Brexit: More Thrashing About

We’ll attempt to be sparing in our Brexit update, since the noise to signal ratio is even higher than usual right now.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the EU Council approved May’s deal as expected. May gave in to Spain’s demands over Gibraltar:

That concession wasn’t lost on the members of the press that aren’t rooting for May (most notably example is the BBC, to the degree that the Twitterverse has been rounding on them regularly). It confirms the widely-held view that this Brexit puts the UK in a worse position that it was when it was in the EU. Mind you, that was an inevitable outcome, but there’s no pretending any more now that a deal has been completed. And as various commentators are pointing out, May never considered less bad choices, such as joining the EEA/Efta. Mind you, we think the latter was unlikely to work, since the UK was a bad partner in the EU, and would be even harder to deal with if it were to have become the economically dominant member of the Efta. Similarly, May never began the war-level preparation required to make a crash-out something less than an abject disaster, which would have increased her bargaining leverage with the EU and would also have served as preparation for a bare-bones free trade agreement, which the UK could have conceivably sealed even in its 18 month transition period.1

The pound is trading higher despite the fact that it is just about universally anticipated that May’s Brexit pact will be voted down in December. The scheduled date is December 12, conveniently right before the December EU Council meetings of December 13-14.

May is going into a full bore media push, supposedly going over the heads of MPs to appeal to the public. Given how well her past personal selling efforts have worked (the snap elections, her various failed EU charm offensives, with Salzburg a capstone of sorts), it’s hard to see how this will have any impact, particularly given her bargain basement popularity ratings:

Even with some of the Tory media pumping for May, there’s not enough time to move public opinion in a meaningful way in a few weeks.

May is now asking to debate Corbyn, something she strenuously avoided during the general elections. Perhaps her point is to try to show that Corbyn, and by extension, all of the opposition, has no alternative to her scheme.

And there’s lots of trumpeting of faux alternatives, such as the idea of a no-crashout no deal, which includes having the EU give the UK another year to get its act in gear. Of course, no one has talked to the EU to see if it is even remotely receptive, and if so, how high the price tag would be.

Lots of people who should know better are pushing for a second referendum, from the Independent to Tony Blair. Blair’s Sunday Times “open letter to EU leaders,” meant as a companion piece to May’s open letter to the UK, is yet another case study in exaggerated sense of self-importance that got the UK in this mess. Blair does point out that May’s deal is unpopular and will be nixed by Parliament. So what does he propose then? That these EU chieftans “step forward with an offer which deals with the principal British anxieties about Europe,” which he admits is immigration. Ahem, did Blair miss that the UK didn’t take any Syrian refugees? Or that it was the UK that pushed for more Eastern European members in a too-clever ploy to try to dilute the influence of the German-France axis, and the UK more than ten times the Polish immigrants than it had forecast? Oh, and he wants a second referendum too.

Macron’s remarks at the press conference after the EU Council approved May’s deal are an indicator of how indulgent the EU is likely to be going forward. From the BBC:

But the bluntest warning came from the French President Emmanuel Macron, who suggested that if the UK was unwilling to compromise in negotiations on fishing, which would need to make rapid progress, then talks on a wider trade deal would be slow.

“We as 27 have a clear position on fair competition, on fish, and on the subject of the EU’s regulatory autonomy, and that forms part of our position for the future relationship talks,” he said.

The president implied that without sufficient progress on trade, the backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland would have to be implemented, including a temporary customs union for the whole of the UK.

“It is a lever because it is in our mutual interest to have this future relationship,” Mr Macron said.

This is not an idle threat. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out in the Telegraph last week, Brexit only gets harder from here on. Only a qualified majority (at least a majority of states in number constituting 65% of the population) had to approve the Withdrawal Agreement. A trade agreement is a treaty, and those require unanimous approval, including by national parliaments. The Walloon parliament initially nixed the ratification of what should have been an uncontroversial agreement with Canada. Fishing rights are an most obvious sticking point with the UK; there will be plenty of others. And recall if the UK winds up having to use the “customs territory” backstop, it can get out only by mutual agreement of the UK and EU, which gives the EU an initial veto. Disputes go to an arbitrator, but since the UK would have to satisfy the arbitrator that it will not have a hard border with the Irish Republic, it’s hard to see how it satisfies that condition otherwise.2 As Ian Dunt put it:

It doesn’t matter how you look at it. You can squint with one eye, or stand upside down, or peer at it askew. You can be as sympathetic or stern as you like. It makes no difference. From every angle, on every basis, Theresa May’s deal is horrific.

