Brexit: A State Change Nigh? Updated: UK and EU Said to Reach Agreement; Key MPs Denounce It

One of the images used to describe the post-Lehman phase of the financial crisis was a state change. Pump enough energy into water and it undergoes state changes, from ice to water and from water to steam. With each state change, its movement becomes more chaotic. Think of Lambert’s famed “overly dynamic situation”. A state change takes that one step further.

Perhaps the happy talk from Theresa May will be proven correct, that the Brexit talks are in an endgame and May was hopeful of securing a deal in the next 48 hours and getting her Cabinet to agree so as to be able to hold a special EU summit on November 25.

But May’s choice of metaphor may have been a subconscious tell. The endgame in chess leads to a checkmate or stalemate.

And the negotiations look as stuck on the EU-UK and intra-UK fronts as they ever have, perhaps even worse. The EU nixed the UK’s proposal for determining when a backstop was no longer needed. Fishing rights are in play. And RTE (hat tip PlutoniumKun) sounded further cautionary notes:

…a senior EU official has cast doubt on any breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations this week, despite speculation that a British cabinet meeting could approve a deal in the coming days.

Speaking to RTÉ News, the official said that the implications of a UK-wide customs arrangement is still dividing Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, and that as a result an emergency EU summit in order to approve the Withdrawal Agreement was unlikely this month.

There have been fevered reports that EU and UK negotiators are within clinching distance of a deal, but those reports are often contradicted by other dispatches which are less optimistic….

The main sticking point is the UK-wide customs arrangement, which Mrs May wants as something that will supersede a Northern Ireland-specific backstop.

The EU official suggested that the so-called level playing field issues which the EU wants clarity on before offering the temporary customs union – such as EU environmental, labour and state aid rules – are causing the hold up, since the UK has to run these late-in-the-day issues through all government departments.

On top of that, the Telegraph and Buzzfeed report that at a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting tomorrow, ministers led by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab will urge May to embrace a “no deal” Brexit. From Buzzfeed:

In a significant raising of the pressure on May from inside her own cabinet, the group of senior ministers will make clear to the prime minister that they could not support a deal that breaches their two red lines.

They are doubling down on their demands that the EU drops its Northern Ireland-only “backstop to the backstop” and that the deal must include a “break clause” mechanism that would allow the UK to unilaterally leave a UK-wide customs arrangement.

The renewed cabinet opposition to the emerging draft Brexit treaty has increased the chances of Britain leaving without a deal. EU sources told BuzzFeed News they would not give in to UK ministers’ demands. If the choice is between a unilateral break clause and no deal, then it is no deal, a senior EU government official said.

Another mini-revolt against May is that MPs of both major parties are demanding that she publish the full text of the legal advice to the Government, and not a summary as she had insisted.

Recall that the EU had asked for the UK to submit detailed documents a full week before the next EU summit so that the sherpas could study them carefully? This request seemed at odds with the repeated Michel Barnier claim that 95% of the Withdrawal Agreement had been completed. Given how UK ministers have repeatedly used “customs union” to mean something more like “membership in the internal market,” one wonders if some EU leaders recognize that the UK and EU might have been talking past each other by using expressions that mean somewhat different things to each side, and they therefore want to see full text, as opposed to deal points. to make sure there is no misunderstanding.

So as things stand, the odds favor no breakthrough this week, and the UK and EU then working to stitch something up by the December 13-14 EU Council meeting.

Now this may all seem like more of the same, in that there has never been a deal that Parliament would approve. But we are hitting the “a difference in degree is a difference in kind” threshold. More and more of the non-ideologically-minded MPs are waking up to the fact that the UK is on track to having a no-deal Brexit, and they rather late in the game trying to Do Something about it. Expect the demands and the efforts to intervene to intensify if May misses the November 15 target for getting agreement from both the EU negotiators and her own ministers to a Brexit deal so she can have her late November summit. If she missed that, the Government then has to start enacting emergency legislation for a no-deal Brexit, which includes hard expenditures right away for things like contracting for ships to carry imports into secondary ports.

