Brexit: Even More Confusion

Due to the considerable amount of political thrashing around on Brexit, we’ll attempt to keep this post to a few potentially important items. I hope readers will as usual pipe up in comments with reactions and additional sightings.

The most disheartening aspect is that the UK press and pols seem to be as clueless as the Tories have been and continue to be from the outset of the Brexit process. They appear unwilling to accept that the UK has had very little bargaining leverage, and the fact that the EU is governed by treaties also limits how much latitude it has.

Just as it proved difficult to dislodge the Government’s fantasy that the UK would get a “special, bespoke, close” deal that would let it have “frictionless trade” with few obligations, so too are those who oppose the deal coming up with either remedies or ways out that are delusional. For instance, former Brexit minister David Davis wrote on Monday:

It does not have to be like this. What we need now is leadership and the courage and confidence to deliver for the UK. We can deliver an honest and clean Brexit, leaving all the possibilities such as global free trade deals open for bright future. If we need to leave with no deal and negotiate a free trade agreement during the transition period, so be it. Let’s be clear and honest and tell the EU that’s what we are prepared to do.

Um, if there’s no deal, there’s no transition period.

A related vein from Tories is that they are pushing May to improve the terms of the deal, when Barnier is striving to treat the “draft” agreement as settled. Barnier is already having trouble containing demands from the EU side. From the Financial Times:

France is leading a push for uncompromising EU declarations to accompany any Brexit deal with Theresa May, raising demands that would further complicate the UK prime minister’s efforts to win Westminster’s backing for the withdrawal agreement…

The EU statements, known as side declarations, are commonly used by the bloc in difficult negotiations. While they are outside any formal agreement, their aim is to manage expectations by clarifying the EU’s internal interpretation of any deal…

In a sign of the obstacles facing Mrs May, who needs to push through the eventual deal through a deeply sceptical House of Commons, France and Spain are championing the idea of separate EU statements, according to several diplomats from the bloc. These would set out the EU bloc’s red lines more clearly than in the formal political declaration.

The hot topics are fishing rights. “level playing field,” provisions, and Gibraltar, where what was depicted as a deal between Spain and the UK fell apart. Spain now wants a formal commitment that the Withdrawal Agreement does not “prejudge” Gibraltar’s position.

Another can of worms has been opened by the Government’s procedural loss on the question of amendments. MPs will be able to propose and vote on amendments to the withdrawal bill. We expect at least two to be debated seriously and to have the potential to be passed. One is to condition approval on a second referendum, the other is the so-far not clearly defined Kier Starmer “no no deal” scheme.

Quite a few people who should know better are pushing for a second referendum. As we’ve described, there’s no way for it to be completed before the March 29 drop dead date and the EU has never indicated any willingness to postpone Brexit to allow for one. Clive saw way too much of this sort of thing over the weekend:

I’ve been watching the Sunday political slots right across the MSM this morning. Honestly you would have not believed there could be such an outpouring of gibberish. Just be glad you’re not here, that’s all I’ll say. The entire political establishment is going on one, giant, collaborative, unicorn hunt.

I could supply link after link of this, what I can only describe as the madness of crowds, but televised.

I’ll settle for this little peach from Conservative ultra-pro-EU grandee Michael Heseltine.

He saves his best words ‘til last:

The government now faces uncomfortable choices. There is no rational argument that sees the Brexit deal passing through the Commons. Every day that it takes the government to recognise this increases the risk of no deal. I do not believe that the Commons will allow this devastating consequence to arise. Two things have to happen. A cross-party alliance has to vote for an alternative option – the most obvious is to put the issue back to the British people in a second referendum. The Europeans have to agree – and I think they would – to move the March 2019 deadline to allow time for this.

(my emphasis)

No, luvvie, they don’t. And they won’t.

Then only positive I can draw is that it has finally been exposed how the entire U.K. political elite (both in the various parties and the credentialed access-journalism media) for Leave and Remain have not got the faintest idea how the EU works and how the U.K. can — and can’t — interact with it. The Remain ultras are showing themselves to be every bit as bad as the Leave ultras.

There’s enough cakeism to fill the next five seasons of the Great British Bake Off.

Similarly, if someone has figured out what Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Kier Starmer is cooking up, please clue me in. I can’t make sense of this Guardian report:

Labour is planning to force a Commons vote within weeks that would make it impossible for Britain to crash out of the European Union without a deal, as fears grow about a disastrous hard Brexit if parliament rejects Theresa May’s agreement.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is working on plans to amend key elements of Brexit legislation that still have to pass through the Commons, in order to prevent parliament ever approving the option….

Starmer told the Observer that Labour would make sure parliament offered a legislative route to make “no deal” impossible. “If the prime minister’s deal is rejected – and that’s looking increasingly likely – parliament will not just sit back and allow her to proceed with no deal,” he said.

“There are plenty of Conservative MPs who have come up to me to say that they will not countenance the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement. There is a clear majority in parliament against no deal, and Labour will work across the Commons to prevent no deal. On the government’s own analysis, over 50 changes to legislation would be needed for a no-deal outcome, so there will be no shortage of opportunities to pass binding votes on this issue.”

Huh? The UK can diddle with its legislation all it wants. Unless it rescinds its Article 50 notice, it will crash out without a Withdrawal Agreement.

What does it take to do that? Clive had a stab at that too:

The EU will require the revocation instruction to be made “in line with the constitutional requirements of the Member State” (or some such wording).
What, exactly, will those constitutional requirements be?
  • The UK government alone can simply say (e.g. via a Cabinet decision) it want to issue the revocation — it won’t need a parliamentary vote to do so and can make the notification via executive action (equivalent) — the UK Prime Minister make the notification to the Council.
  • Parliamentary approval is required
I would say it’s more likely to be the former than the latter, but ultimately it’ll go to the UKSC to make a ruling, if the UK government does decide it won’t need to go via Parliament.
So that’s all fine, then isn’t it?
No. There’s still the small matter of the legally binding fixed leaving date which was added to the EU Withdrawal Bill with the hard-coded “exit day” or 29th March 2019.
This must be repealed regardless of whether the EU decides to (is forced to) accept the revocation for the triggering of A50 following the (as were are assuming for the purposes of this exercise) Opinion permitting this action being given by the CJEU.
Recall that the UK leaving the EU is a two-sided process. The UK can legally leave the EU and the EU is powerless to stop it. The EU can determine that, following the provisions in A50, a Member State has legally left the EU and the UK is powerless to stop it. In order to halt leaving altogether, both “limbs” of any revocation of A50 must be in place. The EU must have had its legal position changed (by the new, assumed, mechanism which the CJEU Opinion might enable) and the UK must have had its legal position changed (by repealing the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Bill).
Failure to have both “limbs” in place will, using the most polite language about it, not result in legal certainty. The EU could still, legally, have to regard the UK as being a Member State (as it considers A50 rescinded and the UK having re-acceded — or alternately not left at all, I won’t split the hair on that one) but the UK, with that pesky 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Bill still UK law, would consider itself to have left.