It is intolerable on a democratic, political, economic and logical basis. It takes one of the world’s leading powers and puts it in a diplomatic and trading stranglehold. It undermines Britain’s economic status, demolishes its political status, severs its territorial integrity and imposes a dangerous and unacceptable governance structure on Northern Ireland…

The deal offers a transition to the end of 2020. This can be extended once, but this must be done by July 2020. This is, to all intents and purposes, the new cliff edge. Without an extension, we will fall into the backstop. And no matter what wasteful lies May tells now, Britain will never pick the backstop, because it is appalling.

So in July 2020 the UK will inevitably ask for an extension of transition. The EU will give it to us, but first they’ll ask for money. And we will pay. We’ll pay them anything they ask for, because the entire structure of the deal gives the EU negotiating advantage….

The extension can only last two years, until the end of 2022. But this is not enough time. The EU will be focusing on European elections until May 2019. No meaningful talks will take place until there is a new commissioner, sometime in the autumn. Then Britain needs to work out what it wants, something it has so far showed no signs of being able to do. Then it needs to negotiate it. Then it needs to implement it – a job which can be big or small, depending on the outcome of the negotiation. And then it needs to be ratified, which requires approval from every parliament, in every EU member state. The last part alone took two years for Canada.

This thing is not going to be done by 2022….

If 2022 ends with no deal in place, which by any realistic assessment it will, we fall into the backstop. And then the real horror story starts. Overnight we lose services access to the continent. Our customs arrangements shrivel up into a little ball. There are no transport agreements, so permits for UK hauliers will be limited to five per cent of existing traffic. There are no veterinary or phytosanitary agreements, so agricultural products will be stopped and checked at the border, causing huge disruption. There is no common regulatory regime on goods, so they will also be checked and tested.

We become little more than an addendum to the EU’s trading relationships with other countries….

And after all that, May didn’t even prevent the carving up of the UK’s territorial integrity in the Irish Sea, as she claimed. There are actually two regulatory levels in the backstop proposal.

Even though we are in an overly dynamic situation, to invoke another one of Lambert’s pet expressions, it would be irresponsible not to speculate.

Even though the Government lost on its procedural motion to try to bar amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement, our Clive argues that they may not get attached to the bill regardless, particularly the ones we are likely to see, that the Agreement is somehow contingent upon a second referendum, and the Kier Starmer idea of having all sorts of legal changes made supposedly so as to make it impossible for May to have a crash out if she can’t get the Withdrawal Agreement passed. As we have said, the latter scheme is silly unless it has provisions that not only repeal the “leave EU” act but also explicitly direct the Government to rescind the Article 50 notice, since as we know, Brexit happens automagicaly unless the UK asks to back out. It is implausible to think that there would be enough votes for that in early December. From Clive:

The UK government does control parliamentary time and can guillotine any attempts at filibustering on primary legislation. 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. It’ll go back to the point I raised in the above paragraph — just because Parliament is sovereign, it doesn’t mean it can act like a constitutional equivalent of a drunk in a bar.

It is way over my pay grade, but I wonder whether Starmer’s long list of legislative changes could be required to be a separate bill. Similarly, if MPs propose enough amendments, May could well miss her December 12 target. Not that matters much; the EU is not going to cut the UK any slack when May’s deal gets voted down or if Parliament, either with the Withdrawal Agreement or otherwise, decides to have another referendum. And May telling MPs, either as part of her campaign for the Withdrawal Agreement or in trying to swat down amendments, that they can’t amend the bill, that the EU is done with negotiating (obvious but something they are not disposed to hear) will not get her more votes for the bill, at least not in December.

Another factor at work is reflexivity. Mr. Market does not seem to be all that worried about the virtual – certainty of Parliament voting down the deal in December. Is he convinced it will eventually pass, or is he instead relying on the various hopium escape scenarios the political classes are cooking up? It appears they are expecting rationality to prevail when not much of that has been on offer for the last two years. Vlade flagged a Bloomberg story, Will May Get Her Deal Passed The Second Time? Markets Think So, and added:

Seems like the markets are betting on a second vote to pass the deal. Which could work only if markets very clearly panicked after the first vote. Which, if they are taking it as given it would be lost, they won’t. If there’s no market panic, there well may be no second vote, as it will embolden the Ultras (“we told you it’s not a problem”).

To take the screaming fire in a packed theater, this is more like the fire is already raging in a theater, but everyone still sits down, because no body wants to be the first to scream it, hoping that some mystical firefighters will arrive just so.

