constitutionally under the Treaty, is the decision to leave (alinea 1). Once that decision is taken the states has to inform the EU (alinea 2). Of course, there’s a standing general requirement on governments to behave constitutionally, but that would be a matter for the domestic courts, not the EU. It must also be true that they should respect their constitutional rules during the negotiation process. Interestingly, Art 46 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties deals exactly with your point from the other end – what happens if a state signs a treaty without going through the proper procedures. I’ve seen some suggestions on specialist blogs that Art 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was inspired by the arguments about this point.

        1. Clive

          Agreed, except it would be a matter for the CJEU if it was the EU (e.g. the Commission) which was doing the asking (or telling) of the Member State.

      2. Fazal Majid

        The question arose as to whether Ms. May could exercise article 50 under the Royal prerogative, without a vote of Parliament. The newly established UK Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

    4. jabbawocky

      The answer to your question has to be those that voted Leave in the referendum left the can lying around.

      1. Clive

        Rubbish. The U.K. government had every right to hold a referendum. It was advisory of course. But Parliament had every right to invoke A50 as a result of the result.

        What the U.K. government had no right whatsoever to do was to pretend that the Good Friday Agreement obligations could or should be fudged away. Nor that the EU or the Republic should tolerate this or go along with it. The fact that they did is, well, their bad. I’m still shaking my head as to why Barnier et al were dumb enough to go along with it at the time. There’s probably a good reason we’re not privy to.

        1. Phillip Allen

          There’s probably a good reason we’re not privy to.

          Now there’s some optimism and faith. Our erstwhile leaders have done very little to justify it, in my completely jaded and cynical option.

          1. Clive

            I was being perhaps overly generous — there’s also an awful lot of bad reasons I can think of, too.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          A year or so ago there was a little discussion of this in some parts of the Irish media. The thinking seemed to be that the government at the time (pre-Varadkar) had calculated that it was too divisive (in terms of the potential impact on NI politics) to be seen to be taking too aggressive a stance over Brexit (with hindsight, this was very naive, the DUP don’t need outside help to be divisive).

          FG was also very worried about giving any electoral help to Sinn Fein.

          With hindsight, I think this was a major miscalculation on a number of levels – I don’t think they anticipated that the stupidity of the London government would force them to take such a strong stance on the border issue, they thought it could be finessed by way of taking a more neutral stance.

        3. begob

          I think these are May’s options:
          1. Canada+++ with backstop – the DUP say NO! and she loses a vote of confidence.
          2. EFTA + EEA without CU – she comes back in triumph – “No CU!” – but she loses DUP and Ultras so needs Corbyn, who will probably cry “No CU!” with contrary sentiment.
          3. CU with backstop – Labour says it fails test #2 (at least), but she hopes their remainers defy the whip.

          Peston is at option 3, but omits the backstop.

          1. James Newman

            1. Canada+++. Canada is too damaging economically and the +++ will take far too long to negotiate.
            2. EFTA + EEA without CU – she comes back in triumph – “No CU!” Yes, she may lose the DUP and the hard core Ultras (some are flaky) but that is 50 MPs possibly. But she doesn’t need Corbyn only the independent minded Labour MPs, 90 of whom rebelled in June to support the HoL EEA amendment. I think even Corbyn may see opposition to EEA/Efta is nihilistic.
            3. CU with backstop – Labour says it fails test #2 (at least), but she hopes their remainers defy the whip. CU doesn’t work, EEA/SM is key.

            2. is the only option that works but May ludicrously ruled out SM in her Lancaster House speech. Is she big enough to say she was wrong, probably not. Ironically, Chequers has shades of Norway but she is a prisoner of her red lines.

  3. bold'un

    Labour could help vote through a {blind brexit’ with an extended Transition} in exchange for a post-deal General Election. This could suit May in that it would be risky for the Tories to change leaders in an election atmosphere. The British Public can then decide WHO best can negotiate the future Trade relationship (though sadly not the WHAT as it must be negotiated).

  4. The Rev Kev

    You wonder what is in it for May to stay in her job as Prime Minister. All indications are that she is a perfect example of the Peter Principle which is how she ended up with the job. You think too that she would be tempted to chuck the whole business and say “Here Boris – it’s all yours!” with all the joy of throwing a live grenade. Maybe, in the end, it is like Milton had Satan say once – “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”.

    1. Fazal Majid

      No. She doesn’t have a posh upper-class background, which is why she was repeatedly passed over in favor of her Etonian peers like Cameron, Osborne or Johnson, no less incompetent and far more destructive. She got the booby prize because pols like corporate boards will promote a woman to an impossible job as a hail-mary pass (see Carly Fiorina at HP, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo or Meg Whitman at HP).