As much as the UK will start moving into crisis mode, the lack of any sensible alternatives from those who’d want to avoid a Brexit, much the less the needed consensus around any alternative, means the most likely outcome is rising levels of alarm but no corresponding action. A second referendum seems like too time consuming and uncertain a process to get off the ground, even if the EU would agree to it. How do you even formulate what the question is when the flaw all along has been that what staying in the EU means is clear, while “Brexit” has many possible solutions.

For instance, we now have a squabble within Labour, with Corbyn saying Brexit can’t be reversed, while shadow Brexit secretary is stumping for that, with no coherent plan as to how to get there. It appears to be “Labour takes over, *magic step,* success!

As PlutoniumKun said by e-mail:

I think its pretty clear that the British side have been told that there are no more options for finessing or concessions. Its up to May and her people to come up with some sort of way of selling what they have been given to Parliament. And unless she can concoct some sort of deal with a few dozen non-Tories in Parliament, I don’t see how she can get a majority on anything.

I think the only question politically is whether the Tories now hate each other more than they fear a Corbyn government. I still suspect the survival instinct will stop them short of a vote of confidence, but there may be a temptation to land Corbyn with the mess. Some of the younger Tories may even relish the chance of having a clean run with clean skins in 4 years or so.

Another problem of course is the refusal of the political class in the UK to recognise that the real deadline isn’t the end of March, its much, much closer as there is no way the EU can cobble together anything after the NY to even modestly mitigate a no-deal crash. So we may still see them squabbling over a ‘deal’, long after that boat has left harbour. And every day matters when it comes to making some sort of contingency plans.

And still the financial markets aren’t panicking. I find that really weird.

On the last point, too many people still believe a no-deal Brexit is so terrible that it won’t be allowed to happen, and they’ve also seen the EU wait until the 11th hour with bank rescues and debt crises with various EU countries to put a rescue together. But with a central bank at your side, it’s possible to throw tremendous firepower at a problem in very short order. There is no one who can slice through a Gordian knot here.

Vlade presented a scenario that hadn’t occurred to me:

Parliament votes May’s deal down, pound crashes, Parliament votes May’s deal in (with cosmetic changes).

I believe it’s likely it would still mean May’s government going down. That may actually end up being “Revenge of the Tories” scenario – i.e. if May goes down, let’s say that Labour wins (which is not given, but let’s say so). Then they are saddled with the NI backstop and all. But there’s still no trade deal or anything agreed – with anyone. Just a barely 18 months transition period. In which, unless Labour changes its tack a LOT, it can’t achieve much, if anything at all.

And I doubt that Labour would be willing to change tack to say EEA or similar. So the UK might end up being in exactly the same spot, but 18 months later, and with Labour government under extreme pressure instead. Allowing Tories saying things like it’s Labour who failed to negotiate a good deal (never mind there was no good deal negotiable, especially in the timeframe available). Or that it’s Labour’s fault that the NI backstop is still operational. Etc. etc. In other words, the UK would be in the vassalage state (rules from the EU, no say in it), but Tories could happily blame Labour – and most public I dare say would likely go with them, especially if May was out (which, in case Labour would win, is given).

Vlade’s scenario parallels what happened when the initially-much-hated TARP was voted down, and then passed IIRC ten days later, with hundreds of pages of pork added. But if the government were to fall and there were elections, the EU has said it would push the Brexit drop dead date out….but it’s not at all clear it would keep the same 21 month transition period. The EU wanted it to end at the end of 2020 for good reasons, like EU budget cycles. So this scenario likely means an even shorter transition period. As we said in our New York Magazine article in passing, a transition period has the effect of phasing out the exit pain. The UK falls out of all of its agreements with other third countries and international bodies that it has through the EU on Brexit Day. It then loses its status with the EU, most important, single market membership, at the end of the transition period. It is pretty much impossible for the UK to have a new trade pact with the EU by then, so it has what amounts to a crash-out then, but it at least will have had more time to prepare.

But Richard North may have the correct call, that May never brings an agreement to Parliament:

Faced with serious cabinet opposition, and little chance of getting the current deal past the Westminster Parliament – and even less chance of getting any concessions out of Brussels – this may leave the prime minister with no option but to give way to the pressure.