Robert Peston provides a final bit of intelligence:

I am reliably informed by senior officials in Brussels and in foreign capitals that a request to postpone Brexit is both half anticipated and would be sympathetically received.

But there would be strings.

The delay could be no more than a couple of months, because there is an absolute horror of the UK participating in elections for the European Parliament at the end of May.

And EU governments would want an assurance that the extra time would allow the UK to achieve a settled position, either on the Brexit it actually wants, or on no Brexiting at all.

Here is the nightmare, for the UK and the EU, for them and for us.

It is patently, obviously, maddeningly clear that there is no settled position in parliament on an optimal Brexit.

That leads a growing number of MPs to muse that the best thing may be to cancel Brexit altogether.

Some tell me that as a nation we should risk the humiliation of apologising to the EU – and the world – and just rescind our “Article 50” request to leave…

But more MPs would blush to do so without seeking the permission of the electorate in another referendum – but it is by no means clear that the British people are less divided and more certain about all this than their elected representatives.

When parliament and people are divided, there is no higher authority to consult.

Perhaps opinions will solidify as the press continues to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement. May was being uncharacteristically truthful when she said there were only three options: her deal, no deal, or no Brexit. A Lord Ashcroft poll found that only 13% of Leave voters thought that May’s agreement “honours the result of the EU referendum held in June 2016”. So the political obstacles to walking back Brexit may be lower that MPs perceive…but will they get the memo soon enough to act on it?


1 Of course, there would still be the Irish border, issue, but had May not made her foolhardy snap election gambit, she could have opted for the “sea border,” particularly since she could make the case that it would be much better economically for Northern Ireland citizens. She’d still have faced a rebellion from the ERG, but she would not have had to get as many votes from other parties.

2 We remain skeptical about vaporware techno-solutions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Kurt Sperry

    I know the timeline for such a thing is fraught to say the least and would require the considerable further indulgences of the EU, but perhaps a second binary referendum — binding this time — deal on the table, or withdrawal of Art. 50 (don’t even offer crash out or prolonging negotiations as an option) is the only remotely satisfactory, or least worst way, to navigate this train wreck.

    Any polling numbers out there to guage how such a question might be answered by the electorate?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      A binary referendum does not reflect the options. You’d need at least three choices, the same three May gave: her deal, no deal, no Brexit. As we discovered from the first referendum, Leave versus Remain is a meaningless choice, since there is only one flavor of Remain but many flavors of Leave.

      But more important, please don’t indulge the referendum fantasy. In theory, the minimum is six months. The Lib Dems were pushing for a second referendum, and their tight timetable was eight months. The Brexit referendum took a year, and given how hard the phrasing question was fought last time, there is no reason to think it would go faster this time. The EU will never never never indulge this. They have had it with the UK. It isn’t going to happen no matter how much of a fuss the UK public makes, unless they do what Greece did in 2015: hold a referendum on a question that has already become moot.

      Parliament is sovereign, not the voters. The Brexit referendum was only advisory. But no one is willing to act like a real leader and say a crisper version of what Peston was getting at: we went into this not understanding what it would take or what are options were. We can continue to be naive and stubborn and destroy the country, or we can swallow our pride and step back. One face-saving excuse could be that when the UK designs its magical techno Ireland border solution, the Irish border issue largely falls away and would open up many more options for a Brexit deal. That would kick the can down the road at least four years, an eternity in politics.

      But a second referendum is a magic sparkle pony. It diverts attention from what the (limited) options are.

      1. vlade

        I do not believe that the EU would give time extensions for a vague referendum. It would have to be very specific choices.

        Three way referendum is possible, as the Scottish devolution was so. It had “do you want a parliament” and “do you want the scottish parliament to have tax powers” questions.

        I believe the EU would give extension for a specific referendum, but that would be it – and it would likely want something along the lines “and no messing up for months after that”.

        So that would likely require primary legislation that would be contingent on the future referendum (as in results are in, and if it’s out, either it’s a no-deal, or May’s deal is approved immediately).

        And that process would have to start now – definitely before Xmas. And would have to have wide cross-bench support.

        Chances of that happening with the current non-leadership? Vanishingly small. The only even remote chance I see on this would be the Labour members forcing an extraordinary conference to force the MPs to go for it, including cross-bench vote.

        But that’s unlikely to happen either, especially since Starmer continues to peddle the fantasy of extending A50 .

        The EU should relly stomp on this, but it hates to get involved in the UK politics. No-one in the UK is willing to call them out on it, so the idiocy continues.

