Brexit: Endgame

After discarding a draft of what was to become Memoirs of Hadrian after having worked on it for close to a decade, Marguerite Yourcenar retained this sentence: “I begin to discern the profile of my death.”

Brexit has arrived at that point. However it winds up will be the end of the UK that we know now, even with a revocation of Article 50.

May isn’t much of a winner despite having stared down a leadership challenge. She still had over a third of her own party vote against her despite have a collection of horror show figures as her challengers and making a commitment to leave No. 10 at the end of the current Parliamentary term.. So this was at best an implicit beauty contest among Cinderella’s ugly sisters. And there may have been some fence-sitters who voted for May out of the recognition that a leadership contest this close to the Brexit drop dead date would further confirm, as if the intra-party power party play that produced Brexit already demonstrated, that the Tories are not fit to rule.

Despite all the fireworks in London, the bigger news comes from the Continent. The EU really is done with Brexit and will not negotiate further. And it may have finally found a way to say “no” that will register even with the Brits. From Politico’s morning newsletter:

EUROPEAN COUNCIL ON BREXIT: NO RENEGOTIATION. EU27 leaders will affirm after dinner at their meeting in Brussels today that the EU stands by the Withdrawal Agreement “and intends to proceed with its ratification,” according to draft summit conclusions obtained by Playbook. That means, as the text discussed by EU ambassadors says, the Brexit deal “is not open for renegotiation.”

Leaders are also expected to offer yet another/the same interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, and are expected to say that “the backstop is not a desirable outcome” and is “only intended as an insurance policy” to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. They may even go as far as to say that the backstop intends to be a temporary solution — “unless and until” there’s a trade agreement, which they pledge to work on speedily so it will be in place by the end of transition period, meaning the backstop will not need to be triggered.

Is that all May can hope to get today? Yes. Full stop. Much of the text obtained by Playbook is in brackets, meaning that the draft is the maximum outcome possible. One more thing: The EU27 may declare they stand ready to investigate whether any further assurances can be provided to the U.K., as long as it doesn’t contradict the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Proceeding to ratification” may finally penetrate the fog of delusion across the Channel. It also means that Labour can play its game of constructive ambiguity much longer and must take a stand on the only three options: May’s deal, no deal, or no Brexit. The only remaining unicorn left is the idea of a second referendum, and it may take until the end of January to scotch it.

The UK press still is finally starting to digest that the UK can’t get changes to the agreement, although there’s way too much outrage in the messaging. For instance, from the Telegraph:

The European Union is poised to reject Theresa May’s demands for “legally binding assurances” that the Irish backstop will only ever be temporary, senior EU diplomats have told The Telegraph.

The EU rejection will come as another serious blow to the Prime Minister who was pinning her hopes of a legally-binding side-agreement with the EU to help convince her back-benchers to accept her Brexit deal.

EU ambassadors met in Brussels on to discuss how to respond to Mrs May’s pitch to leaders at Thursday’s summit dinner, where she will be given 10 minutes to outline what she needs to get the deal over the line in Westminster. “Politically she can have all the warm words she wants, but it was very clear in the meeting that there is very little appetite indeed for anything legally binding,” said a senior EU diplomatic source.

And the UK side has also been consistently misinterpreting the EU27’s locution. As Talleyrand explained, “A diplomat who says ‘yes’ means ‘maybe’, a diplomat who says ‘maybe’ means “no’, and a diplomat who says ‘no’ is no diplomat.”

Even though Richard North argues that “ERG have shot their bolt” in a “palace coup that failed,” ConservativeHome pegs the rebels as having done better than anticipated despite their loss:

Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot. 200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”…

All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990…

But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter…

The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy. But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.

You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year. Quite so. However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems. She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons. It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.

But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”). These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.

While this assessment is terribly logical, it’s at odds with May’s character. And engagement with reality has not been a feature much evident in the UK leadership classes for two years, so May isn’t terribly unusual in that respect.

As long as she can, May is going to continue to do what she has been doing, which is to insist that her deal is the best for the UK and do what she can to block alternatives. She will continue to reject a second referendum (not that there is time for that anyhow). She will reject an extension (at least until quite late, say late February). She will get the empty assurance side letters from the EU she’d said she’d seek and that they said they could provide. her.

As she has until now, May will thwart measures that would make revoking Article 50 more politically viable. Even though she acknowledges that “no Brexit” is a possible outcome, she’s presented it to the party as a threat on the order of having Corbyn come into power.

Just like Greece in 2015, May is playing a game of chicken. She will attempt to force a choice between her deal and no deal, on the belief that something will give so that she gets her deal, meaning either the Europeans blink on the backstop, or that MPs that would vote against her Withdrawal Agreement now lose their nerve as March 29 or the extended drop dead date approaches.

But we know the EU will not relent on the backstop, although the UK political and pundit classes will probably continue to refuse to accept that through much of January. They do not want to believe that even businesses on the Continent are not willing to go beyond the deal struck with May. They are not willing to give the UK a commercial advantage by being able to have lower labor and environmental regulations and still have special access to the EU. They’ve stretched the idea of what’s required to be in the Single Market and will go no further. They are prepared to take a “no deal” hit if they must.

So the result will be determined by how many Ultras there really are, and how many MPs from Labour might cross the aisle to counter them. If there really are 80 Ultras, plus the 10 members of the DUP means that May would need more than 85 votes from the Opposition.

In other words, despite all the noise and jousting we are likely to see in the coming months, there really aren’t that many degrees of freedom left. Perhaps Labour will attempt a Motion of No Confidence. But Labour won’t go there unless it is pretty sure it has the votes, and it didn’t as of early this week. Vlade has pointed out that the Ultras might launch or join in another play against May in the hope that the resulting political disarray would increase the odds of a crash out.

Perhaps there are scenarios I am missing. This week, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pleaded with the Sinn Fein this week to take their Parliamentary seats to rescue Mays deal and was rebuffed, so that rescue seems unlikely down the road.

And more generally, it would be better if I were wrong.

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  1. Ignacio

    Don’t you think that hard brexiteers have been defeated to death? As an outsider, what I see is Brexit in march with the agreement that has been already been forged. If this is settled, the UK and EU can work together to make it the least posibly disruptive with a few urgent transitional addings and start with the real negotiations on future relationship. It musn’t necessarily be that bad except politicians of the king of BoJo and others rule but this has been ruled out, hasn’t it?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t see that they’ve been defeated – they still have all the cards in parliament so long as Labour doesn’t support May. They would probably prefer a ‘negotiated’ hard exit, but they seem perfectly happy with a crash-out, and on current numbers, that seems the most likely outcome.

      Only a very significant change in political circumstances can get the existing deal past Parliament. Lots of the UK media are already proclaiming the existing deal to be dead. There is no possibility of an alternative or revised deal. There is no possibility of the DUP/Ultras voting for the existing deal. The only hope for May is that Labour changes their mind and either supports it or abstains. And they don’t seem to have any reason to do that.

