Brexit Is an Issue Too Deep To Go Away: It Will Be the Theme of English Politics for Decades to Come

Yves here. We’ve generally looked at the Brexit negotiation as we did the 2015 Greek bailout negotiations, from the perspective of negotiations: looking at the bargaining strength of the parties, the pressures and constraints they faced, and how they approached the situation. That led to a high degree of frustration among readers during the 2015 Greece bailout discussions, since that approach seemed too clinical to those who championed the Greek cause and correctly argued that Greece had the sounder economic ideas. But Greece had only bad choices, when most people are predisposed to believe that there must somehow be a good solution, if it can only be found.

This post gives a window into the emotional factors that are coming into play in the Brexit end game. No matter what happens, the outcome will be wrenching for British citizens, since public opinion on both the EU and what to do about Brexit are fractured. The political debate looks to be about to become chaotic. Bloomberg reports that May has relented and will allow amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement:

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has backed down in a key Brexit battle with Parliament, ditching moves to stop lawmakers trying to re-write her plans, according to an official.

The government had intended to try to prevent the House of Commons from changing the terms of May’s agreement with the European Union before politicians finally vote on it. But according to one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, May’s team have now dropped this tactic in the face of protests from politicians….

The “Meaningful Vote” debate, as it’s become known, will take this form:

• Starting Tuesday Dec. 4, there will be five days of eight-hour debates, with a break from Dec 7-9.
• Each day’s debate will be led by a different Cabinet minister, focusing discussion on their brief.
• Voting will start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday Dec. 11.
• The Commons will vote on a series of amendments to the government’s motion, likely to include calls for another referendum, or for the government to seek a customs union with the European Union.
• Each vote will take around 15 minutes.
• Finally, the Commons will vote on the government’s motion, including any amendments that passed…

Officials believe that no alternative to May’s option will command a majority in the Commons either, and a series of votes on the amendments could demonstrate that. Labour members are likely to be ordered not to support a second referendum, for example.

Only now is the British public starting to come to grips with Brexit, with emphasis on the “starting”. As we’ve said, most of the UK public is in deep denial about how little influence it has over the EU in these negotiations, and how little time it has left to make a choice.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

A commentator asked on the blog overnight whether I might change my mind on Brexit in due course. After all, he pointed out, I have not always been the biggest fan of the EU. And, he argued, it is quite possible we will muddle through Brexit and then reach the socialist promised land some on the left think possible. Since it’s always wise to think you might be wrong, I have given this some thought.

I am not convinced I will change my mind. I accept we will muddle through Brexit. Let’s be quite clear; whilst I think it will be a tough experience that could be a nightmare in the case of hard Brexit, I have no doubt that people will continue to live in the UK, and most will be able to provide for themselves, even if not quite as well as if we’d stayed. Those who will struggle will be those who always seem to suffer – and who both Labour and Tories (but especially the latter) have not been good at protecting for a long time. That is what worries me.

The fact that I cannot see the Union surviving Brecit for long means I worry more about the fate of those on lower incomes in a Tory dominated England and Wales.

And I see the chance of the socialist dream in England and Wales as very limited in that case. In Northern Ireland and Scotland the chances are at least higher, although Northern Ireland will still take time to heal divisions and the SNP will have to abandon the Growth Commission or neoliberalism will still be having a field day there.

So, overall, I see little political gain from any of this. At least, not in England and Wales.

And I see little economic gain anywhere.

As for the broader politics. I am at heart a European. Of course the fact that I have allegiance to two European countries fuels that feeling. But it is more than that. Maybe WW2 was just too close when I was being brought up to be ignored: the wounds were very obvious in my parents’ generation. So were the stories. So was the fear of what might have been. The feeling of ‘never again’ was real. It remains with me. And imperfect as it is – and I acknowledge all its faults – the EU is a means of saying ‘never again’. As it challenges Hungary and Poland now in ways that could not otherwise be achieved it does that. Let’s not ignore that when we also note its failings in Greece and now Italy.

So, will I regret leaving that union, which I believe is deeply wounded by our departure? Yes, I do. And yes, I think I will continue to do so. In which case I do not think I will change my mind. Instead, as I discussed with my eldest son last night as the dog witnessed yet another political discussion during his evening walk, I think on which side people stood now will define politics in thios country for at least two geenrations, and could well result in new political alignments as wounds across this divide are not healed.

Which is why May’s letter to the country saying we should all move on is absurd. Ireland has taken a century to get over its issues of the early 1920’s. We may not take quite that long, but to pretend that this issue will go away soon is absurd. Brexit is, and will remain, the major political theme of our times. And if we leave the debate about rejoining will be ever recurring. This one is going to run and run. And it is not economics or short term politics that will solve it. This is about deep world views – and none to do with neoliberalism at all. This is about embracing the other, or not. And that’s an issue too deep to go away. It’s where politics now is.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. fajensen

    More cakeism! (This is what they should have done maybe a year ago).

    Guess now it’s a good time to buy those Bear x3 certificates on some indexes. I would have liked the markets to rally a bit more, but, I don’t see it happening now.

    1. Ignacio

      Yesterday nigth I watched an interview with the president of the Europarliament, Antonio Tajani, and he said, not once, but several times “this agreement is the best and only thing we can sign. No changes are possible”

  2. Jeff

    This is about embracing the other, or not.

    Well, you can replace ‘Brexit’ with another word, and you have a nice description of the situation in many, many countries right now. Too many of us are in ‘not embracing the other anymore’ mode, and that is not a good sign.
    Understandable, perhaps, as too many of us no longer can have ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, but try to survive in the free-for-all jungle that our modern society has become.

    1. vlade

      There was a report from ECB just now, that the former Soviet bloc countries that are in the EU are slowing their catching up with the Western ones (well, this is actually inaccurate, as they are slowing to catch up with the likes of Germay, Dutch etc. Some FSBC are on par with Portugal/Greece now I believe, or not far).

      That is despite billions of EUR poured there (mind you, I’m not surprised. A lot of it ends up in projects that are worse than pork, and non-trivial amounts are stolen outright).

      W/o those countries catching up, there will be more economic migration within the EU, and resentment where they will not. At this stage, it’s still unlikely to lead to xits, but it does play into cards into extremist parties, which is not helpful to anyone.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m sure you’d know more about this aspect than me, but I’ve always suspected one problematic issue with immigration within the EU is that there is something of a brain drain of young, very talented and educated East Europeans who would rather work in a restaurant in Amsterdam or Dublin than in a ‘better’ job in Warsaw or Budapest. Their reasons are complicated, but often seem a mix of lifestyle and politics (getting away from what they see as stagnant and conservative home environments). I can’t help thinking this is distorting their home countries in a way I saw in the past in Ireland, where the most dynamic of their generation left for America or Australia.

        1. vlade

          This is certainly true for some states. I have a Polish friend who left Poland literally the day she graduated, and never looked back. She comes from not-urban area, and few back, she was really upset as she had a bad argument with her father, who called her “old spinster” (well, worse…) because she’s not married – she was early 30s.

          I’ve heard similar from Poles and Hungarians, who both also have problem with their current governments.

          TBH, the EU was a second wave of emigration, the first one hit in 90s. Those tended tto be the highly skilled/and or enterpreneurial people (as w/o job it was pretty hard), and to an extent, that has larger impact on the countries, as a lot of people who could have started/run sucessfull businesses decided it was easier to do so elsewhere. Doesn’t mean no entrepreneurs were left (say AVAST/AVG antivirus are Czech companies), but a substantial number did go.

        2. David

          I’ve seen the same thing at all levels of these societies. More or less random example: I was in Rumania a year or two ago, and a relatively senior government official said to me, “I have only two ambitions for my children. One is that they find a way to study abroad. The other is that they find a job to enable them to stay there.” Sad, really.

          1. Roger

            Not just FSBC. I was born working class English in a London suburb.
            My grandchildren are Americans, thank God.