        1. BrianM

          Technically the Scottish devolution referendum had two two-way questions – do you want a Scottish parliament and, if such a parliament came into being, should it have tax raising powers. While the no to parliament/yes to tax powers seemed an unlikely combination, there were four possible options.

          If a referendum were possible now, I’d see that as a model. Then you could have a straight yes/no on the current deal, then if that’s no a choice between no-deal Brexit or remain. That may be seen as honouring the spirit of the last referendum. But, as you point out, it is noise as it can’t happen in the required timescale. And if the deal dies in parliament its academic.

      2. justasking

        Please help me understand why a referendum would require a minimum of six months while the Brits can apparently hold a snap national election in 17 days? Sure, there would be vicious fighting and haggling over the wording of the referendum questions, but six months? I’m honestly confused.

  2. David

    Ian Dunt is quite right. As I observed last week, it takes a special kind off genius to negotiate a settlement which leaves the UK objectively worse off than it was at the beginning.
    On Clive’s points, there is a useful background paper from the House of Commons Library here. In essence, government signs and ratifies treaties, although parliament has very limited powers since 2010 to delay that process. (Not all treaties have to be put before parliament). But parliament cannot cannot amend treaties once they are signed, and the Withdrawal Act is a treaty. Thus, according to the HoC paper, parliament could block it, but not amend it. Any idea that a new, improved, or different Agreement could somehow be negotiated in the next few weeks or months based on parliamentary amendments is fantasy politically, but seems also to be legally impossible. I can see the clerks accepting amendments of a procedural nature, but it’s hard to see how they could accept one for debate that actually changed the text.
    More importantly, the Agreement does not become “UK law”, as far as I know except in the sense that, once ratified, the UK is required to abide by it in its dealings with the EU. Treaties of themselves cannot change UK domestic law: implementing legislation is required to do this. It was on this point that the Supreme Court in January 2017 said that parliament had to be consulted about the Art 50 declaration, because the effect would be to change UK law without an Act of Parliament. I can only assume that this is still the case – ie the current Agreement has the effect of changing UK law, and so parliament will need to pass new legislation. In the past this has often been done before ratification, but we are in a different situation here, timewise. Or would a vote in favour of the Agreement be assumed to be a vote in favour of any necessary domestic UK legislation? Is that even possible?
    In any event, it’s a total shambles. I wonder if we have an expert on treaties in our ranks?

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Just to add to this, Mathew D’Ancona (a rare Tory who writes for the Guardian) has a good article on the parliamentary arithmatic. Basically, there is no way May can get approval for pretty much anything. And yes, they are apparently gambling on a market panic to get it through second time:

    Deplorably, senior government figures are actively hoping that the markets will respond with panic to the parliamentary failure of the deal, and, to adapt Dr Johnson, focus the minds of MPs sufficiently to deliver a majority second time round. The precedent cited in this context is the Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp) devised by George W Bush’s administration in 2008 to prop up the financial system after the crash. After its initial rejection by Congress, the US stock market fell by seven percentage points. Congress promptly endorsed the plan.

    But this is a ridiculous parallel to draw. The crash was a clear and present danger. The Brexit deal is simply a damn-fool plan drawn up in response to the result of a referendum involving lies, illegality and foreign interference. The crash could not be halted by popular will: fortunately, with Brexit there is precisely that option, in the form of a people’s vote.

    I find it impossible to see any way out. Parliament seems deadlocked, as does the country – it seems there is nothing that would get approval.

    1. fajensen

      And yes, they are apparently gambling on a market panic to get it through second time:

      Alternatively; The Tories could pull the pin on the grenade (the withdrawal treaty gets rejected by parliament) then have another one of those snap-elections, which, if they play their cards just right, leaves Corbyn as P.M. now holding the live grenade with only seconds of fuse left!

      Then the Tories can spend the next decade relaxing as the opposition, blaming Labour for the consequences (and cleanup) from whatever actually happens with the ‘nade (Retraction of A.50, May’s Deal or Crash out) – In case of the Merry Brexiteers, probably from some offshore tax-shelter or an US-based, TLA-friendly, think tank (because we want to keep stupidity like that around).

      Sounds a lot like a “Winning Position” to me!

      1. PKMKII

        That could potentially happen, a sort of political hot potato. However, that has the possibility of backfiring on the Tories. Most simply, the public could not buy the argument and will give Labour a wide pass on any woes, blaming it on the Tories’ inability to handle Brexit and passing the buck. It also makes more tactical sense if the incoming PM would be a Blairite, someone prone to triangulation and squishiness that comes off as incompetence to anyone outside the neoliberal power circles. However, with Corbyn as PM, he could use any Brexit woes as cover for some disaster socialism, using the economic fallout as justification for implementing his full agenda.