      1. Ignacio

        My opinion –always as an outsider not as well informed– is that the only way for Labour to save face is forget about unicorns and abstain just to avoid a ‘no deal’. That’s why I see May’s deal as done. The only real option is between May’s deal and no deal. And as vlade says below an extension of A50 deadline that does not change real options. Brexit is a given. In this sense, hard brexiters are death in my opinion. Free to make noises, but without gun powder. Then there is the DUP but their oposition can be surpassed with Labour abstaining

        1. c_heale

          If there is a no deal and it’s under the current administration, I would expect Labour to win any subsequent election. I can’t see any advantage for them in abstaining.

    2. vlade

      Brexiters have not been defeated to death. Their attempt to coup May failed, that’s all.

      That closed the “we’ll get in Bojo/JRM/woever and they will negotiate a better deal” option. So Tories now KNOW they will not be able to negotiate a “better deal”, coz May will not do it.

      Labour can still insist that they would, yo uknow, if they just go the chance, that the sympathetics pols in the EU would extend the A50 for them for another X years and who knows what..

      But the reality is really only the three options that Yves states. I think the EU would extend the A50 a bit more than she does (July was quoted, I think it could be late August), but my later date does not give enough time for anything that would start at earliest mid January.

      Wetminster goes for a recess from next Thursday, and does not reconvene until Jan 7.

      I suspect that the next act in this will be more pressure for 2nd ref, with the occasional Rudolf (a type of a Norwegian unicorn) being spotted now and then.

      Without anyone asking the EU (or Norway), as per usual procedure in the UK politics.

      Which means that likely May’s deal will be pushed through quickly mid/late May, when the options will narrow to May’s deal or no deal. I’d still give a no-deal about 40% chance, depending on the fanaticism of the ultras.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think the European elections in late May puts quite a firm last date on any A.50 extension. There are too many legal complications involved in extending it over that period. What happens, for example, if the UK agrees not to hold any elections, but then withdraws A.50? I assume there will already have been a reallocation of seats due to the missing UK contingent. So that could create a huge constitutional hassle for the EU.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        The EU is absolutely not wiling to allow UK MPs to be seated in the next European Parliament with a live Article 50 notice. That is what is determining the limit of how long they will go. The earlier June limit was “end of June” and the July was “early July”. I suspect it will depend on a finer reading of whatever the relevant provisions are than has been made. But August is not on. And the EU has no reason to prolong the uncertainty, save to buy a little time to prepare better for a crash out. End of May has been mentioned most often as the max, and the very latest, again, that I have seen is early July.

        1. vlade

          There’s a recess until late August.

          In practice, in July the EP just convenes and then goes off for the recess. No work is done.

          Which is why the seating could be postponed, if necessary

          1. vlade

            But, TBH, with the hardening EU attitude, I suspect it’s all irrelevant. Come March, the EU may just say “eat your own dogfood” and be done with it.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            The EU is not going to do that. The EU is done with Brexit and all the time it is taking from their own business. They are already being generous if they agree to push back the exit date. The UK is a supplicant and will get only what it suits the EU to give.

            And there is no reason to think that giving more time will change outcomes.

            1. disillusionized

              The problem with extending past march is that the last day the meps are in session is the 20th of April and I don’t know if they can be resumoned after to vote on any deal.

        2. Mirdif

          Jean-Claude Piris has said 30 June 2019 is the absolute limit as the new European Parliament takes its arrest seats from 1July. Going beyond that date means European Parliament elections in the UK in May. That is locall politically untenable

          1. vlade

            That is a nonsensical position (not yours, his).

            If the parliament is seated 1 July, and there is a chance that the UK will remain, the UK EP elections must take place no matter what (otherwise, the EU can be subject to a legal challenge, even if the UK government voluntarily decided not to hold elections).

            The usual stuff is that August is the recess month (although not much is done in July either).

            I’d have to dig into the EP procedures to see what would it take to move the recess into July instead of August, and or extend it – i.e. who convenes the Parliament and what are the rules around that. The reality though is, that these are rules that would be amenable to bending, if the EU really wanted. They, certainly at this stage, don’t.

            So I’m not going to dig into that, as it’s too much energy for something that is extremely unlikely to be ever considered.

            1. Mirdif

              My message makes little sense. I was in a moving vehicle at the time in my defence. Anyway, his position is that an extension cannot go beyond 30 June 2019 without elections to the European Parliament as 1 July is when the Parliamentarians take their seats.

      3. Ignacio

        Al rigth, my call was made to early. May be because I believe the fanacity of the ultras is lesser that their mouths.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You might read BrexitCentral occasionally. They believe this stuff. They believe that the UK is being shackled by the EU and all the talk about the UK suffering is more “Project Fear” nonsense. They regularly have articles by supposed experts saying so.

          At best, they are deluded and delusion is so widespread in UK that they aren’t alone, just louder and more obnoxious than other groups. And some, perhaps many, expect to profits from a plutocratic land grab in the disorder. Billionaires were hatched in Russia in the wake of the USSR collapse.

          I would not underestimate them. We have right wing ideological/business nutters like this in the US, the Tea Party,. They have been very effective obstructionists who have also further polarized US politics.

          1. Tony Wright

            Yes, Yves we have politicians of the same ilk here in Australia, Abbot, Dutton & co. They recently engineered a spill against the moderate right wing leader of their own party (Turnbull), but it kind of blew up in their faces ( they either cant count or some people were telling porkies, either is possible).
            The net result is Scomo, P M , sliding through as a compromise option.
            Scarily reminiscent of Yes Minister, when Jim Hacker became PM.
            And now they are down to 55/45 in the opinion polls, despite a general widespread lack of enthusiasm for the leader of the Opposition.
            It strikes me that both the Conservative Ultras in the UK and the right wing conservatives here in Australia share a similar arrogant flaw in their thinking, i.e. They only listen to the 20-30% people who share their views, forgetting the old truism that elections are usually won by capturing the centre. Part of the modern echo chamber phenomenon.
            And yes, I think plutocratic, oligarchal aspirations go a long way to explaining the Ultras’ enthusiasm for a crash out Brexit.

      4. Berit Bryn Jensen

        Vlade, any “occasional spotting of Rudolf, a type of Norwegian unicorn”, would have to be psychotic hallucinations, as any sane person is able to see a reindeer for what it is in reality, knowing that unicorns are only in fairy tales.
        So this is what goes for parliamentary politics these days, some distance from Machiavellian realistic advice for power brokers to do good deeds slowly, that all may take notice, bad deeds very fast, to scare opponents into submission by seeing bloody corpses after the fact. Interesting to observe the end game, without unicorns, I hope, for the sake of saner conduct of politics afterwards… to the greater benefit of the people

        1. berit

          Gro Harlem Brundtland, former PM of Norway, led the second campaign for EU membership and lost. She immediately took stock, (had a plan B?) embarking on the necessary negotiations. I had voted no, as did the majority of women, but remember being most impressed. Leadership! I do find May’s stamina somewhat impressive too, still standing, marching onward to a bitter end, I think.

    3. Mirdif

      Yes. Defeated, if not to death then very close to it. They feared this when one of them accused May of being cunning, devious and untrustworthy some weeks ago.

      They Tories will back this deal with the exception of the loonies who number no more than 20. A week is a long time in politics, well a year is 52 times as long and by the time anybody can challenge May again Brexit will have happened and so their major point of better being able to negotiate it will be moot.

