Brexit: “Managed No Deal” and Referendum Unicorns Dispatched, but How Long Before Anyone Notices?

Before we turn to the meat of today’s post (short because I am still recovering from a bad bug), it’s disappointing to see Corbyn make such a hash of things. I really would like to be able to cheer Labour on, but the party isn’t looking any more competent that the Tories.

Yesterday, Corbyn threatened the stunt of a vote of no confidence in May, as opposed to the government, which would have no practical effect even if he were to succeed. Then this happened:

This is where things appeared to stand at the end of the day per the Guardian:

Labour and the Conservatives were embroiled in a high-stakes row over whether to stage an immediate vote of no confidence in the government after the opposition chose not to table a binding vote on the issue on Monday night.

The opposition accused Downing Street of “running scared” because it had refused to allow time to debate an alternative, non-binding no-confidence vote in Theresa May as prime minister.

The Tories hit back, saying that Labour had “bottled it” by failing to exercise their right to force a no-confidence vote in the government when it looked like they might not win it.

Corbyn appears to be way too eager to be Doing Something when he should be following the maxim attributed to Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

On top of that, the very last thing Corbyn wants to do now, or in January, is win a no confidence vote. That would virtually guarantee a crash out. We’ll go through the timetable in a post soon, hopefully later this week, but the drill is:

14 days to try to form a new government. If not, then the general election process starts.

The election process is twenty-five working days, or a minimum of five weeks, per statute.

That means seven weeks on the tightest possible timetable. As Clive adds:

And it is just fanciful to suggest that Parliament could come to a hard-stop after the 14-day period had elapsed without at least a few days to have an orderly wind-down and passing over caretaker government responsibilities to the civil service. Similarly that Parliament could sit the very next day after an election result. While the invitation to form a government, the Queen’s Speech and the State opening are largely ceremonial, there is a constitutional requirement for the Sovereign to set out, in broad terms, the agreed legislative programme for the Parliament and for the Parliament to be legally opened and its sitting to commence. Otherwise, laws passed could not have valid statutory force.

I think it is therefore 8 weeks start-to-finish – cutting it to the barest possible timeframe.

If there was a hung Parliament (which you couldn’t rule out, especially with politics being, as they currently are, all over the place) and coalition negotiations were needed, you’d have at least another week, possibly several.

Understand what this means. Let’s say Labour were to win a motion of no confidence on the heels of Parliament nixing May’s Withdrawal Agreement. That vote is scheduled for the week of January 14. Parliament would take no meaningful new action prior to a new Parliament being seated and a government being formed, which would be mid-March at the best.

It would take legislation to allow the new Prime Minister to run and beg the EU for an extension to Article 50, since the exit date is hard-coded in the Withdrawal Act. Think that could get done in two weeks? And how close to the wire is the EU likely to accept an extension request?

As vlade wrote:

To be honest, I believe this is the ERG strategy – get in a GE in Feb/March, ensuring no-deal Brexit, get Labour to win it, and then run around blaming it all on incompetent handling by Labour, ensuring Tory time in wilderness is short. Given that it’s IMO quite likely Labour would have to rule in a coalition (it would lose Scotland voters to SNP, and quite a bit of city votes to LibDem that it picked up in 2017), it may not be even that long.

It pains me to say, but even as incompetenet nutcases as ERG seems to have a better strategy than Labour.

Now to the two officially dead unicorns of the day, although Sir Ivan Rogers, among others, have already given them their last rites a long time ago. And let us not forget that the UK has a thing for zombie unicorns. Too many pols and pundits are still talking up the clearly putrified ideas of “Canada plus” and “Norway plus”.

The first is the oxymoron of a “managed no deal,” where we turn to Sir Ivan’s speech in Liverpool, posted December 13:

Besides “Canada +++” or SuperCanada, as it was termed by the former Foreign Secretary, we have Norway +, which used to be “NorwaythenCanada” then became “Norwayfornow” and then became “Norway + forever”. And now even “No deal +”, which also makes appearances as managed no deal” and “no deal mini deals”.

What is depressing about the nomenclature is the sheer dishonesty. The pluses are inserted to enable one to say that one is well aware of why existing FTA x or y or Economic Area deal a or b does not really work as a Brexit destination, but that with the additions you are proposing, the template is complete…

“No deal+” is brought to us courtesy of all the people who told a great free trade deal would be struck before we even left because the mercantile interests of key manufacturing players in Member States would prevail against the pettifogging legalistic ivory tower instincts of the Brussels ayatollahs.

Forgive me for pointing out that, as some of us forecast well over 2 years ago, it did not turn out like that. And that the Brussels theologians exhibited rather more flexibility than the key Member States when it came to the crunch.

And that not a peep was heard from the titans of corporate Europe. Except to back very robustly the position in capitals that the continued integrity of the Single Market project was vastly more important to them than the terms of a framework agreement with the U.K. A position which won’t change during the trade negotiations ahead either.

The “no deal + “ fantasy is that if we just had the guts to walk away, refuse to sign the Withdrawal Agreement with the backstop in it, and withhold a good half of the money the Prime Minister promised this time last year, capitals, suddenly realising we were serious, would come running for a series of mini deals which assured full trading continuity in all key sectors on basically unchanged Single Market and Customs Union terms.

I don’t know what tablets these people are taking, but I must confess I wish I were on them. It will be said of them as it was said of the Bourbons, I think: “they have learned nothing and they have forgotten nothing”.

It’s now official, courtesy leaks from Europe. From the Telegraph:

The European Commission will put forward measures to reduce the worst damage of a no deal Brexit when it publishes delayed contingency plans for Britain crashing out of the EU on Wednesday but will rule out any British hopes of a “managed no deal”.

The strategy will, if backed, allow the EU will unilaterally declare the extension of agreements in selected sectors for between six to nine months to give its member countries time to strike bilateral agreements with Britain.

The plans are likely to be seized upon by some Brexiteers as evidence that Brussels could accept a “managed no deal” but, according to the commission, no deal will mean an end to all Brexit negotiations with the UK.

