Brexit: May Bloodied but Not Yet Bowed

As Clive warned yesterday, “Don’t trust U.K. based reporting of events. I heard so much provable rubbish today, it’d fill a book.”

We’ll try to be relatively sparing, since the big events that will provide more information come next week: the Withdrawal Act vote (the margin of loss will be critical), the presumed motion of no confidence, and what the EU Council says about Brexit at its December 13-14 meeting.

The UK morning papers are awash with reports of May’s defeats. For one stop shopping, see ‘Humiliation on a historic scale’: what the papers say about first day of Brexit debate Guardian. Recall that this was the same story line after Salzburg and May is still standing.

However, consider:

The vote against the Government on the contempt proceedings showed that the Government still commands a lot of loyalty. The tally was 311 to 293. Stand4Brexit had 51 signers the last I checked. Although I didn’t review a roll call, the total suggests that defections by ERG types were minimal, despite the fact their organ, BrexitCentral, has been working overtime to foment opposition to May’s deal. Update: confirmation from today’s BrexitCentral newsletter: ‘The motion was passed by 311 votes to 293 as [Tory MPs] Bone and Hollobone again voted with the Opposition and a clutch of Conservative eurosceptics abstained, creating that majority of 18.”

In other words, the expected vote against the Withdrawal Act bill next week may not be by as large a margin as the press and punditocracy anticipates.

The motion by Dominic Grieve that is being widely reported as giving Parliament a say on what May does next in the event of her deal being voted down has no legal force. Some of the more florid misrepresentations say is that the Grieve motion enables Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Help me.

While this gambit does show that Parliament is trying to flex its muscles, the legislature is still a long way from being able to do much. From Clive:

No. Parliament won’t “take control of Brexit”. The amendment passed gives Parliament the ability to proffer non legally binding “guidance”. The U.K. government is, apparently, according to the commentary by an “expert” I listened to earlier, expected to follow this because of “it being the express wish indicated by Parliament”.

International reporting is much more accurate, albeit still needing careful parsing by the reader. From

While any successful amendments would not bind the government to comply with them, they would be politically hard to ignore, and could dictate May’s next steps.

As Lambert would say, “could” is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

Given that Parliament will be hopelessly split about what gets a majority vote — or else some cross-party cakeist stitch-up is arranged that ends up wanting some pony or other (like EEA/EFTA membership) — this has all the rigidity of a ripe mango.

And he added later:

Yes, the amendment was to House Standing Order procedures. It allows a non-neutral vote on the motion. This means that the motion can have a “guidance” or, more likely, various competing guidance attached.

The only change (in law) was to the parliamentary procedures — and then only for this motion.

A motion isn’t legislation. You’ll (or rather, the UK government)’ll need legislation to alter legislation (such as the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Bill with its nuisance hard-coded date) or legislation to Do Something (like rescind A50).

As vlade says, it’ll all depend on how much May and the government actually pay attention to anything that gets voted up. While all the media are getting very excited, it is – legally – meaningless.

Put it another way, it’s pretty bad when you folks like Stand4Brexit are more accurate than the BBC:

And for those who’d prefer another source:

As vlade points out, this ploy may still have political impact; the tweet above confirms that by pointing to how May is trying to use it to serve her ends.

The press and pols continue to overreact to the opinion of the ECJ advocate that the UK can unilaterally withdraw from Article 50. As indicated, the idea of revoking the Article 50 notice has been a weird political taboo topic until this ruling. There have also been far too many comments of the sort that “May said the only choice was between her deal and no deal.” As we have been saying for weeks, following May’s remarks immediately after she completed the draft Withdrawal agreement, May had a rare bout of truthfulness. She said the options were her deal, no deal, or no Brexit. And she’s repeated that formula since then. So as much as I am not a May fan, it is false to say she claimed the UK could not back out of Brexit.

May may survive next week. Even though her bill will be shellacked, the margin of loss on the contempt vote is a reminder that the Tories will be loath to oppose her if there isn’t a viable leader in the wings. And the reason May is still standing is that there hasn’t been one since she became PM. The Tories do not want Corbyn in, and the DUP does not want to sacrifice its temporary power player role. So the DUP and Tories will vote against May only if they are pretty certain they can quickly install a new PM and avoid a general election.

Cakeism is very much alive. From a new story in The Times, Brexit: Leavers want renegotiation on backstop:

Cabinet Brexiteers are set to press Theresa May to return to Brussels next week to try to negotiate a unilateral exit mechanism from the Northern Ireland insurance policy, something that has already been rebuffed by the EU.

Some, including Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have been telling friends that they are likely to ask Mrs May to attempt once again to negotiate such an exit mechanism, using the scale of the expected parliamentary defeat as a mandate to reopen talks.

I imagine there are times when Michel Barnier would like to abandon his profession mien, grab his current UK interlocutor by the lapels, and tell him, “What about ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

The problem is that Article 50 appears to obligate the EU to sit down with the UK again, even if the EU has no intention of giving any ground:

In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

One can argue that since the agreement has not been cinched, the “Union shall negotiate” bit means EU has to sit down to talks even if it has nothing new to say. So the MPs who fantasize that they can cut a better deal may take false hope if the EU agrees to meet yet again.

Polls show marked opposition to second referendum and extending Brexit. It should come as no surprise that mass voting preferences are also exhibiting signs of cakeism. On the one hand, a new Times/You Gov polls shows the highest proportion ever agreeing that it was the “wrong vote” to leave, versus the “right vote” by 49% to 38%.

But another poll shows that voters are also opposed to any of the touted paths to get out of Brexit, naming a second referendum and/or an extension. This poll also shows less decisive support for the idea of staying in the EU:

At best, this means that many regard the vote as a mistake, but they are also of the “the people have spoken” school of thought.

As much as we’ll see more theatrics in the coming days, like the publication of the Government’s legal advice at 11:30 AM today, the big scenes are scheduled for next week. Stay tuned.

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    1. PlutoniumKun

      There are plenty of articles in the UK press indicating that this is exactly the thought of many British. They are sick and tired of it – the problem is that this often expresses itself in ‘lets just go for no deal and get it over and done with, we’ll survive somehow’.

      1. gonzomarx

        I hear that opinion a lot up in my neck of the north. People are tired/bored of Brexit and with the elite civil war soap opera.

    2. fajensen

      Yes, the never-ending farce and emotions pegged at 11 has created a “please kill me”-qualia to the experience. Brexit is like one of those slow mud-slides or lava-flows, where one can easily walk away from the disaster, but there is no way to stop it or control it, and everything staying in the path will be crushed.

      I hope my UK friends and former colleagues will be OK. I honestly believe that people, who deserved much better, will die because of shortages of vital items and bureaucratic screw-ups in the trail of destruction left by Brexit – deal or no-deal. That lava will flow all the way to the sea – the scumbags responsible will sit on their yachts off the coast and “Ohh and Ahh” at the show!

    3. Tony Wright

      Yes that opinion polling quoted above pretty much sums it up – people are on balance opposed to all options. That succinctly sums up the Brexit situation.
      By a series of political blunders the Government has pretty much painted the UK into a proverbial corner, and there is no consensus whatever, either amongst the politicians or the general public. Complete cluster…. Strange Days.

      1. Tony Wright

        And even more wierd, between eleven and thirty two percent ‘don’t know’ in each category.
        I mean, without trying to sound like a Vogon (ref. Douglas Adams), you would think people might take a bit more interest in local affairs? …….

  1. NIx

    Would any of the experts here (Yves, Clive, vlade, etc.) care to comment on the Declare-Brexit-null-and-void case being fast-tracked through the high court at the minute? Am I correct in assuming that, because the referendum was only advisory, therefore the judgement is legally irrelevant as regards Parliament? If the judgement comes down on the side of crimes committed by the delightful Arron Banks and the leave campaign, where does that leave May’s “will of the people”, and does it suggest a moral (sic) case for rescinding Article 50?