In many respects, Mrs May is already halfway there, telling her audience at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City that she would not push for an agreement “at any cost”. And at this stage, it would be very easy to engineer a “no deal” scenario by default.

All that has to happen is that Mrs May does exactly what she is doing at the moment – stalling. A succession of missed deadlines and inconclusive talks can bring her inexorably to the 29 March, when we drop out of the EU automatically.

The advantage for Mrs May is that the default option bypasses parliament and, to an extent, marginalises the cabinet. The automaticity means that no one has to decide anything. We just leave – something the “ultras” have always wanted.

The irony of all this is that, despite the number players in the field, all pushing their own agendas, no one is actually in control. Once Mrs May pressed the button to start the Article 50 countdown, having already closed down her options, it was almost pre-ordained that we were going to end up with a “no deal” Brexit.

And the hardliners appear to be seeking the no-vote outcome, per Buzzfeed:

But ministers decided to take a tougher line after concluding that a deal based on May’s proposals would not pass parliament.

“There is no point agreeing a deal which will be voted down by parliament, cause the PM to fall, and result in chaos,” said a cabinet source.

The Ultras aren’t quite in “I love the smell of napalm in the morning….smells like victory” mode. I think this clip may be closer to the frame of mind:


Update: North’s guess was wrong, and there have been so many false claims regarding a deal is nigh in combination with enough negative noised in the last few days to think May would be looking at a December summit at best. May has agreed terms with the EU but the noise level from MPs, including members of her own Cabinet, is fierce, and it is not clear she will get approval at an emergence Cabinet meeting tomorrow. From the Guardian:

Ministers have been summoned to an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon to sign off Theresa May’s final Brexit deal with Brussels, prompting hard Brexit Tories to call for senior ministers to block it.

The critical meeting will review the final text of the withdrawal agreement, which was reached on Tuesday by British and European Union negotiators as the first step in the long process of ratifying the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Ministers were being summoned to No 10 individually for briefings on the latest developments on Tuesday evening and to read the key documents, although they were not allowed to take any papers home.

“Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,” a No 10 spokesman confirmed. “Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.”

The UK is understood to have ceded that a joint EU-UK committee will judge when an all-UK customs union can be terminated, according to leaks from Brussels. Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, had been pushing for a unilateral way out of the customs arrangement.

Hard Brexiters swiftly reacted negatively to the prospective deal – and indicated they intended to vote against it if it came to parliament. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group, said: “I hope cabinet will block it, or if not, parliament will block it.”

Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary, said he believed the deal was “vassal state stuff”. He said the UK would be bound by laws over which it had no say, which was “utterly unacceptable”.

Iain Duncan Smith, when asked if the government’s days were numbered, said: “If this is the case, the answer is almost certainly, yes, because they’re in real trouble if they bring back something unacceptable to their party.”

However, the Financial Times indicated that the hardliners themselves thought the Cabinet revolt could fail:

Business leaders were also being invited to Downing Street on Wednesday, as Mrs May prepared to unleash an intensive lobbying operation in support of a deal.

Mrs May hopes that some nine Eurosceptic ministers, some of whom have made known their misgivings about the prime minister’s Brexit strategy, will finally accept the need to agree a deal in spite of its flaws.

Hardline Brexiters pleaded with ministers to quit but Iain Duncan Smith, the pro-Brexit former Tory leader, acknowledged that a mutiny by Eurosceptic cabinet ministers might be limited, saying that their “spines do not yet meet their brains”.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the deal, which would leave Britain following EU rules on issues including the environment, state aid and employment law, was “vassal state stuff” and that he would vote against it.

Meanwhile the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds was furious that Mrs May had not given him advanced sight of the agreement. “If the reports are as we are hearing, then we could not possibly vote for that,” he said.

So the pressure of having to start passing emergency legislation has focused May’s mind. And the hardliners would squeal regardless. May is meeting with ministers one by one to try to persuade them, but here are some key points from a separate Guardian story:

What will the political declaration say about the post-Brexit trade relationship – or the ‘future framework’, as the UK government describes it?
This is crucial, but it has received relatively little attention because the focus in recent weeks has been on the backstop. In particular, will the EU allow the UK to remain effectively in the single market for goods, as May wants? And what will the paper say about May’s hugely complicated – and potentially unworkable – proposed “facilitated customs arrangement”?