        3. Ataraxite

          This is, of course, true – but what is the alternative? To say to people, that should you have the bad luck to be born in Romania, Nigeria or Kazakhstan that you have no opportunity to leave, to try and make a better life for yourself?

          We should also note that it’s not just the Eastern European countries that this applies to – young Italians and Spaniards are leaving as soon as they can to elsewhere in the EU, and presumably young Greeks too.

          I don’t know what the answer is, however.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy that people have the opportunity to move. The fact that those countries are exporting their best and brightest is I think more the fault of those countries than anything else.

            I would say though that my perception is that the young Italians and Spanish are less of a ‘problem’ in that they are more likely to be using their time productively – getting work experience and foreign languages with the intention of moving home later if and when things improve. Its rare to meet one from those countries who say ‘I’ll never go home’, when its quite common to meet Eastern Europeans who will openly say they have no interest at all in returning.

            I think the core issue is that there seems to be a failure within the more prosperous EU countries to recognise that free movement of peoples is only really mutually beneficial when there is more equality and convergence between countries. When once proud nations just become a source of flexible cheap labour, then you are storing up all sorts of trouble.

          2. Grebo

            The answer is/was for governments to hire all their people to build/modernise their countries with technical help and capital subsidies from the EU.

            EU rules discourage this, and Euro membership disables it.

      2. Joe Well

        Some FSBC are on par with Portugal/Greece now I believe, or not far).

        It kind of amazes me that so many people overlook the fact that Portugal, Spain, and Greece only emerged from suffocating dictatorship only about 15 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. That’s a big reason for the continuing development gap between them and the rest of the West, too, and why they deserve sympathy. Also a major achievement of the EU to have brought those countries to at least the level where they are now. Spanish and Portuguese were emigrating to the Americas until 1980 and now that is reversed.

        Really we should have a single big category for countries that have emerged from dictatorship post-WWII.

        1. José

          Since the 1950s Portuguese emigration has been mainly directed towards Western Europe – France, Germany, Luxembourg and more recently Switzerland and the U.K. (before that the main destinations were Brazil, Venezuela, the USA, South Africa and the African colonies).

          And emigration to richer EU countries still goes on – on a net basis, more people leaving than returning even with the recent mini economic boom due mainly to a huge increase in tourism.

  3. boz

    I’ve reread what I’ve written and i sound like a right whingebag – apologies.

    A couple of other things to look out for:

    – A generation (I hadn’t considered two, but it makes sense) of resentment and grievance.
    – Shifts in political parties that struggle with the fracture – these will either shift or split. (Reason to be hopeful: the rise of proportional representation?)
    – Demographic changes as younger generations assign the blame for Brexit to the older generation and accordingly move town, county or even country. That will enlarge the divisions between urban and rural, South East v Everywhere Else, along with all the class trappings and inherited wealth issues.
    – whereas EU membership offered free movement (think gap years) with the risk that some young people might not come back, leaving now means more friction, and ultimately forces a more permanent decision viz. emigration. The risk is now that with reduced prospects in the UK, more will decide the grass is greener.
    – Violence in NI, spilling back onto the mainland, as anger at yet another shafting by London boils over?

    To sum: those with ambition, no criminal record and enough pennies to rub together…those will probably fly the coop.

    Where? English speaking (I didn’t want to say “white”, but that is actually what I mean) Commonwealth countries, Ireland, America, maybe Japan/SK/China. Migrants from Africa might decide to head back if the prospects look better (think projected growth in Nigeria and others).

    The effect: a brain drain in the UK at the worst possible time in the economic cycle. Increased polarisation, potentially the end of the Union. Look also for increased panic among visible and shadow elites as the UK’s regional and global influence wanes.

    Whoever inherits this mess (my bet is Labour, after one final twist of the knife by the Tories) will have lot of nation-building to do. Not to mention economic rebuilding, educational rebalancing.

    Oh and living standards will continue to stagnate if not decline further.

    Happy days.

  4. Clive

    (sighs wistfully)

    Yes, and this is why Remain lost. The sincerity, compassion, tolerance and unwavering commitment to social reform are self-evident in the writer’s article. Those admirable qualities seep into every word.

    But Leave has for nearly two generations — ever since the UK joined the (then) EEC really — thrown down the intellectual gauntlet to Remain (it wasn’t called that in the course of the history of this, but it’s a handy label to use now). Leave has asked pointed questions about what the EU is, how it works, what it delivers for its citizens, what its inherent trade-offs are, are they worth it, where is it going, how is it going to get everyone there at the same time, what happens to dissenters and — most importantly — by what method are the inherent compromises which will be required to keep the show on the road are to be brokered.

    In response to which Remainers, such as our earnest writer here, rather than picking up that gauntlet and engaging with the contrarians, act like nothing so much as a gang of Leona Helmsleys as if confronted by a poo stripe on a hotel towel. The whole mind boggling complexity, the myriad of claims and counter claims, arguments advanced, opinions stated — is wrapped up, tidied away into a cupboard and the door firmly closed. And a pretty bow tied on the handle with a Hallmark card sentimental message “And imperfect as it is – and I acknowledge all its faults – the EU is a means of saying ‘never again’” to send it on its way.

    Yes, Richard, you do “acknowledge all its faults”. But that’s just the easy bit. How’s about trying to Do Something About Them?

    And then when you say “Let’s not ignore that when we also note its failings in Greece and now Italy” you give your game away. Your “noting” them is about as much as we can expect from you.

    We’d probably both agree that this one is most definitely going to run and run. All the while Remain continues to do this kind of internet-save-the-whale handwaving, it’ll be Leave which you allow to do the running. The European project is indeed a great undertaking. It certainly isn’t doomed and Brexit certainly isn’t the UK’s last input into it (lucky Europe !). But, joking aside, continuing sticking your fingers into your ears and going la-la-la I can’t hear you isn’t a valid substitute for engaging with the issues.

    1. vlade


      Although, I’d put there one more thing. The fundamental problem for me – and not just in the UK, the EU etc. is that in 1990s or so (likely earlier, but that’s when I started paying attention) a complacency of “we’re all well off, and things can only get better.

      When complacency gets in, the rot inevitably follows, as issues are let to fester, coz, you know, it will sort itself out, it’s not that important, we have more important stuff to do (like?) etc. etc.

      But if things are let fester by the “important people”, it doesn’t mean no-one will offer solutions. In fact, the more thing are let to fester, the more there will be simplistic solutions (it does not matter whether by naive folk who don’t know better or opportunists who will get as much as they can out of it), and the more people will buy into them.

      It’s like a garden (with apologies to Lambert). Yes, you can do a good flower bed. But unless you keep tending it, it will not “only get better” – and moving on another project, declared “mission accomplished” means nothing. There’s no such thing as “mission accomplished” in politics. The moment you move from an item, someone, with a different view, will move in. It’s not a building, it’s an ecosystem. Outcome depends on the work put in (and who puts the work in).

      1. Clive

        Yes, this makes me the saddest of all. It is a genuine tragedy. I’ll be either too old to care or long gone before this particular Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again.

        The EU not only could have been somebody it is a contender. It doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. It would have cost it little to make some largely cosmetic compromises (such as a 2 year temporary break on immigration or some rejigging of fisheries policy or some really meaningful fiscal transfers to Greece). Most of the U.K. Leave waverers would have spotted a genuine attempt at cutting a deal. When one considers the breaking of the “four freedoms” which has been required to sort out Northern Ireland (as the Withdrawal Agreement does, they get free movement of goods without free movement of people), these seem fairly trivial gimmies.

        But the EU said to the U.K. “we’ve had enough of you lot and your endless complaining”. From that point on, both sides (and it became a case of sides) could do nothing more than talk past each other. And the EU (and I should be precise here, I am referring to the Commission) got seriously complacent and never believed the U.K. really would go through with it.

