Brexit Notes: Tory Conference and DUP Demands Yield More Insanity

Due to being completely behind the eight ball due to travel yesterday and some nasty but thank goodness ultimately false alarms, plus now aging parent duty, this Brexit post will be fragmentary. Enough nutty stuff has happened in the last few days so as to warrant letting our expert commentariat have a say or two about it. It would be easy to see this as Peak Crazy, but given the leadership of the UK, that would likely be a premature call.

BoJo promises the impossible…as usual. Despite making noises that sounded an awful lot like preliminaries to a leadership bid, as Politico summed it up, Johnson rounded on Chequers but made a point of saying nice things about Theresa May. That fits my pet theory that the Ultras never wanted to be in charge, all they need to do is obstruct.

But Johnson did manage to do more damage to the public’s understanding of what is attainable from Brexit talks. From Richard North:

“This is the moment”, Johnson said, “to chuck Chequers…”. That got him prolonged applause, as one might expect. But then he continued with: wanting “to scrap the Commission’s constitutionally abominable Northern Ireland backstop”. That got him more applause.

He would then, he told his admirers, “use the otherwise redundant and miserable ‘implementation period’ to the end of 2020 to negotiate the Supercanada FTA”. That got him still more applause, whence he added that we would also “invest in all the customs procedures that may be needed to ensure continued frictionless trade, and to prepare much more vigorously for coming out on WTO terms”.

Yet, anyone schooled in the terms insisted upon by the EU would have known instantly that without a “backstop”, there would be no withdrawal agreement and no “implementation period” – otherwise known as the transitional period – ending in December 2020.

On that basis, there would be no continued negotiations – no “Supercanada”. We would drop out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal, working solely within the framework of WTO rules.

And there Johnson was not only misleading his audience but also confusing himself. If we were supposed to be negotiating with the EU on this free trade deal, there would certainly be a need to invest in customs procedures, but there could hardly be any need to prepare for coming out on WTO terms. An FTA and the WTO option are mutually exclusive.

Homing in on the crux of what Mr Johnson was telling us, therefore – his message was – whether intended or not – that we should opt for a “no deal” Brexit.

DUP throws a very big spanner in the works. Speaking of that backstop….for those of you who remember the surprise gambit of the EU allowing the UK to miss the deadline of solving the Irish border problem by having the Government agree to the Joint Agreement last December, which of course included the backstop? The DUP did the verbal equivalent of making a sour face but didn’t want to look like a spoiler and threaten to bring the Government down.

It has no such compunctions now.

Mind you, it was predictable that the DUP would balk at the backstop. But having Foster throw her weight around in such a thuggish manner appears to have caught a lot of key players by surprise. Our Clive sent an article from with more detail on Foster’s preview of her meeting:

DUP leader Arlene Foster says she has “concerns” over the Chancellor’s claim that there may have to be a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.​Philip Hammond is reported to have told a Tory conference fringe event that in the event of no deal, London, under World Trade Organisation rules, would have to reinstate checks.​
Ms Foster, speaking at a DUP fringe event, said any extra checks would cause “difficulty” and added that she would be “reiterating” her position on the border issue to the Prime Minister…

Ms Foster was greeted with applause after telling the crowd she would not allow Northern Ireland to become a “semi-detached” part of the UK.​ She said: “We are not going to allow the United Kingdom to be broken up by Brussels or by anybody else, Northern Ireland is not about to become a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom.​ “We are not bluffing on this issue, we are very clear, our job is to protect the union, our job is to do what is right for Northern Ireland and you can be assured that we will do that.”​ Asked about the Chancellor’s reported remarks that if the UK operates on WTO terms, checks at the border will be required, Ms Foster said: “I have concerns.”​

She added: “That’s news, because of course up until now we have been saying that it will not be the UK that will be enforcing any borders. If the European Union feel that they need to have a border in Ireland that’s a matter for them if they feel they have to protect their single market in a particular way.​ “So Philip Hammond talking about a border is something new, something we want to explore as well, because certainly that’s not my understanding.”​

As the Financial Times drily noted:

Mrs May’s team remain confident that the government’s solution to the backstop will be enough to address the DUP’s main concerns. One cabinet minister noted the carefully worded DUP objections still left space for a deal. 

Nigel Dodds, the deputy DUP leader, laid out conditions for accepting a backstop, saying: “It can’t be forever, it must be time limited, it must be finite. It cannot bind Northern Ireland into arrangements that the rest of the United Kingdom is not tied up to.” 