        1. fajensen

          I think the Tories are maybe more concerned with what a George Corbyn majority government could do with a Hard Brexit, meaning:

          Freedom from the “yoke” of the EHCR and the invocation of the Civil Contingencies Act (2004)!

          He might have the lot of them sent to re-education camps where they will learn about the evil nature of capitalism and goodness of recycling by manually sorting through imported electronics scrap for things of value – or worse.

    2. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      “No way out”.

      One thing I have thought of here…if it is impossible to create a political consensus on how to proceed with the union, why not split it up? There is plenty of past history of this.Polls say Northern Ireland seeks to reunify. Scotland narrowly rejected an independence vote and perhaps seeks to remain in the EU. The City wants to remain in the EU and London votes remain…the idea of a Singapore-like low tax jurisdiction clearly has the most appeal to London and its environs. The rest of England wants to leave according to the voting results and some of that comes from detest London and its political, cultural, and financial elite.

      With the current absurdity and everything else being impossible, I ask the commentariat…why not? What happens to Article 50 if there is no longer a United Kingsom? NI, Scotland, and the City could say “I’m not part of the UK and therefore not part of this agreement”.

      1. disillusionized

        It’s longstanding policy of the EU that it’s territory is that of its memberstates and only that – thus if Scotland (or any other territory) secedes from its memberstate, it ceases to be a part of the eu.

        So if NI Scotland and London secedes from the uk, the successor state would remain in the EU – that generally is the largest state, so Wengland would ironically be the eu member and none of the others.

  4. Ignacio

    Those takes on the gibraltar issue are incorrect. For Spain the problem with the draft agreement was in article 184 (out of 185 so it took some time to notice). This is article 184:

    ARTICLE 184

    Negotiations on the future relationship
    The Union and the United Kingdom shall use their best endeavours, in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders, to take the necessary steps to negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship referred to in the political declaration of [DD/MM/2018] and to conduct the relevant procedures for the ratification or conclusion of those agreements, with a view to ensuring that those agreements apply, to the extent possible, as from the end of the transition period.

    This article broke the promise made by the EU to Spain that anything about Gibraltar should be a bilateral negotiation between UK and Spain, NOT UK and the EU. This article paved the way for the UK to negotiate with the EU about Gibraltar since there are in the draft other articles regarding Gibraltar. Since removing 184 itself would destroy the treaty, Sanchez asked the EU for additional warrants on the exclusive rigth of Spain to negotiate with the UK on issues regarding Gibraltar. There is nothing about co-sovereignity –at least yet– and the tweet above sounds like the typical hysterical Gibraltar parroting their bullshit remainer meme.

    1. Clive

      Does Remain want to lose — again (assuming, as an outside chance, there is genuinely some way back) ?

      I’m beginning to think so.

      Watching the next phase unfold (how to beat back May’s Deal while not ending up in No Deal), the main Remain arguments being put forward are:

      1) economic (a People’s Vote projection that May’s Deal will result in an aggregate 0.3-ish% reduction in GDP per year over 10 years) — but this is setting yourself up for failure because only peripherally is Brexit being determined by simple economics, not least because at least for the past 10 years, probably more, the population has realised that notional increases in GDP (output) don’t mean a jot if there’s rampant inequality and nowhere is it written that you’ll get your fair share of the pie. If being an EU Member State is somehow going to help with that, Remain needs to spell out how and why. Otherwise, the EU being merely a passive observer to the UK government’s continued economic rape and pillage isn’t going to persuade any Leave-minded voter to get off the sofa and agitate for Remain.

      2) odds and ends like Gibraltar — which was counterproductive since it merely blew a jingoistic ” ‘ands ‘orf our laand, you dastardly Spaniards!” dog-whistle at the worst sorts of Leave flag-waving types on the nonsensical basis that May “conceded” a big gimmie to Sanchez which was ridiculed because the EU Council could have voted to accept the Deal even without Spain’s agreement since there was no Member State veto available to Spain and, if anything, it was May being charitable to allow the EU27 to put on a show of unanimity merely through a reassertion by Spain that it had a veto over any trade agreement which is not even a national right since it can also be exercised by some regional assemblies such as the Walloons’

      All the while, Leave arguments (poorly thought-out EU regulations, where exactly is the EU going with its creepy creeping super-state ideas and is that anywhere that the UK as a nation wants to go, immigration and the democratically sub-optimal structure of the EU (to name but a few)) are falling on deaf Remain ears as if to even pose such questions is somehow an existential threat to Remain’s ability to use the EU as a handy progressive virtue-signalling comfort blanket which you can easily and cheaply wrap yourself up in.