        In short, there was no reason at all for the EU to keep, to use your gardening analogy, nurturing the U.K. But as I found this summer when I decided to give my front lawn a policy of tough love in a drought, you have to then be prepared to look at a right old mess and a long, labour intensive job of putting it right again.

        1. vlade

          TBH, in the UK it was also the politicians happy to blame the EU, to ignore its process (when they had a chance) etc. .

          What’s interesting here for me is that it looks like the countries which were in the EU from the start (or close to) tend to have more engagement. It’s their baby (to an extent), so they still invest in it.

          The UK never got much engaged in that process – first because it didn’t want to, then because deGaulle kept it out, and then again, it was more of us vs them (Thatcher). Blair was about the only one who wanted engagement with Europe, but he wanted it not to solve real problems, but to aggrandise himself on the world stage, and would take anything he could to get that.

          The new arrivals were keen Europeans until the complacency (which seems to set within one generation, who didn’t know anything else) sets in. You can see it now in the V4 countries, less so in Baltics who still prefer the EU to the former Soviet Union.

          1. Robert Dudek

            In Poland, it is quite easy to see why there has been a shift away from being a “keen European”. First there was the torture of Greece via foreign institutions that were eager only to save their own banks. That was a rather nice object lesson for Poland on the adopting (or not) the euro.

            Second, was the realization, rather belatedly, that the neo-liberal PO was only interested in doing Brussels’ bidding. That party orchestrated its own downfall by being utterly uninterested in the welfare of the ordinary citizen. After all, many Poles thought, we went from taking marching orders from Moscow and traded that for doing the same from Brussels? No thank you.

            PiS is even more popular now than when they won the election. They tap into the rabid Catholicism and the mild xenophobia omnipresent in Polish culture, yes, but they have also shown an interest in making the lives of ordinary citizens more bearable. In contrast, Brussels and Berlin hammered Poland for not being receptive to waves of refugees and other migrants (please lets not pretend that there are only refugees trying to enter the EU). Given the context of frequent occupation over the past few centuries, Poland is not interested in the cosmopolitan experiment that Britain, France and Germany have embraced over the past few decades. They do not wish large numbers of non-Christians living among them, but are more or less okay with culturally-similar Ukrainians living here.

            Lastly, NATO remains extremely popular and Russophobia continues to permeate society here. Poles consider themselves as culturally European as anyone – they simply see the European project as a cooperative venture of nations/peoples, not as some sort of grand neo-liberal economic project.

        2. M Quinlan

          One slight quibble about freedom of movement and Northern Ireland. Anyone born there before 2005 is entitled to EU Citizenship and free movement. For those born after there are some more hoops to jump through but the vast majority are also so entitled. I believe the fact that over 90% of one provence of a leaving state are potentially still EU citizens played an not insignificant part in allowing the compromise.

          1. Clive

            It’ll get very messy this one.

            Irish (Republic) citizens will get free movement into NI via the Common Travel Area.

            NI citizens who apply for joint NI/Republic citizenship via the Good Friday Agreement will be eligible for EU free movement via their EU citizenships

            Other EU citizens who move to the Republic would need to become Republic citizens to gain the first right. They couldn’t just move to NI under EU free movement rights.

            I think theoretically U.K. (other than NI) citizens can freely move to NI (this bit is indisputable) but might then have to jump through some hoops to gain joint Republic citizenship to then be eligible for free movement in the EU.

            As you say, it’s the mushyness which probably allows the EU to say they’ve not broken the “four freedoms are indivisible” mantra. Even though they are now more than a bit divisible. But only to certain bits of the U.K. and then only to certain people.

            I suspect this will keep immigration attorneys in business for years to come.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              So far as I am aware, UK citizens who were not born (or do not have a grandparent who is Irish) cannot apply for Irish citizenships on the basis of a northern Ireland residents. Only those who were born in Northern Ireland, have an Irish spouse, or Irish grandparent are entitled. Residency qualifications only apply if you live in the Republic.

              I don’t think monitoring this will be all that difficult, unless the Republic joins Schengen. The UK will only (as at present) monitor immigration via the airports and ports coming from NI this won’t present much of an illegal immigration problem from Londons perspective (the general assumption that nobody cares about who decides to live in Belfast). As a non-Schengen country, there are already some limits on travel between Ireland and the rest of Europe. So it just adds a bit more fuzziness to an already slightly fuzzy set up.

              1. Clive

                Yes, those restrictions on Republic citizenship are definitely correct. I’ve been looking since my first comment on work-arounds (I’d read for sure that if you have a child born in NI and that child had significant ties to NI then as a parent you’d qualify as a NI resident under the old “right to a family life” Human Rights convention clause and wanted to see if there were any more small-print allowances like that, but crappy search being crappy search, not only could I not find any sensible information, I couldn’t find the original article I’d seen).

                But yes, shorter, you’d have to really really want to try to wrangle EU freedom of movement rights as a U.K. citizen via any NI residency ruses. There’ll probably be a lot easier ways of doing it, if you’re really determined to.

                All that assuming the Deal (Withdrawal Agreement) goes through, and I won’t even go there on that one.

            2. M Quinlan

              There is some concern about UK citizens/residents using NI as a backdoor to Irish passports for there children and the government is opposing a Seanad proposal which would allow children born on the Island, who remain resident for their first 3 years, to gain citizenship. As of now residency in NI does not qualify towards nationalisation, you have to be resident for 5 of 9 years in the state including the last year. Actually thinking about this further the CTA could provide a means to acquire an EU passport to any UK citizen who can take up residence for 5 years. Our housing crisis may just get a lot worst ;-)

        1. Clive


          “I think we should all live off grid, to save the world”
          “Great, but just so long as I don’t have to clean out the composting toilet, you okay to do that one?”
          “Oh, never mind, then. Maybe next year…”

          1. skippy

            Eh ….

            Sorry old chum … but I think you need to put, my perspective, over almost the entirety of this blog – into perspective e.g. its nothing like you suggest above.

            1. Clive

              I was being facetious which is always a risk. I do agree with what I think you’re saying (that we all have to start paying attention to the mundane stuff, from which waffling on about the supposedly big-picture but not immediately relevant matters are just a distraction) and it is a slippery slope from trying to consider national interests then hoping that somehow you don’t descend into unfettered nationalism.

              But turning a deaf ear to big picture considerations and national interests doesn’t make them simply go away.

              1. skippy

                I get that and sympathize, my thrust is people with knowlage are going to have to confront people in their groups and contend with putting some off, and I don’t mean being aggressive.

                In my experiences its about taking on the key mental anchor points supplied by decades of neoliberal thinking and its broader implications. Not so much to convert people, but to put something else out there that they can, in their own good time, challenge previously held positions.

                I remember well talking to NZ’ers about how corrupt their business registry was and the hot money flows enabled giving a false sense of economic well being, back when R. Smith was working on it. Even helped a little bit with putting a grafter in jail here in Queensland that was part of it all.

                Per se I’ve been working on this Queenslander reno for over a month and the owner is the principle over here for a German fit-out mob. I drop hints and bread crumb trails in many a conversation as it warrants. Not in an attempt to convert or sell, but allow them to reconcile new information with events contra to their old position. I can report that this has a positive effect and duplicated by all the years I’ve been doing it now.

                It will be interesting as an old mate that I supervised years ago now has all the civil and industrial certs to do highrises and just went PTY LTD after working for some big mobs and has almost a billion in his work portfolio, offered me to come on board to run my side of things. So that is going to increase my base and mass of heads to engage. The best bit is the better I do my job the more gravitas it gives to everything else I say wrt shifting the narrative.

                The disheveled trades person with all the Festool and pro gear that occasionally drives the Benz to work on Saturdays …. leaving everyone befuddled … why do you still do it – ?????