To meet such concerns, Mrs May has focused on ensuring the backstop includes UK-wide arrangements that could temporarily keep Britain in what would be, in effect, a common customs territory with the EU. By contrast, only Northern Ireland would be directly bound by EU regulations.

British negotiators are looking to revise parts of the UK’s original proposal — called the Temporary Customs Arrangement — to try to overcome Brussels’ objections to its legality and workability. 

Mrs May’s allies say that Britain might stay in a “temporary” customs union for “a few months” after the end of a transition deal in January 2021, in the event that a final Brexit trade deal had not been ratified or if more time were needed to allow new technology to be deployed. 

Some cabinet ministers admit such an extension might last for “several years”, curtailing Britain’s ability to strike trade deals into the 2020s.

First, May’s confidence is a negative indicator. Second, the EU will never accept an arrangement where they have no assurance of the end date. And something that might last a few years is probably unacceptable under WTO rules, which bars preferential arrangements save on an actual temporary basis.

From Slugger O’Toole (hat tip PlutoniumKun):

If they bring Theresa May’s house down, it’s hard to see where else the DUP will find a safe billet. Plenty of Brexiteers see the border problem as a case of the tail wagging the dog. And while they’ll connive with the DUP against Chequers, many will part company with the DUP if they hold out for no checks of any kind and go on to frustrate the alternative Canada free trade deal. Mrs May opposes this because it would kick in the backstop – about which the Brexiteers appear to be in denial . Confused? Join the club….

How serious are the DUP’s threats? Arch remainer Scotland’s First minister Nicola Sturgeon says

I suspect this is a far more significant development today than the latest Boris Johnson circus.

And from ITV Pol Ed Robert Peston:

If you read my blog or watched my vlog yesterday, you will know @DUPleader is here ripping up @theresa_may’s compromise for Irish backstop, on which any Brexit deal will rest. May will be asking herself how on earth she avoids no-deal Brexit

And even more fun, Foster also threatened the Good Friday Agreement. I guess if you plan to burn the house down, why not throw some gas on the fire? From the Independent:

Arlene Foster has said the Good Friday Agreement is not “sacrosanct”, insisting the landmark peace treaty could be altered to accommodate a Brexit deal.

The DUP leader, whose party props up Theresa May’s government, said the historic agreement “could evolve” in the EU context and expressed frustration at warnings from pro-EU campaigners over Brexit’s potential to undermine aspects of the international treaty….

She also poured cold water on Ms May’s idea of having regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, saying: “It’s our one red line”.

Critics accused Ms Foster of “reckless and desperate stuff” and condemned her for prioritising her party’s “cosy deal” with the Conservatives over the ongoing risk of violence in Northern Ireland.

Twitter erupted:

At least someone had a sense of humor:

Foster is not backing down:

Which is dodgy given this observation by e-mail by PlutoniumKun:

The DUP are trying to walk a political tightrope over the border. They would love nothing more than a hard border, but a great many of their supporters (mostly small farmers and townspeople, many close to the border), know this will be an economic calamity in an already suffering area. I linked yesterday to a poll indicating that 71% of Northern Irelanders (excluding ‘don’t knows’) are now ‘Remainers’. So while the DUP are digging in, they are clearly losing their own supporters over this – hence their pretence that they are for Brexit and an open border, its only the dastardly EU and Dublin that would insist on border barriers. Hammond blew that out of the water (intentionally or not, I don’t know) yesterday. The DUP are in deep danger of splitting Unionism down the middle over this, and they are likely to be the losers if that happens.

But they are certainly painting themselves into a corner politically. They are of course right that no agreement can’t be rewritten, but there is no realistic possibility of this occuring with the GFA, all nationalists would be united in refusing to engage. May has to decide whether to jettison them or not, and when it comes to the crunch, they are expendable, I don’t think they realise this as they live in their own little bubble.