      She can get the deal through now. The vote last night was as much an attempt to overthrow her for personal gain as it was for Brexit. Now that personal gain is off the agenda the Tories will look at how to benefit their party. The country is a distant third in this scheme of thinking but this is the way everybody here seemingly prefers it.

      BTW, anybody know who Johnny Mercer was referring to when he talked about ministers who publicly talk about backing May but privately canvas for a leadership challenge?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        See my comment above. 51 MPs have signed Stand4Brexit. And you have the 10 members of the DUP.

        These guys either believe the ideology or have reason to believe they will profit personally in a big way from a crash out. Even one of the speakers in the 3 Blokes video said he and his company would profit in a no deal scenario.

        We have die hard extremists cut from similar cloth in the US, the Tea Party, and they have not been deterred by science, conventional morality, the public good, any of that. They have a narrow view of the world and are extremely confident about it, much like religious zealots.

        1. Ignacio

          Anyway, what this means is that what Labour votes are essential. And also what May does. May, more firmly in power, migth present “her” deal as an alternative to no deal. Are laborists so fanatic as to vote for no deal?

        2. Mirdif

          This will play out much like the Maastricht treaty rebellion. There were 18 rebels and a similar amount who abstained. Since then Tory central office has gained a weapon whereby they can order a constituency association to deselect a rebellious MP. This is a weapon that May could use in the next few weeks to bring some of those who are less loony back to the fold. Clive alluded to orders being given to constituency associations yesterday and while such orders might not extend to deselection yet its not a great leap in thinking to get to deselection.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Some of the rebels are personally very popular and May is very weak in the party. And if May were to deselect them, they’d have no reason not to cross the aisle in a no-confidence vote by Labour. If she wants to go nuclear, two can play that game.

  2. ambrit

    Hadrian also built a wall.

    Brexit can be considered as the rebuilding of the old nation state wall between England and the Continent. To an extent, this is a repudiation of the Globalist Movement, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Neo-Liberal Experiment. In it’s essence, Trumps Wall is a repudiation of the NAFTA Consensus. The American ‘deplorables’ support it because they see it as a means of defending their livelihoods from those hordes of ‘foreign’ low wage workers. In both cases, it is a looking inwards.

    Arguably, May is one of a generation of politicos in decline. Macron, (perhaps Merkle’s hope of having a posterity,) has caved. Merkle has seen the face of her political mortality recently. May has her Pyrrhic victory. The Clintons cannot even give tickets to their road show away. In all of these examples, the replacements waiting in the wings are, to be charitable about it, underwhelming. Brexit is but the opening act of a grand, worldwide crisis of governance. How England muddles through this will be an object lesson for us all. We had better take notes, because there will be a great testing later.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Did I read that this set of outcomes will benefit a set of the neoliberal business looters in Britain, who will reap a windfall of sorts as the island devolves to Lessesr Britain without the “burdens” of the regulatory framework of the “good” bits of the EU? Disaster capitalism cancer does result in the “growth” of the tumors, as the body wastes and dies.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        They think they will make out like bandits, so whether that might actually be true is moot. It’s their confidence in the magnitude of the opportunity for them and their cronies that is (in part or to a very large degree) motivating the extremists.

      2. c_heale

        The business looters are hoping to reap a windfall. But a no deal will be chaotic, so something unexpected will probably happen. They may not do as well as they hope. Isn”t it true that in most revolutions, the people that started it don’t end up on top?

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      “opening act of a grand, worldwide crisis of governance”
      this is the meat of the nut, and our current “thought leaders” don’t have the tools to think about it…having gazed into the pool for so long, that they don’t feel the water swallowing them up.
      Nemesis(an “aspect of Aphrodite”, no less! Love’s revenge on the Machine!)…looks on dispassionately.
      I’ve spent a lot of my public arguing/conversating time over the last 30 or so years, struggling against this studied inertia…TINA!. There’s no outside the box, for a whole lot of people.
      That’s gonna be a problem when the box burns, along with the warehouse in which the box is kept.
      I’ll be over here in the tall grass, by the parking lot.

      1. ambrit

        Don’t forget to wear your cammos, just in case the “Authorities” try to pick you up and charge you with “Arsonous Terrorism.”

          1. ambrit

            The dreaded Neo-Liberal ‘Tail Risk!’
            I always grab hold of my ‘treasures’ when someone ‘official’ suggests that we get down to Fundamentals.
            Whenever a Neo-Liberal replies “bugger all” to a request for clarification or guidance, it is a statement of intent.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Tony Connolly of RTE is confirming that attitudes in Brussels have hardened

    However, EU diplomats have poured cold water on the idea that Mrs May could be offered some kind of legal mechanism to reinforce the temporary nature of the backstop.

    One source has suggested that attitudes in Brussels have hardened as the day wore on and Mrs May’s position as Conservative Party leader looked less perilous.

    The source suggested that so long as Mrs May looked in danger of being toppled there was more of an appetite to “help” her in terms of offering assurances on the backstop, but that that appetite receded when she looked increasingly likely to survive the challenge.

    Its also reported that May will be meeting Varadkar today in what I can only assume will be either a begging or a threatening session to try to get him to give her a bone on the border issue. But he is under zero domestic pressure to concede anything – in reality it would be a humiliation for him to undermind EU negotiators since he’s been supported so strongly publically by Bernier, Tusk, Merkel, etc.

    EU leaders have made it clear that there will be no opportunity to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Political Declaration.

    However, senior officials have said they will be able to offer reassurances that the backstop is not the EU’s preferred option and that it will be temporary, unless and until a better solution is found, most likely through a free trade agreement.

    But it is still unclear what the EU can offer beyond that. One diplomat said assurances could involve simply highlighting aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement which make it clear that the backstop should be a last resort insurance policy.

    However, he was dismissive that any legal mechanism – a protocol or declaration – was necessary.

    Other reports suggest the EU could offer a basic reassurance during today’s summit, and then something of a more legal nature in January, when the House of Commons is expected to vote again on the Withdrawal Agreement.

    The reality is that whatever is on offer it will fall well short of what those who voted against Mrs May, and the demands of the 10 DUP MPs who prop up the government, will demand.

    Meanwhile, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty says the Government is not preparing for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

    However Ms Doherty said that Ireland and EU member states are continuing to prepare contingency plans for a no deal Brexit.

    “We’re preparing for it and that’s why contingency plans are being stepped up, not just by Ireland but by the EU 27 member states that will be affected if there is. But let’s be clear, nobody wants that. We are not preparing for a border on the island of Ireland.”

    So once again it seems May will embarrass herself in a European capital. I don’t see how she can get anything that would persuade any hard line MP to support the deal – but no doubt she’ll keep trying.


    1. vlade

      We have to give it to her that her stamina is unbelievable. But, as a Tory MP commented yesterday, stamina is not strategy (or leadership).

    2. Ignacio

      EU “hardening” position is just stating it clearer. The only possibility for May is to figth in the UK for her agreement. Her strength is that no deal is the worst possible outcome that does not warrant any better situation thereafter (on the contrary). So, there is only one “good” option available as opposed to chaos. The Labour has to accept this reality.