Another issue is that the EU will simply reject any amendments; that is certainly Barnier’s body language. So what happens if a referendum amendment or Starmer’s clever add-ons get nixed by the EU? Or if the Government gets them stripped out on that basis? Again a take from Clive:

It’ll all be down to amendments. Here it would need a constitutional layer to give an accurate opinion because UK legislation and parliamentary procedures are very obtuse. But I think there’s real doubt that the clerk to the commons would accept an amendment which says, in effect, you have to have a referendum on this bill becoming law. Parliamentary procedures are designed to stop an amendment which creates a condition that might not happen (such as the UK government having to both bring forward new primary legislation, which might not get passed – such as a referendum – and then that referendum concluding in a way which supports the bill being voted on) being attached to a bill. Parliament can only conclude a bill in a way which creates legal certainty. In effect, a bill can only be passed if, as a result of that bill, the courts can look at that bill and say, without any ambiguity “this is the law, this is what the law says”. You couldn’t have the Withdrawal Agreement pass through Parliament – whereupon it becomes law – but then have everyone (including the courts, both UK domestic and others such as the CJEU) have to then say to themselves “ah, well, maybe not, we’ll have to wait for the referendum result, whenever that is, whatever questions are on it, to know what the UK’s legal position in in respect of the EU”. I imagine the UK government’s chief whips office is going through all this now. Just because Parliament is sovereign, it doesn’t mean it can act like a constitutional equivalent of a drunk in a bar.

But even if the Government is legally correct to nix these amendments, can you imagine the backlash? The press is treating all sorts of barmy ideas as serious, and if May refuses to let them be heard, the MPs will take it out against the bill (as in vote it down clean) and against her (Labour has threatened a vote of no confidence if the bill fails to pass; it takes a higher number of votes to pass if the motion of no confidence does not come from the ruling party).

To make things more fun, Nicola Sturgeon is working against May’s deal, but with the same bad ideas that are circulating. From Politico:

Pro-EU Conservative MPs can be part of a cross-party “coalition” against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and against a no-deal exit, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Tuesday.

Sturgeon was speaking in Westminster following talks with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K.’s opposition Labour party. Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party is the third largest party in the House of Commons, said those opposed to the binary choice of May’s deal or no deal should unite behind a single alternative strategy — and that Conservative MPs “have a role to play” in the interests of “building a coalition” in Westminster.

“The next stage of these discussions has to then look at what option can the opposition coalesce around,” Sturgeon said, adding that options included a second referendum, a permanent customs union and single market arrangement.

And the Ultras are looking like yesterday’s news, having not made good on their threat of a vote of no confidence. However, at least for some of them, the failure to send in the required letters may instead have been because they knew they’d lose, which would mean May could not be challenged for another year. The more opportune time would be if/when the Brexit bill fails to pass. So then we’ll see if the Ultras were all bark, no bite, or if they managed to muster a tiny bit of discipline when it mattered.

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  1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

    The best part about all of things is that one of the colonies (Noethern Ireland) will get to turn around and punish the UK establishment for its centuries of misdeeds and abuse due to a situation with the colonies that the UK itself created.

    Which is glorious.

    We just need to move the rest of the population of the island somehow.

    I actually wondered to myself if it would make sense for the UK government to move critical care patients off the island to a place where they can consistently get medicine while the crash out effects are sorted out. One of the solutions to the coming intractable crash out logistics problems would be to simply preemptively reduce the population of the island a bit.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I have no insights into what Kier Starmers tactics are (if he has any apart from stirring the pot), but reading the reporting over the weekend it seems to me that the Remainers strategy goes somewhere along the lines of creating Parliamentary chaos and and deadlock in the hope that this panics the government into asking/begging the EU for a 12 month stay on Brexit, with exit conditional on another Referendum. Several papers were reporting that senior politicians in Europe were openly talking about encouraging such a postponement (its possible of course that they haven’t thought through the legal obstacles either).

    On the other side, if May has a strategy, it is to grit her teeth and try to grind through Parliament for a deeply reluctant agreement to the deal. The tactic seems to be to grind the opposition down – possibly via losing an initial vote, then using panic/chaos in the markets to force it through a second time. Its possible this could succeed as the Ultras appear to be falling apart. Even the DUP is making stern statements without actually saying they would back out of supporting the government.

    As of now, I suspect May could well be more likely to succeed than looked possible last week. She is blessed with having complete idiots as opposition within the Tory Party and an opposition without a clear message. She may lack almost any talent whatever as a leader, but she certainly has luck, which may be enough.

    However, as Yves notes, there are plenty of rumblings in Europe that the deal may not get full approval. The Spanish in particular may be keen to throw some grit in the wheels.

    1. Anonymous2

      Thanks Yves for another excellent piece.
      The thought occurs to me that maybe one of Starmer’s objectives could be to try to avoid /reduce the blame that comes Labour’s way in the event of crash out. If they vote against May’s deal, as they have said they will, they could need some cover? Trying and failing to push through a ‘no no deal ‘ amendment might enable them to say, in event of crash out, ‘well we tried to stop it but the Tories would not let us ‘.Of course it is absurd but we are in the Alice through the looking glass world of British politics here so perhaps the more absurd it is the more it makes sense?

    2. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      Its evident that the UK government is going to have to do something to increase its leverage in the negotiations here. Chaos in the financial markets through a failed first vote pretty much appears to be the most straightforward way to do that.

      1. vlade

        It’s dubious how much leverage that would create over the EU – unless it moved the markets on Italian banks and the like.

        But if we get there, I suspect the EU would forget about Brexit as there would be much bigger firest to deal with, and the “take it or leave it” becomes even more pronounced.

    3. Clive

      I was trying, Agatha Christie-like, to come up with a list of EU27 Member States who had cause to gripe at the U.K. and I ended up with a long one. We do rather seem to have a knack of losing friends and alienating people.

      1) Spain, because Gibraltar
      2) France and Germany because we’ve never been anything other than a right royal PITA since they let us in; they might be happy to see us go, but there’s no goodwill to be especially nice to the U.K.
      3) Greece, because the U.K. government never gave two hoots about them, so why shouldn’t Greece say “we don’t care”?
      4) The Republic of Ireland, because, well.. where do you start? Trying to pull off various connivances that would have the EU27 kick them to the curb, trying to fob them off with unworkable so-called solutions, trying to break up the EU27 as a block and get individual members to turn on Ireland — that is before we get to the really underhanded stuff…
      5) Poland — might have been expected to support the U.K. (given the current government and how it is itself not exactly in EU’s good books) but I’ve talked to quite a few Polish friends who are utterly bewildered that the U.K. can even think of weakening the EU and threatening to unpick the fairly well ordered and largely stable geopolitical tectonic plates in Europe. Plus the large community from Poland who do now call the U.K. home and can’t believe the U.K. would treat them so shabbily (these factors would get back to politicians in Poland itself).

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think a key issue in the attitude of the Germans and other northern Europeans is that even the Anglophiles (and there are still plenty of them) recognise that if Britain does not leave decisively in March, then the Brexit issue will never, ever end. Even another Referendum voting to stay would not stop it. It would be a deep running sore for years which would continually gum up the EU’s ability to make decisions. So even the most sympathetic Germans, Danes and Dutch etc., now just want it over and done with. I don’t believe there is a single EU leader willing to spend political credit to argue on behalf of the UK behind closed doors, and this is always crucial in overcoming objections from the smaller countries.

