Brexit: More Unicorns

The ongoing struggle over Brexit is an obvious watershed period for the UK, not just in terms of what finally happens, but the tug of war between the Government and Parliament. As we warned yesterday, the press is regularly way out over its skis over what events mean. For instance, yesterday and today, there is widespread misreporting that the Dominic Grieve motion calling for more input from Parliament in the event that May’s bill is defeated amounts to a veto over a no deal. It does no such thing. Even Grieve himself has said so.


Wednesday’s hot events:

As expected, the publication of the Government’s legal advice increased opposition to her deal. The part that had MPs up in arms was that the analysis made clear that the UK could be stuck in the backstop indefinitely. Even though, as Richard North pointed out, this should have come as no surprise to anyone who read the text of the agreement, May had asserted it would only be temporary. The SNP’s Ian Blackford went so far as risking suspension for repeatedly saying that May lied.

A second sore point, although it didn’t get as much press attention, was that the legal advice also confirmed that the Withdrawal Agreement crossed a DUP/Ultra red line via the backstop creating the loathed “sea border”. From this morning’s BrexitCentral on the legal advice (emphasis theirs):

And having now seen it, it’s hardly surprising the Government sought to suppress its publication. It’s arguably Paragraph 8 which contained the real bombshell regarding the relationship between Northern Ireland (NI) and Great Britain (GB):

“The implication of NI remaining in the EU Single Market for goods, while GB is not, is that for regulatory purposes GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB into NI. This means regulatory checks would have to take place between NI and GB, normally at airports or ports, although the EU now accepts that many of these could be conducted away from the border.”

That’s right: Great Britain would be regarded by Northern Ireland as a “third country” – the status of any other foreign country – and regulatory checks “would have to take place between NI and GB”. Yet in presenting the deal to the House of Commons on 15th November, Theresa May had declared:

“This deal does not create a border down the Irish sea.”

May appears freaked out about next week’s vote. The Times says that May’s troops are urging her to delay the Brexit vote:

Cabinet ministers are urging Theresa May to delay next Tuesday’s crucial Brexit vote amid fears that she is facing a defeat so catastrophic that it could bring down the government.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, is understood to be trying to persuade the prime minister to postpone the vote, which it is thought she could lose by 100 MPs or more.

Others, including Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, and Alu Cairns, the Welsh secretary, say she should continue to sell the Brexit deal but call off the vote on Monday if she is facing defeat by more than 70.

Note that ConservativeHome’s whip count has the vote against May at 68. And that does not include the DUP.

However, if there is no credible new Tory prime minister waiting in the wings, it seems entirely plausible for quite a few MPs to vote down the bill while still backing May when the opposition puts a motion of no confidence. Per the Financial Times, as we anticipated, that is what the DUP says it will do if the bill is voted down. However, even if May formally survived this test, she would clearly be walking wounded.

Another report conveying a sense of desperation comes from the Guardian, May tries to woo Brexit MPs with Irish backstop ‘parliamentary lock’:

Theresa May has stepped up last-ditch efforts to try to win over Brexit-backing MPs after government legal advice warned the Irish backstop could leave the UK trapped in “protracted and repeated rounds of negotiations” for years to come.

But Brexiters immediately rejected one idea mooted by Downing Street, of promising a “parliamentary lock” – giving MPs a vote before the backstop could be implemented…

With just six days to go until the vote on her controversial deal, which May is expected to lose heavily, Downing Street confirmed the prime minister was keen to find ways to offer MPs extra reassurance about the backstop, in the hope they will support her.

But Steve Baker, of the European Research Group (ERG), dismissed the parliamentary lock plan as “silly”; while Jacob Rees-Mogg said it would require the 585-page withdrawal agreement to be renegotiated – something No 10 has insisted is impossible.

When the ERG types are the adults in the room, you know it’s bad.

Article 50 extension fantasies. Consider this Telegraph headline: EU prepared to offer Theresa May lifeline by extending Article 50. Help me. The EU is not “offering” the UK anything at this point. The UK will have to grovel ask for further concessions when the EU said very clearly last month that the deal May got was the best she was going to get. Now that does not necessarily mean that the EU might not agree to an extension, but no way, no how is it making one-sided concessions.

If you still harbor delusions of EU munificence towards May, please read this tweetstorm in full:

Corbyn is dialing it in. He can’t even fake interest in Brexit. I noticed the lack of any Brexit-focused questions on the Guardian live blog during Corbyn’s turn. He went off topic to discuss general economic and inequality issues. From the Telegraph:

Jeremy Corbyn was tonight accused of missing an “open goal” after he failed to mention Brexit once during Prime Minister’s Questions, just hours after Theresa May had suffered the most bruising day for any prime minister in the Commons for 40 years.