      For UK and the EU, the sooner the agreement is approved, the better, so both bureocracies can work on the details to soften brexit.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Denis Staunton of the Irish Times points out that May seems to have made promises last night that has made a deal impossible –

      But her declaration that no Brexit deal could pass without the support of the DUP was more consequential, setting a bar for the next stage of negotiations with the EU that may be impossible to overcome. She told MPs that it would not be a success to pass a Brexit deal only to find that, without the support of the DUP, she could not govern.


      The EU is open to offering clarifications on the backstop, although senior officials say no new legally binding text can encroach on the terms of the backstop set out in the withdrawal agreement, which cannot be renegotiated. May’s commitment to find a solution the DUP can accept could set her on a course that makes a deal with the EU impossible.

      Or it could simply be the latest in the long trail of broken promises that has littered her premiership from the day she entered Downing Street.

  4. makedoanmend

    Impeccable summing up, if I might be so bold.

    While the UK has rightly been the focus, I can’t help wondering what the deeper feelings are across Europe. It’s very hard to gauge how much thought the rest of Europe is giving to Brexit at this stage. The average punter seems very uninterested at this point, while a growing number (from what I’m reading from other sources) just wish they’d get it over with so the rest of Europe could be allowed to get on with its own internal concerns. I suspect the rest of the EU economies most affected must be putting their ‘crash-out’ plans into over-drive after this week’s continuing escapades.

    (Re: Sinn Féin. I was wondering if there was the remotest possibility that they would cross their biggest line just to help a Tory government, and a particularly vile Tory government from their standpoint. When speaking to veteran Belfast Republican during negotiations on the GFA (Good Friday Agreement), their viewpoint was that nearly everything could be negotiated but one thing was impossible: entering into a foreign London parliament. Symbolically and practically, it was a step beyond the pale. I also noticed lately that a couple of older Sinn Féin Republicans, who had to be persuaded into the negotiation camp all those years ago, are again contemplating running for local government positions in the North.)

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Everything I’ve read indicates that the rest of Europe has simply given up on Brexit – they are unwilling to expend any more energy or political capital on it. The leaders have much bigger things on their plates than Brexit, and the general population have lost interest – I’m told it rarely features much in reporting on the major media. I think they’ll grant an extension purely to facilitate another couple of months preparation for a crash out, and thats it.

      As for Sinn Fein, I get the feeling that after been caught on the hop by Brexit, they now see a crash out as an opportunity. NI looks likely to suffer more than anywhere else if there is a no-deal – there is hardly a business there that won’t be devastated. But they are caught between trying to show their soft face in the south and their hardliner face in the North, and I think they are having difficulty deciding how to play it.

      1. Ignacio

        The British circus attracts interest and there is coverage on the motions and so on treated as UK internal politics. May and the ultra-brexiteers get almost all the attention. The only options mentioned are no deal and May’s agreement.

        1. makedoanmend

          Hiya Ignacio,

          Thanks for the info. Sounds like well balanced and realistic media coverage to me.

      2. makedoanmend

        Hiya PK

        I know what you’re saying about Sinn Féin and it’s essentially correct [as always ;-)], but they have been discussing this for some time and they know they need to tread carefully. The Southern press loves to paint Sinn Féin, as a one issue party: united Ireland.

        What many people fail to realise, and especially because Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party, is that they represent a vast array of electoral interests. They have a very conservative side and an almost leftist orientation at the same time. And they also have voters who don’t necessarily give a fig about Republicanism. My maternal grandmother, for example, voted for Sinn Féin exclusively on the merit of their views on women’s rights – not a Republican bone in her body.

        In the South, SF have lost Tobín over the abortion referendum and he’s actively courting the young lady (name escapes me) from Offaly who also quit over the referendum.

        Now, I’m of the opinion that both Mary Lou McDonald and very possibly Michelle O’Neill are quite content to let the Tories and the especially the DUP strut their stuff. Even Fine Gael has gotten an object lesson on how these people operate and think, much to Fine Gael’s chagrin. Sinn Féin, for the moment, makes hay whilst these people do what comes natural to them.

        And, let’s face it, SF was never going to give succour to Fine Gael so easily.

        On the other hand, and this is very important, there is a section of the Republican electorate in the North whose attitudes are hardening. Sinn Féin’s core support is still Republican and always will be. They just can’t afford to peeve-off these people. Mopping up the middle-of-the-road voters in the North is gravy, but the Republican vote is the meat and spuds.

        Yet, as the saying goes, you never say never in politics. Might there be some overwhelming situation so that even Irish Republicans can contemplate the incontemplatable? Maybe, but the pay-off would have to be huge. HUGE.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, you are quite right. Sinn Fein have become quite a hodge-podge of interests – quite deliberately, their long term strategy has been to build a broad based coalition of supporters, from conservative old style nationalists to left wing radicals. And this means they have to thread super carefully. But I think they have a lot of internal splits which means they haven’t been able to move forward as they might have hoped. A united party wouldn’t be having so many little local disputes as they’ve had. As you say, they’ve deliberately jettisonned the old style catholic reactionaries, and this may hurt them more than they think in the borderlands.

          For me, the most interesting outcome of the Brexit thing has been how it has brought those two ultra-unlikely bedfellows, FG and SF together. They seem to genuinely get on, which has humiliated FF and left them looking like a jilted bride, standing confused and alone bythe alter. But its very much a shot gun wedding, and I suspect SF pushing for a border poll would push the strains to the limit.

          1. makedoanmend

            Yeah, they made a calculated risk assessment taking into account some of their more traditional supporters on such issues and expected some sort of backlash – though, as you say, it’s a bit harder than expected; and Tobin definitely is looking to give these disaffected people a home in his new party. It may yet harm them in the short to medium term.


            1. they are looking to attract younger and a less traditionally oriented population of future voters (may or may not work)
            2. many, if not a solid majority of their current supporters, backed the referendum (especially the opinions of young people in the North – a constituency they can never ignore)
            3. the border region will be a problem but those who leave will still be strongly Republican in nature and will have no problem giving SF their second preferences, and, if a really big issue pops up, reverting back to SF. Irish Republicans don’t have many viable alternative parties from which to choose, and they tend to gravitate towards each other naturally.

            But you’re right, they have a fight on their hands. Sailing will not be smooth, and I can see them being stilled in a new national election in the South next time out. But SF have been there many, many times before.

            We’ll have to wait and see of what stuff the new leadership is made.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Thankfully, all attempts at a hard catholic type party have floundered. If Lucinda Creighton couldn’t do it, I don’t think anyone could.

              Brexit was also a godsend for SF in terms of appealing to pro-EU younger people – the Trotsky left were humiliated by supporting Lexit in the north, they’ve been entirely wiped out electorally. Their Southern comrades have more sensibly kept their mouths shut about it.

              But yeah, the problem for SF is that everyone is running after the elusive young liberal floating vote, hence the mass outbreak of gurning blondes as running mates come the elections. But not everyone can win it – although it seems Labour have been the big loser in this. SF have slowly but surely detoxified itself with younger females, previously their dead zone electorally.

              I think FF and Labour have been completely boxed in by FG and SF – I do think we’ll see a big realignment next election – SF will be the real opposition and FG will be the main party. FF may end up having to chase that rural catholic reactionary vote, which is an absolute dead end electorally.

      3. Uwe Ohse

        After the referendum most of the EU-skeptical Germans (we do have a lot of them) saw the brexit as something good, something to follow in the long term, and as a sort of lever to break the EU.