    So many questions; sorry! But, as one of those who desperately wants this Brexit thing to fail (I am a Brit with an Austrian daughter, who wants to be able to live near her as much as I can, despite having an active career in the USA), I would love to know what wiser voices than mine think.

    1. vlade

      The judgement is irrelevant, as the Leave EU ACT was passed, and no UK court can overturn a UK law.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Parliament has lots of reasons to rescind Article 50, such as May’s deal is terrible and a crash out is worse, and polling suggests increasing distaste for Brexit. But at least now, all the baying for a second referendum is a very strong indicator that MPs lack the nerve to vote to rescind Article 50 without a referendum as political cover. Now that could change by say early February if May survives a no confidence vote, and she puts her bill to a second vote (with the expected no or only trivial changes from the EU, but maybe some application of pork to buy votes) and it still fails. Opinion might have moved further against Brexit, and with a crash out as the alternative to no Brexit, they might work up the guts to act.

      But we still would have the non-trivial problem that private bills (ones not sponsored by the Government) pretty much never pass, for reasons of procedure that are over my head (Richard Smith explained it to me but I didn’t retain enough to grasp it). So even with more will, there may not be a way.

    1. Clive

      Perhaps a question asked in jest, but there is a valid point there.

      Relatively few, I suspect, is the answer.

      To elaborate, I was “treated” to my annual misery of visiting my mother-in-law on my birthday a few days ago. Desperate to try to keep something resembling my sanity, I tried to keep up to speed with Brexit-related events. While watching the TV and patently not paying the slightest attention to my mother-in-law’s — shall we say? — broad and discursive updates on events in her life, I was told “oh, turn it (the TV news) off Clive, it’s so boring“.

      Attempting to dissuade her casual and, considering the repercussions, ill-considered attempts to brush aside the matter, I asked her what she thought of the current situation.

      Oh“, she replied, “we should never have had that silly referendum in the first place“. As I could not help but agree with her there, I said “of course, it was the Conservatives who were in government and passed the law to initiate that, wasn’t it?” — to which my mother-in-law (sensing a trap, but unable to evade it) answered, hesitantly, “yes“.

      And didn’t“, I continued “you vote for the Conservatives?” (knowing full well my mother-in-law always votes for them, always has, probably always will, it’s merely a force of habit rather than a conscious state of political decision-making). “Well, yes…” was the response.

      And, I take it, you didn’t read their election manifesto, where holding an ‘in/out’ referendum was clearly stated as a manifesto commitment?” I enquired, delivering my (literally) sucker punch. You can, by now, imagine that my mother-in-law replied in the affirmative.

      I was, readers might be relieved to learn, allowed to continue my monitoring of the TV news channels unabated. For about another half an hour, anyway, before more weighty issues of the day, such as how little Munchkin was being terrorised by the arrival on the scene of Enzo Ferrari who has just moved in to the house across the road (which his “mum” Karol told my mother-in-law was so named after his “dad’s” insisting, although she didn’t like that name herself), how he’d taken to hanging around outside the French doors — and one evening she’d (Munchkin, not my mother-in-law) seen him and made such a racket, it caused my mother-in-law to jump up in fright (Munchkin and Enzo are cats, in case you’re wondering).

      The point is, for my mother-in-law — and millions upon millions just like here (and I’m not being disparaging here), they are simply not politically motivated, have no interest in a great swath of current affairs, have other things going on in their lives which matter more to them and, broadly, want nothing more than to delegate complicated and not-especially-interesting (outside of people who like reading blogs like this one) time-stealers to politicians who, as my mother-in-law not unreasonably expects, should be making good decisions on behalf of their electorate.

      Thus, getting, finally, to a conclusion, Brexit and the current situation as covered here in Naked Capitalism (and it is pretty much the only outlet where coverage is accurate, timely and can be trusted because it is simply not swayed by tribalism, advertising or pandering to a readership) represents a colossal failure of the UK political establishment. My mother-in-law, amongst many others, relies on them and trusts them. That reliance and trust is being betrayed on a daily, nay, hourly, basis.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Clive.

        Are there similar snippets you can share from the Tory blue rinse in Hampshire?

        I have not caught up with friends / current and former colleagues who are activists for months, so can’t update on what party members / insiders are saying / feeling?.

        1. Clive

          Only in so far as the Blue Rinse Brigade have had it up to their pearls with the Tory party paternal stalwarts (people like the risible Christopher Chope, although to be technically accurate, this is East Dorset, which is a little to the right of Benito Mussolini by and large and makes North Hampshire look like Cuba by comparison) and are starting to tell him they’ve put up with their Brexit doctrines and disassociations for long enough.

          Whether this kind of dyed-in-the-wool anti-EU theologian will listen is still in flux. But paid-up Tory party members are saying loud and clear this is damaging the party. Even in its heartlands. They (largely older, upper class women) do not now care whether it is a Deal, a No Deal or No Brexit. They simply want a conclusion, quickly and cleanly and with as much “this is the fix and the fix is the fix” finality is possible.

          Which is, of course, both a good and a bad development. It’s not like there’s much conscious evaluation of “good” vs. “bad” outcomes. Considering how bad “bad” can be, that’s a little worrying.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Clive.

            This is similar to what I heard months ago from a remainer former Tory, let his membership lapse when Ian Duncan Smith was leader, and campaigned for remain in Surrey and Buckinghamshire.

            Further to Chope, it was odd to see Roger Gale sitting behind Johnson in the Commons yesterday evening. Gale was a DJ on pirate radio station Caroline. Aren’t these types ever put out to grass?

            Similarly, Raab grew up in the neighbouring constituency. His MP then was Ian Gilmour. Mine was Timothy Raison. Whatever happened to the Tories?!

            1. Tom Bradford

              Colonel Smithers wrote:

              “Gale was a DJ on pirate radio station Caroline.”

              My ghast is flabbered. As I abandoned the sinking ship that is the UK years ago I’ve now no knowledge of the minutiae of English political life, but as a Suffolk lad in the mid-60’s I well recall listening to and cheering on the rebellious, anarchic DJs of Caroline as they wallowed vomiting in their little boat just outside the three-mile limit.

              And one of them is now a Tory MP? Jesus wept.

          2. shtove

            Years ago I made the mistake of writing to Chope about the BoE’s reaction to the financial crash, with the result his minions kept pestering me on my doorstep at every election.

            Speaking of the Dorset mafia, I note Oliver Letwin and Richard Drax, who were at one in their Russia!Russia! hysteria, have parted ways over Brexit – the former supports May, the latter no-deal.

            One interesting impression I have from the waves thrown up by the Skripal affair is that there’s a tight network of home-farms across the southern central counties, owned by old money and new, by knights and oligarch hangers-on. And they seem to use military and police/ambulance helicopters for quick transport.

            I suppose they’re like the medieval tower houses of Munster, each commanding a territory of about 10 miles in radius, hemmed in by woodland, but generally working with their neighbours under an umbrella allegiance. In Ireland that would be a clan-type system, in England a sub-set of the state: Conservative constituency association, regimental tie, bed for the night for the intelligence services.

            It’s just an impression – I have no direct experience.

      2. BillC

        “That reliance and trust is being betrayed on a daily, nay, hourly, basis.”

        Unfortunately, this now appears to be the default case for most Western “democracies.”

        BTW, your post is probably the most amusing one I’ve seen in years of reading NC. After delivering your coup de grace, I’m surprised you could watch the rest of the news instead of running for the door to avoid being pelted with crockery by an enraged MIL!

      3. Christopher Dale Rogers


        Many thanks for yet again raising an issue usually ignored by all persons commendation on Brexit, namely the lacklustre quality of our Parliamentarians, the effect of which we have witnessed since the EU Ref result in June 2016.