    4. Ignacio

      Merkel has just said that she expects a solution on the Gibraltar issue by sunday. What solution will it be? I don’t know, but I guess that given all discussions and priorities cited above Gibraltar migth end paying a high price for brexit because it is last in the political queue.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I suspect the Gibraltar issue is solvable, its the fishing issue which may become more important. Plus other ‘wild cards’ like the Italians using their vote as leverage for their own ends.

        1. Fazal Majid

          The fishing issue will be resolved by horse-trading. The UK will throw the (mostly Scottish) fishermen under the bus in exchange for concessions for the City.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            They aren’t getting concessions for the City. The UK weirdly hasn’t been pressing for that, and the EU has been keen to cut London down to size. All the UK players are capable of relocating operations to the EU. This is about saving jobs in London, not about saving the banks per se, hence it not getting as far as you’d think.

    5. ChrisPacific

      I had thought a fair number of people had woken up to the fact that no deal Brexit wasn’t subject to parliamentary veto, but Starmer doesn’t seem to have got the memo. Reading his statements, I get the sense that he believes parliament could plunge the UK into eternal night by forbidding the sun from rising in the morning.

      A depressingly large number of people still seem to believe that no deal can be averted without actually making a deal. It’s reminiscent of the running joke in the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure, where you had to figure out a way to have ‘tea’ and ‘no tea’ at the same time.

  3. vlade

    I’ll say again what I wrote in the comments on some other thread, because I’m a cynical bastard.

    I believe Labour is trying to engineer a no-deal Brexit, which they hope will bring them into power, kill Tories for generation or more, and free them of the pesky EU at the same time.

    Labour’s leadership is anti-EU. Corbyn believes that his agenda would not be possible to implement under the EU, and also, I suspect, sees the EU as just another neo-lib con (i.e. shares the views of Bill Mitchell and similar).

    Labour membership is pro-EU, and would prefer to stay in the EU.

    Now, Labour’s course is to sink May’s deal, and pass “no no-deal” (NND) motion in the parliament. Let’s look at what it means in practice.

    First, A50 was given, and the “leaving the EU Act” is in force. These are actors on their own, and actions are required to stop either. No action on either will still get the UK out of the EU March next year.

    So what if May’s deal is dead, and the Parliament passes the NND? There is only a limited number of actions that can happen again.

    – A50 revocation. Labour is silent on this, except when it isn’t (Corbyn’s “we can’t stop Brexit”). Unlikely w/o a cover of a referendum. See other threads why that’s impossible on the March schedule. Parliament also would have to revoke/amend the “leaving the EU” Act via primary legislation.

    – A50 extension. IMO, the EU would grant (maybe, it requires unanimity, so is far from given) extension only for a well defined process. That is, something where the possible outcomes and timetable are well known in advance. That does NOT include renegotiation of WA.. i.e Unlikely outcome. The parliament also has to revoke/amend the “leaving the EU” Act via primary legislation.

    – Cosmetic changes to May’s WA that pass parliament. One way I could see this happen is if May traded it for a new GE. Otherwise, doubt it.
    – Crash out w/o WA. In that situation, Labour leadership gets what it wants, and has cover for its members “we tried our best, but the EU/Tories/whatever stopped us”.

    The first two items require the Parliament to pass primary legislation (to revoke/amend leaving the eu act). That takes time. Unless Tory and Labour MPs, as well as govt works together on this, the timeframe is really really tight.

    The third option would require May persuading enough MPs that her deal is worth risking a GE.

    Assuming that Stramer is not an idiot, engineering crash-out blamable on Tories is the only rational argument I can see. The former cannot be ruled out of course.

    1. The Rev Kev

      In your analysis, would that be both the Corbyn faction and the Blairites working on this campaign together?

      1. Ignacio

        If I interpret vlade correctly blairites (remainers) would like the 3rd item and dislike the fourth while corbynites (brexiteers) would rather the 4th and dislike the 3rd.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Starmer isn’t a Blairite, but he isn’t a Corbynite either. The Blairites certainly don’t want a crash out, although its possible that at least some of them see a crash out as ultimately better that a really bad half assed deal.

        I suspect both are united in seeing that the only way out of the corner eveyone is in is a crisis of epic proportions – one that either leads (somehow) to an abandonment of A.50, or that leads to a no deal crashout with immediate transition to socialist paradise (yes, there really are some Corbynites who believe this).

        I think we are seeing an unlikely alliance between the ‘disaster brigade’ – those who see benefit in a crash out – and the ‘anything but crash-out’ people. In the end, I think the latter group will reluctantly get behind May, the others will do everything to confuse matters. I really don’t know who will win, although my gut feeling is that the Tories will get behind May in the end and the DUP will lose their nerve and abstain rather than vote against.

        1. Neil Carey

          The Tories can turn, their ideology and intransigence can be overcome even if they consider the matter to be a core principle. Remember the Anglo/Irish Agreement on 1985? This was precursor to the Good Friday Agreement, when Margaret Thatcher was British Prime-Minister and Garret Fitzgerald the Irish Taoiseach. Thatcher was an avowed Unionist and initial attempts by the Irish government to gain some measure of influence in the North were originally rebuffed by Thatcher in her infamous ‘Out, Out, Out’ speech in 1983. However Fitzgerald persisted and by using the Irish-American lobby in the U.S, and ultimately Ronald Reagan, Thatcher agreed to ‘an Irish dimension’ in the North and the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was set up in 1985 . This was merely an advisory role but it was a beginning. The DUP and the Ulster Unionists of course were completely opposed.

      3. vlade

        Blairites were always for second referendum. In the above, I assume they don’t realise (or care, it matters not) that the timelines are dead for it.

        If I call my cynical bastartd back, they do know it’s too late, but were counting on Corbyn being lukewarm to it at best – which he was, until recently. And thus, when the crash out happens, they could blame both Corbyn and Tories on it, seizing back the power in Labour party.

        Corbyn “switching sides” (after waiting long enough to know it’s not going to make any practical difference) might have caught them as much by suprirse as anyone else.

    2. el_tel

      Assuming that Stramer is not an idiot, engineering crash-out blamable on Tories is the only rational argument I can see

      That’s been my suspicion for a long time. I’ve been of of the opinion (particularly in the light of the rise of populism in the EU – see today’s Guardian, the “Italy issue” etc) that BREXIT could either be a horrible but short-lived “quick rip of the band-aid” whilst remain would be (ultimately) perhaps equally painful, but a “series of small rips” as things gradually go pear-shaped. I preferred the former for the “Keir Starmer” reason given….but having learnt so much on NC about the actual legal/practical ramifications over the past year or so, I now simply feel profoundly depressed by the whole thing and (rarely for me) not knowing what I believe to be the best strategy to get rid of neoliberals who wrecked us (whether New Labour or Tory).