Will the DUP support the deal?
That partly depends on the answer to the backstop question, but, on the basis of what the DUP is saying on Tuesday night, the signs do not look good.

Can May win over some of the more moderate Tory Brexiters?
The ERG hardliners have been out already rubbishing the deal, without having even seen it. Steve Baker, one of their leaders, said recently that at least 40 hardliners would vote against it come what may. The PM hopes to contain the scale of the Tory rebellion (which at one stage was expected to reach 80 or more). But the resignation of the remain-voting Jo Johnson on Friday will probably make this difficult.

Until Johnson, all Brexit resignations were “zero-sum” resignations; when a Brexiter went, at least the Tory pro-Europeans could console themselves that they were winning internal arguments, and the same logic applied when pro-European ministers (such as Phillip Lee) quit. But the Johnson resignation was a “double accelerant” resignation. His move is likely to encourage both pro-Europeans and Brexiters to reject the deal. If you are mildly Eurosceptic you would not want to be seen as caring less about UK sovereignty than a liberal Tory like Johnson.

Can May persuade Labour to vote for the deal?
On the basis of what Jeremy Corbyn is saying, it looks unlikely, but we will find out for certain over the coming weeks.

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  1. Redlife2017

    Richard North’s scenario passes the smell test for me. The powers that be do not want Corbyn. At all. Full stop. They act like the man is Lord Voldemort or maybe Candyman (you say his name 3 times – you die!). I will honestly be surprised if the Tories were willing to give up power. I think they would if it was Ed Milliband because that was New Labour and basically just the “nicer implementation” of the neo-liberal economic model. Corbyn actively wants more worker controlled co-ops and to properly fund governmental services. These are very much red-lines for the Tories and the financialised upper-classes.

    And in any event, May needs to hang on – that is her operating model. Hunker down and be the submarine. “Charge of the Light Brigade” is more of a modus operandi in this culture that most realise.

    1. bold'un

      I’m expecting something quite different:
      1/ a ‘blind’ Brexit where the UK agrees to pay its fees in exchange for a 3-year extended transition and some weasel words on Ireland but leaving the future trading deal open.
      2/ Labour agrees to abstain in Parliament in exchange for a May 2019 General Election. This suits both Labour and Conservative because 2017 was unsatisfactory. The winner gets to negotiate the FTA.
      3/ No prediction about election result – but the possibility of a Labour/SNP coalition government (which Labour hopes will de-fang the SNP like the Lib/Conservative coalition did for the Liberals…)

  2. Pavel

    I watched earlier an ITV interview of Jacob Rees-Mogg the uber-Brexiteer by Robert Peston (a leading UK TV journalist) from 2 or 3 days ago. JRM was adamant that the Chequers plan would be voted down and that basically nobody supported it except for May and a handful of others. Interestingly when asked about a no-deal outcome, he said it could be OK but had to be planned for properly. The clear insinuation was that May & Co are not preparing for a no-deal Brexit (which is perfectly true) and he and the other Brexiteers are trying to distance themselves from the fiasco that would ensue.

    As Yves and others have been warning for months, the UK is slouching or stumbling or sleepwalking into a no-deal crashing out. Almost regardless of what happens (a May resignation, a general election, a second referendum [which would cause a virtual civil war]) it is too late now to sort things out. The best hope now is a climbdown to the EU on hands and knees in return for continued membership at great cost.

  3. jabbawocky

    I too think May is unlikely to put a vote to parliament that she believes she might lose. Furthermore, the chairman of the 1922 committee is likely to have his 48 letters if she crosses too many of the famed red lines. I don’t know how quickly a leadership context could be arranged, but basically Theresa May can’t square the circle without be dethroned. No general election required. So basically, we get to March with no progress, just as Richard North says.

    If this happens I predict the Tories will be enjoying their last stint in power for 20 years or more. And the UK will rejoin the EU in less than a decade. Every year 400,000 brexit voters die, versus 200,000 remain. 75% of 18-24 years old voted remain. This is about 570,000 new remainers for 100,000 brexiteers every year. That is every year approx 600,000 extra remainers. Plus the 3.5 million naturalised EU nationals, assuming most stay that might acquire voting rights. If the Tories take the UK out of the EU with no deal, it will be political suicide for a generation.