      Trying to stay in the Customs Union is pointless, as it combines all the disadvantages of the EU and none of the advantages like the rebates and opt-outs Thatcher negotiated. The only logical form of Brexit is a Canadian option one, but that would require at least a decade’s transition for the British economy to retool for. That’s also not what most Brexiteers voted for, and it would have required offering Labour the creation of a government of national unity. If mortal enemies Churchill and Attlee could do it in the 40s, it would have been possible today, when the situation is just as challenging. It’s far from certain the Corbynites would have accepted, but the offer should have been made.

  5. David

    Macron’s official statement after the European Council is here Interestingly, only about a third of the text was devoted to Brexit, and much of that was in turn a restatement of EU priorities – especially unity and the Single Market – and confidence in Barnier. All the technical solutions are known, said Macron, and it is for the UK to come up with some new ideas for compromises. The hope was to reach an agreement in the next few weeks, including “necessary guarantees for Ireland.” The French media has essentially confined itself to reporting what Macron said.
    What this shows, I think, is an increasing irritation among European leaders that Brexit, which should have been sorted out long ago, has been taking up the time that should really have been devoted to more important subjects, like migration and the deepening of economic and financial cooperation The British are regarded as a major irritant, incapable of behaving like a great power, paralysed by internal political splits and capable of doing a lot of collateral damage. The EU seems increasingly unwilling to devote any more time to Brexit until the UK comes up with some genuinely useful ideas – hence the cancellation of the November summit.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thats probably true, but if so, its very shortsighted. If the UK crashes out, for several months there will be nothing else on the plate of western Europe to deal with, there will be deep implications certainly from Germany to Spain. And if it causes more wobbles in the already very wobbly Italian banks, it’ll be even more of a headache, to put it mildly.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        But that gets back to the point Macron made, as quoted by the FT, that the EU can’t solve the UK’s political problems. A lot of the key insiders watched May’s last Question Time, and they could see she was getting questions from all over the map in terms of implications for a Brexit. That confirmed what you see in the UK press.

        I think vlade is right, unless a sense of crisis in the UK emerges soon enough, and January is the latest that is probably workable given the need for Parliamentary re-alignments as well as negotiations, the UK will remain internally gridlocked.

        1. Clive

          If it were just internal UK gridlock, I’d go along with a premise that a crisis could force a change of UK stance. But it isn’t. None of the UK press ever covers how, exactly, laws are made and implemented in NI (and only when you get into the niche end of the Republic / NI press do you get this explained and you have to do a lot of study to understand the context and why things are the way they are). So pretty much everyone just assumes the UK government can simply rocket docket through some new primary legislation and, hey-presto, there’s your backstop. It doesn’t work like this for NI.

          So the UK government cannot simply enact a law which creates a border in the Irish Sea. Even if it suddenly, say as a result of a crisis, decide that it wants to.

          The timings are highly suggestive that, post the December Backstop Agreement, the UK government did make attempts to get this (the border in the Irish Sea solution) set up in NI. Both the UK’s and Republic’s governments tried to get the Assembly back into session. Outside of Direct Rule, this is the only mechanism by such a law could be enacted and then implemented under the Assembly’s devolved powers of responsibility for EU legislation and directives. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin could agree, so no Stormont. So no backstop.

          The EU doesn’t care (maybe a tad harsh; it’s not its responsibility to meddle in Member State national matters) a jot about the Assembly, the GFA, Direct Rule or anything like that. So it simply doesn’t enter its equations. It has no other option than to keep repeating the only legal method it can accept for resolving the border issue. The UK government, conversely, does care about, or at least will need to clear up any mess caused by, the collapse of the GFA. As does the Republic’s government. Neither the UK nor the Republic want to be seen as the ones pulling the trigger on the GFA by calling for Direct Rule. I have a hunch the “more time for the transitional period” would be a code-word for “try to get Stormont back up and running again”. But there’s nothing the UK government can do to make the DUP (or Sinn Féin for that matter) play ball.

          Worse, if that seems possible, the DUP would be eager to force the UK government into declaring Direct Rule. If this is the only solution (and might be on the table as a crisis response in a few month’s time), the SNP would have to as a minimum abstain or — if they had any wish to be anything other than complete hypocrites — vote against it. They, plus the Ultras, means there’s no way enough votes in the Commons to get a Direct Rule bill through.

          1. whiteylockmandoubled

            Thank you Clive. This comment is a great example of why NC has been the best, if not the only place to go for Americans or others not living in the UK or Ireland to understand Brexit.