An EU official said, “The underlying principle is it has to be temporary to bridge a significant disruption. They will only remedy the most disruptive elements of Brexit in case of no deal.” Because the measures are unilateral they could be broken off at any time, an official said. “We’re not talking about engaging in parallel negotiation with no deal deals with the UK.”

Moreover, as you can infer from this Bloomberg story, not only are these measures temporary, but the EU will decide unilaterally when to cancel them:

The European Union will rule out doing mini deals with the U.K. to ease the chaos of Britain crashing out without a divorce agreement, stepping up pressure on British lawmakers to approve the deal that’s on table or risk disaster.

If the British Parliament fails to ratify the withdrawal treaty before the country’s scheduled leaving date of March 29, the EU won’t seek a “managed no-deal,” according to an EU official.

Instead, it will take unilateral steps to protect its interests, putting in place a bare minimum of emergency measures, and only if the U.K. reciprocates with its own actions, the person said….

The EU is preparing no-deal measures in eight areas. The European Commission will say that steps generally won’t last longer than until the end of 2019, when it publishes details of proposed EU legislation on Wednesday. The areas are:

The EU will allow airliners from the U.K. to fly over the EU, land in the EU and fly back to the U.K, and make refueling stops in the EU.

Financial services
The EU would allow the U.K.’s derivatives clearinghouses to continue serving banks in the bloc — under a so-called equivalence arrangement — for 12 months after Brexit in the case of no deal.

The EU will levy duties and taxes on U.K. goods and is stepping up arrangements to carry out customs checks at entry points from the U.K.

Road transport
Permits will still be given to U.K. truck drivers but these would be far more restricted than is currently the case under EU membership.

Climate policy
EU climate change legislation won’t apply to the U.K. The Commission will take steps to ensure its emissions trading system isn’t affected.

Rights of citizens
The EU will say it is taking a “generous” approach to British citizens living in one of its 27 countries at the moment of Brexit and will enable them to obtain long-term residency status if they fulfill the necessary conditions.

Livestock and animal products
The EU hopes to allow the import of live animals and animal products from the U.K. as long as the country meets sanitary standards. Disruption will be expected, however, because new checks will have to take place on entry into the EU.

Personal data
If the U.K. leaves the EU with no deal, the country will be governed by the rules covering international transfers, which makes it far more difficult to exchange personal data.

On the referendum front, someone in the UK has finally worked out what we have been saying for a while, that there is not even close to enough runway for a second referendum. However, the UK press and pols being hopelessly narcissistic, the issue we’ve cited, that no way, no how is the EU willing to extend the Article 50 deadline long enough to allow for UK MPs to be seated in the European Parliament, is now being spun as a UK issue. We said that the European Parliament trigger date was the absolute limit, but we weren’t sure what the trigger was, and was hoping some lawyers would get on it and report back. That has happened. From the Telegraph:

The Government has taken secret legal advice on extending Article 50 which it argues effectively rules out a second referendum, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The advice states that Britain will be legally obliged to take part in European Parliament elections in May of next year if it extends Article 50 and subsequently send British MEPs to Brussels. It warns that there will be a “high risk of a successful legal challenge” if the UK refuses to take part in the elections because doing so will be breaching people’s rights as EU citizens.

Ministers who have seen the advice argue that this means that July 2nd, the start of the next five-year session of the European Parliament, is a “hard” deadline for extending Article 50. They say it will take at least a year to complete preparations and hold a second vote, making it technically impossible to have another EU referendum.

If we’re lucky, MPs and pundits will sober up over the holidays and the pressure of Brexit in a mere three months will focus a few minds come the new year. But by then, the options will be few indeed.

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  1. disillusionized

    Any withdrawal agreement has to be approved my the eu parl too and their last session ends in April (20th iirc) – if it can be extended I do not know.

    1. vlade

      It can be approved unilateraly. It will come into force only if both sides approve. The EU is going to press ahead with their approval in Jan.

          1. disillusionized

            Oh i know there is nothing to negotiate – I just mean that it completely negates the point of any extension.

  2. None

    Sad how clueless Corbyn is turning out. Reminds me of Syriza a few years ago, imagining getting a write down from the EU. Good luck with that.

    1. Clive

      For some reason, probably not unconnected to having just finished my coffee and biscuit, I’m moved to try to be a tad sympathetic to Corbyn (which will no doubt be punished by the end of today as he does something else totally daft) and say that, as an unquestionable believer in democracy, he turned the decision of how to proceed on Brexit to us Labour Party members.

      Who, at the annual conference, gave unhesitatingly their answer in a vote: “Ponies! Lots of them! And Cake!”

      1. Anders K

        Indeed – it is all very well to ask politicians to stop lying to us, but it becomes rather apparent that people like being lied to more than they like being told the truth, and since Corbyn faces both internal and external opposition, I can certainly understand his being reticient in introducing a plan (if, indeed, there is one) on dealing with Brexit.

        That said, I find it curious that he is not taking advantage of the times when May shows in Parliament to eviscerate May, if only to score points for his followers. I am becoming suspicious that the aim is to take over once the Tories have delivered the flaming wreck of their Brexit and start “doing stuff” – a dangerous strategy considering the dire straits that the UK will be in at that time.

        Also, the EU allowing the status quo to continue will embolden the Ultra Brexiteers – expect lots of “See! See! Planes will still fly and we’ll still be able to deliver stuff to and from Europe! Project Fear! Project Fear!”
        It also means that the flaming Brexit wreckage will be postponed (except for some easily ignored parts of the economy), allowing May to say “Brexit Accomplished!” and call a GE long before any supposed cunning plan of Labours is ready.

        Maybe I am being too cynical, but the EU planned response (which is understandable and remarkably transparent for a bunch of unelected technocrats) increases the risk of a no-deal Brexit. Perhaps the Tories will do something weird like abstain in the vote for WA (assuming that mostly everyone else will vote against), and then come back and blame Labour once the wheels fall off?

        1. vlade

          IMO, there’s lying and lying. We lie to children in schools every day. We teach them Newton’s law as “law”, when it’s just an approximation on Einstein’s discoveries, which are still just approximations. But in all cases workable. Brexit lies are life-threatening lies.

          And, wasn’t Corbyn elected to the leadeship on the his character?