                1. ChrisPacific

                  As a former unwitting victim of neoliberal thought processes myself (and I consider myself reasonably intelligent) I think that one of the most important things we can do is poke logical holes in the fabric of neoliberal belief, and highlight that it is belief and not theory.

                  I do it by looking for small wins. If I see a situation where a market-based approach is failing because it’s a poor match for the problem, I point it out, and say why. Then I let people draw their own conclusions. Small seeds of doubt…

    2. H. Alexander Ivey

      Clive, damn right!

      I could rant and rave and foam at rhe mouth about the “knee jerk liberalism” of Mr Murphy but Clive said it better and shorter and with less vulgarity than I could.

      Good night and good luck.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    I visited friends in the UK two weekends ago and one thing that struck me is that its slowly dawning on everyone that ‘Brexit’ doesn’t end on the 1st April 2019. In fact, its just the beginning of what will be an extremely traumatic period for the UK, no matter what the scenario. It doesn’t matter which version you look at – a withdrawal of A.50, a soft-ish Brexit, a hard no-edge – the real problems start from there. The losers will be extremely sore and will withdraw and try to plot a way back – but this time it will be an obsessive, no holds barred, all encompassing political battle which will mean the day to day bread and butter aspects of politics – health, education, the economy, will be forgotten and ignored for years. Northern Ireland will raise its head once again as a festering sore. Scotland will almost certainly seek independence again. The Welsh will get severe buyers remorse. The north-south divide in England will get worse. The far right will receive a major boost and I really believe there could be ethnic strife on the streets.

    The thing I think that will baffle future historians is just how pointless the whole thing is. Past times of strife generally were over things that really mattered. But the EU is neither a shining hope on the hill or a source of evil. Its just an imperfect but well functioning alliance of nations, and the decision to be part of it should be a largely technocratic one. How the obsession with leaving the EU went from being the concern of a weirdo fringe at the edge of the Tory Party to being the central question of the age, seemingly more important that climate change and the collapse of ecosystems worldwide is… well, there is no rational explanation for it.

    Most of my friends in England are deeply upset by it – even those who last year and the year before were pretty unconcerned. They see now just how damaging and divisive it will be, and that their children will suffer because of it – talk about emigration is now as common among my English friends as it used to be in Ireland when I was growing up. But when I was asked how people in Ireland saw it, I had to be honest and say ‘well, people are unhappy, but mostly they think its kind of funny‘. Over the last year or so I’ve talked to Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, Dutch, Italians Poles, and so on about it, and most just shrug their shoulders and say something along the lines of ‘have they gone completely mad?’ My Chinese and Japanese contacts think its just craziness, like a fat middle aged man who makes a fool of himself by buying tight jeans and try to pick up hot young girls in nightclubs. Then the Chinese ones ask if they think they will be able to buy property in London cheap next year.

    1. DJG

      Plutonium Kun: As much as I understand Clive’s criticisms of Murphy in the dialogue above, I think that your comment here, as an insider / outsider, is closer to the truth. The English (and it is mainly the English who have done this) can complain all they want about meddlesome Brussels and burdensome regulations on the definition of cheddar and ale and so on and so forth. Yet the reasons that Brexit went from fringe to center were (1) the English self-perception that England is an exceptional and indispensable nation (the Anglo-American disease) that never has to apologize for its behavior (because of the aircraft carriers) and (2) the traditional neglect of the needs of the working and middle classes (breaking unions, privatization, tiered educational system still dominated by the elite private schools (Oxford / Harvard).

      So you had the Tory elite leading the aggrieved Midlands and North of England over the proverbial cliff, rallying the troups with Free Cheddar from Regulations! and Send Those Lithuanians Back!

      The economic result is going to be that post-Brexit England will squander its resources protecting London as a “financial center” along with those famous financial centers for tax avoidance on, ohhh, Jersey, Guernsey, British Virgin Islands, and on and on. All the while still trying to privatize the National Health Service.

      As an American, I see Brexit as a warning to the United States about what it has become culturally, politically, and strategically: A declining empire full of resentments, but not so far into decline that its many guns have been put away. A declining empire living on fumes of Calvinist pre-destination and the circular arguments of its many Nobel-prize-winning economists.

      1. Clive

        Your characterisation that disquiet about EU Directives are purely the prerogative of the English and an inappropriate response because they’re just being deliberately vexatious in complaining about de minimis tweaks to cheddar cheese and craft beers standards and thus being subject to over regulation — is completely counter factual.

        Yet, for some reason, it is a go-to meme used by Remain to criticise Leave.

        For one thing, it assumes without any evidence base that all Directives are akin to something which came down from a mountain on a tablet of stone and are always and every time unimpeachable in both their scope and their quality of regulation. This assumption is not valid. Some Directives are so badly thought out and of such pseudoscience nonsensicality they should never have been allowed to reach the Acquis.

        Take the Ecodesign and Energy Related Products Directive. This has huge influence on virtually everything which consumes energy. It is so badly drafted that it risked forcing owners (for household consumers) to have to scrap very expensive equipment (such as domestic heating and hot water boilers) at a cost of c. $2,000 even though these were repairable and had maybe another decade of economic life left in them.

        The industry groups lobbied to try to get this nonsense overturned but the best the EU Commission came up with (pg. 20 — out of a document runnng to 107 pages, and that just covers ErP goods placed on the Single Market) was to allow limited grandfathering for a special class of spares which were marketable specifically on a “replacement part” basis. Replacement parts do not enjoy economies of scale as for mass market products and carry a significant premium (as an example, a very simple, basic and generic electric motor I had to buy for a room air conditioner cost me £227, for the sole reason that it becomes a “spare part component” rather than a commodity available in normal retail channels — it was a case of either I pay up and purchase the manufacturer’s “replacement” or junk a £1,500 A/C unit).

        And if you read the “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC” you will, I am sure, be caused to have to think about casually writing off any concerns about EU regulation as being only the silly carping of narrow minded little Englanders. The questions coming, as they do, in their hundreds from pretty much every Member State.

        All to satisfy environmental virtue signalling of only the most modest benefit (and that is before you might consider the impacts of having to decommission possibly entirely viable equipment simply because the cost of repairs and maintenance is rendered so high).

        Detail matters. Or, at least, it should do. But by all means don’t worry yourself by doing the hard work of looking at the nitty gritty details when handy catch-all tropes fall so easily to hand.

        And I certainly can’t introduce a ban on people doing generalisations and easy simplifications. I suppose I’m expected to go along with the implied appeal for the sake of — what? — the grand cause of internationalism? And that I’ll just have to jolly well put up with it and I’ll be grateful in the end? I’m still nursing a bill for two hundred-odd quid so I’m afraid I’m a tough sell.

        But at least I can afford it. The single parent on a zero hours contract having to fork out £2-300 for a £70 circulating pump on their heating boiler else sit in the cold this winter “because of EU regulations” might put it in altogether more abrasive language than I do.

        1. Grebo

          “Completely counterfactual” is cobblers. Sure, there are some egregious regs but the fact is the UK has equal input in drafting them, often has the ability to veto them, and if all else fails is able to opt-out of them (eg. the working hours directive).

          Many of the leavers’ favourite examples (straight bananas, bendy cucumbers, hundred page dictats on cabbages) are entirely fictional.

          And, of course, the ones the bosses rail against but rarely detail are in favour of their workers, the environment or society in general.

          1. Clive

            No, the U.K. only has a very limited veto. It cannot opt out except by unanimous agreement of the EU27. Directives are instigated by the unelected Commission. The Parliament merely gets to vote the proposal through or vote it down to send it back to the Commission (who can then simply bide their time, make minor tweaks and send it back again).

            I just disproved the bananas and cucumbers canard. Which you completely ignored. I assure you my £227 invoice for a £20 electric motor is all too real.

            What, exactly, do you propose I do about the awful, regressive Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC? Write to my MP? No point in trying my MEP, they can’t initiate legislative changes.