The Labour leader was expected to seize on the hat-trick of defeats suffered by Mrs May on Tuesday evening, which saw the Government found to be in contempt of Parliament and forced to publish the Attorney General’s legal advice on the proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement.

But rather than press home the advantage, Mr Corbyn focused his six questions on the problems associated with the roll-out of universal credit, accusing ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for benefit recipients. While he was cheered on by a number of Labour MPs, Tom Brake, the Brexit spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, claimed that Mr Corbyn had failed to address the most pressing issue of the day.

May is expected to call MPs to No. 10 and give them lurid pictures of how bad a crash out would be to try to reduce her margin of loss. Perversely, since there is no politically viable path in the available time to a revocation of Article 50 (save perhaps a freakout shortly before the drop dead date), the choices on offer really are her deal or no deal. But when will MPs and the press come to grips with that?

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  1. vlade

    Re your last point. Quite a few people believe that Corbyn wanted ITV head-to-head debate so that he could take shots at May with non-Brexit questions, in presumed preparation for a GE.

    While that might have been good policy if Brexit was going to end not catastrophically badly, I really really don’t believe Corbyn has any clue how bad a no-deal Brexit would be. I’m still not sure whether Starmer knows, but doesn’t care (and plays to the membership), or knows and actually cares, although I still suspect the former (the only thing that makes me even consider the latter is that somewhere it was said that before Labour conference he almost resigned when Corbyn was pushing for hard brexit on an internal meeting, although I can’t find the reference now)

    I despair of the UK’s political elite.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think Corbyn is being hoisted by his own petard of being too clever by half in avoiding addressing Brexit. It was politically a good move to avoid getting pinned down on any details while May has been thrashing around the last 2 years or so, but at some stage Labour will be forced to say (or vote) in a way that shows they know what they are doing. Maybe he has some grand plan and is waiting for the seemingly inevitable crisis to unveil it, but much more likely is that Labour is just as divided and confused as the Conservatives.

      1. windsock

        I actually think he’s playing to his strengths. He knows TM could wipe him all over Parliament with regard to Brexit, so he is addressing the really important issues that are being denied oxygen because of Brexit. And they are issues that Tory MPs and commentators would love to see ignored, because they are havoc-causing Tory policies.

        Universal Credit is now being rolled out “full service” nationally and the amount of crap flying fanwards will be in the tons. He is wise to be seen to be ahead of that curve and to leave Starmer to deal with EU, who is, frankly, better at that sort of detail.

          1. DaveH

            To be fair he only said Starmer was better, not that he was good. And somebody could be virtually comatose and still be better at Brexit detail than Corbyn.

          2. Avidremainer

            The Conservative government has just been found in contempt of parliament. This is the first time ever that any administration has been so found. This was engineered by Starmer. For the party of law and order-the Conservative party- this is deeply shameful.
            On a different point what effect will the 180 degree turn in the political stance of the Daily Mail have?
            It must have been a shock for Johnson, Raab et al to be described as ‘ wreckers’ by this august newspaper. The Daily Mail is said to be the most influential paper in the UK.

    2. Harry

      Re:”Corbyn is dialing it in”

      I read on twitter that he spoke for 40 minutes on Brexit during the time alloted for discussion Brexit related matters, Would have been silly for him to repeat himself during PMQs. However there is something interesting about how Corbyn media coverage is so anti as to make points like this with the thinest of factual supports.

      One should be careful what one believes in the British media these days (if not ever).

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As I said, I was watching the summary of what Corbyn was saying on the Guardian’s live blog. They were summarizing it as he went along. Nada re Brexit.

        In addition, as I may discuss today, his op-ed in the Guardian on Brexit was terrible. He’s in cakeism mode too, just different cake than the Tories wanted.

  2. Quentin

    My forecast is based purely on fancy. May loses the vote for her deal. The EU doesn’t seem prepared to make adjustments. Then two options remain: crash out or revoke Article 50. Which will it be? The coming three and a half months leave enough time for consensus on the retraction of Article 50, which I think will happen. From the get-go I suspected that Brexit wouldn’t take place and I stand by that. The appetite for Brexit is diminishing. The prospect of a crash out is so daunting and frightening that fewer and fewer people will be willing to take the gamble. Interestingly I read/heard (sorry I can’t recall my source) that any extension of the UK’s membership of the EU after March 29 could possibly lead to the likes of Brexiteers being returned to the European Parliament in the coming spring elections. What a chilling notion.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have at least two big obstacles. One is Theresa May. If she manages to survive next week (and she’s repeatedly pulled through what ought to be political death sentences due to the lack of alternatives in the Tory leadership), she will continue to block this option. As we’ve discussed, it is virtually impossible for private bills to pass, and it would take primary legislation to compel May to send in an Article 50 revocation.