        That sentiment is dead. Even the more populist papers reports on the brexit (they still do report about it) has cooled down a lot, and are skeptical about the chances of either May, brexit or the british economy.

        The obvious problems with the brexit (obvious to anyone having a connection with reality, that is, anyone except the brexiteers) have strengthened the EU, and brought serious troubles for most, if not all, of the EU skeptical parties on the continent.

        A few weeks ago the EU leaders accepted a deal. Why should they renegotiate it with a premier minister who will clearly be unable to get a majority for any deal?

        From our point of view that whole mess is a british problem, and will have to be solved in london. But the tail (UK) will not wag the dog anymore (EU).

    2. vlade

      The press I see has more articles for Brexit than it had for a long time. And it’s basically in the stage “we’re telling you to f-off. Still politely, but not much longer.”. In comments, it’s already the impolite version. Plus some astonishement at the levels of idiocy shown.

      1. vlade

        I’d add one more thing – most of the press I saw on this says “May begs” – where the choice of the “beg” is very conscious.

  5. makedoanmend

    I was wondering about deeper EU reactions: here from London based European diplomats.

    “…European diplomats in London watching the government’s Brexit agony have conveyed a mixture of despair, and almost ghoulish fascination, at the state of British politics, with one saying it is as melodramatic as a telenovela, full of subplots, intrigue, tragedy and betrayal…

    …Although privately many diplomats would love Brexit to be reversed, and believe it could mark a turning point against populism, there was also a wariness about the disruption of a second referendum. One ambassador suggested the French realised that European parliamentary election campaign of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, would be damaged by the sight of furious British leave campaigners claiming they had been cheated of their democratic rights by an arrogant elite who refused to listen: “What is happening in France is potentially momentous. The social fabric is under threat, and this anger could spread across the continent,” the ambassador said, referring to the gilets jaunes protests….”

    1. vidimi

      far from being a turning point against populism, a technocratic reversal of brexit would be just the sort of betrayal that would take it to the next level. if politicians chose to take away the only meaningful vote many people ever had, they would turn to anyone who promised to burn everything down.

      1. F.Korning

        Wasn’t wanton arson what Farage and his ilk were all about? There is nothing meaningful about a flippant vote that disenfranchised a good chunk of the population, called by a minority government without a mandate, over a constitutional isssue with a mere 51% threshold.

    2. JTMcPhee

      “What is happening in France” and seemingly elsewhere, as people sense the source of their distress “is potentially momentous.” The Grauniad article’s writer notes “the social fabric is under threat.” Lots of definitional issues there, “social fabric being “what is,” and “what is” being “fabric” knotted by the Few into a garrote applied by the Few to the necks of the 99%. So many of that 99% locked into behaviors and supply chains and manufactured demands and consents and happy to “rise” by clambering on the backs of others and grabbing the others’ stuff on the way by.

      Lots of good granular analysis and discussion of current events and the near term. People thinking systems and connections and, sadly for most of us, though not among the NC contributors, “opportunities for gain.”

      Where is the broad and effective awareness, and the catalyzing and coalescing organizing principle, and concomitant global call to decency and comity and care of the biosphere, that could avert the greed- and self-interest- and desperation- and pride-directed grand falling-apart that is eventuating? Thinking now, of course, of all the charming sociopaths who hope to step in front of the Yellow Vest foule and surf it to their gain, and profit from the chaos that sure seems to now be a lasting facet of the world’s political economy?

  6. none

    Does Sinn Fein have enough seats to make any difference if they had shown up?

    How much worse is crash-out to May’s deal (I think everyone here is saying it’s worse)? Does it have any attractions?

    Is it reasonable to say that either type of Brexit will cause serious disruption and pain in the UK temporarily, but it will sort itself out after a while? Do people there see it that way? By temporary I mean analogously with the US’s two terms of Dubya presidency (or the one or two terms of Trump we’re having now), that sort of thing.


    1. Anonymous2

      There is a very good chance, given that the young want the UK to stay in the EU, that the European issue is going to dominate UK politics for many years to come. Given Brexit is likely to damage the UK economy whatever route is taken, the chances of Return to the EU becoming a powerful political movement in the UK in the next few years have to be considerable. The only development I can foresee that might work against this is if the EU ‘s problems get significantly worse, which is always possible.

      One relevant consideration in the longer term is that Murdoch is not immortal. He has been one of the moving forces behind Brexit for many years. Whether his heirs will be as inclined to interfere in UK politics only time will tell.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      SF don’t have enough seats to make a difference – they have 7, which would leave, say, an anti Tory/DUP alliance still a handful short.

      Crash out is far, far, worse economically than May’s deal. It mean the economy coming to a complete standstill for months at least, and even food shortages in the shops. The deal means things will keep going on with relatively minor disruption for a few years, but it will still drain the lifeblood from the economy as the uncertainty for business will lead to a gradual leakage of investment elsewhere, or just no investment at all.

      1. efschumacher

        SF magically coming to Westminster adds to the denominator as well as the the numerator. So not enough votes to make a difference. Plus anything that helps them with a United Ireland…..

  7. Harry

    I’m partisan. But this was a good outcome for the Brexiteers and the Conservatives. The potential for crash out Brexit remains perfectly intact. The likelihood of a crap negotiated exit advances. The ball is now in the court of the Labour leader if the country is to avoid poor outcomes. I’m sure it isn’t welcome.

    Corbyn could easily have hoped that he could sit cross-legged doing nothing and saying nothing and the Tories would defenestrate themselves.

    I think Peter Doyle had a good read of the situation back in January. (I worked with Peter almost 30 years ago).

    Corbyn should not rescue the Tories without getting an GE. Doing so would be nuts – even though it presents a high risk of the crap negotiated Brexit May presented.

    What a wonderful example of a prisoners dilema!

  8. makedoanmend

    I though this might be germane to this discussion.

    “European Union Seals Major Free Trade Deal with Japan”

    “…The EU-Japan deal will create a trading zone comprising 635 million people and a third of global GDP.

    The major benefit for Japan is that it will increase access for its domestic car manufacturers to the European market.

    European exporters will benefit from radically reduced Japanese agricultural import tariffs, with Brussels estimating savings for EU firms of €1bn a year in duties.

    Japan will also open up its public procurement market to European firms, as well as liberalising postal services and maritime transport…

    …The Japanese parliament ratified the agreement on 8 December.

    The European Parliament voted in favour of the agreement, upon which talks began in 2013, on Wednesday, as expected…”

    1. so, it took about 5 years to negotiate
    2. that would leave a new trade deal between the EU and the UK not being finalised until early/mid ~2024
    3. but, given the depth and experience of the EU in negotiating these types of treaties, might the EU be able to ‘help’ the UK stream-line a trade deal quicker? (assuming adults have taken over UK government in the mean time.)

    Also, and I have no experience here, but might not May’s divorce settlement make it easier for the UK to negotiate a trade deal with the EU rather than having to start future trade negotiations from reset of a basic WTO standard trade model?

    The current treaty just negotiated has language that acts as an emollient with regard to harmonisation of standards and so forth. At the very least, the language provides a more advanced starting point and common framework from which the negotiations can begin in 2019.