Brexit looks to have entered the state that Lambert calls “an overly dynamic situation.” Among other things, that means that obvious lunacy, as opposed to the sort that the Government and the press barons could package up to look reasonable, is the new normal. And we aren’t the only ones to reach this conclusion. From John Crace, again courtesy PlutoniumKun:

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains – no matter how improbable – must be the truth. Which means that the only rational explanation for the current behaviour of the Tory party is that most of its members are out of their heads on psychotropic drugs. The Birmingham conference centre has been transformed into the country’s largest crack den, with the entire cabinet and the gobbiest MPs fighting over what’s left of their stash while competing to pass off their version of fantasy as reality.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Yeah, about Arlene Foster saying that the Good Friday Agreement is not sacrosanct. That agreement brought a close to generations of fighting and killings and Fostor should know that better than anybody else what it was like. For example, there was the time that “early in her life when a night-time attempt was made to kill her father, a Royal Ulster Constabulary reservist, who was shot and severely injured at their family farm; the family was forced to leave the Roslea area” and there was also the time “As a teenager, Foster was on a school bus that was bombed by the IRA, the vehicle targeted because its driver was a soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment. A girl sitting near her was seriously injured”.

    You might believe she would think that maybe repeating those experiences is not even in her top ten of things to do but apparently not. Maybe her motto is never forgive, never forget. Her Wikipedia page at too is certainly a read but it only reaffirms my thought that Unionist have pretty weird loyalties. As an example here, that page says that Foster “supports Scottish football club Rangers”. Not a Northern Ireland Irish football club or even an Irish football club but a Scottish one. Yeah, pretty weird loyalties.

    1. BillK

      Re: Foster “supports Scottish football club Rangers” –
      That’s due to historical reasons. Traditionally in Glasgow, the Protestants supported Rangers and Catholics supported Celtic. Don’t know how much that still applies nowadays. Probably still a significant factor.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Rangers was always the club of the Scottish establishment, overwhelmingly protestant and Unionist (and, among its working class supporters, often openly far-right). Celtic was founded by catholic immigrants to Glasgow, it was more of a social club than a football club at first. This is why it has a huge support base among Irish around the world and has long had a supporter base association with left wing and progressive politics. Although largely catholic, it was never deeply sectarian, its always had many protestant players and staff. Rangers, on the other hand, stuck deeply to a sectarian tradition until it was clearly unsustainable.

      2. paul

        It certainly, is and the stoking up of sectarianism through appeals to the orange order/what was rangers before they went bust, to bolster the union by the red and blue tories here is sickening.

        Their one Pyrrhic victory in holyrood was to overturn the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act act earlier this year, so labour/conservative/liberals and greens(!) could dog whistle and embolden the knuckle draggers by letting them sing in public again about wading through fenian blood.

      3. Epistrophy

        Braveheart would have been a Celtic supporter. But Robert the Bruce?

        Edward Longshanks would have probably supported Arsenal.

    2. JohnA

      The protestants in Northern Ireland mostly immigrated from Scotland. Part of the classic divide and rule tactic of the British Empire. The Catholics in Scotland mostly immigrated from Ireland, for economic reasons mainly.
      Historically, Glasgow Rangers was Protestant, until recently no Catholic had ever played for the club and the recently retired famous manager of Manchester United and Rangers player in the 1960s, Alex Ferguson, said because he had married a Catholic, he was viewed with suspicion by Rangers.
      Glasgow Celtic is a mainly Catholic supported club with a big following in Ireland. They relaxed their ‘ban’ on protestant players in the 1960s and their most famous manager, Jock Stein was protestant.
      So no surprise a NI protestant would support Rangers, even though the Scottish league is poor these days by international standards, still way above Irish leagues.

      1. EoinW

        The playing level might be poor but, at least, the Irish leagues are competitive. It’s been 28 years since a team other than Rangers or Celtic won the Scottish league. Plus the league has been that way for most of its 130 years.

  2. vlade

    It’s ironic (and I believe PK alreay mentioned it) that the DUP stance is what’s likely bringing united Ireland closer by the day.

    While Ireland continues to remove obstacles that the most (modern) unionist had a problem with (like the country being more or less a fief of Vatican), the UK and DUP keeps inventing new ones. Brexit and DUP single-handedly doubled support for leaving the UK and joining Ireland in NI.

    It used to hover around 20% mark, but just now in September broached 50% mark in a poll ( has it at 52%, i.e. too close to call), with the under-44 cohorts decisively so (75% for 24 and younger, 65% 25-44). Only the >65 year was clearly (56%) to stay in the UK. That is the “leave EU” option. In the “leave EU and have hard-border” it’s pretty decisive 56% vs 40%, as a lot of the undecided goes to the “leave UK” side. Even the 45-64 demographic in this case goes from 50% UK, 40% Ireland vote to 50% UK, 49% Ireland (which incidentally shows that most of the undecided on the first option are in this age category).