      Does Remain, like the US Democrats — always fighting, but never, strangely enough, ever winning — really wish to take the battle to where it actually is (the Leave agenda) or does it, conversely, prefer to keep skirmishing on the same grounds it has already lost on?

      Shorter, Remain needs to seriously up its game if it is to take advantage of May’s weakness. Instead, it is merely clinging to the same tactics which have served it so poorly up until now. I simply can’t figure it out.

      1. vlade

        I tend to agree.

        That said, the first – economic – argument is not really about GDP, it’s about jobs. Because it’s pretty clear that even if the UK leaves the EU with some sort of arrangement (unless it’s well and truly BINO), there will be job losses (or real wage losses). And I don’t mean banker job losses (although there will be middle-class bank job losses), but all sort of job losses. Because trade disruption pretty much always costs jobs or real wages.

        Yes, they may be, down the pipe, new jobs created. May. Down the pipe. Few people can afford to think long term like that.

        I believe you overegg the Leaver arguments ex immigration vis a vis man on the street, where say the regulation is often missold by the press, and the one that is really poor would just fly-past the man on the Clapham bus.

        On immigration, the external (to the EU) migration was always in the UK govt’s gift. And the internal one could have been curbed a lot, if the UK govt wished to do so.

        But I have my doubts how any UK pols would go with an argument “well, we used the EU as a scapegoat for lots of crap we forced on you, but you know, let’s now pretend it will save you from all that (it won’t), because we’re incompetent”.

        I will keep my main Remain argument the same, as it was three years ago – the EU is bad, but the UK pols are incapable of leaving sensibly (there could be a good argument made to disengage from the EU into North’s Flexit, even if he has some fantastic assumptions there, the largest being that the other EEA states would like the UK to ruin their club – but at least it is not entirely a fairy tale like the Singapore-on-Thames), so the leave process is likely to wreck the UK way beyond of what the EU is capable anytime soon.

        1. ChrisPacific

          I think the main thing that is preventing any kind of reasonable outcome on Brexit is the lack of a good solution to Ireland, part of which is the objections and political calculus around the low number of technically feasible solutions. I also think the DUP are firmly locked into ideological mode rather than solution mode, and show no sign of budging as yet.

          May: Here’s a pony. It might squint a bit and walk with a limp, but it’s a real pony. It cost us everything we have, and we have to do what the EU says for the indefinite future. I hope you’re happy.
          DUP: Are you an idiot? This is NOT the Sparkle Pony 3000 with jeweled bridle and optional fairy dust attachment that we SPECIFICALLY said we wanted! Why are you so mean?
          May: You understand that it’s this pony or no pony at all, right?
          DUP: No pony at all would be better than this pony! I hate you!

      2. David

        I fear you may be right in the sense that for some Remainers at least it’s better that the UK should crash out and that it should be blamed on Those People, than that efforts should be made to listen to Those People and address their concerns. It’s elitist virtue-signalling at its worst with a whole nation held hostage. If Those People are too stupid to understand how they should vote, and won’t listen to Us telling them what is right and what is wrong, well, then the consequences of Brexit will be their fault.

      3. disillusionized

        “which is not even a national right since it can also be exercised by some regional assemblies such as the Walloons’”

        Walloonia does not have any particular rights in relation to the EU, it has particular rights in relation to Belgium, who has the veto power.

  5. Ataraxite

    I have only been in one car accident, and it all happened pretty much before I knew what was going on. (Everyone was fine, the car needed some work though). But I have heard others say their experience of a car accident was that it happened in slow motion, with them completely aware of what was about to happen, and unable to do anything about it.

    And so it seems with Brexit.

    I have remarked before about the unworldly calm with which everything seems to be proceeding towards a failed House of Commons vote on December 12. Yet no-one is panicking. Not the politicians, not the journalists, not the public at large and not even Mr Market. I do not understand it.

    Brexit is best understood as a political crisis, which boiled along in the Tory party for many years, but has now infected the entire British body politic. It has been something of a chronic, rumbling crisis, but at some point soon will become an acute political crisis, and perhaps even a constitutional, economic and social crisis too.

    Everything will be calm until it isn’t any more.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think many a book will be written in the future on just the topic of how a relatively minor issue (in the sense that fanatical anti-Europeanism was very much a minority obsession of a sub-class of the British political scene) managed to grow to the point where it could tear the country apart. Its quite fascinating in a way and would be funny if it wasn’t so damned serious for so many people.