        How we got this dire predicament is most interesting, particularly when looking at my own political grouping, namely the Old School Labour Party/Movement, although, i’m fully aware the Tories have also repeated Labour’s mistakes, namely ensuring non-entities with zero political philosophy have been chosen to stand as, or act as MPs, acting being a most appropriate word given the numerous occasions I’ve heard of individuals being approached by both main legacy parties to stand for election in the constituencies.

        Of course, from the mid-80’s it all became presentation, Labour Party Conferences, once were blood baths with real debates and real struggles, alas with Kinnock all this was abandoned once he’d cemented his own position, a matter made worse by Blair – essentially, those who’s educations are right, those who look right in a photo-opportunity, and those who can be relied upon to do as they were told were preferred, hence the dirge that entered Parliament as supposed representatives of the labour Party.

        Some facts, I became politically aware at the time of the first EC Referedum, it was a time when the Labour Party had an abundance of talent, indeed, at least a dozen Labour MPs could have gone on to lead the Party, such was the quality of the Post 1945 intake, and that of the 60s I hasten to add. Contrast with those who considered themselves leadership material post Blair and post Brown, essentially a lamentable bunch who’s names most cannot recall – they had fine CVs, but lacked much of anything else, particularly knowledge of everyday folk, much like Macron indeed.

        In a nutshell, when we whine about where we are today, it took the total dilution of talent finding across all three legacy Parties for Parliament to get where it is today, namely, and as the Pussy Hat Remain London Demo proved, these folks are much the same, from the same class with the same blinkered attitudes, which is why working class folk like myself detest them – its also why Party activists fought a bitter struggle during the Summer to ensure each Labour Party CLP Parliamentary candidate should face automatic re-selection, for without rabbit change in the quality of our representation, with, or without Brexit, the future destiny of the UK is dire – we need only look around our own neighbourhoods or across the Channel to see what awaits us, which, is a bleak, neoliberal future where our betters say all the right words, but never follow-up or deliver on them, climate change being a classic example.

        1. Tom Doak

          That last paragraph sounded for sure like you were talking about the Democratic Party in the USA.

      4. ChrisPacific

        To be fair, your MIL shouldn’t really need to be an expert on Brexit. She should be able to find actual experts who share her values, and rely on them to provide her with the right information and analysis to allow her to make a decision that makes sense for her.

        The fact that the media and political establishments so often fail to perform this function (in critical spheres of life) is a big part of the reason why NC exists.

        1. efschumacher

          Problem with this being that “the right information and analysis” is provide to a large swath of the electorate by the Express, the Mail, the Sun, and is of the”immigrants are taking all your benefits” variety. And such people read it not so much uncritically, as emotively.

          I was in Malaga last week and bumped into a pair of the famous English Ex-pat retirees. Since their pensions took a 20% hit, and their ability to continue to live in Spain is jeopardized I asked what they thought. She said “I voted out”, and “Don’t touch my Donald” (evidently a crypto-Trump supporter as well). He said “Decisions that require this kind of complex detailed analysis should not be given to the people”, and also “Never trust a Spaniard” (whilst of course living amongst, them, and expecting them to serve this couple’s needs.

          It’s a real bamboozler: what can possibly be done to square the disconnect between every adult’s right to Democracy on the one hand, and their decision-making processes fueled by propaganda, racism, and knee-jerk rejectionism.

          As a matter of ‘fessin up: I’m a re-pat retiree – worked in US, returned to UK. My income went up 20%, because of the exchange rate. As long as Brexit endures, I’ll stay relatively better off. But I think I would rather have a country that works, with its neighbours. I will happily take the “20% hit” (or reduction of the 20% dividend I’ve been enjoying this past 2 years), for a rapprochement with Europe.

        2. Ape

          “Share her values”

          Sounds nice but what does that operationally mean? Are at the core of her social network?

          It’s not like she’ll be interested in reading theses by these folks and even if she did, it’s likely to be lies. And it’s unlikely to be through long term relationships or even a really hard pub night.

          We need much clearer models of what democracy means with much less piety.

      5. Briny

        Naked Capitalism (and it is pretty much the only outlet where coverage is accurate, timely and can be trusted because it is simply not swayed by tribalism, advertising or pandering to a readership) represents a colossal failure of the UK political establishment. My mother-in-law, amongst many others, relies on them and trusts them. That reliance and trust is being betrayed on a daily, nay, hourly, basis.

        Not the reason I showed up in first place but definitely why I stayed. Heck, the politics doesn’t even match I mine! I am, fortunately or unfortunately, coming around.

        1. Tom Bradford

          Naked Capitalism …. can be trusted because it is simply not swayed by tribalism, advertising or pandering to a readership

          Hmmm. Personally I try to approach everything I read in NC with the same critical and ‘at-arm’s-length’ scepticism with which I read anything of which I have no direct experience – all the more because much of it does chime in with my views and beliefs, and so I’m very aware that I ‘want’ it to be true.

          That said, NC is always my first port-of-call after dealing with my start-of-the-day emails, I spend far longer here than at any other news/opinion site and don’t know of a better.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            You should be skeptical. Our mission is to encourage critical thinking, and sharp readers keep us on our toes. We try hard to be as accurate as possible, but we can get things wrong or be sloppy enough in how we have written them up to lead to misunderstandings.

  2. vlade

    On the polls – this is interesting, as polls just two weeks ago were entirely different. Of course, a lot can happen in two weeks, but I’d not that both ComRes and DeltaPoll which are both widely quoted recently are ONLINE polls.

    I cannot find the YouGov methodology for their poll (Nov 15) which showed way different results.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Surveys of any kind are extremely sensitive to how the questions are phrased and ordered. Saying “Do you approve of the job Theresa May is doing” versus “Do you approve of the job Theresa May is doing as Prime Minister” will typically yield 10 points more in approval for the second version. The mere addition of “as Prime Minister” both confers her with more status and reminds respondents of the difficulty of her role.

        And even though YouGov did better in predicting the snap election results than other pollsters, online polls give me the willies. Not sure what “online panel” means, unless they used the same approach that the LA Times used in the presidential polls, of polling the same people over and over again (that also proved to be more accurate).

        1. vlade

          Looking at the FAQ, the “online panel” seems to be a large pre-selected and registered online population (they say 800k). How to they select the sample to avoid self-selection while getting a reasonable sample, I have no idea.

          Nevertheless, I’d say that we’d add “and do not trust any polls either” to Clive’s opening sentence.

          1. el_tel

            I agree entirely that wording in a survey is very important. But there’s another issue that pollsters have consistently got wrong for 20+ years – “within-person variability”. Thus, consider 10 parallel universes. In 8 a person will vote one say “say May’s BREXIT” and in 2 they’ll vote another. Why? Just random variation. But the size of this matters and it differs across people….leading to BIAS in prediction (known in the published statistical literature since the mid 1980s).

            Within-person variability, largely influenced by “general attitudes” rather than specific policies, has begun to be recognised and exploited. YouGov in their “alternative” poll during the 2017 UK General “got this” and their prediction of May losing her Majority was correct. I also ran a survey on attitudes – don’t get me wrong, I was no psychic, it was pure luck that May sprang a General Election on us just as I finished my survey. Because I used “repeated WITHIN-person” techniques and attitudes I too predicted correctly (making money at my local bookmakers when the media showed no interested – despite the methods having shown their predictive power in one the few “Economics” Nobel prizes I actually respect (McFadden’s in 2000).

            There’s a very good chance people really genuinely have “had enough” and no survey can give any stable answer…..things have changed MASSIVELY in 2 years (not least due to the work of NC in uncovering the legal issues of BREXIT). So, again, I’m no psychic here……I just want to point out that ANY survey from the main pollsters is likely wrong for reasons unrelated to “online/not”, “wording” etc. When they can’t even conform to proper statistical rules, it is perfectly valid for anyone to ask “what the heck is going on?” Don’t look to pollsters – they don’t know.

    1. shtove

      Survation got closest on the snap election. They seem to show consistent neck-and-neck on preferences for party election and Remain/Leave.