            1. Grebo

              The canards were what was trotted out in the campaign. The actual bad regs are generally driven by “industry” and not criticised.

              I’m not familiar with the Ecodesign Directive, and your second link is down, but the industry guy in the first link only seems to have one quibble with it, which you indicate the Commission attempted, albeit feebly, to address.

              As to what you can do about it I don’t know, except do what I did and move to a country where you actually need air conditioning and the outrageous price of spare parts is due entirely to logistics.

              1. Clive

                How dare you make your outrageous conjecture in reading things into the information I’ve provided. The A/C unit was bought for its unbeatable heating performance (raw COP of 5.1 and an energy rating in heat pump mode of A+++). I’m trying to use my capital surplus to reduce my environmental impact.

                I always double check my links and they all work in this thread (and I’ve just checked again). Perhaps if you read them, you’d have a better grasp of the arguments.

                I now doubt your seriousness in summing up that if big business interests can influence EU Directives (which is exactly the root cause of the problems with the Ecodesign Directive) then that’s the fault of big business for doing it, not the EU’s fault for failing to put a stop to it and letting them get away with it. It seems superfluous to repeat, if this is the kind of rubbish Remain supporters keep on putting forward, no-one should have to ask why Remain lost.

                1. Grebo

                  So you bought aircon because it is the most efficient heater? Is that common in the UK now?

                  The link is up now, and yes it is gruesome.

                  Someone comes up with these regulations. Someone pushes them and someone else opposes them. Someone always ends up not liking them. This happens now in Brussels but soon it will happen once more in Westminster. I’m sure that will make all the difference.

                  And I’m not exactly a remainer, as we’ve been into before, more a gobsmacked onlooker as the seasick sailors decide to jump overboard.

                  1. ChrisPacific

                    Read up on heat pumps. They can either heat or cool, and they are vastly more efficient than most other devices in either mode. I can’t say whether they are common in the UK but they are everywhere in New Zealand now. Possibly Clive calling it an A/C is confusing you as the term has a different meaning in the US.

                    The US should be installing them everywhere as well – given how in love with air conditioning Americans are, it would save a vast amount of energy. I suspect the reason it’s not happening is because energy is artificially cheap in the US, so the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t stack up (there is a large upfront cost for heat pumps, which needs to be amortized against lifetime cost savings). Or depending on how cynical I’m being, I could say it’s because consuming as much energy as possible, as inefficiently as possible, is the cornerstone on which the US economy is built.

                    1. Grebo

                      I have seen the ‘heat’ setting on AC units before, though the couple of times I tried it it didn’t work.
                      I don’t recall ever seeing a mere house with AC in the UK and, given their reputation as prodigious energy guzzlers in cooling mode, it didn’t occur to me that one might buy one primarily as a heater, let alone that it would be efficient.

                      Next time my office dips below 20C I’ll give that heat button a try.

                    2. Yves Smith Post author

                      I installed central air in an apartment and then wound up selling it not long thereafter. Felt sort of guilty because I got top dollar at the time but the apartment was ghastly cold the one winter I was there.

                      I ran into the super years later and asked him about how the new owner was getting on. He said fine. I mentioned how bad I felt about sticking him with the cold problem.

                      The super said, “Remember that a/c you put in? It was reverse cycle.”

                      That reno was in the 1980s.

            2. vlade

              Yep, writing to the MP actually may make a difference. It’s a “Directive”. That means, a _goal_ is set, which the national legislation is then required to achieve. There’s considerable leeway for national legislation here. Unfortunately, it’s often dealt with one in two ways – picking the “suggested” wording of the legislation, w/o any modificatios, or putting extra stuff there which is not really EU driven, but can be conveniently put there and then blamed on the EU.

              Eco Directive you mention, in itself does not even set any targets. It mentions Air cons exactly once.

              Now, where it does matter then is that there are further Regulations – note the capital R. Regulations _must_ be implemented in national law verbatim, unlike directives. For example, if your AC has <12kW, it's likely covered under 626/2011 (about labeling) and 206/2012 (this one actually sets the ecodesign, and cover things like minimum efficiency, maximum sound levels etc.). These were reviewed this year, what comes out of that, well, who knows (incidentally, the review has a section on third countries relevant legislations, which is quite interesting, especially around the testing).

              I have a problem with the "unelected Committee" claim. Yep, it is not elected by the voters. But neither was Hammond elected Treasurer, or, god forbid, Johnson as foreign secretary. May selected her government, and went to the partliament to get a vote on them. The voters didn't even elect May as a PM – she run as likely PM, but could have been deposed post elections easily, with voters saying having no say in it.

              Comission members are selected by heads of the EU states, and the the Comission is subject to an approval by the (elected) European Parliament. Not much different IMO to a vote of confidence (especially since the Comission is voted on as a block, not member-by-member).

              The laws in the UK are mostly suggested by this unelected body called "government" I talked about earlier. While in theory there are other ways to get private (i.e. not government sponsored) bills in, the chances of them ever getting far are low (the average is about two per year, historical average from 1990s on all acts run something like 2k/year. So it's < 0.1%). Slightly better than the EU, but really mostly a cosmetic item.

              Anyways, to backtrack a bit. There is a problem, but it's actually a wider problem than the Comission.

              A friend of mine runs medium-sized company, that is quite impacted by REACH (the EU legislation on chemicals).

              His experience on this is that the MEPs/Comissioners do not have any relevant experience to set the numbers in the Regulations.

              So the actual numbers that go into the legislation are outsourced to consultancies, which are meant to look into the "best practices", look at numerous studies from all angles, and make a recommendation, which is then generally followed (as few MEPs have resources to challenge it).

              The problem is, there is no good checking on the consultancy. They are a commercial body, not independent. They have been, in past, shown to cherry-pick studies to get to a goal (I'm not going to speculate why, I don't know enough).

              And, worst, they have no real responsibility, they claim to be "advisory only, it's Comissioners/MEPs who then decide". Except those have no clue.

              So the technical process for setting standards is broken, and I'm hearing from my friend that there's no real incentive to fix it at the moment (again, I'll not speculate why).

              But again, is that that much different from a select committee that sets numbers for UK laws?

              1. Clive

                The problem with this particular Directive is that it started off as something being well intentioned and worthy (improving energy using products’ efficiencies) and that’s what was signed off by the Heads of Government in the Council. It was — at that stage — big on generalisation and small on details. Which was by necessity, considering who was making the decisions.

                What happened was that the Directive got implemented and then applied to increased numbers of product types (“lots”) in an increasingly less and less well-thought-out way. Which ended up with not especially energy intensive devices being included (for small overall potential gains in energy consumption reduction) with more unintended consequences (like sub components not being replaceable except as designated “spare parts” which meant that the sub components no longer benefited from being sellable as mass-market commodities in retail channels but rather had to be kept by OEMs as part of a spare parts bank which whacked up thier costs).

                This is undoubtedly not what either the Council or even the Parliament wanted to happen. But now it has happened, the only party with a legal ability to stop or correct it is the Commission. There is no democratic accountability route into the Commission. The very best I could hope for is that someone in the Council or the Parliament could “have a word” with someone in the Commission and ask (note it is “ask” not “demand”) they fix this mess. This is simply not good enough.

                Many areas where the U.K. government has retained competence have been subject to changes of laws at the beseeching of public pressure. Everything from parking on pavements, refuse bin collections, grammar schools, congestion charging, minimum standards for working on gas appliances (this is just a random brain dump off the top of my head) have been tweaked, enforced, stopped or started in response to local or national pressures. Half the time, or more, I think what’s got done is wrong and not what I agree with at all. But nevertheless matters which affect daily lives and — for some people who make enough noise collectively or are seen to have such an overwhelming case individually or in small groups — get either the local or national legislature’s attention and subsequent action.