    3. paul

      I believe Labour is trying to engineer a no-deal Brexit, which they hope will bring them into power, kill Tories for generation or more, and free them of the pesky EU at the same time.

      That sounds an awful lot like the reasoning Treeza had for the last general election. That didn’t turn out as planned.

      Attributing a strategy of ‘declining to interrupt while opponents make their mistakes’ to Corbyn suggests a mastery he rarely exhibits elsewhere.

      That compliment should go to the ultras, Davis,Johnson, Raab et al have happily sat on their fat arses throughout while every else scrambles around trying to make sense of the situation.

      Thus, it is they that will get what they want

      1. vlade

        Oh, they will (quite possibly) get what they want – except for Boris, who really just wants to be PM, no matter what/where/how. But it doesn’t mean Corbyn doesn’t want it either.

    4. jabbawocky

      I think the stated intentions of Kier Starmer argue against this. He is trying to generate political cover for voting down May’s brext deal. He wants to avoid Labour being blamed for any resulting chaos by at least attempting to legislate to make ‘no deal’ illegal. I’m not sure it matters that he succeeds, only that the government vote down his amendment. I think for all the reasons Yves carefully summarises, it is difficult to imagine the amendment becoming law. Then labour can claim theat they tried to prevent a ‘no deal’ brexit, and that’s all the Government’s fault, ERG ultras, DUP or anyone but them.

      1. vlade

        Yes, but by shooting down the deal and getting through “no no deal” (which may well be undeliverable – but most of the populace doesn’t realise that) they get their hard brexit too.

        1. boz

          To this point… how many people ever learn the truth about Brexit?

          Assuming we crash out, ignorance would play to Labour’s benefit (“we tried”).

          Looks like a game of pin the tail on the donkey now.

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      Reader David argued that May does not need Parliamentary approval to revoke A50 because revocation is a treaty matter while imposing it involved changing domestic laws, hence the need for Parliamentary approval. However, per the legislation Clive citied, it appears the Withdrawal Bill ties May’s hands as far as acting unilaterally is concerned, plus I can’t see her revoking A50 save under duress + with Parliamentary backing .

      1. vlade

        I’ve put there for both of the first two options (revoke/delay A50) requirement for primary legislation, which means timing problems

        “The first two items require the Parliament to pass primary legislation (to revoke/amend leaving the eu act). That takes time. Unless Tory and Labour MPs, as well as govt works together on this, the timeframe is really really tight. “

      2. David

        I suggested that, whilst the Art 50 declaration (according to the Supreme Court) needed parliamentary approval because it effectively changed the law, this was an exception, said the Court, to the usual discretion of governments to deal with treaty issues. I can’t see logically how a decision NOT to change the law could require a vote in parliament, or it would set a precedent for anarchy. It would be equivalent to the government needing parliamentary approval to withdraw proposed legislation which it changed its mind about. I’m not a lawyer, but if you read the SC judgement, it’s the issue of changing the law which the Court seized on. But the British Constitution being what it is, maybe I’m wrong ……

      3. Fazal Majid

        If the Art. 50 notice is found invalid on some technicality, like the Queen having used purple instead of blue ink to sign it, the revocation wouldn’t actually be one, as long as the determination is made according to the UK’s constitutional arrangements. In the absence of a written constitution and given the arbitrarily capricious nature of Common Law, anything goes. There are certainly serious reasons to find it invalid, such as breaches of Scottish and Welsh devolution consultation requirements.

        There is also the hail-Mary pass of the Scottish MPs and MSPs who asked the CJEU to rule on whether an Art. 50 can be withdrawn unilaterally. The UK government’s efforts to block it were recently blocked by a Scottish court (remember, Scottish law is different from English/Welsh law).

        1. Clive

          No, go back and re-read the piece. The 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Act says in the very first paragraph:

          Repeal of the ECA

          1 Repeal of the European Communities Act 1972

          The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.

          Exit day is specifically declared as 29th March 2019.

          The Act must be repealed (along with Article 50 being rescinded) to complete a revocation of the current Leave trajectory.

          1. Fazal Majid

            Sure, but that’s UK legislation that the UK can repeal without having to ask the EU for buy-in. It would require Parliament to agree and can’t be passed unilaterally by the PM, and it’s debatable whether UK politics are even remotely functional enough to allow this to happen today, but the question was whether there is a way for the UK to cancel Brexit without the EU’s 27 agreeing.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          That case is moot. The EU has said it would let the UK back out even at the very last minute. The UK has to revoke A50. That’s the obstacle.

  4. kk

    Nearly 50 years ago l took my British constitution A level class. A standard question was, ‘who is more powerful the US president or the U.K. prime minister?’. The answer as we are seeing with Mr Trump and mrs May is that the president seems enormously powerful but is not (as the writers of the US constitution intended), and the prime minister seems weak but is effectively an elected king (as per the Act of Settlement). Cabinet responsibility means you agree with the PM or leave, deposing a sitting PM is practically impossible without enormous effort if they don’t want to go (cf King Charles 1), and once you are out of the Government you are out of the power grid. Mrs May will get her agreement, all the rest is noise. We will have BINO, we leave but don’t leave, which is the answer the elite decided on as the answer to the problem of a poorly handled referendum. The newspapers and ERG and the BBC are creatures of the PM and will fall into line. Once again, l must repeat,The U.K. is not the USA, it is an representative monarchy not a republic; the present situation is only another problem to be solved, eg months after suez the party who was responsible for the disaster was voted back in! Even your British commentators seem to see everything through the prism of the USA’s experience. But as one of the central memes of this blog is that ‘plumbing matters’ and technical problems are key barriers to political and economic desires, surely your readers will see the ‘constitutional plumbing’ of the U.K. dictates the final destination of brexit – we will muddle through and nothing will really change.

    1. Mirdif

      Well said. However, I must caveat your conclusion that such an outcome is pending complete capitulation in the phase following transition. The country is about to experience a different sort of austerity, one aimed at taxpayers in the 40% band and this will be followed by a brain drain concluded by a return to the EU by 2027 at the earliest and no later than 2034.

      Withdrawal agreement is in the bag and all opposing parties are posturing. Expect even the likes of the former foreign secretary to vote for it all the while talking about how he’d have done it better.

    2. Anders K

      One thing that speaks against this is the insularity of the leading elite, and the echo chambers they seem to inhabit. While I am sure the EU would love to have a BRINO, it does have to follow some rules.

      If the UK fails to allow the EU to follow those rules (which it seems it is entirely possible they will, considering their competence in general), an unintentional crash out may very well occur.

      Since a lot of the WA is about trade, it should not be impossible for interested parties to find someone with standing to challenge any deals which fudge the rules – and this is on a lower level than the country level where entire countries may want to throw dirt in the deal machinery as well.

  5. makedoanmend

    Time is the issue. Time was always the issue. Once article 50 was triggered, there was a very specific time limit. Were some in the UK prepared to play with this time limit to their advantage?