    Might this be a selling point for May when the second vote occurs in early 2019? (assuming it is shot down the first time.)

    1. PlutoniumKun

      This has obvious implications for Nissan and Honda plants in the UK.

      On the broader point, the big problem for the UK is that its economy is heavily dependent on services. Negotiating a deal with services is likely to take much longer than one mostly focused on manufactures. The EU will not be interested in a deal favourable to the UK unless it involves extracting a very high price for facilitating the City of London and other key UK businesses.

      And there are other flies in the ointment for any UK – EU deal that doesn’t apply to such long distance relationships like with Japan – most notably how to deal with the issue of fisheries.

      1. makedoanmend

        “This has obvious implications for Nissan and Honda plants in the UK.”

        Hell, I hadn’t even thought of that.

        Nor this…

        “Negotiating a deal with services is likely to take much longer than one mostly focused on manufactures”

        …yer putting me to shame PK! :-)

        Might the EU send out trawlers for a Sturgeon?…ok, I’m getting my coat…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, we made that point re services many times early on, but it seemed secondary as far as later developments were concerned. But it took 7 years to negotiate a pretty simple free trade deal with Canada (no issues like fishing and not much re services) and another year to get conditional approval. The EU does not rush to do these treaties (even if they could be rushed much) and only have so many resources to devote to a UK deal.

          The US can do bilateral trade deals in 2 years or less but it dictates terms and only allows negotiation at the margin.

      2. vlade

        The transition period was put in not because of the UK, but because of the EU. BAsically, to get all the interested industry (of which car is definitely one), to be able to orderly move from the UK to the EU.

        Even if the UK negotiated an FTA with the EU by 2020, it’s not the same as single market (paradoxically, backstop would make it part of the single market, so I expect the backstop to became the solution), and someone like car manufacturers just won’t be able to be bothered.

        1. Inert_Bert

          Thank you vlade,

          I find the transition-period an interesting beast in terms of who wants/needs it and I think it says a lot about the whole process.

          The Tories want it so they can heave the worst of the brexit-related disruptions past the next elections. That way they could claim they handled brexit ‘fine, thank you’. And if they lost said election the mess would be on Labour’s plate. This is why ultimately it was the UK that asked for it.

          As you point out, the EU quite likes the transition so companies have enough time to move across the channel/Irish Sea in an orderly manner (not to mention the EBA- and EMA-headquarters). A few EU-countries will also need to build infrastructure and EU27 companies need time to switch suppliers/find new customers and such. But the EU knew the UK needed the transition more than they did so they could wait until the UK asked so it looked like a friendly concession by the EU, rather than a fourth demand in the Art 50 talks.

          But most of all, the UK government-apparatus desperately needs it for the War-level preperations that Yves often mentions (and that are still needed for any type of ‘hard’ brexit), such as:
          -Creating new legislation to replace the EU-laws that underpin the regulation of most important national industries (the withdrawal-act alone isn’t anywhere near enough of a legal basis for post-exit regulation).
          -Setting up new regulators and expanding existing ones and getting them internationally recognised where needed.
          -Building new infrastructure (the much-discussed customs-posts and lorry-parks, but also massive IT-infrastructure) and hiring tens of thousands of people (civil servants, customs-officials, engineers etc).
          -Negotiating the comprehensive FTA.
          -Renegotiating hundreds of trade-agreements with third countries and establishing a new place within multilaterals.

          The Tories seem to be ignoring most of these actual needs. Some of them because of the short-termism and obliviousness bred into to their kind, some because they are counting on getting association-status with most EU-regulators (more cake!). So it is a good thing that they have strategic reasons for wanting a transition-period. The ultras, of course, actually want an ad-hoc obliteration of the state-apparatus, which is why they still oppose May.

          So what we are left with is a transition-period designed for Tory electoral machinations, used by the EU27 to smooth out the process of “salvaging” some nice businesses for themselves, and which is wholly inadequate for the already beleaguered UK-institutions that need it the most. All the while, the Westminster bubble-dwellers are talking about it as if it is there purely to negotiate an unprecedented trade deal that will (impossibly) obviate a border on the island of Ireland.

    2. Avidremainer

      The main thing here is that we Brits are being given a lesson in just how powerful we are. The answer appears to be not very.
      The Brexiteers offer us a wonderful future full of wonderful trade deals giving us a wonderful rise in exports leading to a wonderful place where we regain what we lost post WW2. Well lets examine this.
      The EU-India trade talks foundered on the UK’s refusal to loosen our Indian visa regime. Once we leave It is likely that the EU-Indian trade talks will come to a successful conclusion before any UK-Indian trade talks so do.
      When we eventually start talking to the Japanese won’t there be three interested parties in the room? The Japanese will keep the EU fully informed of any progress in the Anglo-Japanese talks. Japan has shared sovereignty with the EU as a result of the treaty they signed.
      Our WTO schedules were presented in the summer. Among those who objected were Argentina and Russia. What precisely will Johnson et al give these countries to get them to come on board?
      In the light of the above, and other problems scarcely mentioned-cabotage for instance-what cards do we have left to play?
      ” They need us more than we need them”, ” they need to sell us their cars” and other such tosh. We will still buy European cars-we have no British car industry and therefore no possible import substitutes. If we can’t export enough to a frictionless single market to pay our way how can we hope to compete under WTO rules?
      Consider the Bombardier case of early this year. Trump says they are trading unfairly and proposes to impose punitive tariffs on them. The EU says “you will not impose any tariffs
      ” and the problem goes away. Imagine the result if we hadn’t got the EU behind us.
      Sorry to go off on one but we are in such a parlous state. We have a Prime Minister who has the confidence of 200 MPs (plus on the odd occasion 10 DUP). She could not get her Budget passed and had to give in to every amendment put down by the Labour party. She cannot carry her principle policy through parliament. Rees-Mogg and Raab have quite rightly called for her resignation. Against all precedent she carries on.
      Who is going to ride to the rescue? The shiners? An Irish party that refuses to sit in the UK parliament-not going to happen. Labour supports her? On what planet? National Government? yeah right.
      This chaos cannot continue.

  9. Ataraxite

    One of the more interesting outcomes of yesterday is that it suddenly makes “No Brexit” a much more potent threat for May. Because the Ultras have shot their load, they’ve lost their last major weapon against Theresa May – there’s only really Gove and Fox as consequential Brexiters in the Cabinet, and the rest like Liddington, Hammond and all that won’t mind at all to see further movement away from No Deal.

    So, come January (either before or after the eventual vote on the Withdrawal Agreement), I think Theresa Mays line will evolve to “Since No Deal is so economically catastrophic, if my deal isn’t passed I’ll have no alternative but to revoke Article 50”. This would leave the Ultras little space to move and might make it easier to bring enough Labour people across to counter any defections.

    Labour, at some point, is going to have to move their vote of No Confidence in the Commons – as Anton Chekhov said about guns, once you’ve shown it, you have to use it. The only way I see it passing is with DUP support should the Commons – somehow – vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, which is not a likely scenario. So what does Labour do then?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thats an interesting idea – I’ve been wondering why May didn’t use the ‘revoke’ threat against the Ultras. The obvious answer I suppose is that she doesn’t want it – but it is possible that with reflection over Christmas she will suddenly realise its a very powerful weapon to slap them down if she has the will to use it.