    DUP caught the Tory “paint me a corner” bug.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks for that link, there is a lot of data to absorb there. I’m interested to see that Brexit views have hardened on political lines – DUP voters almost united as hard Brexiters, but nationalists and non-DUP Unionists going the other way.

      I think the big political shift has been that former ‘soft’ Unionists (Alliance and UUP) are now much more ambiguous about the Union (they want to keep it, but they could probably live with a United Ireland), while ‘soft’ nationalists are withering to irrelevance as SF becomes dominant. And its also notable that the left wing (which largely campaigned for Brexit, or Lexit, as they called it), has almost vanished electorally.

      As has been pointed out repeatedly (including by smarter DUP politicians such as Peter Robinson), the way to keep the Union in the facing of changing demographics was to keep a significant percentage of nationalists content with the status quo. Thats what the GFA formalised. The DUP have ignored that advice.

      1. el_tel

        Thanks. Am curious how the Fianna Fáil merger with SDLP will play out too.

        Plus the irony levels concerning the official name of the Conservatives (The Conservative and Unionist Party) are going through the roof right now!

        1. Marshall Auerback

          The DUP never signed the Good Friday Agreement. They have been reputedly involved in a whole host of money laundering scandals, including Brexit:
          If they overplay their hand here, they could find themselves in real trouble, as the Tories have been largely covering up for the DUP

          1. el_tel

            Many thanks…….gawd this just gets worse and worse – I knew the DUP never signed the GFA but I guess, given the host of other issues raised by BREXIT (largely covered on here) I’d never sufficiently thought/followed through the implications of the DUP’s behaviour more broadly.

          2. PlutoniumKun

            Yes, a story untold is the funding the DUP have received over Brexit. There is even a Saudi connection. Mind you, theocrats tend to stick together. The DUP has long had links with libertarian, far right international networks, going back to apartheid era South Africa and Rhodesia.

            While they never signed up for the GFA, they were happy to take all the money going with it. A big, and open incentive waved by the various governments was cosy well paid positions for mid level politicians from all sides. The DUP had their cake and ate it by refusing to sign up, but still fully participating. This was sustainable while they had smart politicians like Paisley in charge, but as a party they’ve degenerated and driven out the pragmatists.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I’m not sure how the FF/SDLP merger will play out, especially as both parties currently are looking historically weak. FF have ironically been damaged by Brexit, as its allowed FG to present themselves as the protectors of the national interest, the historic ‘role’ of FF. They’ve been left looking a little silly by just complaining about minor decisions. The SDLP are a bit of a mess, and Brexit isn’t helping, as it makes SF look like big players. It would, however, complicate the possibility of a coalition of FF and SF, as the SDLP element would never accept that. Hence the talk of the rather bizarre prospect of a FG/SF government in the Republic. This would have been laughable just a year or two ago, but is now I think a real possibility.

          1. liam

            I don’t know if FF and SF ever could form a coalition irrespective of the SDLP. They’re heavily outflanked on both the left and the republican nationalist sides, and have had, as you say, FG eat their lunch as the “centrist” party upholding the national interest. They, most especially since the repeal the 8th referendum, appear to have a complete lack of talent with the minimum of generational turnover. They look almost irrelevant, being carried by their brand which has massive recognition for older voters. So, I suspect they view it as existential. FG on the other hand could well see a coalition with SF in a strategic manner, as weird as it seems.

            The tie up with the SDLP makes some sort of sense, but as you’ve pointed out, the SDLP is a mess. The other unknown is how people will react towards SF if there is a hard border and things begin to stir up north. Makes you wonder…

          2. el_tel

            Wow. As a relatively uninformed observer but with lots of family connections in Eire (and some in NI) who give me nuggets that I don’t know whether are “informed” or not, this is gold dust, thanks.

            As someone who might be perceived, due to my name, to be in favour of reunification (but who in reality really doesn’t care, being religiously agnostic and genuinely having no hard political agenda, Britain born and bred etc), I tend to default to the view (perhaps held by many people in Great Britain?) that “NI is just a problem we don’t want and wish we could offload to someone else (Eire)”. I have, however, read the articles about why Eire might struggle to “fund” in real terms NI to the extent the UK has done (and hence why nationalists in Eire seem to be a bit more lukewarm these days)….but with the unpredictability of politics at the moment I really have zero clue about how the whole border issue might play out….I’ll leave it to you experts!

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Thanks el_tel. Its the costs that would be the big factor, although if there was a genuine rush of public sentiment and the right circumstances it would be hard to stop.