    1. F. Korning

      Spot on. There isn’t a millenial, Gen-Y or Gen-Xer that will forgive them for having stolen our future. It’s a tory death knell, and a macabre mad scorched earth dash to swing the pendulum to the right and hope it can’t be mended back in a generation.

    2. Pavel

      I’m old enough to remember the last general election (called so hastily & foolishly by T May) where she said her government was “Strong and Stable” and who could entrust the Brexit negotiations to Labour?

      Ha ha!

      As you say the Tories have just about permanently destroyed their brand, and there is a civil war within it re the EU (which goes back to Thatcher’s day). Whether it stays as is or breaks into pieces it will be a long time before they get back into power. Christ, Jeremy Corbyn was popular enough amongst the youths *before* the Brexit fiasco! Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!

      (Disclaimer: I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything, but I greatly respect his anti-war policies and general honesty and humility.) Ultimately I’d like Scotland to leave the UK along with the Welsh. :)

  4. Jim A.

    If the analogy for the Lehman Crisis is a state change, it is more of a BLEVE type boiler explosion than a slowly boiling pot of water. When you boil a pan of water, you have to continue to add copious heat to continue the process of the water changing phase. But if you develop a sizeable hole in a steam boiler (eg. in a locomotove, steam ship or furnace) the pressure inside suddenly drops and then suddenly ALL THE WATER BOILS AT ONCE. Which will often rupture the boiler instantly

    1. Synoia

      then suddenly ALL THE WATER BOILS AT ONCE

      To be picky:


      Steam occupies 1,600 x the volume than the equivalent weight of water.

  5. rd

    The internal dynamics in the the EU make a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) much more palatable than the UK’s BATNA. So, there will be problems for the EU if there is a hard Brexit, but it would likely be disastrous for a few years for the UK. So the UK is kind of like a wide receiver trying to block a defensive end where the irresistible force will likely win out unless excellent technique is used – and I am not sure that the UK team even knows that technique exists.

  6. Ignacio

    At risk of being repetitive, thanks a lot for the excellent coverage and discussion. I feel free to speculate because others have done the hard job.

    I increasingly feel that all this “circus” or “drama” around Brexit is, intended or not, an attack to democracy. We have learned that UK citizens were convened to an advisory referendum with a seemingly simple question: brexit or remain. That was a false dicotomy because “brexit”, was learned later, was not an inequivocal option. Although the referendum was only advisory, Mr. Cameron did not hesitate to press de art.50 button. I think he did it knowing that it would precipitate the UK into a no deal scenario and he won’t be there in power to confront it. It looks like both tories and labour, with a little help of DUP and crazied nationalists wanted a no deal brexit by default (dunno liberals but who cares?). Few political exceptions can be counted, i believe. This probably occured because neither tories or labour knew exactly what future they wanted except keeping power in a nation state within an increasingly interconnected interdependent globalised world.

    Nobody, except those recalcitrant remainers, proposed a referendum re-run once the real options became apparent. The former referendum was given full “sovereignity” and if chaos is the consequence, well, it is that all citizens decided and blame will be shared by all. In this sense democracy is a failure. Interestingly one of the factors pushing for brexit was lack of democracy at the EU level.

    The second drama was about the NI issue that turned in an “exchange of sovereignity” question. Quite interestingly, public opinion in NI turned to the Republic rather than to the Union. This is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting features of the brexit process. Of course, the politics at the Union won’t let it happen and this is, in my opinion, the second and more painful attack to democracy. Politics is about keeping your yard of power. Nationalism is about exchanging those powers and deciding the language.

    As a collateral we have Scottish independentists watching the process I don’t know if in disarray or not. It seems they are loosing their “remain” opportunity to obtain their independence. Some others, for instance Catalonians, are also watching the scenes with interest.

    As Yves has written, brexit would result in UK, a relatively small open economy, precariously figthing for her place in the global economy and this speaks volumes of what can go wrong with brexit for UK citizens, as well as EU citizens living in the UK, as well as immigrants living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU.