  6. David

    I agree, but I think it’s at least partly the UK’s doing. A modicum of common sense and political realism could have avoided this situation. The problem is that Brexit, as a subject, has the nasty twin characteristics of being at once extremely complicated and politically lunatic. I think EU leaders are focusing on the second, and in some ways May has become almost light relief. But jokes stop being funny after a while, and I think Macron is reflecting a wider belief among national leaders that only the UK can sort this out: you broke it, you fix it.If there were issues which, whilst difficult, were potentially fixable then I think a lot more effort would have gone into the negotiations from EU leaders. But they must feel they are trapped in some Ionesco farce or (to vary the metaphor) trying to negotiate with the Keystone Cops.
    Except the Keystone Cops happen to be playing with hand grenades. There’s no doubt that European leaders are taking a crash-out seriously (the French have published a draft bill giving the government emergency powers to deal with such a situation) but I think there’s a also widespread sense of helplessness. What can the EU actually do that it hasn’t already done? All they can hope for is an outbreak of common sense in London, and I think we all know how likely that is. In the circumstances, you might as well concentrate on subjects where progress is actually possible.

    1. Clive

      Yes, I do agree with everything you say there.

      I would be tempted to add (a speculation) that the UK government is now at the point where it is saying back to the Commission, in effect “What, exactly do you want us to do here? Impose, via Direct Rule, a border-in-the-Irish-Sea on NI? Okay, we’ll give it a go, yes, we promised after all in the December Backstop agreement, but the Republic will have to agree to that via the Intergovernmental Conference. Oh, what’s that Dublin, now you’re not so sure? Okay, any more bright ideas? No, us neither”.

      To which Macron is responding with nothing more than a Gallic shrug. Merkel is wringing her hands as usual. The rest of the EU27 is in, as you say, not-our-problem we’ve-got-a-lot-more-to-worry-about mode. As well they might, I’ll forgive them that much at least.

      Europe. Yeah, beacon of civilization. Uh-huh, cradle of democracy. Right… Liberté, égalité, fraternité, my-arse-ay etc. etc. etc.

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        The EU doesn’t really care if the UK government collapses over the Irish border. On one hand, it only proves the point, from the EU perspective, that you should never cross the EU. This, of course, is the same disdain for the long-term impact on a country’s population that baked the Versailles treaty.

  7. MichaelSF

    A reader takes me to task for making comparisons between the Brexit negotiations and the Allied invasion of Normandy…

    Would Dunkirk be a better comparison?

    1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      “Would Dunkirk be a better comparison?”

      Maybe the Dieppe Raid. Bay of Pigs maybe.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      If you read his piece, contrary to the mythology of the Normandy invasion in the US, North argues, as apparently a not-trivial number of military historians do, that it was a poorly chosen site for the invasion, that the open beach assured tons of soldiers would be slaughtered, and the only reason the Allies won is they were willing to throw enough cannon fodder at it to get the job done. He argues that by contrast, the UK doesn’t begin to have the resources to handle Brexit and the result will be defeat as well as huge and unnecessary casualties.

      1. EoH

        I think that’s exactly right. I see the analogy as more First World War of attrition, with the Tories mimicking the French, de l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace, as if attitude were all it would take to organize and manage a post-EU British society and government.

        The phraseology might be a useful PR strategy, but it substitutes followership for the necessary and enduring thinking, planning, and execution of competent policies. It distributes blame, dissipating it to the point of impunity, and allows considerable room for profit-taking in the resulting chaos.

  8. Northern Umbrella

    Least worst option, by miles: reverse ferret, and remain.
    A majority opinion across UK.
    As will be seen tomorrow in London. The march is going to be YUGE

    Members of Parliament could do it on Monday morning, if they wanted.

      1. Northern Umbrella

        Buses are coming in from all over the country. The banners will show the geographical reach of this.
        The majority opinion for remain is a UK-wide thing – and has been so all year. The biggest shift in opinion has been in the Labour-voting cities of the North and Midlands of England.

        The media are deliberately not reporting the Remain message, so you have to operate from the grassroots. Many MPs want cover to change their minds on this – our task is to make that number enough to win it.

        1. Anonymous2

          The most recent opinion poll suggests Remain is now on 60%. This could be a freak but if there are many more with similar results then the politics will become even more fraught.

          I now think the best solution to Brexit is a second referendum with a decisive result. Otherwise the young who want to remain by a large margin will be agitating for a return until the old, who voted preponderantly leave, die off.

        2. James Newman

          I do not buy your “Many MPs want cover to change their minds” I have not seen any shift at all.

          The problem is any change in government stance would need another referendum – what question would you ask? I presume you want a Remain box and presumably you therefore are happy to also make full disclosure on the requirement to joint the Euro, jettison the rebate and opt outs?