                Conversely, I cannot recall a single element where any part of the Acquis has been removed due to the Commission saying “this doesn’t work the way people want it to and we’re going to change it” (motivated by their own Mr. Subliminals saying “hmmm… because if we don’t, maybe, just maybe ‘the other lot’ will get elected”). And why should they? They don’t have to answer to me. Or anyone else. Not even the Heads of Government.

        2. fajensen

          The single parent on a zero hours contract having to fork out £2-300 for a £70 circulating pump on their heating boiler else sit in the cold this winter “because of EU regulations” might put it in altogether more abrasive language than I do.

          But. It was well within the powers and scope of the UK government to not have zero hours contracts and dickensian misery eventually enforced upon everyone unlucky enough to be earning less than an MP. The UK government, whatever it’s composition*, *likes* the zero hours contracts, the poverty, deprivation, and poverty related diseases so much that they wanted and lobbied ceaselessly for the EU to become “All Markets, Zero Socialism” to share the goodness of their values – and when they couldn’t hack it, they threw a hissy-fit and we got Brexit.

          Blaming the EU for things that basically emerge “at home” is exactly the core problem!

          *) It will be interesting to see if Corbyn is any different.

          1. Clive

            But to the hypothetical single parent on a zero hours contract facing an inflated repair cost to an essential asset caused by dumbass EU regulations, it is like you’re being squeezed by both sides.

            If the EU isn’t doing you any favours and is, in certain circumstances, actively contributing to your pauperisation, then you can’t expect this class of voters who migh well have just had to go to a payday lender to fend off an unnecessarily high outgoing the proximate cause of which is the EU to say to themselves “great, thanks Brussels, that’s a big help, I’ll be sure to put a cross in that Remain box”.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Erm, I thought a major cause of the pauperization was immigration from Eastern Europe….something like 800K Polish workers came from 2004 onward. I’ve read claims wages fell in the north + housing costs rose. Higher housing costs would hit you way harder than any EU regulatory burden stuff

              And even though that as a matter of form looks like the consequences of “freedom of movement,” the UK was one of the biggest moving forces behind getting Eastern European countries admitted because they wanted to dilute the influence of France and Germany.

              1. Clive

                I did try to stay away from migration compressing earnings (potentially) — it tends to be too much of a dog whistle and obscures other factors.

                Any adverse costs of EU regulation on individuals isn’t going to affect every voter. It may affect some voters. Similarly, certain sectors of the labour market may be affected by migration. Or fisheries might be an issue for a particular voter. Or light aircraft aviation rules which as Richard Smith detailed caused a lot of that community to get uppity over. Or whatever.

                The snag for the EU is, the more influence it has in citizens affairs, the higher the likelihood is that eventually it’ll do something that an individual voter will object to. The individual voter might on the first occurrence shrug their shoulders and say okay, never mind, I’ll put up with it. But if the EU continued to implement unpalatable changes there is a cumulative effect and eventually the individual reaches a tipping point and says “I’ve just about had it with the EU”.

                At which point, you can’t unravel the EU’s Acquis on a line-by-line basis. You can’t simply pick and mix from parts of the EU you don’t like from those you like (or don’t mind about) — whether that’s freedom of movement at one end of the scale or pet passports at the other. Once you’ve reached that tipping point — whatever it was that tipped that individual voter — the only recourse is to throw out the EU in its entirety.

                So, trying to sum this all up, for certain voters having their wages cut or being fired due to competition from migrants might have been the (unarguably significant and easily-understandable) factor which led them to cast a Leave vote. But for others, it might have been something as simple (and arguably trivial, but triviality is in the eye of the beholder) as not being able to buy incandescent light bulbs.

                Unfortunately — or maybe it’s fortunately, I’ve never been able to work out which it is — you don’t get to ask the voter, upon their arrival at the ballot box “why are you voting that way?” and then, if by some measure or other you think they’ve not got a ‘good enough’ reason, to snatch their ballot paper off of them and send them back home on the basis they’re too moronic to be allowed to vote and can only be allowed to do so when they satisfied your criteria for having made “a sensible choice for sensible reasons”.

                And finally, it didn’t really matter that it was the Conservatives egging on EU enlargement all those years ago. What’s done is done. And with the EU, there’s no going back now. Those more recently acceded Member States can’t be chucked out. Nor should they be. So a voter isn’t likely to — nor would it be any good doing it — say to themselves “right, I’ve suffered a 30% wage cut due to competition from EU migration so I’m going to vote Leave. Oh, but no, wait a minute, it was the Conservatives who did a lot to worsen this through EU enlargement and I’ve suffered from austerity, this referendum was instigated by the Conservatives so I am not going to vote Leave because that’s what the Conservatives would want me to do”. Voters don’t think like that. If this (again, hypothetical) voter genuinely thinks it was EU migration which is negatively affecting their life, they’re going to vote Leave regardless of whether or not it was the Conservatives who were the ones who caused it or worsened it.

  6. David

    I’m of the same generation as the writer, and still regard myself as an enthusiastic European, but was never an enthusiastic supporter of the EU. The difference between those two things is absolutely fundamental for understanding the mess that the UK (and to some extent the EU) has got itself into.
    When I was young, Europe was exotic and strange. More fortunate friends at school would come back from camping holidays and skiing trips with wonderful stories and copies of LP records by artists unavailable in England. Later at University, some of my fellow students would disappear for six weeks travelling around Europe, sleeping on beaches in Greece, occasionally sending postcards home. Nothing more was needed then, than a British Visitor’s Passport, available from any Post Office for a ten shilling note and a recent photograph. Security and identity checks then were casual by comparison with today’s Orwellian arrangements. Finally able to venture into Europe myself, I thought, like many of my generation, that this would all continue, and that the apparently endless growth and prosperity in the continent would only make it easier and cheaper. Europe was seen as exotic and fascinating, and most of all different, not only from the UK but within itself.
    The Fathers of Europe, in their wisdom, decided that the best way to prevent war was to create institutions that made it practically impossible. In this they were largely successful. But there was always another strand: that of friendship and reconciliation between peoples. This, again, was not a bad thing in itself, and for most of the time it was about twinning cities, arranging mutual visits, pen pals etc. But after a certain point, in the 1980s, it began to get out of control. As memories of the War faded, the whole terrible experience began to be interpreted as the product of hatred between individuals like you and me, as though the leaders of the 1930s had somehow been forced into war by nationalist pressures from their peoples. This is not only bad history, it’s an insult to ordinary people, and a way of allowing the real culprits to avoid the blame.
    The answer seemed obvious: if wars are caused by national identity differences (let’s pretend ) then the suppression of these differences is essential for peace. People must shed their identities, disavow their histories and become standardised ISO Europeans. Expressions of pride, or even interest in one’s own history and culture, were seen as dangerous and potentially the cause of conflict. You can see this in the kind of history (it hardly merits the name) now taught in schools.
    The result has been a pasteurised Europe, where everything now looks the same, governed from a bizarre, anonymous, centre in Brussels where you could be anywhere and nowhere, by perfectly amiable, very competent people speaking a kind of pasteurised English (Globisch) cut loose from their own cultures, and lunching and dining in restaurants near the Place Schuman where you almost never hear Flemish or French, or indeed a language other than Globisch. You can write the next paragraph on “populism” for yourself.
    Above all, this is a huge missed opportunity. A Europe drawing on its rich and diverse history and cultural traditions was perfectly compatible with developing institutions which would prevent wars. As it is, the attempt to suppress differences, no matter how well meaning, has simply made a free gift of culture and history to the Right, thus neatly achieving the exact opposite of what was intended. I differ from the writer in thinking that the EU, as now structured, is part of the problem, rather than part of an answer.
    When I think how enthusiastic some of us were about Europe in the 1970s, it makes me weep. The UK could have played a role in creating a different Europe, but it was obsessed with free trade and couldn’t be bothered. Now it’s reaping the consequences. I suspect we have only just begun to see the start of the reaction against the levelling down and anonymising of Europe, and Britain (or England) will be one of the first casualties. If I were Schuman, I’d be demanding they take my name off the square, which again, typically, is now nothing but a giant roundabout guarded by black-clad troops and police.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thank you David, thats an excellent summation.