  3. The Rev Kev

    So I was watching the news about Brexit tonight and methinks that this sounds interesting. Then I come here to read this article and realize that the whole thing was what the Germans call Theaterspiel. After all this time I should have known better. And Lucy gets to yank that football away from Charlie Brown yet one more time. Still, I understand that Theresa May still has her supporters who feel that she is being picked on-

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Kev.

      With regard to your last sentence, that was the sentiment expressed by various BBC breakfast news presenters and interviewees this morning. Also, on its flagship weekday news programme, Newsnight, a fortnight ago. Tory cum BBC apparatchik Robbie Gibb is certainly earning his rum and rations. Such sympathy and pity do not extend to Corbyn.

  4. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves – an excellent summary of the current political map, which seems to be a bunch of roads that lead nowhere.

    In the absence of any specifics which might shed light on things, I offer some more philosophical musings.

    Brexit is, at its heart, a humiliation for Britain. It brutally exposes Britain’s place in the world as a middle-sized, developed nation, and exposes the British people as being merely equal to, rather than superior to those who live on the continent. (We shall not dwell here about British attitudes to the people of their former colonies.) It shows that Britain has weaknesses, where it thought it had strengths. And this is all happening very publicly.

    No one – not individual people, nor nations – enjoys being publicly humiliated.

    So how does one then engineer a humiliation? It turns out neither the UK or the EU have an answer here. The UK still pretends it is as it was post WW2, the “victor” (if you ignore the vastly greater role played by the US and the USSR) of that war, the centre of an empire upon which the sun never sets, and the philosophical source of all that’s good in the modern world, like industrial capitalism and parliamentary democracy. So Brexit must, be necessity, be presented there as an exercise in regaining that former glory, of “taking back control”. This does not reflect reality.

    The EU has not had much of an answer either – it has also decided, as a matter of politics, to pretend that Brexit isn’t a grand national humiliation of Britain, so has bent over backwards to treat Britain as (somehow) an equal to the EU, to provide political cover to May’s fantasy-making, and has given them a rather generous Withdrawal Agreement and even pushed back on certain demands by individual Member States.

    But that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of Brexit, and indeed the EU may have encouraged a certain amount of Cakeism by its actions.

    So the UK now has only to select which humiliation it is going to visit on itself:
    1. the No Deal humiliation, which sees the UK economically humiliated, and politically isolated.
    2. the Deal humiliation, which sees the UK politically humiliated, forced to take laws and directions from the EU over which it has no say (unlike today, when it does).
    3. the Revocation humiliation, which sees the UK also politically humiliated, when it must meekly go back to
    the EU and admit “we’ve been right idiots over all this, can we come back?”

    None of these are attractive choices, either to the politicians, or the public at large.

    Accepting the Deal is probably the least humiliating of these options, which is why I think the likeliest outcome is that it gets accepted, most likely on a second attempt at a vote.

    But a second referendum – and yes, I am aware of the big political, legal and logistical problems here – is also a less humiliating option for the UK, as it provides some cover to take the Deal or Revocation course without too much humiliation – it’s the will of the people, you see – so it remains a possibility. But it would require an extraordinary cross-party action in the Commons, so things probably have to become more desperate yet.

    What a mess.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think normally your assessment would be a good roadmap. It is too easy to underestimate the importance of humiliation.

      However, there are some factors operating against the press and MPs getting religion as quickly as they need to.

      1. The legal advice the Government has been holding back probably further damages perceptions of her deal. How much we don’t know yet.

      2. Leavers do not like the deal. Only 12% initially polled as liking it and the BBC has reported approval has fallen since it was announced.

      3. Per above, there is still a lot of cakeism, so too many people who should know better harbor hope for remedies that either don’t exist or can’t be made to happen in the time available, even if the EU gives an extension (which is anticipated to be only to July at the very outside).

      After the votes, the EU’s response, when May’s survival is settled, and everyone has gone home for the holidays to have a think, a lot can change in terms of sentiment.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think you are quite right in that so much of what happens now depends less on a rational analysis of what options face the UK, but more a case of which one is the least humiliating for the powers-that-be and the country in general. In other words, it comes down to pride and ‘saving face’.

      I think this has always made a no-deal quite likely because simple pride might force many Tory MP’s into ‘facing up to their decision’ or some such nonsense. But you are also right that meekly accepting the deal might also be seen as cover for something less than a complete embarrassment.

    3. Sparkling

      Your assertion that Britain would be politically isolated in the event of a No Deal is totally incorrect.

      How many countries are run by populists right now? The United States, Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Italy, hell even Xi is considered a crusader against elite corruption by some in China. In fact, I’ll go further– I think Marine Le Pen will be the next President of France.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Huh? The EU has been united re the UK and Italy is not capable of independent action. Pray tell, has Italy been advocating for the UK in Brexit?

        We’ve described how Trump will pluck the UK clean in the event of a No Deal. The US dictates bilateral trade deals even in the best of circumstances and UK desperation will make it even harder to be treated fairly. And Donald Trump isn’t doing foreign alliances any more, or did you not get that memo?

        Even so, the UK would still remain in the Five Eyes, ruling it out as any kind of ally to China. Brazil is not a useful ally due to distance, having its own considerable problems, and not being a geopolitical force.

        1. Sparkling

          I got the memo, I just know the memo doesn’t actually mean anything. If it did then he would have thrown Saudi Arabia under the bus weeks ago.

          The United States will be a political ally to the United Kingdom regardless of Brexit. The Reagan and Trump fans think that Brexit was the only way to avoid national suicide and will do everything in their power to help them. (Reaganites are also fond of talking about the Special Relationship.) If Trump isn’t just talking out of his rear end and actually wants to be petty then the establishment Republicans in his administration like Pence will convince/coerce him to help Britain out anyway.

          That’s just in the short term. In the long term, global political trends and Macron’s vanishing popularity are making it very likely that Marine Le Pen is going to be elected. Rinse and repeat for many other countries. What I can see happening in five to ten years is a growing but loose alliance of nationalist countries opposed to a shrinking alliance of globalist ones with a bunch of other nationalist countries scattered around each doing their own thing. Britain can be part of the first group if either Corbyn or Rees-Moggs takes power. (May and the other Remainers– she was against Brexit during the referendum, that’s probably why her plan is terrible even if it is in good faith– are desperately trying to cram Britain into the second group because they can’t concieve of being in the first one or of the first one existing at all.)

          Don’t get me wrong, this whole thing is going to be chaotic and cause a lot of businesses that made money off the neoliberal setup to go broke if they cannot adapt, but it is possible.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Please tell me what good having the US as a “political ally” does the UK when the US is disengaging from foreign entanglements and Trump is actively seeking to alienate foreign leaders save Netanyahu, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong-Un, and some of the time, Putin. This is a club the UK is supposed to want to join? And the US won’t begin to substitute for the EU as a trade partner even if we were willing to be generous, which we aren’t. If the UK could sell more car parts to the US, it would have already done so.

            And your assertion re Reagan and Trump is laughable. Brexit isn’t even remotely on the US political radar. Trump tweets about it only because he likes attention and has fun humiliating foreign leaders when he can.

            Re Marine Le Pen, her base tops out at 30%. Even with Macron imploding, it won’t go above 35%. The political establishment and most voters will unite behind anyone to beat her. Macron was a weak candidate and he still won over her handily. Look at Germany. They have had a falling working class and took more migrants than France. Even so, the AfD has topped out and now the Greens have been gaining ground in a big way.

            Corbyn is not taking power until the end of this Parliamentary term (if then) and Rees Mogg will not take power. We are about to see Peak ERG next week. The fact that there were only two Tory votes for the contempt motion (despite ERG mouthpiece BrexitCentral being aggressively in favor of releasing the legal advice) says they are way more talk than action.

            All the ideas you have served up are divorced from reality.