    In the end, I think that UK citizens wanted less complexity, less institutions but this push migth simply result in a loss of control. Who knows.

        1. disillusionized

          it’s in fact the preferred spelling in British English.
          Although both forms are acceptable in either variety of English.

    1. Mattski

      Lots of good stuff to chew on here, thank you. I have plenty of sympathy for the desire of any country not to be controlled by a neoliberal monolith like the EU. Critically, countries need control over their own currencies. The UK had this, of course, and the Tory beef against the EU was never against EU hyper capitalism. (There may have been a libertarian-tinged beef against over-regulation.)

      But–we don’t get this anymore in the U.S., either–to prepare for a transition to a state with generous social programs and a more ecologically oriented economy (my dreams) you need a movement, only followed later, after much groundwork, by an election. You need leadership, specifics shared and bought into by the people. You need widespread buy-in. This is why Sanders and people like Gillum, A. Ocasio-Cortez are talking about a gathering movement, not saviors from on high. I believe that Corbyn is an old-school Labourite with many good ideas. But his party, perhaps because also fractured, has not been out there making the case for some real alternative (those cooperatives). It looks like the prospects for a Dickensian and very harsh kind of capitalism are stronger than the birth of some new more egalitarian (shared) future vision.

      Complete failure, and an absolute repudiation of the harsh neoliberal model (with its genealogy from Thatcher through Blair) would be welcome. . . if we had all the time in the world. If people weren’t going to be crushed as it unfolded.

    2. F. Korning

      A single, nebulous, flippant, non binding plebiscite, pushed though by a minority government, from which the concerned european expat population and the youth was disenfranchised, that woukd undo a project, 75 years in the making built on the shoulders of giants like Churchill and Keynes, and used to settle a constitutional issue with a paltry 51% vote watermark, when such grave matters normally demand 66% popular support. Yeah, democracy in action… the will of the people. The con of the millenium, more like.

      1. Anonymous2

        Some interesting insights here in the article linked to below into the sheer ignorance of many of those involved in this fiasco. The heart of the problem is the profoundly dishonest political and journalistic culture in the UK (the politicians and media lie constantly) which allows ignorance and creates an easily manipulated electorate. Extraordinary that the man supposedly in charge of Brexit admits that he was not fully aware of the UK’s dependence on the Calais-Dover trade route. This is novice level information for anyone studying UK trade and this man had the presumption to campaign for a major change to UK policy without even this basic level of factual knowledge!

        The Irish press is usually a better, more objective source for English language information on Brexit than most of the deeply compromised English media.

    3. Richard

      Cameron did not press the Art 50 button. He resigned on 24th June 2016, May become PM on the 13 July 2016 and under even under increasing pressure, May did not press the Art 50 Button until 29th March 2017, a full 9 months after the referendum!

  7. DaveH

    Although the referendum was only advisory, Mr. Cameron did not hesitate to press de art.50 button. I think he did it knowing that it would precipitate the UK into a no deal scenario and he won’t be there in power to confront it.

    Cameron resigned the day after the vote. May sent the Article 50 train trundling down the track the following March (nine months after the vote).

    1. JW

      Although the referendum was only advisory, Mr. Cameron did not hesitate to press de art.50 button. I think he did it knowing that it would precipitate the UK into a no deal scenario and he won’t be there in power to confront it.

      1. I thought the referendum was only technically advisory, and Cameron had promised that he would trigger Art. 50 the day after a plurality Yes vote on Brexit. So, in reality, much more than advisory.

      2. As DaveH wrote, Cameron resigned rather than trigger Art. 50, which I assumed was supposed to leave his successor the option of preventing it from happening without ever having to take the blame since that successor had not promised to trigger Art. 50, unlike Cameron. He basically sacrificed his official career to do this. But May didn’t agree with this assessment and triggered it anyway. And this is the great mystery to me, why she triggered Art. 50 when she did, with no plan to square the circle of the Irish border or to deal with any of the contingencies. Source:

      1. Synoia

        why she triggered Art. 50 when she did

        I suggest it was to secure her as Prime Minister, with overweening ambition as the motive.