          1. Anders K

            IMHO, Corbyn was elected because he resonated with the Momentum people, and because he had a voting history that they thought placed him on their side. He was seen as more genuine than Blair. Generally, the same reason why people went for Sanders rather than Hillary (I am unable to verify whether either of Sanders and Corbyn is “truly” on their supporters sides or just stalking horses to prevent any real power from accumulating to the Left).

            It is quite clear that parts of the Labour organization found Corbyn not to their taste and acted to prevent him from achieving power, so there’s that as a character reference. This is not to say that just because the Blairite faction of Labour dislike Corbyn, that he therefore must be good (there may very well be people in Labour who remember the last time Labour spent years in the cold due to being too Left in their minds), but for the people who advocated for Corbyn, getting their dislike is close to a seal of approval.

            As Corbyn has not yet been promoted into real power, I have not made a study of his history in detail (but am not surprised with the connections to various “extremist” factions – that is common in the Left of Sweden, at least with Palestine), so I am the wrong person to ask whether he has the strategical plans or chops for the job of being PM. I will say that I don’t think there’s a right person for that job if Brexit is on the agenda.

          2. larry

            vlade, telling children Newton’s Law is true is not lying. It is a truthful approximation.Strictly speaking, it is false, but that is under a particular philosophy of science doctrine. The same goes for Euclid’s geomatry on a sphere. Strictly speaking, it is Riemannian geometry that is true of a sphere. But Euclid’s can be used by builders of houses. For flying a plane, you need Riemann.

            On the other hand, is it lying to tell children that there is a Santa Claus?

        2. ChrisPacific

          It will be interesting to see how the hard Brexiters react to the UK no deal motions. Recall these are the people who were upset that there was no legally binding end date or exit mechanism for the Ireland backstop, because they didn’t trust the EU enough not to game it and find ways to keep the UK bound by it indefinitely. Now I suspect they will be perfectly fine with a No Deal that depends utterly on a whole list of actions by the EU in order to keep the UK economy functioning even on life support, any of which may be cancelled unilaterally by the EU at any time, and all of which are explicitly intended to terminate by the end of 2019 at the latest.

          1. Anders K

            They’ll crow how they got the EU to back down and got a good, managed No-Deal thanks to their incorruptible Blitz spirit and foxhunting. Then they and their friends will proceed to loot the UK.

            This will be followed by howls of “bullying” and “betrayal” when the EU changes the deal. I’ll enjoy the picture memes of EU impersonating Darth Vader, though (“We are altering the deal. Pray we do not alter it further.”)!

      2. vlade

        See, here it’s where Corbyn is failing most. There’s no adult in the UK room to explain to the populace what the real options are.

        I can understand strategically he may be reluctant to stop Tories tearing themselves apart, but the corrolary to that is that Labour members and constituents will continue to be deluded, and asking for, as you put it, cake-bearing ponies (“Beware of ponies bearing cakes!”. Vlade, 2018).

        Unfortunately, it will have dramatic impact on the populace, and I’m afraid that they will remember both Tories and Labour as being in the all cake you can eat, all ponies you can ride, camp. People are like that, they don’t like to blame themselves if there’s anyone better to blame.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Your last point is crucial – a lot of left leaning Labourites are deluding themselves that all they have to do is play a coy political game and power will fall into their laps, and everyone will march off into a socialist paradise.

          But the abject failure for Labour not to stand up to the premature launch of A.50, along with its unicorny pony thing risks the voters taking ‘a pox upon all your houses’ approach in the aftermath of a disastrous Brexit.

          There is absolutely no reason why angered voters may prefer Corbyn to, say, a Tory fresh face who will blame everything on May and a discredited Boris. Or for that matter, someone else entirely (the UK is fortunate its hard right is so unlikeable, were they to find a Marine Le Pen they could be a real force in the aftermath of a collapse in Tory support). Or a Macron style faux centrist party. Or who knows. I sometimes think Nicola Sturgeon should set up an English wing of the SNP, they’d probably get lots of votes since she seems the only adult in British politics these days.

        2. flora

          And, while the Brexit drama wears on, Parliamentary work on other serious domestic issues goes wanting.

        3. liam

          You could well be wrong about what the population will remember. Corbyn’s position could simply be spun as “if we had to have been in power it would all have been different.” As in cakes and ponies, “but that Tory bunch couldn’t deliver”. It’s the whole counterfactual thing. The problem Labour has, (I think), is in voting for anything. A vote for is to claim part ownership, whether you want it or not.

          Then again, as PK points out, the issue of how the launch of a.50 proceeded may well prove a stick they’ll be beaten with.

      3. Avidremainer

        Amazing isn’t it. We have a Prime Minister who had to concede a meaningful vote and then pulled it because she was going to receive an overwhelming defeat. May has the confidence of 200 out of 650 MPs. She is in contempt of Parliament. She was made to publish the Attorney General’s Legal advice, the government’s economic assessments, and has lost two DEXEU Secretary’s in quick succession. The Cabinet is split, the Tory party is split the country is split. Yet, along with the murder of the first born it is all Corbyn’s fault.
        It is often said that whilst Labour preach ” Unity is Strength ” the Tories are the only political party that practices it.
        I do not recognise the description “Ponies! Lots of them! And cake! ” When you have 30% of the Labour voters in favour of leaving you have to go at the pace of the slowest and maintain unity.
        Tread lightly through a minefield.

        1. Clive

          But isn’t this kind of “When you have 30% of the Labour voters in favour of leaving you have to go at the pace of the slowest and maintain unity” an example of your absolute classic Blairite triangulation? The very thing Corbyn was pushed into a leadership position as a reaction (completely justified and well overdue) against? All that “take the apogee of a stance on one side of an argument, combine it with the antithesis and advance the resulting centrist position thereby having your political cake (cough) and eating it” tomfoolery ?

          It ran out of puff for Blair (eventually, though I do admit it took ten years). It never even got off the ground for Hillary. Yet Corbyn now gives into the same discredited and, worst of all, destined to fail, approach? PlutoniumKun explains elsewhere in this Comments section why this could end up with all sorts of outcomes, all of them negatives ones for Labour. As a bare minimum, no one, anywhere, is convinced Labour isn’t split. So why not just take your political lumps and come down on one side or the other (e.g. be the party of Crash Out or the party of Remain) — anything but this endless hedging of bets. It is doomed.