            1. Sparkling

              The Le Pen prediction is a pretty wild one, I’ll admit it. However, it is worth noting that people have been saying Trump can’t get any more popular for ages and they have been constantly wrong. The important thing to note about Germany is that the AfD is stalling while the Greens are rising. If a genuinely left-wing candidate is allowed to campaign on a level playing ground with Macron and Le Pen then Le Pen will not win. However, if the options are artificially limited then Le Pen will pick up more anti-neoliberal votes than she would have otherwise and has a shot at victory.

              Look, I know that Brexit is going to harm a lot of people, but it is going to happen whether anyone likes it or not. I would rather try to find some way of making it less bad than resign myself to whatever disasters may happen. Making deals with demagogues and/or being an indentured servant of the US may be totally unpalatable to anyone from the City but are possibilities nonetheless.

              1. flora

                an aside:

                it is worth noting that people have been saying Trump can’t get any more popular for ages and they have been constantly wrong.

                That’s true largely because the Dem opposition has remained stubbornly out of touch for an equally long time, imo.

                1. Sparkling

                  Indeed! If the center sabotages the left in France during the next election we can expect similar results over there.

              2. Yves Smith Post author

                Huh? Trump has never had majority support. Never. His poll numbers have never been above 44% aside from a blip when he was inaugurated, and he was still below 50% Making stuff up is against our site Policies.

          2. Clive

            I don’t know what country you’re describing but it sounds like Fantasy Island. Take a look at how the US perceives the U.K.


            We are of strategic value only in a geographical accident way. The US will utilise the U.K. as a base of operations so long as it is more stable and reliable than the other options. If this were to change, the US would change its allocation of military assets. Saudi Arabia offers pretty much all the U.K. offers in terms of tolerating US bases and Israel has a similar geographical reach into Europe (just from the other direction). U.K. exceptionalism is even more ridiculous than US exceptionalism because the U.K. is not in any way exceptional where as the US is at least exceptional in a few key areas.

            And look at how the CIA classes U.K. economic activity. These are the things the US looks at in terms of what it keeps an eye out for — the US is not sentimental and merely puts a particular country into a “consumer” or “competitor” category. Every single key industrial area the U.K. presents to the US — energy production, agriculture, banking, finance, insurance, armaments — represents competition for not a potential consumer of US output.

            The US will assist the U.K. only to the degree that any assistance offered serves as an enabler for exploitation. You might prefer US exploitation to perceived EU exploitation, but to say that there’s benefits to be had in trying to win “nice, friendly” exploitation and not end up losing out to “not nice, adversarial” exploitation is just being a contestant in an ugly competition.

            1. Sparkling

              Conservatives live on Fantasy Island 24/7 and why would the CIA be sentimental about anything? Even if they were a warm and cuddly outfit that shed a tear every time they assasinated someone the job of a factbook is to be cold and clinical.

              We are currently dealing with an administration hostile to the intelligence agencies and staffed with people (Trump included) who think Churchill is one of the greatest leaders of all time. If you’re looking for rational foreign policy calculus you’re not going to find it there. The UK will fare poorer with them than with the EU but the EU is no longer an option.

              1. Clive

                The EU is not simply going to disappear. This is the same line of thinking that the US had over Cuba, Iran, the DPRK (and even China until a decade or so ago). It didn’t work for the US and it won’t work for the UK in respect of the EU.

                Holding your breath until your eyes bulge and your lips turn blue is not a geopolitical strategy. Some arrangement, some accommodation, some sort of compromise (or even a gradual backing down over time in the hope that no one’ll notice) is unavoidable. While a possible outcome is that the only way everyone can be happy is when everyone is a little bit miserable, that’s not the same as trying autarky. Even the US, which can act in isolation, can’t avoid having its bottom spanked by comparative minnows like Iran or the DPRK.

                So to pretend that the UK can do the same to somthing on the scale of the EU is fantasy.

    4. Ape

      In fact the psychodrama issues are worse. The UK *lost* wwii. Wwii was about dismembering the british empire, either by germany, the us or the ussr. 2 out of 3 got bits in the dog fight.

      Apparently the uk can not handle the fact that the us ate them in wwii and its aftermath. So they project the reality of the intolerable us relationship onto the eu. The ex fear of the ussr is also obvious.

      Nations are destroyed when their myths no longer match reality.

  5. Redlife2017

    I know that some of the regular commenters from the UK won’t agree, but this was a huge defeat for the government. There’s never been a government found in contempt before. That’s impressive considering the 800 year track record.

    I’d like to add to the analysis that the first vote on the amendment to the motion of no confidence was voted down (i.e. the government lost) 311 – 307. What was interesting was the number that abstained after that, which is where you get to 311 – 293. I was surprised that so many abstained to get it so wide. The Tory Whips are probably very angry right now.

    I’m also not clear why in the analysis there is concern about needing a huge number to vote against May next week. It won’t be huge. The Tory Whips will do their job – that’s the system. And Tories are not exactly known for their bravery. The question really is – will the DUP vote against or not. If they think they can get what they want from Corbyn, I actually think they will shoot it down. If not, well, they will support Ms May. And then make her life as miserable as possible.

    If May does survive, this will be a zombie government. They already have to accept every amendment that Labour puts to bills. In November May had to accept all the amendments from John McDonnell on the Finance Bill. That doesn’t happen in a functioning government in the UK. And doesn’t bode well even if the Brexit vote is passed. She’ll have to get all the supplemental bills through over the next 3 months. She will struggle to say the least.

    The whole thing looks like the Callaghan government in 1978-79. This was Labour’s last stand and the last stand of the ancien régime before Thatcher’s neo-liberal revolution.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It is widely anticipated May will lose next week. Someone joked even his dogs knew that.

      The DUP will vote against the bill. 51 MPs have signed up for Stand4Brexit, but to your point, many may chicken out and abstain or vote with the Government. But since May is expected to put the bill to a second vote, they can have one round of pretending to stand for principle. Plus the DUP is in a better position to extort May for pork on a second vote if they vote her down the first time.

      The margin of loss absolutely matters.

      1. If it isn’t a large margin of defeat, May’s odds of getting the bill through on a second vote look very good. This bill sucks but the TARP terrible too, was defeated by a huge margin the first time, and passed on a second vote thank to market freakout scaring everyone plus very liberal application of pork (literally hundreds of pages of giveaways).

      2. The margin of defeat is a proxy for her surviving. Due to the state of Google, I can’t find the source, but one story reported that if May lost by more than 100, she’d resign. That seems very un-May like, so that probably reflects what her ministers would tell her. By contrast, a narrow defeats points to #1 above and she just needs to tough it out.

      1. vlade

        I agree that the margin matters. But its composition also matters. If she loses by say 30 Tory votes, that’s expected (20 ERG + about a dozen Tory visible remainers),

        If she loses by 100+ Tory nay votes (as opposed to abstentions), then her leadership is really wide open.

      2. Redlife2017

        As a counterargument for TARP – it was a very different beast. Obama in his Hope & Change surge pre-election 2008 went to Congress and was personally whipping to get it passed. Not for nothing was he able to say that it was him between his banker friends and the pitchforks. May is known as the Maybot for a reason. When she went to speak with Labour MPs to get them to her side she actually insulted them. They were thinking of voting for it and she was absolutely awful to them.

        The 100 story always looked like a plant to me by the Tories to scare the boys and girls into voting. Which since they are the most spineless beings in the universe (jellyfish have more spine), I will be shocked if they don’t all fall behind May.

        This is all about the DUP. I believe you or Lambert had a link in a New Statesman article a few weeks ago about the context around what they are doing: And I am not putting this link in there as a way to assign reading. I do believe you had a link to this previously so am just referencing it.

        That’s why I noted the 311 – 307 vote. That’s what I’d expect if the government falls (vote of confidence within 14 days after initial no confidence vote). It just takes one swing vote. But zombie minority government, it might be. And it will be ugly, especially considering how the UK in general is cracking up with the move to Universal Credit and the general impoverishment of the populace.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Obama did whip for the TARP but the much bigger factor in getting it passed was, as indicated, market freakout and all the pork. People like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker (Krugman was much more influential back then as well as more independent) who had been hell for leather against the TARP the first time around were silent on the second vote. That behavior was common, the shift to acquiescence or support by former vocal opponents.