          1. JW

            The UK never should have had those concessions. As for the euro, Poland agreed to adopt the euro and is that happening any time soon??

            Of course as Yves a written again and again, there’s no time for a new referendum before March.

  9. Anonymous2

    Add to my previous comment, this would almost certainly require a postponement of B Day beyond March 2019.

  10. Maff

    My proposal is that the UK government simply refuse to erect any physical border infrastructure between NI & Ireland after a no-deal Brexit and tells the EU, “You want a border? You build it, police it (and defend it).”

    1. whiteylockmandoubled

      A satisfying piece of simple, chest-thumping machismo. Now follow it to the logical conclusion. Read Clive’s comment upthread, and Varadkar’s comments. You’re talking about making a conscious effort to force the Republic and the EU to take actions to contravene the GFA, which they must do pursuant to their treaty obligations. Pretending that sectarian violence is over in Ireland and that tra-la-la handwashing is either possible or safe is stupid beyond belief. I suppose that an outcome that blames the EU for reigniting a civil war in Ireland is preferable to the Tories ever taking responsibility for anything even marginally negative from some twisted, narrow partisan perspective. From a human perspective, it’s monstrous.

      And the consequences of that approach aren’t merely the risk that paramilitary conflict in Ireland re-starts. Whether on Irish soil or in the Irish Sea, without a UK agreement, the border becomes potentially militarized. The ill-will around that issue, in turn, will demolish any chance at the various +++++ options that the Tories keep throwing around in the press as wishes for the future relationship. It will strongly incentivize the most extreme possible reaction from the EU, starting with a maximal bureaucratic fuck-you approach on immediate issues like commercial aviation and extending to the long run. If the British are unwilling to police a border on land or sea, why would the EU bend itself to allow British air carriers and passengers any ease of passage, never mind taking a hard line that pushes the City to leave for Frankfurt, Madrid or Dublin? That recipe increases the likelihood that the UK economy will face the worst possible aspects of disaster capitalism. Those policies killed 9 million Russians in the 1990s.

      Don’t fall for the fantasy that the UK has leverage here, or easy ways out. Cameron screwed the pooch by holding the referendum at all, the Tories raised that fuck-up’s stakes exponentially by triggering Article 50 without anything resembling a strategy or plan, and May has further compounded that by focusing entirely on holding on to office rather than leading honestly.

      Meanwhile Corbyn’s tepid “stay but fix” campaign and Labour’s subsequent incoherence have handed capital the tools to crush one of the most exciting grassroots movements in the western world. After a crash-out Brexit, Labour will eventually win government amid an unprecedented economic crisis, but anyone who thinks the people who run the global economy are going to let an autarkic Disaster Socialism succeed in a country easily starved of food, medicine and machinery, has taken complete leave of their senses. Hold a seance and ask Hugo Chavez. Perhaps, a hundred years from now, there will be a heroic story to be told of how the British working class broke the back of globalized capital by eating grass and living without electricity for a decade or so and then reconstructing a just social and economic order from the ruins, but who seriously wants to bet on that?

      This is an epic mess that can only be solved with some level of security for British residents by UK politicians abasing themselves in front of the EU, either by giving in on every issue, or engineering another referendum and winning a Remain vote. There isn’t even close to enough time remaining to implement either of those options. So either now depends on May crawling to Brussels, begging for more time, and acting decisively to use that time either to walk through the steps Clive describes in Ireland with great dangers and poor chances of achieving an actual agreement, or holding a referendum that Remain wins. And the former only “solves” the Irish issue, not the bulk of the structural problems facing the future relationship.

      If the UK government did what you suggest, an economic disaster will become a social and economic catastrophe.

      I agree with the criticism that the EU has become a tool for neoliberal policies that impoverish and dehumanize millions of people, (although relative to the US, its record on environmental, labor, health and safety protections is stellar). It’s accelerating the process of dissolving the internal social democratic consensus in Western Europe that evolved in the wake of World War II, and locking in a patron/client relationship between the the Northern/Western and Eastern/Southern states. But I also agree with Chomsky that the UK’s decision to leave, and the manner in which it is carrying out that decision are acts of national suicide.

  11. Knute Rife

    1. The Remainer Tories are piling on this because they see an opportunity to look like pucker, anti-EU John Bulls at no cost.
    2. Merkel seems to believe Ireland can be united the same way Germany was, but she seems to forget the West paid that bill by pillaging the Mediterranean members, and neither the Republic nor the UK is in a position to duplicate that feat.
    3. North has undoubtedly read Peston’s “report” and is looking for a balcony seat where he can sit back with scotch and cigars and watch the inevitable train wreck full of dumpster fires.

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