          Yet still Corbyn persists. I simply don’t get it. Is it me?

          1. Avidremainer

            I’d agree that both major parties are split. There is a difference however. The Tories are split on a principle, Labour on tactics.
            Tony Blair is a brilliant politician. I find nothing wrong with the current triangulation. It is well to the left and I find myself in the middle of it.
            From my partizan point of view I hope PlutoniumKim is completely wrong. One thing that gives me hope is the almost incessant propaganda pumped out by Momentum. People seem to think that Labour have been dormant in the constituencies since June of ’16. They have not. Momentum’s effort in the last GE neutralised the MSM.
            I may be starry eyed but I travel in hope.

        2. you're soaking in it!

          Not a kidding question: Is there not a nascent tiny British nationalistic and anti-democratic style party ready to take advantage of this? Because from afar it seems like this could create a post WWI losers type situation, where things break drastically with old traditions.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            There is the anti-Europe UKIP party, which is sort of a home for all sorts of right wing political malcontents. And there is a floating group of small far right neo-nazi parties. After the Brexit vote the UKIP more or less fell apart, and is now much more openly racist and far right and looks likely to form an alliance with the other radical groups. As yet, there isn’t a true ‘populist’ right wing party in the mould of ones found in France or Germany.

            The UK first past the post system makes it very difficult for any party go gain a foothold. Small parties can only survive if they have geographical concentration (like the SNP or Plaid Cymru). The Greens, for example, have significant support, but as its spread nationally they have only a tiny handful of public representatives – one MP and a handful of councillors. So it would take a very significant political earthquake for the Tories to lose enough votes to the far right for them to be an electoral force.

  3. DaveH

    Who, at the annual conference, gave their unhesitatingly answer in a vote: “Ponies! Lots of them! And Cake!”

    Well, the party policy was settled as “try and force an election and if we can’t do that then try to force a second vote”. Given yesterday was a tacit admission that they don’t have the numbers in the Commons to do the former, the next stage of agreed policy is…

    Obviously readers of the fine work on this site know the absence of realism behind the second referendum idea, but given the lack of awareness of that in the wider world, it can’t really be used as an excuse for why the Labour leadership isn’t pressing forward with the policy settled upon at conference.

  4. David

    I couldn’t agree more with the above:
    “Corbyn appears to be way too eager to be Doing Something when he should be following the maxim attributed to Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
    No doubt Corbyn could be more forceful. One thinks nostalgically of some Labour politicians (Dennis Healey?) who would have turned May into smoking wreckage by now. But what good would that actually do? Given that it’s not in Labour’s interests to have a GE and be landed with responsibility for a catastrophe, much of the hand-waving looks to me like reflexive media agitation to have something new to write about. Above all, Labour has to avoid turning what is an internal Tory circular firing squad into a Labour-Tory confrontation, which would enable the Tory media to wheel out its heavy artillery against him. If someone can explain clearly exactly what Corbyn should do, and how this stands a reasonable chance of preventing the worst, I’m all ears.

    1. vlade

      I’m not entirely sure Corbyn could prevent the worst now, that I agree on with.

      But, at the same time, you can’t keep promising two unreconcilable things to two camps. It WILL fail at some time.

      Labour put way too much into how they “won” the last GE. They didn’t. They still lost the election to arguably up-till-then most shambolic Tory party ever.

      At the same time, Labour and Corbyn in particular are also guilty of where we are today. It’s is often conveniently forgotten that the ONLY politician of major parties to call for immediate A50 trigger was Corbyn. Corbyn whipped Labour MPs to support A50 invocation – without even asking for some plan (and they did not have to vote for, they could abstain, or even let it be a free vote for MPs). Don’t tell me they are innocent of the current situation.

      And, lastly, but most damningly in my eyes – Corbyn and Labour are guilty of Hillary Clinton thinking – “Where else will they go?”. They shout from the rooftops about the 30% of the party who voted leave, ignoring the 60+ who voted Remain – because “Where else will they go?”.

      For the few, not the many.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I suppose the problem with saying what Labour are doing, is that almost inevitably it starts with ‘well, first of all I wouldn’t be starting from here….’.

      My own view – and I’ve been stating this from the very beginning – is that it was a huge error from Labour to have supported moving the A.50 motion. They should have opposed it on the basis that Parliament (and, by definition, the public) were consulted and had time to discuss and decide on what Brexit actually meant. By voting with the Tories they at least partially tied themselves to a sinking ship.

      But on the basis that we are where we are, in my view Labour should be doing 2 things:

      1. Setting out the simple truth about Brexit, which is that whatever the arguments of the merits of the vote are, it is being handled catastrophically and a reset button is desperately needed in the interests of the country.
      2. Avoiding getting handed the hot potato just as the country goes over the edge (sorry to mix metaphors). Put simply, they should have the patience to ensure the Tories are fully in charge when the manure hits the aircon.
      3. They should not be engaging in silly parliamentary manoeuvres when the Tories are trying to kill each other. The no-confidence motion right now makes no sense, all it does is give the Tories a chance to unite around telling everybody how terrible Corbyn is.

      1. David

        I agree with a lot of those last two comments, esp relating to Art 50. I do wonder, though, whether Corbyn has been worn down by the incessant demands that he Do Something, and so has decided to Do the minimum he can get away with.
        But look at it from the Tories’ view. Would you like to fight an election with this rabble? How on earth could they produce a common manifesto to fight on? I have a feeling that the chaos of the last Tory election campaign may be as nothing to the chaos of the next one, with a lame-duck PM whom everyone is seeking to replace. The British electorate has a habit of punishing disunity, most recently in the ghastly election of 1983. But there, Labour was positively united compared to the Tories today, or in any reasonable interpretation of tomorrow.

      2. ChrisPacific

        Dear Abby: Is there a way to make a parachute out of a hot potato? Asking for a friend. Yours, Labour.

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves and the community.