      The second one is the intense and irresponsible campaign for a second referendum. I just saw a Brexit panel discussion on BBC in Bedford. Even though most of the participants agreed Brexit was not looking like a great idea, some said that it should not be reversed, and those that were willing to entertain the idea said they thought a second referendum was inevitable. There is virtually zero recognition that a second referendum is na ga happen. Given how it has been greatly oversold, there will be no legitimacy to an Article 50 reversal without one. Ergo there will not be enough MPs willing to vote for it.

      1. Clive

        The panel is (I think) shown here and it is indeed well worth watching, albeit as an example of how abysmal the U.K. media is in presenting Brexit as an issue and why there is still such a complete misconception of what the viable options are.

        The interview’s question was pure cakeism. A second referendum was presented as a no-cost option which could be had just for the sake of asking.

        Would you like a second referendum?

        elicits an entirely different set of responses than

        Would you like to rescind Article 50 and repeal the EU (Withdrawal) Bill so as to cancel Brexit so as to then hold a second referendum, or, take a punt at the EU27 giving the U.K. a sufficiently long runway and suspend Article 50 for an uncertain amount of time while the U.K. agrees to participating in another EU budget round, EU parliamentary elections and then requires to EU27 to potentially pick up right where it left off should the referendum reiterate the Leave result (and all that assumes the U.K. would carry out the referendum at all and it wouldn’t end up falling away due to an inability to get the legislative program through the U.K. parliament)?”

        But, as with the Bedford panel, all anyone ever gets asked is the former, not the latter. I have a strong suspicion there’s a tonne of British Exceptionalism in the minds of a lot of the domestic media — as if the U.K. can merely stomp its feet and say, channelling its inner Veruca Salt “I want an Oompa Loompa, sorry, a second referendum — and I want one now.”

        1. Monty

          Hopefully they will rescind and sell it as a postponement. I think that’s the best idea I’ve heard. After all, the EU wouldn’t negotiate until A50 was triggered. Now we have seen that there is no “win win” possible at this time, let’s rescind, regroup, plan properly, and then leave later if it is likely a beneficial result can be achieved.

      2. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        “One problem is Theresa May”

        “it seems entirely plausible for quite a few MPs to vote down the bill while still backing May when the opposition puts a motion of no confidence. Per the Financial Times, as we anticipated, that is what the DUP says it will do if the bill is voted down. However, even if May formally survived this test, she would clearly be walking wounded.”

        I think Theresa May could care less whether or not Brexit happens or not, or what the damage is to any constituency. She knows that Iif she can win a no-confidence vote, there cannot be another one for 12 months and she is still PM. This is her highest ambition…to stay in power at any cost, and this is all she wants. I think this is what happens.

        My sense is what you see here is a unilateral withdrawal from Article 50 in late March. Too many MPs will calculate that their careers will be over given the economic damage of a no deal Brexit. That they went against the will of the nonbinding Brexit vote might be forgotten at the ballot box years later, but years of economic chaos will not. That should ultimately be the political calculation.

        Therefore, since May only wants to stay in power, and the revocation will eventually be forgotten, this is what she goes with. She looks the other way while the MPs vote for withdrawal in late March since there is little political risk to her. She won’t have to deal with the consequences over any general election over this until late 2019 or later. Actually, once she wins a no-confidence vote, she probably doesn’t do much of anything between now and March.

        I just can’t imagine the level of disillusionment of the UK body politic over the next ten years if things play out in a such a cynical way.

        1. Ape

          That may be what some in labour are depending on, that it just all collapses on it’s own. And if not? Well maybe the revolution will come.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          She can’t look the other way. Legislation getting through Parliament depends on Government sponsorship. Revoking A50 requires at least 2 pieces of primary legislation.

    2. makedoanmend

      The compelling economic consequences for all concerned in Europe suggest that many would rather see Article 50 revoked, but the political consequences are going to be weighed against the purely short term economic interests at this late date. To say that the UK’s political stock in Europe is low is a gross understatement. As you suggest, seeing a possible increase of Farage-look-alikes UK MEPs in the EU is less than palatable for a whole host of European leaders from the national to supranational levels.

      Whatever happens, the landscape has changed. The EU, through short sightedness and even profound economic illiteracy, has created a whole host of problems which are currently coming home to roost. There also seems to be a lack of vision for the EU project which may be turning into a vacuum*. Brexit has certainly added to the woes. The EU is now weaker but no European nation is or will, I would argue, be made stronger by Brexit either. The damage to the EU, often self inflicted (if only by being woefully naive and short-sighted), has been done.