              I think the immediate direct costs are not nearly as much as some claim, as they are based on an assumption that the Republic would simply take on the current government system (which is grossly overstaffed, its the only real employer). In reality I think many NI government employees (especially police) would simply opt to move to Britain.

              However, the longer term costs – all those systems that need to be harmonised, security threats, etc – those are huge unknowns. In reality, mostly because there would be a huge incentive for the EU to make sure it went as smooth as possible, I think the costs would be manageable, certainly in comparison to (for example) German reunification.

              The one thing that would unite Dublin politicians would be a simultaneous stated desire for a united Ireland, while saying fervent private prayers that it never happens on their watch. But sometimes these things just get a momentum that can’t be stopped.

  3. David

    There’s sometimes a stage in a political crisis where it becomes insoluble within the constraints of the existing system. In this case (and simplifying a bit) all the technical solutions are politically impossible, and all the political situations are technically impossible. The British political system as a whole (and that includes the Northern Ireland dimension) is not simply hopelessly divided, it has no possibility of finding a majority-based compromise solution. No matter how serious the economic consequences of Brexit may prove to be, I have a feeling that the political consequences may be worse, and that we are headed for the running aground and subsequent disintegration of the British political system as we know it. Short of divine grace arriving to persuade the system to revoke the Art 50 declaration, or at least put it on ice for a while, the system looks set to consume itself, with heaven knows what practical consequences. No imaginable initiative by the EU can help here, because the real crisis is not between the UK and the EU, but within the British political system, and especially the Tory Party.
    It’s worth remarking here that other comparable European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal) have undergone massive political crises and changes of political systems several times in the last century. Britain never has, and I’m not at all sanguine the “the last functioning medieval state in Europe” in Peter Henessey’s famous formulation will be able to withstand the strain. In a sense, it’s the post-Brexit political crises we should now be concerned about.

    1. vlade

      Amen. That’s what I have been saying, because all the major parties in the UK assume business-as-usual post Brexit day, and it will NOT be.

      The problem is that the FPTP is excerbating this, not helping. The hated continental proportional system means two things – when parties have deep internal split, like they do now (both Tories and Labour), they just split, and let the voters decide. In the UK, they can’t afford it, so the tensions just escalate until there’s a crisis.

      The second thing is, that with proportional systems, a single-party government is unlikely. This means the pols have to be able to compromise, and the voters know they will compromise, and don’t expect impractical ideological purity.

      TBH, I see similar tensions in the US, just not entirely there yet.

      1. el_tel

        Agreed. I think there are “escape valves” possible in terms of electoral reform in places like the UK and US that preserve many of the elements of FPTP but which don’t “end up like a continental system”. The Aussie system is one – though having lived there and seen it in action, dislike of it is going up rapidly! Most-minus-least voting is another – stops highly polarising figures from getting elected but otherwise preserves possibility of majority govts and links to constituencies by a single elected representative….but either of these options would allow the possibility of “party break-up” without inevitable electoral oblivion. In practice both probably pie-in-the-sky but theoretically could offer ways forward that don’t lead to such frightening outcomes for existing party leaders/structures.

        1. JTMcPhee

          And of course the people who create and propagate the messes, and facilitate and participate in the looting, must be protected from any “frightening outcomes,” because otherwise they might take their balls and bats and go home? Impunity is the disease, not the cure.

          But then I’ve randomly suggested that the better way to deal with psychopathic tyrants might be to give them a bunch of billions of dollars (or other currency of choice) and let them do like Aga Khan, move to a comfortable climate and breed really great thoroughbred horses. Alternative being what happened to Gaddafi?

          “We have established what you are, sir or madam — now we are merely haggling over your price.”

          1. el_tel

            Sounds like something from a Terry Pratchett novel! Just re-read Night Watch….great quote in there about revolutions – to the effect that “the problem with successful revolution isn’t the wrong type of govt, it’s the wrong type of people”.

      2. Pym of Nantucket

        Like in the US, part of the problem lies with an opposition which has been infiltrated by elements of the uber wealthy and lacks coherence. The current situation should simply lead to election of the opposition if the opposition weren’t constantly internally bickering. In both countries the party which purports to represent the working class has been taken over by oligarchs who wanted a kinder gentler neoliberalism that doesn’t upset the billionaire apple cart. Disenfranchised and powerless wage earners are then mopped up by populist rhetoric which focuses their anger on immigration and issues which are irrelevant to their living conditions like religion or culture. Wedge and dog whistle issues serve to distract and allow the same minute fraction of the population to keep running things.