    It was odd to hear Blairite blowhard turned, temporarily, Momentum fanatic(ism of the convert) John MacTernan sing the praises of Corbyn on RT yesterday evening, making Corbyn out to be some sort of Machiavellian genius. MacTernan is of those characters one would question if he said the sun rose in the east. It feels like Corbyn has fallen into a trap that will makes him look foolish and worse in the eyes of electorate (playing games at such a serious time), and allows the Tories and DUP to unite behind me (vide Rees-Mogg in the past two days).

  6. BlueMoose

    Only indirectly interested in this issue (I live in Poland) but I just wanted to give a shout out to the polite, well thoughtout comments on this topic and elsewhere at NC. If anyone has any links to other places where it is similar, please share (I would be suprised and happy if such places exist). I appreciate the education I get here.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thank you! We are fortunate to have had exceptionally high quality comments on Brexit. More generally, the caliber of the comments on the site are due to the effort expended in managing the comments section, where we try to be as light touch as possible (as in most comments do appear automatically; see our Policies for more detail). has a well behaved commentariat.

    2. Biologist

      100% agree with your praise and gratitude for how Brexit is covered and discussed by Yves and well-informed commenters.

      Just wanted to add that an additional great way of showing appreciation is by donating money. This supports all the work that it takes to keep the quality of this coverage high.

  7. Nigel Goddard

    It seems more apparent than ever that England needs a decade or two out in the cold North Atlantic learning what it means to be a small-medium sized island country in the 21st century – and is determined to get it.

    This is sad but perhaps somewhat inevitable – it’s the delayed collapse of empire; ironically delayed by membership of the EU which, along with some real achievements (sic) in being a core player in financialising the world economy, has allowed delusions of grandeur to persist long past the point they have any justification.

    More interesting for me is what Scotland chooses to do about this – will we forge our own path now that teaming up with England is not to the advantage even of Scotland’s elite? In the decreasingly likely event that it is May’s deal rather than no deal, the dysfunction at Westminster will persist as the argument moves to what kind of future arrangement with the EU to agree, in which Scotland’s interests will continue to be ignored and which will end up with another cliff edge in eighteen months. I see no path forward that allows Scotland to flourish.

    While the English may need this period of self-imposed autarky in order to figure out how to live in the modern world, I would hope Scotland can move forward and perhaps even provide an example and help for the English.

    1. flora

      This question is a side issue, but one I’ve been wondering about.

      If Scotland gains full independence and remains in EU what banknotes will it use, one of the 3 Scottish banknotes or pound sterling or the euro? Current official currency is pound sterling. How would a change in currency used by it in the EU and elsewhere affect Scottish Limited Partnership agreements, if at all?

      1. Clive

        Unfortunately Scotland can’t gain independence before the U.K. leaves the EU (unless there’s No Brexit). The EU has said it will need to reapply for Member State status. This would apply regardless of whether the U.K. was in or out of the EU in the event of Scotland becoming independent.

        It was the question of the currency which, speaking as a generalisation which is dangerous, largely scuppered the last independence vote in Scotland. For it to go the other way next time, the Scottish nationalists will need to have a good answer to this very vexing question.

        1. Nigel Goddard

          There is a very active debate in the independence movement on this question. The SNP’s Growth Commission recommended keeping the pound as a transition to a new currency, until a number of impossible tests were met, so basically not becoming independent. The SNP membership in various gatherings has shown itself to far prefer Scotland having its own currency and therefore central bank as fast as possible, and Commonweal has produced a white paper on this (and many other questions that would need to be answered). However, there is no much wider debate on this in Scotland and there will need to be.

          1. Fazal Majid

            All new EU members are required to adopt the Euro. The Swedes found a way around that by ensuring the prerequisite convergence criteria they have control over (the budget deficit IIRC) are never met.

          1. Nigel Goddard

            There isn’t really a currency issue is there? NI would be come part of the Republic so would be using the Euro. Of course there would need to be re-denomination of assets but since both currencies are relatively stable that doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s a different case in Scotland – it would be a new currency backed by a small (but productive and resource-rich) economy c.f. Norway, Iceland.

            1. Tim Smyth

              Could Scotland try to piggy back on the NI re-domination to switch into the Euro? Yes, I know this is very theoretical.

              1. disillusionized

                Scotland could unilaterally use the EURO if it wants from day one – it would have the same sort of troubles the other EURO countries have though (well different but the same). Setting up their own currency is harder, though.

                It all really depends on when they change the EURO governance structures to stop trying to force everyone to become Germany, and instead start to make the EZ the US (deficit spending) – presupposing that they do that, eventually…

      2. vlade

        The Scottish banknotes are really “banknotes”.

        They are, for all terms and purposes, zero-interest, bearer on-demand instrument issued by the _banks_. Not Scotland, not the UK, not anything else. The banks. They banks can issue them, but must hold in reserve physical pound sterling notes to the same value. It’s not credit money, it’s “full reserve” money, where the reserves are pound sterling.

        They are, really, a bit of PR for the banks and Scotland.

        So they are not really an alternative.

  8. David

    From my own experience, the collapse of empire had very little to do with the UK attitude to Europe, certainly after the 1950s. It was preserving the link with the US which was then (and is still) the fundamental reason why many in the British establishment were suspicious of Europe, and why the British have tried consistently since the early 1990s to frustrate moves towards more political and security integration. Fear of losing the US link (a fear which even Americans I have spoken to think is excessive) explains pretty much the whole of the UK reticence towards Europe since the 1970s. Of course, outside the establishment, there are nostalgic like JRM, who still see a JS Mill-style white commonwealth as an alternative, but they are not influential.
    And there’s also a risk of overdoing the insignificance of Britain meme. It remains one of the half dozen largest economies in the world, a major diplomatic and military force and a pretty inevitable partner in international initiatives. Put crudely, if you are the UN Secretary General trying to put together a group to look at some problem in the world, you’ll invite key regional players, and the US, the French and the British. You won’t invite the Spanish, the Belgians or the Poles, or even the Germans. Sorry, but international politics is very Darwinian. The British problem arises from never really having worked out how to best profit from their status of medium-sized but well organised and capable nation. They didn’t want to go down the French route, and attaching themselves to the US, originally a wartime expedient, has become a way of life. Now they are even losing the organisation and capability that made them worthwhile partners.