      The other question of course is how can she use it? I assume the EU will insist on a high bar of proof that the revocation is in accordance with constitutional requirements – it would look very silly if it accepted it, and then a court challenge ruled that it was invalid. I assume it would take as a minimum the revocation of the Withdrawal Act and a new Act? Is there time for this? Labour would have to be on board for this to succeed.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        This is an interesting possibility, but May may not want to endorse the idea of revocation even as a threat. If she admits it’s what she’ll do to ward off a crash out, that tells Labour all it has to do is hang tough for principled reasons (and the beauty would be Labour would not have to even discuss revocation, it could find a whole set of reasons that would play to various constituencies for not voting for the deal). If May shows her hand that she’d be willing to revoke to prevent a no deal, all the opponents of her deal will feel free to nix it. The Ultras will know the alternatives are her sucky deal or Remain, and they’d probably prefer Remain because they could depict May and her allies as traitors and try Brexit again in a few years, or at least keep that pot on a low boil.

        1. Ataraxite

          As long as there is a Conservative party, there will be ructions due to Europe emanating from it. I can see the attraction to the Ultras of an abandoned Brexit, which lets them remain pure and gives them a Dolchstoßlegende to boot. Against this, they’ll have to balance the risk that it may be another 40 years[1] before they get another go, by which time the UK will be even more closely integrated with the EU and withdrawal may prove to be even more impossible than the current attempt.

          I think this is their only attempt.

          [1] At least. After this episode, if Brexit is abandoned, it will become the third rail of British politics that no-one dares touch.

        2. efschumacher

          Theresa May is on the cusp of getting her dream of No More Freedom of Movement. I dont think she wants to see beyond that. Pulling Article 50 unilaterally blows that.

      2. Mark

        A way to use it would be something like this:
        Propose three different bills to the Commons which are voted on in the follwing order:
        1. No Deal emergency powers, including martial law from 1.4. onwards, call up of all reserves, direct control of the food, medical etc. supply chains, commandering of a merchant navy and air fleet, prohibition of short selling of any kind and strict capital controls post Brexit Date. With a budget for all these measures of course.
        2. Her deal as it is, probably with some nice scroll work in the edges after the summit this week.
        3. Parliamentary order to the goverment to revoke Art. 50.
        Before the voting May declares publicly that she will dissolve parliament and call a general election if none of the three gets a majority.

        In this scenario Labour and Tory MPs would have to show their hands in regard to a no deal crashout and after the first vote is over the hardline Brexiteers have only the choice between the Withdrawal Agreement or no Brexit at all. Since Tories fear Corbyn mor than anything else they would likely work very hard to ensure that at least on of the three bills passes.

  10. Antonbruckner

    I hold a very different view to most above. I think that May is bluffing, biggly. For her, a crash-out no deal exit would be a disaster of epic proportion. It would stain her premiership. If labor holds firm she will cave in and at least obtain an extension. She may even want a snap election given her promise not to stand in 2022. Ditto the remainers in her party. It should also be much easier for labor to hold firm as this is not their mess. The dance of death doesn’t start until early March. This is all shadow boxing.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      May has never been a bluffer. She appears to be borderline Aspergers. Look at how she kept pushing for Chequers when it was a non-starter and had her head handed to her in Salzburg. She didn’t drop in October, it took till November for her to give it up.

      She may relent but it won’t be due to bluffing, it will be to losing her nerve in the game of chicken she is pursuing.

      1. Harry

        She isn’t border line Aspergers. I say that having worked with many borderline Aspergers over the years. I crossed over with her at BoE. She’s just a very straight down the line person. She likes to do her “duty”. She think Brexit is her duty because its the will of the people and the Conservative party,

        If anything she is probably rather resentful of the unserious “clever” public school boys who got the country into this pickle. The exact same Etonian idiots who have disrespected her for years are the ones who have got the country into this hopeless place.

        1. Harry

          Forgive – I’m guessing how she thinks about it based on my brief acquaintance with her at the Bank, and the David Runciman LRB piece. Runciman (surprisingly tall) would have had the advantage of knowing the bullies personally from his time at Eton, and also of knowing May through his activities within the Conservative party.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          FWIW, she is reminiscent of someone I know has Asperbergers who has learned intellectually how to read emotional queues, knows he can’t read faces but has learned how to interpret verbal information.

            1. Neil Carey

              May was diagnosed with ‘late onset- type one diabetes some years ago, would constantly having to manage one’s glucose levels have a bearing on her decisions?

        3. Antonbruckner

          I’m sure that May has a mono-manic focus on getting a “deal” (any deal?) over the line before Brexit. But I certainly don’t think she has a similar focus on crashing out regardless. That for her would be a massive fail (in her own eyes and history’s). Surely, also, the Tory remainers will do anything to avoid that (even if its only to stop the loonies who tore apart their party winning through).
          As I said, in the game of chicken May has started, she is going to lose. She just doesn’t know that yet. She will find out in early March when posturing will mean nothing.

        4. Ape

          If so, she’s delusional. Radically ideological but thinks she’s pragmatic and has common sense. Thinks that legalism and formalism are substance.

          This has been technocratic insanity 101.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        There is something distinctly odd about her, I’d be loathe to medicalise it, but certainly the borderline Asbergers thing has been mentioned more than once in this context. Her nickname among her earlier cabinet colleagues was, apparently, ‘The Submarine’, because nobody could figure out what exactly she was thinking (there are various much ruder interpretations floating around!).

        But she is certainly a ‘type’ I’ve encountered who is relentlessly singleminded in any task they’ve been given (or imagine themselves to have been given) and can often be very successful by dint never associating themselves with cliques and yet always managing to give senior people the impression that she will be an obedient ally, up until she is powerful enough to roughly debuse them of that notion. In fact, she reminds me very much of an ex-colleague of mine (who, as it happened, did enormous damage when she rose seamlessly to the top).

        1. Ape

          Seems more of a simplistic narcissism justified by a juvenile morality “but technically I broke no rules” a terrible sort to have in authority.

      3. vlade

        On the relenting – she already relented on two large things – “no election”, and “no delaying the vote”.

        She may mean it – now. But it doesn’t mean it wont’ change 180 degrees in a minute.

  11. JTMcPhee

    Is there any parallel and linkage, via the Universe, maybe, between May’s recent epresentation that she will not stay past 2022, and the same representation by Nancy Pelosi, both being made just to let the charmers remain in the power chair? Gives them four more years to do damage…

  12. Nick Stokes

    The only thing that needs to be done is crash out. Let’s see what hapoens. The Kingdom of England can fulfill its reffie pledge. The EU can look tough and principled. Then come back in a year and see if any revisement is needed.

  13. Brick

    I think the Ultras have well and truly messed up their strategy and perhaps Theresa gambled that they would. This maybe weakens the argument that Britain must be able to do its own trade deals.Not that it will ever be able to do a deal with the electorate secretly liking subsidies and protecting it’s institutions and industries. The problem is that the Theresa deal leaves no seat at the European deal making table.