      I would add that one of the more pleasant things I’ve seen on recent travels is in many parts of France, Spain and Portugal I’ve been to, there seems to be an increased interest in protecting and reviving local languages and dialects (I’ve only recently become aware of just how many of these there are). I may be wrong in this, but it seems to me that the French state has become a little more relaxed of late about this, although the Spanish of course are much less so). Ironically, I think the support in Britain for Welsh and Scottish Gaelic is a model for how it can be done without reviving nationalism – in fact, some Welsh friends insist that Government support for the Welsh language has counter intuitively undermined the nationalist parties, by focusing attention on cultural rather than economic freedoms.

      1. David

        The French have had a program of decentralisation to regions since the 1990s, under Mitterrand. In the last decade, there’s been a considerable strengthening of regional cultures (always strong in France) not just in terms of “pure” culture, but equally taking pride in supporting local agriculture and manufacturing. French regionalism is a standing rebuke to the idea that any kind of identity-consciousness necessarily leads to conflict.

    2. Richard

      David, your comment may apply to Place Schuman in Brussels but surely it does not apply generally across the EU.

      As a Brit living and working in Maastricht for 19 years I know that the Europe here is quite different to the Europe experienced 20 km to the West in Flemish Belgium, 20 km to the South in French speaking Belgium or 20 km to the East in Germany. The citizens may be protected by the same EU regulations but local laws, rules and traditions are still very evident.

      1. David

        No, it doesn’t and I didn’t mean to imply that it did. What people are afraid of is precisely that the kind of faceless, anonymous, low-far, sugar-free Europe found in Brussels will spread to them. I know the Netherlands well, and they have managed to preserve at least some of their culture and identity. And in general the further from the capital city (eg Maastricht) the easier it is.

    3. Alex Cox

      Excellent post, David. I had one of those ten shilling passports too, and second your conclusions about the homogenization/pasteurization of countries which once had entirely different identities…

      Unlike Mr Murphy I believe neoliberalism and its latest incarnation, austerity, are the causes of UK hostility to the EU. There has never, in my lifetime (63 years) been the remotest likelihood of another war between Germany and France. But a nuclear war between the US and Russia has always been on the cards.

      Now that the EU and NATO are conflated, and an anti-Russian Euro army is in the works, such an outcome seems increasingly likely… Oh dear…

    4. Sparkling

      Those memories of the War didn’t fade, they were purged. The great experiment of a globe full of humans with no identity except that which they purchase is failing and all the institutions (ex: European Union, every center-left party on the planet) that are infested with the scientists fanatically devoted to its success must either purge them or die. I don’t think the EU has the ability to purge them anymore. Therefore, it will die.

      I’m sorry for your loss. Frankly it makes me weep too.

  7. David

    I posted a long comment earlier, which appears to have been eaten by the system again. I’ll repost it later if it doesn’t appear. (Made a copy this time!)
    Just a point on the Bloomberg story – expect massive fun and games and total confusion over what can be accepted as an amendment. In general, Commons votes not on legislation are procedural – “This House approves…” or even “This House takes note …” They are not substantive in the sense that debates on laws are. So there will be no votes on the text of the Agreement.
    It’s possible that the Speaker might allow amendments such as “declines to accept the Agreement without a second referendum” but there won’t be any amendments of the “delete Article so-and-so ” type.
    This promises to be the most chaotic parliamentary week in history, which is saying something.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, David.

      Perhaps, we need Cromwell to return and make that speech again.

      As you are in France, have you any more thoughts about les gilets jaunts?

      I noticed the MSM, including fake leftist Carol Codswallop (copyright Arron Banks) link the protestors to the far right / antisemitism and complain why the many women taking part did not march for Me Too. Codswallop does not appear to understand the class element to these things. I suspect her leather jackets cost more than the monthly salary of the protestors.

      1. David

        Indeed. It’s a class thing, or more precisely a wealth thing. Last weekend (about 100,000 gilets jaunes mobilised) the government was trying to smear the protesters by calling them “ultra-right”, ie to the right of Le Pen. This week the government seems to have backed off a bit, although Macron’s attempt to smooth things down yesterday is generally judged to have been a failure by the media. The reality is they have no idea what to do. The protesters represent people in small towns and the countryside, in areas where the lack of public transport requires them to own a car, and for whom the increase in petrol tax is the last straw in a series of attacks on their living standards, whilst more is given to the rich. It has to be said that the governments attempts to be sympathetic have not always been very well-judged. Gérard Darmanin, one of Macron’s Ministers, said that he understood it must be tough to live on 950 Euros a month when a decent lunch for two cost 200 Euros without the wine. People are still debating whether to laugh or cry.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, David.

          The lad should know better, especially having grandfathers who were Maghrebin Muslim and Maltese Jewish and lived on the wrong side of the tracks.

    2. shtove

      I dozed off last night watching the outgoing Clerk of the Commons answer questions on procedure for the forthcoming fireworks. Jacob Rees-Mogg probed him subtly about the amendments process, while taking notes.

  8. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you to Yves and, especially Clive, PK and Vlade.

    It has been noticeable from the summer onwards to hear EU27 officials based in London (especially from Italy, France and Germany) begin to grasp what drives Brexit and the similarities with their home states, and, under Chatham House rules or privately, say what is wrong with not just the EU, but, more importantly, the domestic leaderships and elites. None sees anything other than the unfinished business from 2008, an Italian collapse or depression brought about by trade wars / protectionism as bringing leaders / the elites to their senses. The elites and their placemen and women in politics, the media and higher levels of national bureaucracies are doing too well to really notice. The officials in London echo particularly what Clive said. They see the EU as a Potemkin village. Brexit was the first warning, but it can be explained in a way that PK does and the lessons ignored.

    On another and sadder note, as I walked out of Wall Street subway yesterday morning, heading to my employer at No 60, there was a young homeless woman, perhaps even still a teenager, shivering and crying. No one seemed to notice. She may as well have been invisible. WTF is going on?!

    1. JTMcPhee

      Nothing new is going on. I made a weekend visit to the home of a college classmate in 1965. Involved taking a train from Providence, RI to Union Station, then a long walk to the Port Authority terminal at the street level. Along the way, I came upon a man sprawled in the doorway of a closed storefront, lying there with his zipper open and an eye dropper glued to a hypodermic needle in his arm. Lots of people stepped over his legs in the crowded shuffle. I went up to a NY policeman about half a block on, and pointed out the guy in the doorway and said he looked either really sick or maybe dead. The cop said something like “Happens all the time, I guess I should put in a call.”

      See also, Dickens.

      And did ANYONE respond to that homeless, unsheltered woman? Anyone at all?

  9. flora

    Watching all this from the US.
    Post is no doubt heart felt plea for some political sanity. However,…

    This is about deep world views – and none to do with neoliberalism at all.

    In my opinion neoliberalism in UK brought austerity, and austerity brought Brexit; neoliberalism had everything to do with Brexit vote. Modern, centrist economists can’t believe that, of course.

    1. Clive

      Like so much else in Brexit, that’s half true and just as equally half not quite so true. If it were entirely true, the U.K. Labour Party (which, whatever else you might call it is most definitely not neoliberal — a right old bunch of Trots and various niche flavours of the Marxism spectrum come along to my constituency party meetings, for example; I pity the chairperson, it’s like herding cats sometimes) would simply be a nice, neat and tidy Remain party and that would be the end of that. It isn’t.

      1. FergusD

        As an old trot in the LP I should point out that Marxist views have, sadly, no influence on LP policy. Corbyn is really a soft left social democrat, with a Bennite past, which is where his eurosceptism comes from.