    Anyone who has negotiated international treaties that need approval from respective elective/legislative bodies must know that an odd spanner can be thrown into the works as the draft agreement is presented to the various government legislatures, thus delaying the formalisation of a treaty – if not tanking it. Those crafting any such a treaty always have an eye on what the legislative bug-bears might be and try to ensure there is enough time to overcome obstacles.

    Did the EU negotiatiors and/or the May think that the Ultra-Brexiteers were always trying to wind down the clock to achieve a ‘crash-out scenario’ and that they could turn the tables on the Ultras, so to speak, and spring a last minute deal on the UK parliament that was basically a take it or leave position whilst portraying the ‘crash-out/leave’ as too harsh to contemplate?

    Also, at this point it seems Marcon is seeking to position France as as economic beneficiary of the UK’s exit from the exiting European economic format until such time as the UK can negotiate a whole new sets of relationships. It seems France has lost out on new transatlantic shipping opportunities so he is seeking to gain finance, service and maybe some auto manufacturing jobs for France. Might it be in France’s interest to delay at this point?

    In actuality, the negotiations are either at a brinkmanship stage or the entire process is going to just atrophy into a crash-out. That any sane adult would want these negotiations to come to this juncture it rather mind-boggling. The implications and ramifications will take decades to reveal themselves.

    Yet, however it plays out, there are no real winners in the UK or in Europe as a whole.

    If I was betting person, I think the USA and few other non-European large economies might just be the main beneficiaries of this entire sorry European anti-saga. If the EU could eat the UK’s lunch, the USA isn’t even going to leave them a midnight snack.

    1. ChrisPacific

      I have been thinking a lot about the timing angle on this. I’ve concluded that there is a fundamental incompatibility between political and practical requirements on the issue.

      Practically speaking, a change of this magnitude will always require massive changes across many different systems, processes, businesses etc. Some of those require lots of lead time if they are to be done properly. All of that suggests it’s very important to get major issues and disagreements surfaced and resolved early, in order to allow enough time for things to be done properly.

      That’s all well and good if all parties are broadly in agreement on fundamental issues and all that’s left is to nail down the details. In this case, though, there was literally no overlap between the positions once all the various red lines had been taken into account. There was never going to be an agreement without one or more parties compromising on their red lines. Everyone concerned was sufficiently against this that it was always going to take a crisis to force enough change to make an agreement possible, if it was possible at all. And you can’t have a crisis if there is lots of time remaining, because everyone thinks that there is still plenty of time to figure it out.

      So in that sense it wouldn’t have mattered if there was 5 years of lead time instead of 2. It would still have come down to the final deadline.

  6. Adrian Kent

    I note your second paragraph:

    “..the fact that the EU is governed by treaties also limits how much latitude it has. Just as it proved difficult to dislodge the Government’s fantasy that the UK would get a “special, bespoke, close” deal that would let it have “frictionless trade” with few obligations, so too are those who oppose the deal coming up with either remedies or ways out that are delusional.”

    From a Lexit point of view, I’d have put it like this:

    “..the fact that the EU is governed by treaties also limits how much latitude it has. Just as it proved difficult to dislodge the Remainer’s fantasy that the UK would get a “remain and reformed” EU that would let it have “progressive reforms” without severe interference from the captured institutions, so too are those who oppose the deal coming up with either remedies or ways out that are delusional if they expect anything other than the piss-poor status quo.”

    1. makedoanmend

      Is this another attempt to blame the EU for stopping so-called “progressive reforms” in the UK?* If so, you’re beating a dead horse. The NHS is a progressive political institution that is under pressure from the Tories – not the EU. One of the rail networks, under this extended Tory government, was brought back into national ownership when the free-market franchisee walked away. It was very profitable for the UK exchequer but Tory neo-liberal ideology made sure a new franchisee was found. The entire rail infrastructure (and debt) was quietly brought back into UK national ownership under the cover of the Scottish Independence referendum. On a previous post, someone pointed out the extensive German nationalised institutions and union input into their society. Also the Paris government threw out the privatised water company and took it back into municipal control. At no time did the EU attempt to interfere in these events or situations.

      There may good reasons why any European country might want to leave the EU but I haven’t heard many reasons that weren’t tinged with parochial nationalism** or claims based on false suppositions.

      *If not, just consider it an adjunct debunking the idea that a neo-liberal EU is somehow an impediment to a neo-liberal UK. Sure the neo-liberal elite across Europe don’t want to see any European party or government in power but that was never the point of the arch neo-liberal Tory party and their desire to create a neo-liberal paradise in the UK. If the people want change, and the opinion poles in the UK are very obscure on this point, they will demand it.

      **This applies to any European country – not just the UK.

      1. Adrian Kent

        No, it’s a post pointing out that there are likely no good outcomes here.

        Those items you listed are often brought up, but often without realising that they don’t just describe some of the options available to the UK in the EU, they also describe pretty much ALL the options available to a UK gov within the EU.

        Water provision is one of the very few exemtions from the otherwise very disruptive obstacles that the EU places in front of re-nationalisation schemes.

        Of course the NHS is at risk from the vile Tories, but bringing it back into public hands in the EU will be either impossible or hugely expensive and everything is about to get much worse with the Service Notification Directive which will scuppoer many municipal plans too.

        Personally, I’d rather no-deal than one with too many ‘non-regression’ clauses (which litter the Chequers agreement).

        1. makedoanmend

          We shall see. There are tons of people projecting what the EU can and cannot do on a local level in countries.

          I have no illusions that the EU project needs to be redefined and reformed. It may not last, but if it fails for any given reason or scenario Europeans will not be the better for that failure. Those who fail to learn from history will repeat it. European history is well documented.

          But the UK crashing out of the EU is just nuts. Good luck. You’ll need it and no amount of so-called progressive policies will mitigate the situation.

  7. divadab

    Nice to see those Tory shits eating it. Since the execrable Thatcher they’ve been hell-bent on wrecking the UK’s social fabric for private gain and now they are reaping what they sowed. There is a silver lining and all the weeping and moaning about a crash-out (no medicine! oh woe!) are unbelievable.

    Independence for Scotland, the revival of the auld alliance with France, and the utter destruction of Thatcherism and all the scum who promote it are worth it.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said.

      There are people in France who welcome a revival of the auld alliance and see this as an opportunity to spite Albion Perfide and, at the same time, break up the UK, so whatever is left is not able to disrupt the EU / threaten France’s co-leadership of the EU with Germany.

      Some French policymakers think an independent Scotland could be in EFTA / EEA within a couple of years, but it must sort out legacy issues like the currency first. The door is open for Sturgeon. She has only to push. Perhaps, a meeting with obvious fanfare when the Six Nations start next year is the way to start the conversation.

      The Scots at work, all Blairite unionists, want out if hard Brexit comes to pass. That seems to be a trend with other Scots I know.

      1. Divadab

        Thanks and I’m not surprised about labor Scots wanting out after brexit. If independence happens ( a big if) it will be a boon to Edinburgh’s financial industry and all the Scots working in the City could repatriate. It won’t be the first time English incompetence worked to Scotland ‘s benefit!

  8. paul

    Why, after 2 years of being blatantly ignored, Nicola Sturgeon thinks her intervention will make any difference escapes me.
    I’m certainly in agreement with craig murray here:
    Know your limits.