      One thing I think that is slowly dawning on the Tory Party is that Brexit as a political issue will not cease to be on the 1st April 2019. Whatever happens now it will continue to be a cancer in the body politic which will absorb huge energy for many years to come.

      1. Anonymous2

        Thanks Yves and PK. I agree absolutely.

        It amazes me the way some people seem to think that, if Brexit goes through, the UK can then ignore the rest of Europe from then on as though the rest of the Continent will disappear into thin air. On the contrary I expect UK relations with Europe to become more difficult and more prominent in the minds of British Governments because nothing will be finally resolved and negotiations, almost whatever the outcome in March, will continue, possibly indefinitely into the future.

    2. disillusionized

      Mister market isn’t panicking because it isn’t yet rational to do so – The pain won’t be felt until the end of March, and since the UK can stop brexit up until that point, the rational thing is to keep calm.

  6. Clive

    Starmer still floating trial balloons in lieu of a plan:

    Clive: “dear lovely, kind and ever so nice EU Council, please could you do me a big, huge favour and extend A50?”
    Donald Tusk: “sod off, Clive, you’ve not even repealed the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Act; come back when you’ve squared that particular circle.”
    Clive: “oh, yeah, soz, that’d entirely slipped my mind *”

    * only if I’d completely taken leave of my senses and had lost all my cognitive faculties.

  7. David

    I posted a rather longer comment a few hours ago which has been eaten by the system and I don’t have time to re-do it. Just to say:
    Ian Dunt has nailed it. As I said last week, only a genius could voluntarily enter a negotiation which leaves the UK worse off than it is now, and threatens to destroy the UK political system.
    I also pointed to a House of Commons Library study (there are a number of very useful ones on Brexit at which clarifies some of the questions that have been asked here. In particular it seems to be clear that parliament does not ratify treaties as such, but may vote on them when the effect of the treaty is to change UK law. Thus parliament’s involvement now. Parliament can also delay ratification under some circumstances . But the withdrawal agreement is a treaty, not a piece of UK legislation, and there’ll be more chaos if and when new implementing legislation is needed, with a vote in every case. Several of the briefings are worth reading in detail, especially if you are interested in parliamentary procedure.

    1. Ignacio

      Something similar happened to me (a comment that disapeared). I wrote that the twitter above by FinalSay cantains an error made by Hutton about Gibraltar. The only amendments made by the spanish govenrment are assurances that any future agreement about Gibraltar will be made between the EU and Spain, not the UK and the EU. Nothing has been said about co-sovereignity.

      I am also fed up with Gibraltar being 96% remainer meme. Gibraltar is under UK rule and nobody cares on whatever they voted when they still want to be under UK sovereignity.

      1. Ignacio

        Sorry, it should read that any future agreement about G. should be negotiated between UK-Spain. Not UK-EU.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Sorry for not getting that quite right, in terms of clarifying what the deal actually was versus the UK press depiction of it. The UK press is overwhelmingly of the “UK lost again” mode.

        1. Ignacio

          Yves you are doing a terrific job on Brexit. What you say in this post is in fact very important. The Very Serious press that is sooooooo anti-fake news is the MAIN generator of smoke and noises to a level that makes it very difficult to see anything through it.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, I found it in Trash. It’s higher up in the thread. Apologies. And that link re additional legislation is important, will give it a read.

  8. flora

    Following this from the US. I agree with the earlier comment about Brexit in another post to the effect that people in govt at the top don’t seem to know how anything works anymore. Instead of understanding the importance of senior civil service experts in guiding thinking the senior civil service ranks have been sorely reduced. It’s all magical thinking now. Things ‘just happen’ because people want them to happen, or because markets are infallible, or because right is on their side, or something something something. If you don’t know how things actually work then all you’ve got is hand waving. Hand waving is not a plan. My 2¢.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its been a gradual process over the decades, but I think T. Blair was most responsible for this in the UK. His style of government was to exclude civil servants and make policy in private with special party advisors. More and more work was farmed out to private contractors (started by Thatcher of course).

      The rot was at both ends – senior civil servants excluded from important meetings, while career progression from the bottom was taken away by contracting out services. So you end up with a deskilled administrative apparatus with fewer high quality people.