          Other people who claimed they had whip counts were talking a 50 to 100 vote margin, but that was likely bluster. The ERG has says it has 51 votes in Stand4Brexit signatories v May’d deal. We’ll see if that materializes.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Since you mentioned the Tory Whips, I have to confess to reading BrexitCentral because it does round up all the Brexit articles daily, and sometimes you encounter useful insider baseball, as long as you hold your nose regarding their point of view. This from today’s missive:

      What was interesting about the voting on the Grieve amendment was that 25 Tory MPs rebelled against the Government to vote for it, including some who are usually hyper-loyal to the Government like Damian Green, Sir Michael Fallon and Sir Nicholas Soames. The word circulating around Parliament last night was that the Government Whips’ Office had given licence to the rebels – even encouraged them to vote the way they did – in order to put the frighteners on Brexiteers opposed to May’s deal: the logic being that it demonstrated that the numbers are there to oppose a no-deal Brexit, which means that opposing May’s deal heightens the possibility of no Brexit at all.

      1. vlade

        I think there’s too many mind games and wishful thinking going on, and it’s hard to say which is which.

      2. Jerry B

        ===useful insider baseball====

        Yves – Nice Joan Didion reference. This is from Didion’s Wikipedia page:

        Didion explores the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos; the overriding theme of her work is individual and social fragmentation

        IMO I believe Didion does not get enough credit/attention, especially from younger generations, for her work in the above statement.

    3. Synoia

      That’s impressive considering the 800 year track record.

      More like 400, one can argue Parliament, the Lords, took control at the accession of James I, 1603, or the Commons at the accession of George I in 1714.

  6. Avid remainer

    Why is no-one talking about the role of Mark SEDWELL the head of the civil service? He is a crown servant ie employed by the Queen. In normal circumstances he has little to do with who should be Prime Minister that is settled by the electorate. If may looses next Tuesday it is his duty to advise his employer whether or no Her government, and it is hers ,can carry on or whether a new Prime Minister should be asked to try form a government which can command confidence. Depending on how badly May crashes and burns next Tuesday will be reflected in the advice he gives the Queen. It is unimaginable that May would be allowed to carry on if she loses by more than 50 votes.

    1. vlade

      Because he’s irrelevant. The Royal lost the prerogative to dissolve parliament died with the Fixed Parliament Act.

      In theory, she can appoint a new PM, but whether she can release one is very much disputed – and would likely end up in the court, which means most likely irrelevant due to timing issues.

      Most of the other prerogatives are delegated to the government.

      Really the only practical, and undisputed way would be to refuse a Royal Assent to a bill. If May’s bill passed, and the Queen refused Royal Assent, the UK would not be a monarchy for much longer. I don’t think there’s anything else waiting for RA or with RA stage imminent.

      1. Avidremainer

        Reference 1974, 1905 and moreover who is talking about dissolving parliament?
        In 1905 AJ Balfour’s Conservative government split between free traders and empire preference camps. His government could no longer function. Edward VII then invited the leader of the next largest party Campbell-Bannerman (CB) to form a government. CB formed a government and remained in power for a few months until the election of 1906 which produced the great Liberal landslide of 1906.
        In 1974 Conservative premier Edward Heath called a general election. The Tories were returned as the largest party, Labour as the second largest and a smattering of smaller parties. Mr Heath remained Prime Minister for a short while during which time he attempted to form a coalition with the Liberal party. He failed. ElizabethII then invited the leader of the next largest party, Harold Wilson, to form a government. Wilson formed a government and subsequently won the October 1974 election.
        In chaotic times like these the Queen’s position comes to the fore. I’m not suggesting the Queen can, by herself, dismiss a Prime Minister that power is long gone. However if it is obvious that May is fatally wounded next Tuesday and resists calls for her resignation then there will be a deputation of men and women in grey suits who will tell her to resign and she will have no option but to comply. There are plenty of recent examples of this in recent UK history.
        The Queen will then take advice from her Privy Council, leading politicians, and the head of her civil service, as to what should happen.
        She may ask another Conservative MP to try to form a government, although this would be highly unusual, the likeliest option would be to ask Jeremy Corbyn to form a government.
        The Tories are not turkeys and will not vote for Xmas. They will probably do what Ted Heath did from February to October, which is to sit on their hands, abstain in commons divisions and hope that their reputation for competence is restored before a general election destroys them.
        All the legal problems mentioned above then fall away.

        1. vlade

          None of the things you mention is relevant. Both failed to get confidence (funnily enough, Heath tried to court NI politicians to get a confidence agreement but failed).

          May did not. There’s absolutely no constitutional way for the Queen to depose her “just so” – it would be immediately challenged in courts, and they would almost certainly grant a stay.

          “will not have an option but to comply”. There is absolutely zero reason for May to comply if she doesn’t want to. No matter of any number of men, women, or clowns in striped costumes.

          Asking Corbyn to form a government is equivalent to call for a GE, as there’s a snowballs chance in hell of him getting the votes. Hell, he can even vote against himself, just to trigger the GE..

          Tories will avoid any attempts to come into a territory that would trigger GE – at least before March 29. Either May would lead into the elections, in which case they would be really a referendum on her deal, which the country hates. Tories would not win a majority (doesn’t mean Labour would, but Tories woudln’t either). Or she would not, in which case Tories would go into the elections fighting vicious leadership battle at the same time, which is not the best way to conduct a campaing. Again, chances of them scoring majority in such a case are close to nil.

          So Tories will IMO, at least short-term, support May. That may change as early as mid Feb, when Ultras sinking May might be the best way for them to get enough chaos and incapability before the Brexit day to ensure nothing much can happen in the meanwhile.

          Again, Sedwell can at best try to play something in the background, but neither he nor Queen would be a leading force. If the Queen is seen as trying to interfere (which would be almost certainly taken as for one or the other side), she might find she’s not a Queen not that far down the road, as the country would be royally pissed off. She’s smart enough to know that. She can call for a unity and a reason to prevail – but that’s about it.

          1. Avidremainer

            A procession of Tory cabinet ministers told Mrs Thatcher to go and she went. Mrs Thatcher was made of infinitely sterner stuff than the current occupant. I don’t think that the cabinet ministers who told Mrs Thatcher to go were dressed as clowns. Assassins maybe but not clowns.
            Neither AJ Balfour or E Heath fell to no confidence motions.
            As per the examples I gave a change of Government mid term does not require a general election.
            You cannot get more of a leading force if you are the one you invites someone to form a government.
            In situations of chaos as in 1905,1974 and now Mr Sedwell will be pivotal. His duty will be to give calm, reasonable and disinterested advice to the monarch. No small duty and very definitely not a person in the background.
            The UK has no written constitution. In times of chaos politics in the UK moves at ruthless speed. The House of Commons is the highest court in the land. What will work in the chamber is what will be done.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Look at dates. The examples you cite are all before the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. I suggest you go read up on the Act before commenting further.

              And the reason May has stayed in place despite repeated predictions of her imminent demise from the date of the failed snap elections onward is there is no replacement for her within the Tory party. It is deeply split and the other prominent figures are either clear soft or hard Brexiters and unacceptable to the other wing (or Boris Johnson or Andrea Leadsom, and also generally unacceptable). As Lambert says, you can’t beat something with nothing.

              Now having said that, maybe things have gotten so bad with May that the Tories will finally toss her over the side. But who is the new PM? Gove? I see almost as much leeriness about him as about BoJo.