    The question I think is whether Theresa can agree amendments which would get the Labour party on board and would the EU agree to the changes.From what I can tell Labour says it wants a custom union , continuation of EU worker rights and rules, enhancement to WTO for trade deals, limits on immigration, devolution of powers from the EU to the local regions. EU workers rights are a thorn in the side of conservative MP’s so I don’t see agreement there. The EU will not like a custom union while not having free movement of people either. I suppose there might be a way to implement standard EU free movement of people then place additional laws limiting business from employing too many EU nationals.

    I am confused because it seems parliament is for free trade deals except with the EU , is for deals but wont give up its subsidies, is for free movement of people sometimes and against it at other times. Incoherant blather quoting dogma and mantra from a group whose egos won’t let them entertain teamwork.

    Baring a significant change it looks like hard brexit for the UK, but then nobody I know has actually read the exact wording in Theresa’s deal. Just maybe there is a clause in it which says article 50 is cancelled if the UK parliament cannot agree to the deal.Pigs might fly as well.

  14. Dave in Austin

    With the immigration crisis in western Europe and the suspicion (which I saw everywhere in Eastern Europe last summer) that joining the EU May not be such a good idea, the EU leadersip was in crisis. Giving Great Britain a good deal might encourage the others. So they played hardball and overplayed their hand. And Britain is a not cash-in for the EU so if they leave they leave behind a budget crisis.

    Between the now insoluble Irish border issue (it will be solved in the end by a local, totally non-sanctioned Irish/British deal) and the channel and fisheries problemss and the “givve us 40 billion Euros to leave” position, the odds on a total, no deal fall-back-on-WTO situation is likely to happen.

    So is it time to stop sleeping and start planning?

  15. Mael Colium

    Most commentators seems to be concentrating on the political plays without regard to the ongoing macroeconomic events. The doom and gloom predicted for early Brexit has not come to pass, nor does it look so in the near future. The sterling has jumped around but it has been operating within normal range compared to the Euro which has been heading South for so long now that it is seen as a new normal. The major factor keeping it above water are the surpluses achieved by Germany at the expense of austerity deficits in the majority of partner states. The financial parasite exits ahead of Brexit are yet to occur and none in the City of any significance have acted on plans to cross the channel. I think they got the email from the BOE that the Government is the issuer of Government bonds on which they depend. Similarly the manufacturers who allegedly were planning mass desertion have not acted on these predictions, nor do they seem to be in play as they watch the daily debacles occurring in the EU. Productive investment in the UK is actually growing, surprising even those not in the doomsayer camp. UK GDP is growing well above that of the EU and compared to members states in the EU, the UK members are relatively well behaved. No yellow vest movement in Scotland!

    Brexit was always going to be messy with or without an agreement. The Irish border was always going to be a sticking point, but maybe the ROI need to accept their geographics rather than wallowing in payback for past events with Britain. It seems that the Malta question has been answered and really, Spain doesn’t want a situation like Cyprus to develop, so I wonder if their remonstrations were ever realistic. The payments system people are worrying about will be sorted with dislocation, but we all know that the financial propeller heads will never stand for anything that will screw up the payments system so self interest will prevail to sort swift out. Trade will continue as emergency arrangements are put in place to clear lorries from the channel check points, but probably not until businesses start to squeeze the politicians to get cracking.

    I understand there are many views as to how we expect the parts to play out, but really, I think we forget that the UK is the World’s third largest free economy and a hub of global banking with a mixed economy. Despite the rhetoric, global trade is powerful and will push through the barriers being thrown up by the EU. Let’s not forget that things are not rosy in the EU as the yellow vest opposition to austerity out of France grows, Italy teeters on the tip of currency capitulation while Spain holds it’s breath and many previous sovereign nation members feel the austerity pinch of Brussels. We all know that Germany won’t pay Macron’s fiscal escape plan with their surplus, so expect more fall out in France as Macron breaks out the military. He won’t survive and matters will be worse in France which would be freaking out the Germans.

    When Brexit comes and goes, EU citizens will be wondering why their political elites are toeing the Brussels (Germany and the IMF) line when the brits are escaping the corporate stranglehold that is modern Europe. May has kept her job until Brexit is complete so agreement on no agreement matters little to her as she plans to depart the Tory rat nest at the next election. By then Brexit will be a moving event. Brussels was always going to be making Brexit difficult, but I think that they underestimated May while she played them at their own deceptive game. The EU has as much, if not more, to lose than the UK in the long run. I see a bunch of old men concentrating on making fun of a female for their own ends as she quietly tightens their own noose on their necks. She may look silly but she is not stupid. There will be a mini series about this one day where her performance will be seen to outstrip the iron lady.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Thank you for your comment. I know too little about politics in the UK for the political speculation to mean much to me. I am far more curious about how BREXIT might affect the economic and global power structures.

    2. Joey

      “ROI need to accept their geographics”? I’m no geographer, but Ulster is on th f’ing island! English hubris.

    3. vlade

      Where do I start?
      Ok, you mention FX. Let’s look at last 5 years:
      GBPUSD – from about 1.63 to about 1.26. Off the recent lows. Loss of about 33%
      EURUSD – from about 1.37 to about 1.14. Off the lows, which all happened around 2017. Loss of about 17%

      So, the “ever falling EUR” fallen half of what sterling did.

      I’m not going to drag out the numbers anymore, as that’s too much hassle, but let’s just say that EUR and USD govt markets are way larger than gilts. So “bonds they depend on” – eh?

      No-one in the City of any significance acted on it.. Ah, so that’s why JPM, City, MS etc. are all hunting for real estate in Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin?

      I don’t think I have stamina to go throuh the rest, but hey, let’s reconvene in 6 months..

  16. flora

    From The Times, Dec 14, 12:01am :

    Brexit: EU humiliates May with refusal to budge on deal

    Prime minister returns empty handed after Brussels strikes out demands over Irish backstop

    Theresa May was humiliated by European leaders late last night after they rejected pleas for any further concessions to get her Brexit deal through parliament.

    France and Ireland led a move to strike out a compromise agreement that would have given the prime minister “political and legal assurances” that Britain would not be trapped in an indefinite Irish backstop.

    Instead EU leaders took an uncompromising stance, refusing any form of binding guarantee and deleting a pledge that the backstop “does not represent a desirable outcome” for Europe.

    This looks like May getting less than she started with.

    The Guardian reports “Civil service told to ramp up no-deal Brexit plans with 24/7 crisis centre “. Dec 13.

    If this were the US I’d see this as bluffing/posturing/poker playing by all concerned. In US politics there are no straight lines from A to B, and surface appearance is never what it seems. But I don’t understand UK politics.

  17. antonbruckner

    From the Guardian. I think this is significant:
    From the Guardian:

    One senior Conservative celebrating May’s victory on Wednesday night suggested enough of his colleagues believe no deal is unthinkable that they would even vote with Corbyn in a no-confidence motion to bring down the government rather than let it happen.

    ”No deal by accident” still cannot be ruled out, however, if the clock runs down to the end-of-March deadline without May managing to have her deal ratified, and the EU27 run out of patience and refuse to extend article 50.

  18. Joey

    I don’t think UK gets the actual union part of EU as they never really joined. They don’t face isolated Irish rancor, but French and German as well. It won’t be kerrymen at the border if brexit is hard. Probably Spaniards and Poles. With German automatic rifles and armored cars.

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