  9. m-ga

    Are we sure the time scales following a no confidence motion are completely accurate?

    1. As I understand, there’s a ruling that Article 50 can be revoked unilaterally by the UK.

    2. What seems hazier is the ability of the UK executive (i.e. the PM and/or cabinet) to revoke Article 50 without consulting parliament. Following the Gina Miller case, there was a parliamentary vote (carried) authorising the government to invoke Article 50. Does this also confer on the government the authority to revoke Article 50, without consulting parliament again?

    If (1) and (2) both hold, the mechanism for exiting Brexit would be a successful no confidence motion, followed by a new PM who would immediately revoke Article 50 (both unilaterally from an international perspective, and unilaterally from the view of the UK parliament).

    If so, the time scale is probably within a week of the no confidence vote. What I think would be needed is dissolution of the current government, swearing in, and revocation of Article 50. This stops the clock on Brexit. And then there is a general election (this would surely be a condition of the no confidence vote) and caretaker government for several months.

    If only (1) holds, there might not be time to get parliament to agree to revoke Article 50. So, the clock runs out, and the UK exits the EU with no deal.

    I suspect some of this is subject to legal challenge within the UK. But my point is, if (1) and (2) hold, the timescale for Remain is shorter than that proposed in the original post. This wouldn’t mean that what I suggest is at all likely to take place, or would be constitutionally viable if attempted. But I suspect that, from an international (i.e. EU) perspective, the critical parameter is the UK’s ability to issue an Article 50 revocation notice before March 29.

    So, maybe it’s possible for MPs to remove Theresa May and issue the Article 50 revocation, even if they’d achieve nothing else (i.e. if the UK has an internal crisis and general election immediately following).

    Some MPs, and perhaps a majority of them, may prefer this to no deal.

    1. Clive

      Here is the UK election timetable guidance (pg.3). This is 25 working days.

      Here is the UK Fixed-Term Parliament Act — 14 days to overturn a No Confidence vote else there must be an election called.

      If you detect a slightly sniffy tone in my voice here, it’s that I don’t much like people without a clue of their own casting aspersions on our research (“Are we sure the time scales following a no confidence motion are completely accurate?“) without a) a shred of contrary evidence and b) any apparent effort to undertake research of their own to back up their slights. If I were to posit “Are you sure m-ga that you’re wearing clean underwear today?” without any grounds for disputing your character to be that of an upstanding and individual of admirable qualities, you’d be rightly annoyed. This line of enquiry belongs firmly in the “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” school of commenting.

      Please do not make a habit of this.

      Your other enquiries are fair enough. If you’d not wasted much of my time with needing to confirm what I’ve already confirmed, I might be more motivated to go into them, they are interesting. As it is, I’m not possessed of enough giving a stuff now to spend any more time on it so will leave it for someone else to do, if they can be bothered.

      1. m-ga

        My scenario doesn’t include a general election prior to Article 50 revocation. I’m supposing an interim government (“national unity”) forms and revokes Article 50, before immediately calling a general election.

        I’m not saying this is likely. But, if it is possible, the timescale should be much shorter than scenarios involving a general election.

        What I don’t know is whether a new PM can revoke Article 50 without parliamentary approval. I’m guessing a new PM could do so (e.g. on the same basis that Theresa May could do so now, were she so inclined). But I don’t know for sure, which is why I posted the suggestion.

        1. Clive

          Ah, right, sorry I jumped down your throat.

          It is currently a matter of debate and conjecture whether Article 50 can be rescinded by Royal Prerogative (just the Prime Minister alone deciding) and not requiring an act of Parliament. Most opinions say it will need parliamentary approval so that’s not only needing government time, it also needs a majority of MPs.

          As May is now Conservative party leader for the next year it would be her decision as to whether to allow her MPs to form any such “government of national unity”. As the opposition would, in the scenario being postulated here, have just said it didn’t have any confidence in her and her government, it’s hard to believe that she would cooperate and be more likely to hold the DUP’s feet to the fire to persuade them to, ah-hem, have another think about things. And reconsider if her Deal really is quite that bad, after all. Compared to the other options.

          1. m-ga

            Thanks for clarifying :-)

            So, the scenario I outlined (national unity government whose sole act is to revoke A50 then call an immediate general election) would require a splinter group of Conservative MPs, who resign the Conservative whip. And, there would be need to be more Conservative rebels than Labour Brexiteer rebels who vote the other way. Support would be needed to both carry the no confidence motion, and to support the caretaker PM in the short term.

            Unless I have it wrong, this does offer a last ditch mechanism by which the UK could remain?

            It’s subject to legal challenge (around the royal prerogative) and no small degree of skullduggery (e.g. could any caretaker PM hold together even a temporary Lab-Con alliance?). On the upside, enough Conservative MPs may go for it, on the basis that (a) they fear no deal followed by a Conservative party split, with disastrous consequences for the country and for their own careers; (b) they think there’s a fair chance that Corbyn doesn’t win a general election, and thus the Conservatives are able to form a government (perhaps a coalition) in which the no-confidence Conservative rebels would be well-positioned for ministerial posts.

            This seems far-fetched, but I’m not seeing anything obviously wrong – please correct me if there is.

            In all other scenarios, it’s looking like a choice between the Theresa May deal or Crash-out. The only other Remain possibility I can think of is that it goes right to the wire, Theresa May can’t get her deal through, and she decides to revoke A50 rather than going through with hard crash-out.

            1. vlade

              Assuming LD and SNP would play ball, you’d need slightly under 140 MPs from each party to defect. Or about half of each Labour and Tories.

              That means a major revolt in Tory and Labour parties.

              It’s possible, but extremely unlikely. It would very likely end up (or start up) with both Tory and Labour party split, with Blairites and centrist Tories getting together.

              The question is, would it be enough to get a majority in the government? As most of the MPs are now career politicians, their thoughts would be “and if we do it, what chances will I have to retain my seat?”