    Requesting revocation of article 50 and the withdrawal bill seems to be the only possible path at this stage.
    Its a pity that that most pathetic of excuses; it’s not seen as politically possible is the main obstacle for the one eyed strategists in the political class.

    1. Clive

      Loved this bit:

      This is Sturgeon’s dilemma. She sees a UK in which the tragedy of the Remain camp is that its leadership is utterly discredited. Blair, Campbell, Umunna, Clegg, Mandelson, Straw; the only people articulating a Remain position have no credibility. They are all people who turn the nation’s stomach when they show up on Marr [Clive: a BBC Sunday morning political show, awful, but actually the best of a bad bunch]. That leaves a huge leadership vacuum which Sturgeon is filling in Remainer eyes, and in Guardian/BBC eyes. A Remain minded leader who is not personally hated. A very rare thing indeed.

      Who else do the Remain camp have as a leading politician who is not discredited and deeply unpopular? Serious question, please do attempt an answer.

      And I agree. I’d say that if Sturgeon had led Remain, Remain would have won by, if not a mile, then several yards.

        1. Clive

          Because she has a modicum of integrity, isn’t as dumb as a bag of spanners and has a broadly progressive agenda which she doesn’t sell out to big money interests at the first waving of a £5 note under her nose. We need a few more like her. But we’re not likely to get them.

          She’s also never agreed to invade Iraq or ordered the bombing of Libya, either. That probably helps, too.

          1. JW

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my mishappen comment.

            I meant to write the “Scottish Independence referendum” but I guess either you understood that or your answer would be the same anyway. Those are truly strong words for a politician coming from someone who keeps both eyes open.

  9. The Rev Kev

    Say, whatever happened to David Cameron – the guy that set this train wreck in motion? Can’t recall seeing his name in the media all this year.

    1. Clive

      He did, briefly, threaten to return, risen from the political crypt, a week or so ago.

      To be met with howls of derision and a general — rare — outpouring of cross-country agreement that if he ever dares to darken our doors again, he’ll be sent away with a flea in his ear. Like Blair, Hillary, Michelle and their ilk, that lot never seem to take the hint, do they? Thatcher was just as bad, never ceasing to try to reanimate her political corpse.

      At least Major and Brown (plus the Bushes) had the decency to slope away and not keep on pestering us. Even Julia Gillard was here yesterday, admittedly doing the media tart bit, but had the courtesy to say that she’d had her time, there’s no coming back when your day is done.

      1. DaveH

        He apparently suggested to friends that he was a bit bored and he fancied something interesting like, ooh, maybe being Foreign Secretary. That sounds like a lark.

        Brought to mind that bit in The Young Ones when Footlights College are complaining in the car about how all the good jobs had been taken and they were going to have to settle for something rubbish like being Director General of the BBC.

        The sense of entitlement is pretty breathtaking.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, both.

          Alec Douglas Home returned as Foreign Secretary under Ted Heath in 1970, having lost to Harold Wilson in 1964.

        2. BobWhite

          Always love a Young Ones episode, and Bambi was brilliant. :-)
          The show regularly skewered the UK government and other elites, generally in proportional amounts.

          Some sideline trivia… the Footlight College cast were: Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton (all from Cambridge Footlights) – though Alexei Sayle (regular on Young Ones), did not like it because of his Marxist views – and Motörhead perform “Ace of Spades”…

          Also liked the recurring statement from Rik: “Thatcher’s Bloody Britain”

          1. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

            If I ever have the money I’ll open my own pub called “The Kebab and Calculator” and the only drink available will be bitter* and it will be branded “Thatcher’s Poison”.

            Thatcher’s poison is the drink of choice for the Tory party, even thought they thought it would be bubbly all the way. Let us hope it kills their part of the body politic off before the nation as a whole.


            *bitter is beer for those outside the UK.

  10. DaveH

    I’m not sure that the extension thing is completely dead in the water. With the all parties on board for the transition period until December 2020 (crash-out notwithstanding), I don’t think it would take a huge shift in position for the 27 + Commission to say “ok, rather than March 2019 and 21 months of transition it’s now September 2019 and 15 months of transition”

    Obviously it would require the UK to virtually beg for that to happen and for the legislation to be amended, but I think that landscape will shift pretty dramatically in the new year.

    Admittedly, the one thing that ruins the suggestion is the European parliament elections in May – it’s hard to see either a) the UK holding elections when they are adamant they are leaving a few months later or b) the EU saying “although you are still technically members you can’t / don’t have to elect MEPs” as I’m sure the treaties wouldn’t allow it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The EU has said repeatedly:

      Extension of A50 deadline for only a few months maximum and then only if:

      – Negotiations in progress but points need to be ironed out or

      – Change in government. I have to go back and see if a new PM in the same party would qualify.

      A referendum would not cut it due to:

      – Taking more than a few months (easily a year) and

      – Not producing a certain outcome. UK could well reaffirm Leave. Theresa May was badly wrong-footed on her snap election call and that was a much shorter time horizon than a referendum.

      1. DaveH

        I completely agree with everything you’ve written there, but I do think that the Commission are going to become increasingly wary of perception in a way that they don’t need to right now.

        In an increasingly populist Europe, with a UK parliament a couple of months in the future doing what they can (with little understanding of what they are doing, as per your excellent blogpost) to cling on, do the Commission really want to be seen as the ones who stamp on the UK’s hand causing it to drop off the ledge, rather than being seen as the ones magnanimously holding on to their wrist?

        I don’t mean this in a David Davis “everything will just sort itself out in the end” way, but I think that as the end of March rolls around, a lot of firmly held positions on both sides might yet become a bit squishier than they are at the moment.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The Commission is not the decider. It’s the EU Council, the various heads of state. They did delegate negotiations to the EC but they reined Barnier back in at least a couple of times during the negotiations.

      2. shtove

        Would this make sense from the EU’s point of view, to solve the English problem once and for all?

        Agree to extend the Art.50 period for 3 months, watch business and jobs drain from the UK into the EU, set up a dramatic summit, after which sterling plummets (“we ‘ave no agreement”), then soars (“but we ‘ave extended for a further 3 months”), and all the while prepare for no-deal and push the UK to set up a border poll for Ireland. Then in 12 months or 18, shrug the shoulders and say, “Sorry, no can do.”

      3. Pinhead

        None of the 27 countries want Brexit and the EU has a long tradition of stopping the clock to extend deadlines. They will gladly do this to enable a second referendum as the likely result seems to be, effectively, the ditching of Brexit.

        1. fajensen

          I think that is no longer true. Most of the EU-27 are really tired of the whole farce and wants Brexit to go ahead, if nothing else then to close the issue and get some work done.

          Everyone knows now that even if there is a second referendum solidly in favour or “remain” and A50 is duly reversed by a broad coalition in the UK parliament, “It Will Just Never Stop”!

          “It” being: The winging, the perpetual demands for special treatment and the sneering and the blaming of Bruxelles/France/Germany for Everything, including stuff similar in severity to ones marmite sandwith landing on the gooey side only this morning!