              1. Avidremainer

                The fixed term Parliament Act does not apply here. The point is a change of government mid term does not require an election. Look at the dates? We have no written constitution therefore all we have is precedent. Majority governments
                have fallen several times in the past to be replaced without an election by the opposition. You cannot argue with fact.
                It is possible for Corbyn to become premier without an intervening election. Precedent says so.
                It would be good if people read up on the historical practice in the UK. If the government can change,and has changed, without an election then the act you cite above has no bearing.

                1. Clive

                  Oh, please, this is just more silliness and we’re drowning in that already.

                  Look at the election results:


                  Even a “grand coalition” (Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, DUP) would not have the votes to get a majority. And if you think the DUP would evah go into government with Corbyn (and vice-versa), you’re as high as a kite.

                  1. Avidremainer

                    Sorry to disagree. It all depends on the actions of the Conservative Party should Corbyn come to power. Both AJ Balfour and E Heath went on a self denying ordinance. AJ did not oppose the Liberal minority government nor did Heath oppose Wilson’s measures in parliament. That is the Precedent for governments that fall apart. In Yves’ last post she concentrates on the Tory party. I agree with everything she said re the Tories but her conclusion was a little askew. May cannot carry on. There are too many factions in the Tory party and a leadership election would resemble the fate of a pig’s carcass in an slaughter house. This is a chaos that cannot be tolerated in a party in government. Sad to think that this once great democracy is in such a state

                    1. Yves Smith Post author

                      Corbyn is not coming to power prior to the next General Election, and that isn’t happening before 2022. Go read up on the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. I told you to and you clearly haven’t. The Tories will not allow a GE now and the DUP will vote versus May’s deal (at least for now) and will support her in a no confidence vote (our view has been confirmed by today’s Financial Times). Your precedents are irrelevant given the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

                      Agnotology is a violation of our written site Policies, as is broken record (repeating points that have been rebutted). I also suggest you read our site Policies before commenting again.

                  2. CharlesV

                    Is it?

                    This is now a single issue parliament. If we have a Prime Minister who cannot command a majority on this issue then we will need a new prime minister.

                    I imagine the tories will come together enough for that person to be a tory.

                    If they cannot then what? Is a caretaker prime minister chosen to build enough of a consensus (which wouldn’t be corny) within parliament on the single issue that far fetched? who knows?

                2. vlade

                  It was always a possibility that May would be replaced in a leadership elections.

                  But, we’re talking Tory party as actors. Not Queen, nor Sedwell. Their influence on this game is way less than a lot of other parties.

                  If 48 Tories will visit May, they WILL force a leadership challenge. If sufficient numbers of Tory MPs votes against her, she WILL be out. Queen/Sedwell can just suggest. They cannot force.

                  From what we have seen so far, suggestions don’t work with May.

  7. DaveH

    I’m also not clear why in the analysis there is concern about needing a huge number to vote against May next week. It won’t be huge. The Tory Whips will do their job – that’s the system. And Tories are not exactly known for their bravery.

    There is one dynamic at play which I don’t think I’ve seen discussed which I think is important when judging Tory MPs’ mentality on this vote(s). Ordinarily, I think there are few creatures more likely to meekly stand behind their party position. It’s what Tory MPs do.

    However, the wind is likely to blow very quickly in one direction or another – for a harder Brexit or for no Brexit, and the next 20 years of these MPs’ careers is likely to stand or fall based on how they position themselves on that question rather than on the “May’s deal, yes or no?” question.

    I reckon more MPs than otherwise would, might think their future prospects in the long-term are going to be better served by being able to say “I proudly fought for / against Brexit” rather than being able to say “I proudly stood behind that toxic deal that everybody hated”.

    So in a funny way, the braver position could actually be backing the Government.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      A metaphor we have used (and we didn’t originate it) comes from the financial crisis: when you pump too much energy into a system, it undergoes a state change. Ice becomes liquid. Water turns to steam. To put it another way, the system becomes chaotic.

      The UK looks is on the verge of a political crisis. The contempt vote is consistent with that. Established patterns could break down, even catastrophically.

      1. larry

        Indeed. And sadly it is difficult to measure how much energy is being expended other than to speculate about ball park details.

        DaveH, since Leadsom has threatened those potentially voting against May’s deal about their careers, bravery doesn’t come into it.

        1. vlade

          Which is why there should not be such a thing as a career politician (as opposed to career civil servant).

        2. DaveH

          DaveH, since Leadsom has threatened those potentially voting against May’s deal about their careers, bravery doesn’t come into it.

          But that’s my point. The likelihood of Leadsom (or even May) having much long-term control over the future Governmental careers of an ambitious backbench MP is getting slimmer all the time.

          And they might think that voting to curry favour with whoever May’s potential replacement might be a better way to go.

      2. Duncan

        Hmm, this has happened before. I refer to the English Civil war, and to Cromwell’s denouncement of Parliament:

        It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

        Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

        Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

        In the name of God, go!

        Oliver Cromwell – April 20, 1653

        That speech might apply to many other assemblies of Politicians.

      3. Ape

        Better model is boiling water with convection. You get a system that falls chaotically into one of many states. Brains work like that too.

  8. David

    One point worth adding is that in a Westminster-style parliament (which of course the UK is) the Executive is in power effectively because it has control of parliament – ie the Queen asks the leader of the majority party to form a government. Linked with a historic two and a half party system which tends to produce substantial government majorities, this means that for most of modern history parliament has been essentially theatrical, and governments win votes mostly automatically. When a government loses a vote, or even has its majority cut, this is news (“government majority slashed to 25 shock horror!). It happened a few times in the late 70s in the dying days of the Labour government, but few MPs today have much experience of such votes until recently.

    Thus, whilst historically the separation of powers distinction between government and parliament has been largely academic, it could now become a real issue, among MPs and in a political system, which has little experience of such clashes, and where there is little precedent for dealing with them. For example, whilst the Grieve amendment can have no legal force (since parliament cannot dictate policy) it is also a powerful political signal. But how powerful? And what will May do? I have no idea, and nor has anybody else, because this kind of situation is unprecedented. So much of the British political system has historically worked by unspoken consensus and informal understandings that there are often no definitive answers to questions like this – or there are several, equally reasonable seeming.

    Which goes to my main concern, in response to Clive’s point above. I don’t think anybody actually understands where we are with Brexit. Oh, the vote tallies, the timetables, the wording of legislation etc. yes, but at a deeper level I’m not convinced anyone really knows what’s going on. We’ve arrived at that situation where there are so many interdependent factors that they are capable of collectively producing outcomes which no-one had previously imagined possible. We are, if you like, into the emergent properties of the British political system under stress, and it’s not pretty.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, thats a more eloquent and specific version of the notion above, that the system is on the verge of going chaotic. And May does not have the common sense to de-escalate the conflict where she can to reduce the energy level. For instance, she could have released redacted legal advice, with the excuse that she was excising parts that were now moot (say if there was advice related to Chequers) and stuff that was still sensitive and could undermine the UK’s position. That would still have defied the Parliamentary vote but might have looked compliant enough to hold off a revolt.

      Similarly, with the non-binding but potentially symbolically important Grieve motion, May could again play the minimally complaint game. She’s going to have to ‘splain herself anyhow in Question Time and to the press. How hard is it to work up a short document that just reiterates what she’s said elsewhere? But will she have the sense to do that, assuming she’s still PM?

      1. c_heale

        I think May has a history of making poor decisions and then following them stubbornly to disaster. (This takes nothing away from her ability to manoeuvre herself into power). Another example of this is the problems she has caused the Windrush generation. When this came to a head, earlier this year, she could have easily given a big apology before she was forced to, and directed the Home Office to sort the problem out tout suite. But she did neither, and the situation has still not been completely resolved. I think this is because she was the person who made the decisions and caused Windrush. I think she hates admitting she wrong, unlike many politicians who will give a glib apology (or non-apology). She doesn’t have the common sense to realise when to stop digging. So I expect her to make the worst decisions possible as time goes on, but stubbornly hold onto power until she is forced out.