        1. vlade

          The problem is that FPTP helps with that – beause splitting off does not pay. The powerless are more powerless – UKIP in the UK got 12.6% of vote in 2015, beating LibDem on votes, but got only 1 MP? So in majority of the cases, you have no vote, the race is won before it starts.

        2. ape

          So compare Germany. The same pattern appears, with the socialists and greens being infiltrated by neoliberal elements — but the effects are smaller and slower, because given proportional representation, there’s options on the left and the right, forcing the parties in the middle to respond somewhat to popular demands.

          The whole system may still explode at the next election, but the reality is still reduced social inequality and the obvious options of far right and far left influence.

      3. ape

        Precisely. It’s a question of functional strategy.

        Both the UK and the US function because of the historical power of the aristocracy/oligarchy. To the extent they fail to tame democracy, the entire system comes apart.

        Hell, I think there’s an argument that ol’ Queenie in the UK is too disabled to properly grease the landing here. The UK is full of pressure release valves, but they’re all aristocratic valves.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      In many ways a system can be too stable – this prevents opportunities for realignment and pressure release. The British parliamentary system has in once sense been remarkably successful, but it may well simply be storing up all the pressure for a major blow out. Of course, its pretty much impossible to predict when this sort of collapse occurs, but it certainly feels like the strains next year will be unprecedented.

    3. PKMKII

      To add on to that: from my outsider’s perspective, a lot of Brexit seemed driven by a hubris about the international economic and political position of Britain. Yes, there were the votes of economic despair, and the neonationalists, but also the votes of those who see the British economy as being so special, so opulent, that the position of the City of London in international finance is untouchable, that the continent is so dependent on the UK’s largesse, that they could invoke Art 50 and the EU would immediately fall over itself giving the UK anything it wanted in order to keep that extra special economy in their sphere.

      Of course, that view is part fantasy, part a past Britain that doesn’t really exist anymore. But it’s still central to the British political and national psyche. So when Brexit implodes that part of the national mythos, we’re going to see a lot of angry reactions, a lot of disillusionment, and subsequently a lot of political movements and ideologies rushing to fill the void. Which could end up a lot of ways, many of them ugly.

    4. ChrisPacific

      I have been thinking for a while now that we are heading for the kind of situation where people say “In hindsight, it was obvious that this was going to happen because of X” where X is all of the events that we’re seeing play out right now and ‘this’ is one of any number of outcomes normally considered unthinkable in civilized society. I still have no idea what ‘this’ might look like, so it’s not obvious at all to me right now, and I hope I will resist the temptation in future to say that it was. However, it’s clear that the events currently in motion are significant and even historic, and that they lead nowhere good.

  4. JTMcPhee

    “Trade is fundamental, necessary, indispensable.”

    “Trade is toxic, destructive, suicidal.”

    Discuss and explain, with examples and context. Extra credit for explaining the absolute fundamental indispensability of globalization. “Everybody knows that” is not an acceptable answer.

    1. Anonymous2

      The only point I would make regarding globalisation here is that it is worth asking yourself what underlying assumptions are you making about your own circumstances. Are you an American who can source most products from within national borders or are you, say, a Luxemburger who knows perfectly well his country must trade if it is to enjoy a modern standard of living.

      1. vlade

        you mean “almost any standard of living” (re Luxembourgh)

        The reality is that few countries can be autarkies, so trade is a must.

      2. JTMcPhee

        Maybe the problem is just, in fact, always about “asking oneself about one’s circumstances,” and that bit about “enjoying a modern standard of living.” Seems to me that both notions are at the heart of why this may be the last few generations to “enjoy” said insupportable “modern standard of living.” But then we are all told that the best and indeed pretty much only standards we ought to live up to are whatever makes us “better off than the next guy,” and tickles our personal pleasure centers. Who cares what comes after we have had our fun and expired?

        Ask yourself whether you give a rip that homo economicus and “world trade,” as practiced under disaster-and-looting-political economic systems like what dominates the global “reality,” result in beggaring billions of ‘fellow humans,” and setting the biosphere that all have to live in on the edge of a collapse of “Biblical proportions.” Many who are living relatively large on the looting models won’t even go to the trouble of telling the rest of us to “eat cake:“ more likely to tell their neighbors to “eat my sh!t, do it quietly, keep my yard and plantings and properties looking refined, and when you die earlier, than you might otherwise, do so quietly and for convenience, lie down in your self-dug grave so one of your mope neighbors can shovel the dirt over you.”