          The public part of the UK Brexit negotiating tactics seemed to be (and still is) to piss everyone off, presumably to properly motivate/scare them into giving the UK special favours and bennies. Well, the first part of the strategy worked. The second … not so much!

          Even Denmark is fed up, we no longer hear any Danish politician making even the minimum effort of polite Kabuki-statements on Brexit. The backlash from “being weak” when facing what is sen as the over-the-top UK bullying and posturing is simply too great for anyone serious to be “talking sense” about Brexit.

          Sorry. That is how it is.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I agree with this. The degree to which the UK has managed to completely estrange itself from even the most committed Anglophiles on the Continent is remarkable. While there may be some desire to find a loophole to prevent the chaos of a bad exit, there is no desire anywhere in Europe to expend too much political capital in helping the UK out.

            There is also the calculation that letting the UK back in would only make things worse in the long run, as they’d have to deal with an infuriated Brexit supporting minority and a government (whether Tory or Corbyn led) which is either ambiguous or hostile to the EU. I suspect that the EU member leaders would be largely unanimous in this (with the exception of Ireland, which has its own strong reasons for keeping the UK in).

  11. peter

    it has finally been exposed how the entire U.K. political elite (both in the various parties and the credentialed access-journalism media) for Leave and Remain have not got the faintest idea how the EU works

    I think that is the problem the British population as a whole has with the present day EU – from the beginning to the bitter end.
    And honestly – with the history of the British Empire vs. the rest of Europe I never understood why they wanted to join a politically more unified Europe in the first place and why the Europeans would welcome a predictably disruptive Great Britain.

    1. Summer

      With the history of all those former empires, this was to be expected.
      I wouldn’t doubt somebody (country) has lingering dreams of empire.
      Third times a charm…so they say.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both, and well said.

        One often comes across EU27 MEPs in London, attending discussions, fact finding etc., but I have not heard / come across UK MEPs doing the same overseas.

        In addition, MEPs often have some policy input in their (national) parties and home state legislatures (especially France), but, apart from Paisley and a Labour MP who overlapped in the 1990s, UK MEPs are excluded from such processes. There had been suggestions of having MEPs or a proportion along party lines in the House of Lords, but this idea has not gone anywhere.

    2. Fazal Majid

      Acting as a Trojan horse within the EU was the only way for the UK to retain some usefulness for the US and preserve its delusions of having a special relationship with the same.

    3. Anonymous2


      The generation that took the UK into the Common Market (Heath and Co.) had fought in WW2. They saw UK membership as a way to ensure Europe never went down the path of war again. The present generation of politicians seems to assume that war in Europe will never happen again. There are few things more dangerous than complacency IMO.

  12. Joey

    No no deal is hilarious on its face. Rather like a monty python skit… “Well I’m not leaving!” (Tied to train-whistle blowing)

      1. Ekatarina Velika

        Or, alternatively, like Jim Trott’s Deal or No Deal troubles from the Vicar of Dibley sitcom (

        Jim Trott (during a meeting): And I was down to the last two boxes! £250,000 in one box, 10p in the other! And the Banker offered me £100,000, and No-no-no-no-no-Noel Edmonds asked me the question, “Deal or no deal?” Well, I wanted to deal. So I said, “No-no-no-no-no deal.” And for some reason that I cannot fathom, they thought I meant “No-no-no-no deal”.
        Owen Newitt: And what was in your box?
        Jim Trott (holds up a coin): 10p

        (Apologies for being glib, but the situation is so family-blogged that I feel some comic relief is required)

  13. NIx

    and the EU has never indicated any willingness to postpone Brexit to allow for one.

    I think there is a perception, right or wrong that, because Tusk (and IIRC, Barnier) have both said that they would prefer the UK not to leave the EU, they would be amenable to putting Brexit on hold while a 2nd referendum takes place. Personally I am leaning toward this as the only way forward, whichever way it goes. No deal or remain are emerging IMHO as the only two options.

    Yves, thank you for your great contributions to this awful debacle.

    1. vlade

      Even if the EU would be willing to consider postponement of the exit (and, I tend to agree that for a well defined referendum they well could), it would take more than someone in the UK say “let’s have a second referendum”. There’s primary legislation to get through the parliament first – both for the referendum, and removing the hard-date of the leave-the-EU act. At the very least.

      It could be done in one go, not requiring two acts, but it’s still quite a bit of parliamentary work, and would require Tories and Labour and the government to all work together (or at least most of them). On the current form, it looks unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

    2. Pavel

      I suspect the EU would welcome the chance to penalise the UK even more… e.g.

      You can have your second referendum but first you need to get a one-year extension to the transition and pay £10B on top of the £39B divorce settlement.

      No way the EU is going to let the UK get off scot free (via a second referendum) after all the chaos and costs they have caused, all because David Cameron tried to throw a bone to the Eurosceptics in the Tory party.

      1. vlade

        A nice solution to that would be to treat A50 “revocation” as an implicit re-admission request. Hence, if all EU27 members agreed, the UK would leave the EU for infitisemally small amount of time, and then re-join. Losing all the rebates, opt-outs etc. in the process.

  14. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you to Yves and the NC community.

    Just some tidbits from recent travels and a current job application (a parachute from Brexitannia).

    Further to the comments from Which Is Worse – bankers or terrorists (to which I quote / reply from the Total advert, “It’s not even a question.”) and Divadab, it’s not just the Celtic Fringe. Some of the natives in the Channel Islands (what’s left of the Duchy of Normandy) are wondering if it’s worth hanging on with the UK. There have been talks with the French government (Jean Yves Le Drian). Not all of the islanders have shared in the prosperity generated from big finance. Some expect an EU27 crackdown on tax havens. Therefore, some sort of association with France appeals.

    Friends who go to the jumps (steeple chase or national hunt for non racing folk) report seeing Cameron at some meetings in the Cotswolds. Cameron is finishing his memoirs. Publication has been delayed from the spring to the summer of 2019.

    I had a second interview for a legal position with a bank in Zurich yesterday morning. The lawyer interviewing me explained that over the next couple of years, Switzerland will copy out EU investment rulebooks and add a Swiss finish, partly to preserve bank secrecy. It’s felt that the series of bilateral agreements Switzerland has with the EU will be superseded by a master / umbrella agreement, so this reform will facilitate matters and, by stealth, mimic the EU, partly to overcome Swiss resistance to EU membership and expedite the inevitable. It made me think about how the UK’s relationship with the EU will evolve. It was also made clear to me that I have to learn German, ideally Swiss German. Speaking French, although useful, was not enough. That made me think about monoglot Brits hoping to escape Brexitannia. There are two more rounds left before a selection is made.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Good luck with your interview Colonel but oh dear god. Having to learn Schwyzerdütsch. That’s a helluva price to pay. It always struck me as a sort of sing-song variety of German but is not that hard to learn. Like most things, just a matter of practice.
      I learnt German in high school and was never that great at it but I could not hack French or Latin (You had to learn a foreign language at our high school). A coupla years later I was in Germany itself and was surprised to learn that it all came back rapidly. The point is that if I could do it, then I have no doubt that someone of your talents will do so quickly. Call it three months to pick up the basics. Lots of what people say is in phrases anyway which can be memorized.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Kev.