              1. m-ga

                I’m assuming that the suggested plan (no confidence vote, followed by immediate A50 revocation, then immediate plan for referendum and expedited general election with caretaker government in the interim) becomes official Labour policy, and Labour whips their MPs to vote.

                This should get all of the Labour party except the Brexiteers (of whom pro-Corbyn Brexiteers, such as Dennis Skinner, may back Corbyn) and perhaps some of the Blairites (i.e. who prefer May’s deal to Corbyn as PM). I feel it’s very likely that SNP and LD would back it, since they’re calling for a referendum already.

                So, the question would be how many Conservative MPs would rebel. One way to get them onboard might be to combine the general election and the referendum into the same plebiscite. That way, Brexit is not an election issue (it’s settled separately and simultaneously via a referendum) and also it’s not necessary to poll the public twice. This could be sold to the public as settling the Brexit issue for good, since the combination of referendum and general election ties the incoming government, and would clearly supercede the 2016 Brexit vote.

                In this calculus, some Conservative MPs may favour the no confidence motion. There’s a (reasonably high) chance that the electorate dislikes Brexit and also dislikes a Corbyn government. In such a scenario, rebel Conservative MPs could have a chance at forming a government, either on their own or in coalition. Such a prospect might well be more enticing than remaining part of the current Conservative government, but being bound to manage Brexit fall-out and the likely electoral annihilation to follow.

                On the other hand, voting for May’s deal would appear the safer move for careerist Conservatives. However, I wouldn’t underestimate the chances of at least some Conservative MPs rebelling. This would especially be the case if they predict a Conservative party split anyway (e.g. following no deal or May’s deal) and/or if they’re strongly remain-inclined and/or prefer to act in the UK’s interest (not all MPs are self-centred careerists).

                Whatever, there’s going to be a no confidence move sometime in the next month – it’s just a matter of timing for Corbyn. I suspect the reason for the delay is due to behind-the-scenes negotiations to see if anything like the numbers to carry the no confidence motion are in place. Which in turn may require May’s deal to fail when presented in January. At the moment prospects look bleak, since May is using no deal scare tactics to strong-arm her MPs into supporting her.

                I think if Corbyn tries the no confidence motion and fails, he’s likely to become as irrelevant as the ERG.

  10. Anonymous2

    As I am not a lawyer I ask the following question with appropriate doubts.

    On the issue of a second referendum, might there be scope to finesse the issue by negotiating an extra clause in the withdrawal agreement which stated that, if the UK changed its mind about leaving the EU within a specified period of time, it could rejoin the EU before the end of the transition period? That way the UK would leave the EU on B-Day but a referendum later in the year, say, might result in an early return.

    The UK would obviously be without MEPs during the next European Parliament under such a set of arrangements.

    This would all depend on how the Treaties and the WA interact.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It’s not a matter of law but where the EU and UK are. The EU is done with negotiating.

      The EU is not changing the Withdrawal Agreement. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said it is being sent to national governments to be ratified (it is a treaty and requires Parliamentary approval in most and probably all EU27 states, plus also has to be approved by the European Parliament).

    2. disillusionized

      No not really – Once the UK exits, to enter requires the UK to file under article 49.
      A political promise could be inserted into the political declaration – maybe, but i doubt it, and in any case, the EU isn’t going to entertain more unicorn fantasies, if the UK files under article 49, i expect that the UK will have to concede every single one of their exemptions.
      In any case, that presupposes that any referendum is held on WA or Remain, that’s not a given, nor is it likely to meet with parliamentary approval since it literally only can have bad outcomes as far as the brexit brigade is concerned.

  11. Unna

    As Vlade said above: “…It’s often conveniently forgotten that the ONLY politician of major parties to call for immediate A50 trigger was Corbyn. Corbyn whipped Labour MPs to support A50 invocation – without even asking for some plan…”

    Now, bear with me as I’m relatively unlettered in this whole affair, but why would Corbyn do that? And I’m not satisfied with an answer along the lines of that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. All of these people, Corbyn, May, Boris, et al, at the top of British politics must be substantially intelligent people otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Also – and I’m watching all this in complete fascination from a distance – but I’m not quite satisfied with the explanation of Corbyn’s action to “…threatened the stunt of a vote of no confidence in May, as opposed to the government…” is that he had to show he was doing something as opposed to nothing.

    Question: wouldn’t a vote of no confidence directed at May, but not at the government, imply that Corbyn wants May gone, but also that at least for now, also wants the Tory government to stay? Perhaps such a vote, I don’t know, would have no practical application or even precedence. But wouldn’t it have at least the psychological effect of weakening May and show Corbyn’s desire to have her replaced as Tory leader by a Brexit Ultra?

    Regardless of what Corbyn says, and regardless of what may or may not be good for the UK, don’t Corbyn’s actions as to A 50 and this now, show that what he really wants is a no-deal Brexit under the Tories?

    1. flora

      A Corbyn-Tory Grand Bargain, a la Obama with the US GOP? no idea. Stranger things have happened in US politics. Don’t know about UK politics.

      1. Unna

        More daring and “wicked” than a Grand Bargain. It would be that Corbyn wants a no-deal Brexit under the Tories in order to: 1. Be totally, no strings attached, free from the EU which Corbyn never liked to begin with as I understand it; 2. Hang the entire mess of no-deal on the Tories so as to have a Labour sweep in the next election.

        For right now, getting rid of May but not the Tories could suggest that Corbyn is, in fact, afraid that either May’s EU deal will be accepted by Parliament, or that Parliament will capitulate and call off Brexit entirely, neither of which Corbyn really wants.

        Corbyn’s actions re A 50 or the stunt yesterday, at least for me, are compatible with a Corbyn desire for a no-deal crash out under the Tories, and now that May has survived the recent challenge to her leadership, Corbyn is worried that May’s EU deal might succeed after all, which is not something Corbyn really wants, apart from what he might say. I’m just trying to make sense out of all this in my own mind without preconceptions??!!

    2. disillusionized

      Corbyn wanted to trigger article 50 – not because he is a madman, but because he wanted to get his lexiteers back into the fold, it was pointless opposition positioning, same for whipping them to support.
      same with current policy, being just a touch to remain of the government (even if that makes no sense, like a CU with UK input into trade policy, there is a name for that, it’s Cake).