        “Trade,” these days, is a shell game of the sneakiest sort, a self-licking ice cream cone with an asymptotic appetite. The vast majority of it benefits very few at the expense of very many — whether it is cheap (externalities not included) ‘consumer crap” from race-to-the-bottom “winners,” or FIRE-generated extractions of real wealth into Smaug’s Hoards in places like the Channel Islands and Panama. There is no definition or operating principle that might call out what “trade” has survival properties and benefits to the species as a whole. Billions of tons of carbon out the stacks of the container ships and tankers, billions more to feed the “all great nations have always consumed more energy” dead-end.

        So it is all “loot until the cows come home (from the former rain forest grazing grounds or concentrated feed operations, emitting their annual billions of pounds of methane) to provide me with luscious steaks and ribs and dairy products,” because (smirks smugly) “I got mine and want to get more, so screw the rest of you.” Why should I care about Luxembourgers who extract wealth in various ways to be able to import exotica and yes, basics, from elsewhere? If they want “Moar” they’ll have to figure out how to pull their own scams and extractions. If I got mine, and that getting is going to last until I die a natural death (possibly from something petroleum-based that I consumed), why should I care about how it all plays out? I’ll be dead and gone, beyond reproach and retribution!

        There may be “good” trade in necessities (which I am sure we have differing definitions of), but the systems that have come to dominate do not serve up necessities, as a general rule — just froth (notional dollars, weapons and war, trillions of dollars disappeared into corruption, fake medicines and foods and construction materials to put into idiotic McMansions, things like that) and toxins — like what a surprise that glyphosate, chlorpyrifos and fertilizers (also useful for making “improvised explosive devices”) have “downsides” that mostly have to be somehow “absorbed” (if that is the word) by “the (not able, so far, to defend itself) environment” and the bodies and lives of mopes who don’t profit enough from “trade” to pay to protect themselves.

        Why (and of course I know the answer to this one) don’t the people of all the different countries try to at least be as self-sufficient as they can? Gee, I wonder… And is it wrong to hope that it won’t be too long before the biosphere’s mechanisms apply some negative-feedback processes to all us humans and our “trade” and other massively self-serving (to the Elites) behaviors and systems? I do pity my children and grandchildren, who will have to try to find a way to stay alive in what seems unalterably to be “baked and priced in” already.

        1. Anonymous2

          I dislike the culture of overconsumption too. The problem, though, is that people will resist being taken back to a standard of living that is pre-railways. Once you have those, you have international trade (in Europe at least). But perhaps we will not have to wait too long for Armageddon to arrive.

    2. ChrisPacific

      That’s a false dichotomy. Trade can be, and is, both of those things in different circumstances. The trick is to identify which circumstances, and encourage the former while mitigating the latter.

      Trade isn’t going away (as Adam Smith pointed out). If you try to suppress it you just end up with black markets. It can be – and frequently is – controlled, but it’s notoriously difficult to do and requires constant ongoing work, since it tends to find inventive ways of circumventing constraints that are placed on it.

  5. Clive

    It half-sort-of-kind-of sounds-like the latest UK government suggestion (and I have to infer a lot here because trying to work out what the UK government is doing isn’t easy as it is like trying to interpret a group of small children telling a story using pages from colouring-in books and some stickers) is a variation on the “make the whole of NI into a Border Area” fix.

    Which is permissible under WTO rules

    And is timebound as the WTO insists on a sunset clause (10 years, that’s a mighty long sunset, though).

    And it would fix everything for a while in a fudge-y-ish way.

    But I think Richard North already poured a load of cold water on this way, way back (can’t be bothered to look for a link in his blog, but he’s covered most things and I’m sure this was one of them) as “causes just as many problems as it solves”.

    1. vlade

      EU was saying from the start that they need a backstop that is not timelimited. So I doubt that they would accept one that has a prescribed sunset clause. I’m pretty damn sure Ireland wouldn’t like it.

      1. begob

        From June –

        Following a meeting between Mr Juncker, Taoiseach Varadkar said the European side in the Brexit negotiations had made it clear “on many occasions” the withdrawal agreement “must include a legally binding backstop so there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland in the future whatever circumstances may prevail”.

        “And a backstop cannot have an expiry date.”

        Floating charge about to crystallize.