        I gave up on German after three terms as a teenager. I was advised to choose German instead of Spanish, something I regret.

        An elderly Viennese woman told me to learn the grammar after picking up German by listening to people. She added that it was easier to learn a language by going out with someone from that community.

    2. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      “It’s not even a question”

      Beautiful. I’m buying you a beer (a couple) next time you are in California.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you. That would be great.

        The Total advert is on CNN.

        I am in mid-town Manhattan all of next week if any NCers are around and fancy meeting up.

    3. Frenchguy

      Oh nice, I hadn’t seen the news about the Channel Islands.

      My wishlist for Brexit: Ireland reunited, Scotland (and Wales while I’m at it) independant, Gibraltar to Spain, Channel Islands to France and small and republican England back to the EU (with the €) after a few years of purgatory. I don’t have really much hope for any of this but a huge thanks to the Brexiteers for at least pushing in the right direction.

      Good luck for the job !

      1. Pavel

        That sounds good to me. I’d add the total destruction of the Tory party (which I suspect we shall get) and ideally abolition of the royal family but that last is sadly asking for too much I suspect.

        As for the rest of your wishlist: a re-united Ireland might actually be possible — there is the option (under Good Friday) for a vote at any time I believe. Stranger things have happened!

  15. Ataraxite

    I must express my admiration for you, Yves, in attempting to make sense of the Brexit mess. I’ve been following it closely for years now, and the current period is as unclear as it has ever been.

    I was also mystified by the Guardian article about Kier Starmer’s “No No Deal” plans. The only (mostly) guaranteed option to avoid no deal is to accept the currently presented Withdrawal Agreement, which Labour have already ruled out. Beyond that, any other options to avoid No Deal – renegotiating the WA, a second referendum or a revocation of the Article 50 – all require the agreement of the EU.

    And, as even the worst constitutional lawyer will tell you, the UK parliament cannot legislate for the European Union.

    Starmer is not an idiot, so he knows all this too. I suspect there’s a longer game in play – these “No no deal” shenanigans are cover for Labour to vote down the deal, and then – somehow! – make something from the ensuing crisis.

    There is much to come which will further muddy the waters. The CJEU ruling on Article 50 revocation should be entertaining, but I’m not sure it’ll have much of an effect. And we will see how successful Barnier is this week in containing the various demands of the individual member states.

    1. joey

      I don’t think there is an end game other than stubborn denial. The train is headed off the cliff.

      (played by John Cleese. Then God’s foot smashes the whole thing. cue Gilliam cartoon and ‘The Liberty Bell’)

  16. Inert_Bert

    Thank you Yves,

    Just a little bit more confusion: per the Guardian politics live-blog: May claims UK would remain aligned with/inside the Single market during the transition-period: (at 12:43 of the rolling blog if the link won’t take you there directly).

    Amber Rudd has joined up with Starmer and Sturgeon, saying parliament won’t allow a no-deal scenario: Guardian again. A few commenters set out plausible theories of Starmer’s ulterior motives for avoiding blame for no-deal after voting down the WA, and that might be what’s going on with the newly returned Rudd. But at this point, it really might just be a shared, desperate self-deception.

    Good Lord, what a mess.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think that is the point of the transition, so that does not surprise me, but it does mean being subject to EU rules while having no influence over them.

      1. Inert_Bert

        Sorry, I meant during the backstop. But no other outlets seem to have picked up on her remark, so perhaps everyone assumed that either she (like me) misspoke, or perhaps the guardian transcribers misquoted her.

        Alignment of the entire UK during the backstop would be news to me and unilateral alignment (ie without the regulatory/enforcement-system) wouldn’t actually ensure frictionless trade. But, again, nobody else made note of it so she was probably misqouted (I’ve not gone back to the debate-footage myself).

  17. bob

    Prince William will ride east to Brussels leading the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and demand concessions on the threat of revocation of marmalade.

    Why not? It fits the narrative of nonsense as well as anything else coming out of the UK.

  18. David

    I don’t know what the comic equivalent of “Twilight of the Gods” would be: “Twilight of the Dwarfs” maybe. But it’s clear that the British political and government system is unable to cope with – or perhaps even understand- the chaos they are facing. This is a terrible comment on a political party which has spent the last 35 years cheapening and dirtying public life and trying to destroy what was once an admirable government system. And of course Labour did little to stop the process. But in the end, when the stars fall, it will be not them but ordinary people who suffer.

  19. George Phillies

    Another referendum? And if it votes ‘stay’, it may occur to the EU 27 that later there may be a third referendum, and a fourth,…a prospect avoided by declining to accept the result.

  20. Joe Well (JW)

    do the Commission really want to be seen as the ones who stamp on the UK’s hand

    Seen by whom? EU leaders don’t have any reason to care how they’re perceived in the UK and the EU members have every reason to resent the British people for the enormous slap in the face of the referendum plus the many, many other slaps previously. I have a lot of Spanish customers and you should have seen the comments on our Facebook page after the Brexit referendum because they thought we were British.

    Britain is not loved in the EU and for good reason, and as an American it amazes me that so few British people understand this. Americans are if anything too convinced that the rest of our continent hates us, and Britain is like a strange a mirror image of that.

  21. CharlesV

    The only certain thing in British politics is that we are going to have an election between now and June 2022.

    Whatever the public noise, the conservative constituency chairmen in the 100 or so seats that matter will be highly focused on the above fact. They will be the poor sods who have to pick up the pieces and fight against a backdrop of:
    – whatever state the economy is in
    – a resurgent UKIP
    – an unpopular deal with the EU
    – 10 years of tory government who have failed to address the issues that people actually care about, social care, NHS etc…
    – a universal credit system designed by Ian Duncan Smith
    – an opposition with populist policies led by an effective campaigner
    – specific cross party campaigns to oust individual tory MPs
    etc etc.

    I think they will be giving a pretty firm steer to their MPs to shut up and get behind the government or face re-reslection. If they don’t they know it will be 1997 all over again.

    Yes, the tory grass roots is very eurosceptic and they will hate the deal on the table but getting wiped out for a generation will matter more. A divided conservative party will not win elections, lesson 1 from 1992 – 1997.

  22. Schofield

    Most Brits fail to understand the reason for Brexit is driven by their failure to address the Double Whammy of a dysfunctional global trading system and monetary system which has over-dosed on austerity cuts. The country is benighted by low reasoning ability. Sad really given its citizens had the brains to kick off the Industrial Revolution although it undermined this with its rape and pillage Viking inspired British Empire.

  23. Mattski

    “Sad really given its citizens had the brains to kick off the Industrial Revolution although it undermined this with its rape and pillage Viking inspired British Empire.”

    The latter followed very much from the former.

    1. JW

      The latter followed very much from the former.

      Exactly. Where were they going to get the cotton from, Wales? That’s why Britain initially sided with the South in the US civil war until Lincoln threatened to cut off food exports and then paid them what amounted to a huge bribe.

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