      1. David

        I’d add (I was there) that “what Tony wants” became both a policy objective, sort of, and something you had to know and work towards if you wanted to get on. The Civil Service had been so ravaged under Thatcher that its leaders would have kissed Blair’s feet if he had returned to any kind of normal relationship. As it was, he made things worse, and those who did not leave in disgust either retreated into themselves and abandoned any hope of advancement, or decided that if those were the rules, they would play by them, to be successful and get promoted. So we now have a bunch of faceless managers at the top who might just as well be running a chain of gardening equipment stores. And of course the best people no longer wanted to join, and those who did often left for more money and better working conditions elsewhere, after getting incomparable experience and good training. Sayings about winds and whirlwinds come to mind, but it’s too late now.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Thanks for that insight, David. Its what I suspected, viewed as an outsider (although I worked in local government in the UK in the 1990’s, so I got to see at first hand the way public service was undermined and how difficult it was to recruit really competent people).

  9. Summer

    Would the EU have more leverage to pull Britain into the Eurozone in a new deal or vote or move back to Remain?
    And wouldn’t that be easier after a huge hardship Brexit for Britain?

    And is increasing Eurozone membership even still a goal of the EU? Maybe that should be the first question.

    I don’t have a pony in this race. Just curious.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      In theory, if the UK was to rejoin it would (as with all new entrants) be a condition that they would have to ‘work towards’ eurozone membership. But there is no compulsion on actually joining.

      But the issue is moot, there is zero chance of the UK rejoining within decades after leaving, the EU simply doesn’t want such a disruptive member.

      But if, say, an independent Scotland wished to join the EU (as it certainly would if it broke free), then it would probably want to join with the Euro if possible, although its questionable whether the Euro will still exist by the time it got to that stage.

      Its also worth pointing out you don’t have to be a member of the EU to join the Eurozone. Kosova and Montenegro use the Euro but are not EU members. There is nothing to stop any country unilaterally adopting the Euro, although of course they are not guaranteed a seat at the table.

      1. disillusionized

        If i were the EU i would make joining the Euro a requirement, not because you want them to join, but only to make it clear as to what the UK is doing – No more “Only a common market”
        There is nothing i hate more than that meme.

    2. Jeff Fisher

      I have not read anything suggesting the EU is trying to get the UK into the Euro. The Euro is fundamentally flawed, and its flaws get worse the more countries are in it, so nobody *should* want them to join. It’s also controlled in proportion to the size of member’s economies. This currently puts Germany and France in charge (with Germany having the most power). I’m dubious that they would want to add the UK.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Yes, and forgive me for being at risk of being wrong due to too many details and having seen takes at sources that didn’t get it right, but my understand is that the more recent EU entrants (Eastern European) were in theory obligated to adopt the Euro but haven’t and aren’t being pressured to do so.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Poland and Hungary, at least. They’re the most difficult anyway, given their “populist” right-wing governments. I can’t speak to how much pressure they’ve experienced; Brussels has other things to worry about, with them.

        2. disillusionized

          All EU countries are obligated to join the euro, except the uk and Denmark who have opt outs – sweden has the right to decide wheter to join (sweden gets to hold a referendum on joining).

          All other entrants “must” join, but as you say, there is no actual force behind it and in practice they can defer for as long as they like – though the 19 Euro countries does have a permanent qmw majority so they risk being marginalised eventually I supose.

          1. Anonymous2

            Yes. One interesting question is to what extent the Euro zone is acting as a block nowadays when it comes to voting on proposed legislation. My experience is out of date so would be interested to know if anyone here has insights.

  10. Sparkling

    “May was being uncharacteristically truthful when she said there were only three options: her deal, no deal, or no Brexit.” It’s brilliant. She sabotaged the whole process and made a repeat impossible. The markets will panic just long enough to get her deal passed and the UK’s worse standing after all of this will serve as a warning to other European countries about what happens when you challenge the cabal… at least that’s what they think will happen. What will actually happen is a now guaranteed crashout led by an English elite less powerful than the European elite but still wealthy enough to be insulated from the worst consequences of their ideological fervor.

    On the bright side, the case for Scottish independence will be the strongest it’s been in centuries. The EU might even be happy to accept them as a member just so they can flip Farage the bird.

    1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      The Withdrawal Agreement stipulates good faith efforts. Legally speaking, is the Irish border arrangement really reflective of that? Could Ireland reunify and therefore declare the agreement null and void?

      It seems there would be avenues to lock the Withdrawal Agreement up in the courts for years.

      1. Sparkling

        If the Scots-Irish are alright with that, then the answer is possibly yes. There’s a certain poetic justice in both countries uniting in order to tell England to f*ck off.

        (Apparently I time-traveled to the year 9362 on accident.)

Comments are closed.