    2. vlade

      I said a similar thing yesterday. We’re seeing the parliament discovering it has real powers and “taking control” (funnily enough, the government doesn’t seem to like it..). In effect, we’re seeing silent changes to the UK (unwritten) constitution.

      And before the next year is out, we may be seeing not so silent changes to the UK political system too.

      1. Anonymous2

        An excellent discussion. Thanks to one and all.

        I side with those who think fundamental change maybe under way in the UK polity. Normal rules perhaps no longer apply.

        @Vlade. Picking up on your point about political change, I think it possible we could see a major realignment of political parties. It would not surprise me if a large group of Tory MPs and a large group of Labour MPs were to break away to form a new party. If they could get enough support to create a parliamentary majority then I think they would go for it, maybe in a tactical alliance with the SNP. My guess is that they would switch to an EEA /EFTA route, arguing that they had thereby respected the Referendum result but with the minimum damage to the economy. After that they could run as the party which will stop talking about Europe and concentrate on tackling the UK’s real problems. I think an awful lot of people are now utterly fed up with the whole issue and would reward whichever party put it to bed for the foreseeable future.

        The ERG and Corbyn could then fight it out to be the opposition.

        1. shtove

          I can’t see it myself. This emergent party would soon have to face the electorate, and the record of the Lib Dems over the past 4 years surely is evidence that they will get nowhere.

          1. Tom Bradford

            I’m only an outside with nothing more than contact with friends and family in the UK, but my ‘sense’ from correspondence with them is that a fundamental, seismic, shift is indeed underway in the UK which does suggest that all might be up for grabs in a way unknown for a century. Brexit cuts across party lines and many ‘comfortable’, habitual voters for the Tories are questioning this habit where May’s decisions and drives run counter to theirs while many died-in-the-wool Labour voters already driven to the margins of the party by the party’s lost socialist roots could easily be tempted by Corbyn’s ambivalence, fence-sitting on a major, even fundamental issue, to make a leap of faith into another fold.

            Down here in New Zealand the introduction of Proportional Representation has seen the gradual erosion of the either/or identification with one party or the other as a necessary social badge opening the door to smaller parties getting a foot in government, and that without any essentially non-political polarising issue as Brexit. Of course the real danger here is the ascendance of a ‘plague on both your houses’ response which opens the door to a telegenic buffoon pushing the right buttons as happened in the US and can be seen elsewhere.

    1. vidimi

      not yet bowed implies that this is yet to come. mixing metaphors friedman style, the chickens have to come home to roost eventually.

  9. kk

    Everyone I know watches the brexit drama with very close attention, the ‘public are bored with it all’ notion is just propaganda- if they were bored, the tv and papers would ignore it surely?

  10. vidimi

    if more proof was needed that nothing has changed, the gbp:eur exchange rates is still hovering around 0.89, or 2% lower than it was a couple of weeks ago. obviously, mr. market doesn’t believe that a reversal is in the cards.

  11. shinola

    I have no dog in this fight (I’m in the US) but, due to NC’s continuing coverage of Brexit, I’ve become hooked on this soap opera. It’s like a looming train wreck stretched out over several episodes.

    It’s as if there’s a section of track out ahead and the choices seem to be:

    -Full throttle! It’s just a small section; maybe it won’t be so bad. Perhaps just a bump in the road.

    -There’s a siding we could divert the train to but it’s a dead end. But that wreck might not be as bad as continuing down the main line.

    -Maybe, just maybe we can get the train stopped in time.

    I know it’s a morbid fascination, but I’ hooked and I’ll be tuning in tomorrow’s episode.

    1. flora

      I’m in the US, too. One thing I’ve never understood is the apparent cavalier attitude of both the Remain campaign (everything is fine, no need to change), and the Brexit ‘leadership (hello, Boris) ‘ campaign of ‘Brexit will solve problems and it will be easy, so easy we won’t spend time working out details and laying plans for a smooth transition’. The status quo was not fine, of course, and hand waving Brexit-is-a-piece-of-cake isn’t a plan. But, I don’t understand UK politics; I’m probably over-simplifying; and there’s probably a lot happened I don’t understand. One reason I carefully read these posts and discussions is to fill in my understanding of what’s happening with Brexit.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think a certain element of it is the fact that Britain as an island nation has been remarkably stable for several centuries. All its fundamental crises have been off-shore (Ireland, Continental Wars, loss of Empire). There is simply no deep memory of what a real crisis is the sort that ripped Europe apart in WW2 for example, the type of crisis that destroys family wealth, causes widespread dislocation, etc. I think this has led to a fundamental level of complacency right across the political spectrum. The feeling that ‘no matter what goes wrong, we’ll muddle through somehow’.

        As others have pointed out, this is exactly what happened in Europe in 1914 – a long period of relative peace fooling everyone into thinking really, truly bad things don’t happen to the comfortably off.

        The other issue is the British view of Europe itself. Germans, French, Irish, Danes, all know what the EU is, and they know what its for. Whether for or against, their arguments are (usually) rational. The British – right across the spectrum, have never really understood or bought into it. Hence Remainers struggle to justify it, and Brexiteers can spout nonsense about it. The fact that even left wing radicals in the UK use phrases straight out of the Daily Mail or Express to talk about the EU for me speaks volumes.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I’d also add that there is an excellent ‘cultural’ explanation for Brexit by the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole in his new book – I can’t link as its behind a paywall, but there is an extract in last saturday’s Irish Times (plus a review) you can find by googling ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Heres Brexit’ Irish Times.

        1. Ape

          Don’t think people dig deep enough into the structural anthropology. The EU is a stand in for the US and Ussr which took the empire from the UK. That’s where the madness lies.

    2. CharlesV

      You need to look at the train journey we were on in the first place. Some were happy, a lot of people weren’t happy and wanted the train to stop, others wanted it to go somewhere else. The problem is we cannot get off the train. It was always going to be very unpleasant inside the train when we ultimately had this argument.

      We now need to decide where the train goes next and that’s what we’re doing. At the moment we are having an almighty argument but we’re all still in the train doing this, we’re not (yet) trying to smash the train up – there is no civil disorder. The centre of the argument is within parliament, not on the streets. When this changes is when there is a problem.

  12. ChrisPacific

    Regarding “what part of no don’t you understand:” To be fair, Brexit has largely devolved into a big game of chicken, where progress requires one or more parties (EU, May, DUP, Ultras…) to back down from a veto position. The degree to which those red lines and veto positions are ideological, technical, or regulatory/legal is generally not well understood by anybody except the parties themselves – and if they try to explain it, it’s dismissed as posturing for negotiation purposes and ignored.

    The net effect is that for any kind of agreement to be possible, somebody, or several somebodies, who are now saying “I will not tolerate X happening under any circumstances whatsoever” are going to have to cave. Why couldn’t that be the EU? This is the argument that keeps cakeism alive, and makes No Deal such a serious risk. You can make an argument about the particular factors that make it impossible for the EU to give ground, but you’ll have to shout to be heard over DUP, Ultras, etc. doing exactly the same thing regarding their position.

    Ideally we’d have some high quality independent analysis looking at what the real constraints were in technical, legal and political terms, and what options might be available for circumventing them. There has been some of this around (often at NC) but it has rarely reached the mainstream media. Instead, as Clive points out, it’s degenerated into partisanship, where both Leavers and Remainers alternate between contempt for the perfidy of the other faction and dewy-eyed optimism regarding their preferred alternative.

    So really the only thing left is to keep ratcheting up the pressure until something (or someone) breaks.

  13. Tom Stone

    Does “Cakeism” refer to what I think of as intellectual Bulimia?
    I’ve been told that the texture and flavor aren’t as nice the second time …

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, that is clever but “cakeism” is a continuation of a meme which took hold in the negotiations with the EU, that the UK wants to have its cake and eat it too (no joke, BoJo said so!). Many variants of the cake metaphor used to describe how the UK kept asking for things it was told repeatedly it could not have.

      The EU was even so annoyed that one of its leaders got petty:

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