  6. Epistrophy

    She (eg Ms Foster) added: “That’s news, because of course up until now we have been saying that it will not be the UK that will be enforcing any borders. If the European Union feel that they need to have a border in Ireland that’s a matter for them if they feel they have to protect their single market in a particular way.​ “So Philip Hammond talking about a border is something new, something we want to explore as well, because certainly that’s not my understanding.”​

    Ahem. How does a one-way border work? Is it better than a two-way border? Is it something like the Severn Crossing between England and Wales, where one can go to England for free but one must pay a toll to go to Wales?

    1. vlade

      Or like a Berlin Wall, where (most of the time) you could travel from West to East (still subject to border controls, interestingly enough unless you were miltary personell), but was shot at when you travelled the other way (and wasn’t a Westerner to begin with).

    2. ChrisPacific

      That was always a comforting lie that the UK tried to pass off on the EU, like the idea that there could be a technology-based soft border. What’s the point of striking your own trade deals if you don’t intend to enforce them?

      It looks like reality is just starting to hove into view on Ms. Foster’s horizon, but she still thinks it’s a mirage.

  7. Ignacio

    Thus, regarding and almost certain no-deal brexit, could it be that UK public institutions are able to somehow weather it in emergency, without the useless elected leadership? If not, a crash-out mess looks unstoppable.

    1. JTMcPhee

      In the coming “emergency,” some of that “money” stuff has to come from somewhere to pay for the necessities of “civilization,” and said money will have to escape running the gauntlet of plugged-in people and corporations that will be scrambling to grab it all before the grabbing gets harder. Money needed by streets workers and dustmen and carers from nurses to doctors to home-care workers, to whatever remains of a bureaucracy that would detect and avoid Grenfells and such, money needed by teachers (who teach what, again?) and postmen and the residue of farmers. And don’t forget the “surplus population,” our old grannies and gramps and children and people with various disabilities, and ourselves when fortuitous events render us “not doing productive labor any longer.”

      It is hard to “weather the emergency” when the blood (money) ceases to flow and sustain the corpus. Though the parasites and tumors that “run things” will surely “weather the crisis” they have created just fine, and as noted here recently, the disaster-capitalists are already planning to profit from destruction of what little health, safety and public-welfare regulations and programs (unfortunately tied to the principal benefit of the EU, some bits of strength of regulatory programs),

      1. Ignacio

        In Spain we survived without government for a year. In Belgium for more than a year if I remember well. This means institutions are strong enough to work without effective government.

        1. JTMcPhee

          When did this occur? Which institutions? And without “government?” In any of its agencies and forms? No police or fire? No military? Hospitals ran ok? People got paid their wages and their pensions? Sounds like an anarchists’ dream, if it actually happened.

          1. Ignacio

            This occurs when elections yield results that change previous political landscape but yet make it difficult to form a government. Then you have an interim do-nothing.

          2. HougDa

            Belgium was without a Government for nearly two years between 2010 – 2011.

            It was the longest period in history until August when the record was broken, ironically enough by Northern Ireland.

            Administration still happens though. The people in charge of collecting taxes and paying teachers’ wages still go to work and do their jobs.

            1. S. Weil

              Krugman has argued that a lack of a government actually helped Belgium, as there was no authority to impose austerity – their growth was pretty good

  8. disillusionized

    Nigel Dodds, the deputy DUP leader, laid out conditions for accepting a backstop, saying: “It can’t be forever, it must be time limited, it must be finite. It cannot bind Northern Ireland into arrangements that the rest of the United Kingdom is not tied up to.”

    While many have focused on the first part of this statement, the second part is in fact the bigger obstacle – The EU will never agree to the whole of the UK being covered.
    Full stop – NI can have a special backstop where 3/4 freedoms apply, there are other territories that have similar deal currently – but will never ever extend that to the whole of the UK.

  9. EoinW

    Thanks for the article and the great comments. I’m wondering what the prospects now are for an independent Northern Ireland with an open border(perhaps open borders – Irish Sea)? I know that at first glance it seems that neither the nationalists nor the loyalists want this. Could it not be the compromise position in the end? Neither side could stand to see the other win so maybe they could live with both sides losing. It’d be a united Ireland in all but name, however if that spared us a blood bath then why not?

    To conclude with a cynical view: the established political parties in Ireland are so corrupt they make Sein Fein seem attractive. To my mind it’s like 25 counties continually paying tribute to Dublin. Why would anyone in NI want to see 31 counties paying tribute? Maybe this opinion is simply Gaelic football sour grapes.

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