  8. Oregoncharles

    BBC: “Brexit: UK and EU ‘agree text’ of draft withdrawal agreement”;

    There is a deal, which essentially keeps Britain in the customs union, probably for the foreseeable future. Whether it will pass Parliament or bring down May’s government is another matter. MUCH vociferous maneuvering. DUP won’t vote for it, of course.

    1. Boomka

      I think UK were using “customs union” to mean “3 freedoms out of 4” which is also known as “cakeism”. EU has always said 4 freedoms of Single Market are indivisible. Now we are led to believe EU has capitulated? I find that somewhat bizarre, I thought UK had the weaker hand. I guess we will know in a day or two.

      Maybe UK still think they are getting “3 freedoms” while EU thinks it’s just a literal customs union, Turkey-style. Which means real friction at the border and torpedoing of UK trade. But at least that pain would be delayed until the end of the Withrawal Agreement.

      1. Boomka

        Draft was leaked last night, apparently. It’s neither Norway nor Canada, it’s Turkey. With Northern Ireland in SM and UK not, so border in Irish Sea.

        1. vlade

          Means the Tories need at least a few Labour defectors – not just to get it through, but also to stave no-confidence vote, as DUP’s red-line is “NI no different to the rUK”, and it will be clearly breached. DUP then has two options – to vote against and be consistent, or break red-lines. With their devil-take-the-hindmost attitude, the former is quite a safe bet (not entirely sure, but pretty close).

          Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson and RM have already said they will vote against, so there’s another two votes. That said, it’s unclear how they would vote in a no-confidence motion, since all the ultras still say they want May as PM (which really means they don’t want to be PMs just yet – which is the question for BoJo, he’s running out of time here).

          TBH, I think the TARP scenario just became way more likely – especially if the vote will be just before Xmas recess. I’d expect the first vote to fail. Markets panic (well, maybe). The lack of liquidity over the period will exacerbate it, and people will get sick of getting slammed by catastrophe news when they expected to have a bit of a quiet time, while getting a lot of May’s propaganda “if only your MP voted right”. I’d say 50-50 of getting it through on second attempt, especially if it moved a bit closer to Norway than Canada.

      2. fajensen

        Now we are led to believe EU has capitulated?

        Of course. The only practical way to sell this deal (any deal, in fact) is to present it as Bruxelles capitulating in a humiliating manner to Great Britain’s inherent Greatness.

        The need for 500 pages hints at: “”Customs Union, Only” exactly as Sir ordered”. “Would Sir want any from our range of complimentary lubricants to go with that?”

    2. ChrisPacific

      Fascinating. This will at least give a closer approximation of a binary choice, and raises the stakes for those advocating for no deal, since there is now an alternative that’s theoretically viable (pending confirmation) albeit with some significant drawbacks.

      May could, if she chose, raise the stakes further by threatening to call an election if it wasn’t approved. That might actually be a smart thing to do if she doesn’t want to just muddle along and back into no deal/crash out Brexit by accident (a statement that describes her approach to date pretty accurately, but we can hope).

  9. F Korning

    When the forked tongue of Boris Johnson decries “vassal state”, what he reallly means is to rouse the masses against their own interests, and goad them back into enclosure and real feudal vassalage at the mercy of robber barons, who will plunder the country at leisure and stash their spoils offshore. The EU is protection from that predatory classs.

    1. Fazal Majid

      It would take 10-20 years of war-footing preparation under a government of national unity to end up with anything else. The UK’s governing classes have proven themselves unequal to the task, and none less than Boris Johnson, who still has the gall to criticize Ms. May for the thankless and near impossible task of salvaging a mess of his own making.

  10. vidimi

    the formerly rabidly pro-brexit daily express is touting May’s deal as the best deal for Britain. seems that the winds are indeed changing and that the ultras may fall in line.

  11. Nanto

    Here’s one observation that i’d like the comments of more informed readers, like Richard North, on. Using the numbers here –, if you calculate the %age of the electorate for and against brexit, then it comes down to approx 37% and 35% only (votes/ electorate x 100) . That means that a large majority disagree with the other side in both cases. If this is correct, then how can the UK even go ahead with brexit when there isnt even a clear majority?

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