      1. vlade

        Well, it wasn’t pointless – both actions have real world impact. It’s like triggering a time-bomb as “poinless positioning”.

        Stuff like this should not fall in kids hands.

        1. disillusionized

          Sure he could have not tried to bring the lexiteers back into the fold the day after the referendum (but what would that have helped?)
          And he could have whipped his MPs not to trigger article 50 but that would only have made the Tories stronger, and article 50 would still have been triggered.
          The reality is that there are three options going forward, No deal, labour will never support that.
          The WA, Labour will never support that.
          And remain, Labour would deeply prefer not to support that.
          Ideally the Tories are forced to whip their MPs to revoke and Labour can whip to abstain and then gloat and attack the Tories from both directions (even if that makes no sense).

          1. vlade

            Not going to happen. Tories will not whip to revoke. The best there may be a free vote, but I doubt that too.

            How would Labour abstaining on A50 trigger – where they would condition they support on delivering a plan – make Tories stronger? If that was Labour position now, they would have tons of ammunition on Tories (w/o even having to have a plan of their own).

            IMO Labour HQ is happy with no-deal Brexit, and hope for a disaster socialism afterwards. IMO, but I’ll be glad to be shown wrong, they are gravely mistaken and the UK will pay the price.

            1. ape

              I think you hit it — the worse, the better.

              It’s logical — if they’re right. But are they in fact correct?

              1. vlade

                Even if it’s logical, the damage to the people who Labour claim are their constituents is going to be, IMO, massive. I do not support means-justifies-the-ends. I was in that camp once, but it’s a road to the hell.

                And I don’t see how someone can claim their are opposed to say Iraq war and plan this for their own people.

  12. Tomonthebeach

    Stupid Question related Brexitastrophie.

    Does not the Queen have the technical right to overrule Parliament and ask advice from her subjects if they still wish to proceed?

    Even if the answer is yes, the idea of royals flexing power muscles seems remote.

    1. Clive

      No. The U.K. is a constitutional monarchy. Parliament is sovereign in terms of making the laws. Parliament acts on behalf of the sovereign. But the sovereign herself doesn’t instruct Parliament.

      That’s the short and more-or-less comprehensively accurate answer. Slightly longer and the merest remote possibility is if the sovereign is placed in the position that, following an inconclusive general election where not only can no single party form a government able to command a majority but also no coalition can be assembled, would she command a fresh election or try to nudge all parties to work together in some sort of government of national unity. This — very specific — scenario would be entirely down to the sovereign because there’d be no government to ask Parliament to call an early election, it would fall to the sovereign.

      The Queen would be advised by constitutional experts and civil servants because obviously this decision would have significant implications.

      But it’s “struck by lightning” chances of remoteness.

      1. ape

        Let’s be clear — the “Queen” is mystical mumbo-jumbo. It actually means “the civil service, civil society in the form of institutions like the Privy Council, and the army (which is also civil service)”.

        So when people say “Can the Queen overrule Parliament”, they’re asking whether a coup d’etat will result — will the shadowy background forces simply take over? The answer to that is always “well, maybe, but it hasn’t happened recently”.

        Most of the “reserved powers” are either directly powers of the current executive, or powers of the forces behind the executive (aka, civil service, power brokers, and military).

        British government is so full of mystification. You also find this often with the American system, where the written constitution has turned into mystical clap-trap and people ask whether “The President” has a certain power — of course, his powers depend on institutions who pretend to enforce his power, but in fact it’s upside down. He aquiesces to certain social forces.

    2. Avidremainer

      No. Charles I was executed in 1649, his son James II was thrown out in1689. Both tried to assert the Royal Prerogative over Parliament. Both father and son lost heavily.
      The only power left is to invite someone to form a government. This is usually a forgone conclusion- ie the leader of the majority party in parliament is invited to become Prime Minister.
      There were several examples last century when the GE results were not clear or a sitting government simply collapsed- 1974, 1940, 1924 and 1905. In these situations the monarch decided, after taking appropriate advice, who should attempt to form a government.

  13. The Rev Kev

    Going by the local date where I live, there are now only 100 days until Brexit and the clock is ticking.

  14. ChrisAtRU

    I just tweeted this article to #JEZZA

    “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

    Sage advice indeed …

  15. ChrisPacific

    A milestone of sorts: I think we have had the first appearance of the term ‘unicorn’ in the official debate (by David Gauke, referring to Managed No Deal).

    The Telegraph apparently felt this was a unique and original contribution on his part, which gives you a clue as to the breadth of their sources.

  16. vidimi

    one thing that hasn’t been much discussed is british farmland.

    british farmland has been one of the fastest growing asset classes over the past decade due to EU subsidies. here’s a 2015 article about it:

    since these farm subsidies are going to end with britain crashing out, these prices are going to plummet back to earth.

    i don’t have more recent numbers, but as of february 2018, prices were only down 7% since 2015

    looks like the pains is yet to come. pity anyone buying UK farmland now, though i’m sure there’s a public pension fund doing just that.

      1. vidimi

        thanks for this.

        that still means you can only project subsidy cash flows until 2022, and we all know that asset values are equal to the present value of their future cash flows.

        of course the brits have a long history of bailing out “property” owners.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its ironic of course that farmers voted so strongly for Brexit, which is kind of turkeys voting for Christmas.

      I understand that UK farming is actually having a very good year because its one sector that really benefits from a weaker sterling.

      It may well be that in the long run farming could prosper (and become more sustainable) behind trade barriers, although this assumes that it won’t be hit by a deal with the US or Aus/NZ. Its hard not to think that the farmers wouldn’t follow the fishermen in getting sold out in the event of future trade deals.

  17. Michael Green

    I am a remainer who marched with the 700,000, has waved an EU flag in front of parliament, and has cheered the BtoB bus as Madeleina Kay did her bit in the rain and wind.
    The only practical hope is to revoke article 50, to give a breathing space for reason to prevail. I think there is a clear parliamentary majority for this but Jeremy and Theresa may well find a way to force Brexit through.
    I can confirm that Remainers will fight on until March 29th, even if success if far from certain.

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