        I visit the same village in southwes France regularly. It is clearly culturally distinct in many ways from the English Midlands where I live. In other ways it is similar due to the nature of modern capitalism, US cultural influence, some U.K. cultural influence and just the similarities of modern life. Homogenisation in modern France was driven by the French state, a very Centralising state really. At one time speaking Occitan was very much deprecated, now there are schools teaching in the medium of Occitan. Homogenisation within France was also driven by internal migration of Northerners to the South (The Oc). I am not convinced the EU has had much to do with this, except to provide funds for regional cultural diversity!

        For instance the EU is not responsible for the decline of spoken Irish, that is due to internal factors and the dominance of Anglo-American culture, and economic power.

        I have many complaints about the EU, it is a capitalist project after all to try and overcome the limitations of the nation state on the development of the productive forces. Looks like it can’t achieve that as we seem to be heading back to the 1930s.

      2. False Solace

        flora’s argument seems pretty sound to me. Perhaps I’m just not following your logic. Why would Marxists and Trotskyites vote for Remain? Especially if they see the EU threatening Italy for attempting to increase social spending, which Marxists etc. presumably favor? Wouldn’t they be Leavers, or at best divided on the issue? The Labour Party also includes a ton of neolibs at the parliamentary level — those certainly are Remainers, but one can still argue their neolib policies brought on a strong Leave reaction.

        1. FergusD

          My view is Marxists are agnostic on the EU. However, Marxism is internationalist, socialism in one country is not possible, so it can’t be for Brexit, which inherently argues there is something better about ‘British’ capitalism vs EU capitalism. There is a lot more to this argument, but on a very practical level Brexit has strengthened dead end nationalist arguments and has not advanced the socialist perspective one jot. Socialists need to build deep meaningful solidarity between workers across countries, not helped by Brexit. This isn’t a nice to have option (internationalism) it is essential.

      3. Christopher Dale Rogers


        Nice of you to point out that on the whole the Labour Party is not a neoliberal bastion, quite the reverse, the vast bulk of its membership and some of its leadership are very much anti-neoliberalism, just a great shame this comment does not apply to the bulk of the PLP (our MPs), many of whom prefer the continuation of Tory Rule rather than a genuine Left-of-Centre Labour administration – until this issue is sorted out the Party will continue to have major issue.

        As for Labour being a Remain Movement, over my dead body I’m afraid – most of my Labour peers voted Remain but accept the democratic will of the people, whilst those of us within Lexit are certainly not anti-Europe, rather we were opposed to the trajectory the EC/EU has taken since the late 80s, a trajectory it seems most unwilling to reverse, despite overwhelming electoral evidence that the EU electorate is not on board of this particular bus – which our EU Masters care little about – its this contempt that most worries me.

        1. larry

          I am afraid that the Labour Party in Corbyn and McDonnell are New Keynesians, which means that they will be Deficit Doves (in Stephanie Kelton’s terminology) where what they need to be are Deficit Owls. This means that they are at the very least Neoliberal lite. Most of Labour’s supporters are anti-austerity, as are, to a certain extent, the Labour leadership, but unfortunately this does not necessarily translate into anti-neoliberalism en toto. And this is what needs to be the case.

          The EU is not the only instance where neoliberalism has been extremely difficult to unseat, even in more democratic settings.

  10. flora

    adding: neoliberal induced austerity on the greater US public had everything to do with Trump winning in 2016 as well, imo. The “important” US economists analyze his win as a triumph of racism (deep world view) instead of decades of bad economic policy coming home (none to do with neoliberalizm at all).

    1. False Solace

      It seems like one of Lambert’s self-licking ice cream cones. The economically right wing impose austerity, which causes voters to be angry, and proceed to vote even more for the right wing. Meanwhile locking the left out of the conversation entirely. Repeat until WWIII.

  11. Ignacio

    From my EU perspective on Murphy’s take.

    The point of EU as means of ‘never again’ is still important but not enough. I think that these days being politically small or medium size is not good option unless one can and wants to insulate her little country from global tides. This has been repeatedly said by Yves. The UK will have to negotiate with the EU, US, etc. with less leverage.

    This is particularly true and difficult if you want to build a leftist paradise in a neoliberal world, unless you wanna be isolated. My opinion is that, for instance, Corbyn could be more influential within the EU if he manages to reach agreements with his political peers in other EU countries, than winning elections after brexit.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I agree with this very much. Europe desperately lacks a really influential voice from the left at the table. People constantly complain about the EU being ‘neo-liberal’ as if it was inherent to the institution, when in reality it could never be anything but neo-liberal when every single government leader of a major influential European country over the past 30 years has been from the centre right or Blairite/Hollande ‘left’. Corbyn could be an inspirational leader for the left across Europe. But he simply doesn’t seem to care.

      1. David

        Modern politics has increasingly been the process of apparent parodies turning into reality. The Europe of today is actually much closer to the concept of Europe that made the Labour Party very sceptical about joining in the 1960s and 70s. It’s become what Labour always feared it might. It’s to Blair’s everlasting discredit that he did nothing at all to stop or slow down the process. Mind you, there have been other allegedly Socialist leaders in Europe who haven’t done much either. A lot of people (including me) will tell you that Mitterrand made a catastrophic mistake as President in letting Kohl run off with everything he wanted economically, in return being allowed to construct the political union before he died. There’s enough guilt for everyone to have a share. Now? I rather suspect it’s too late.

        1. Ignacio

          Mitterrand signalled the transition of progressives to third way neolibs as much as Gonzalez did. But again, the main mistake that everybody makes is to believe that policy is made at home and does not require coordination with other countries’ policies/politics. Conservative parties around europe are better coordinated than progressives. This is true within the EU and at a wider scale.

  12. shinola

    Again, I would like to thank Yves for educating this yank on Brexit. I think NC has more articles on the subject in one day than my local newspaper plus TV news (local + national) have in a month.
    The comments from NC readers “across the pond” have been enlightening also.

    I’m not sure just what is going on in the US & UK with Trump & Brexit other than there seems to be in the populace a general feeling of “something’s wrong, so we need to do something about it – anything!”

    So far, this seems to have brought about a severe case of “Ready, Fire, Aim!”

    1. ChrisAtRU

      Same here. The great coverage and comments helped me realize that this was not merely a case of the UK trying to extricate itself from erstwhile economic constraints. I’m especially thankful for historical context and trade-related legalese. Short of backing out, I fear it’s going to grim and the most vulnerable with pay the highest price as usual.

  13. Susan the other

    This was depressing. If we need to embrace “the other” we might want to embrace the idea of an embrace first. I think our imaginations always fail to imagine rationally. Like Julian Jaynes example of asking people to imagine diving in a pool – to a person they all saw themselves as if in a movie, diving off a diving board. No one imagined tensing their muscles, taking a few deep breaths, rolling their shoulders, turning their neck from side to side, adjusting their goggles and then diving into the cool-cold water, guiding their trajectory, and emerging for air. I am fully depressed over this stuff too. Everytime I see a homeless person I see myself. But I fail to feel the hunger and the cold. It’s almost as tho’ we don’t have a mechanism for really embracing the other. But we are practical creatures; we understand how to do things; to “tax and spend”, etc. FWIW, and politically huge, Angela Merkel was reported on FR24 a few days ago calling for more EU sovereignty and asking each member to give up sovereignty to the EU. I couldn’t believe I was hearing it. Of course Macron would be in agreement but he can’t venture there these days, he’s dealing with too much French inequality for anyone to give up more “sovereignty” to the EU. Merkel knows full well that there is a very real threat to the survival of the EU, especially with this hit from the UK, and she knows the only way to get over this threat is to have a fiscal policy and a taxing authority. But nobody followed up on this speech. I’m still stupified. Something’s gotta happen here.

Comments are closed.