      Therefore, I wonder how much of an appetite the rest of Europe has for the UK drifting back into the EU orbit on terms not determined by the EU as a whole. I would suppose that most of Europe would grit its teeth and take the easy option of accepting the UK back into the fold, so to speak. But there may be some profound resistance in certain quarters.

      On the other hand, if the UK goes hard Brexit through sheer inertia of a system becoming chaotic from an inertial feedback loop, it’s all moot. All of Europe will be further harmed. It’s fubar all the way down.

      *If a vacuum develops, this does not mean the EU is doomed. It just means further change, whether wanted to not, is coming – for good or ill.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I considered including this from The Times but didn’t want to distract readers from going through the BBC tweetstorm on where the EU is right now:

        Weary EU leaders are united: there is no time for more talks

        There could scarcely be a less auspicious time for Britain to return to Brussels and seek to restart the Brexit negotiations in the hope of a more attractive deal. With rioting on the streets of French cities, a looming stand-off over Italy’s debt and a weakened Angela Merkel preparing to cede control of her party, the European Union has neither the time nor the inclination to revisit the Irish border question.

        In crude terms, Europe’s problems stem from much the same source as Brexit: popular anger at liberal immigration policies, the rising cost of living and a political class that is struggling to sustain its democratic legitimacy.

        The unrest is at its most violent in France. Over the past week the so-called yellow vests, a largely leaderless movement united by dissatisfaction with President Macron, have waged an insurrection of torched cars, looted shops and running battles with police. The protests, triggered by an increase in fuel tax, have left more than 100 people injured and the Arc de Triomphe defaced with anti-Macron graffiti.

        I agree with your point that the EU is going to suffer but:

        1. From the morning after the Brexit vote, the EU accepted it would take losses from this divorce, economic as well as political. The UK hasn’t and worse many conned themselves or were fooled into thinking there would be gains. Some individuals will profit, but at the expense of the country.

        2. The EU recognizes it cannot solve the UK’s political problems. The one time it tried may have been its biggest mistake, Barnier letting May have the December “Joint Agreement” kick the can on the Irish border. Barnier didn’t want to force a crisis because they didn’t want May to be replaced by BoJo or Gove. But if the result is a crash out, it would have been better for that to be clear in Feb 2018 than Feb 2019.

  3. kk

    This is a fight amongst the elites – an attempt at a (constitutional) coup by one group over another, both claiming to speak for the nation and the plotters now failing and thrashing around. Nobody involved cares what the ‘people’ think. Think of the notion of a ‘loyal’ opposition as the basis of the British state ie both sides agree on the basics and argue about details. BINO and stay are the only options

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      But a lot of the elites aren’t participating. Vlade has pointed out how business leaders have said virtually nothing about the dangers of a crash out despite the huge potential costs. Japanese automakers, of all people, have been the most forceful and consistent. The banking industry had been engaging in largely ineffective lobbying and its pet medial outlet (City AM) reads as if it is in lala land.

      And per above, there is no path to “stay”. Oh yes, legally you can do it but there is no political route. Tell me how you propose to get there. Unicorns not allowed.

      1. orange cats

        About the silence of the business elites, I thought this was interesting from the Irish Times back in June: So why aren’t more executives going public? Those I have spoken to all point to the same set of reasons: no one wants to alarm shareholders and employees, nor alienate customers who voted to leave the EU. Many think the public mistrusts business so much that complaints will be impotent or counter-productive. There is also a surprisingly widespread belief that companies depending on government contracts or regulation risk retaliation.

        1. Anonymous2

          There are reports also that companies have been required by government to sign non-disclosure agreements. I am unsure in what circumstances the government has been able to impose these requirements and what they amount to. I guess it could be that if they want to continue to be able to look to government for business and/or help of any sort they have been told to sign a document which requires them to keep their mouths shut.

      2. Ataraxite

        As orange cats points out, one reason the business elites aren’t speaking out is because the UK government has pressured them, and also they do not wish to antagonise their buyers.

        A third reason is that Brexit is simply not an existential threat to multinational businesses. Sure, they’ll incur costs, but businesses have been moving production from country to country for decades now, and if they have to move manufacturing or services from the UK back to somewhere in the EU, they’ll eat the cost, but it won’t be the end of the world for them. (Unlike purely UK-based businesses, who are in for a very rough ride.)

  4. John Jones

    The big elephant still in the room is, to my mind, the preparedness ( or not) of the EU for a no deal Brexit.

    Anecdotally, it would appear that whilst some countries are better prepared than others to withstand a chaotic Brexit, others, like France are not.

    Manifestly the UK is not ready for a chaotic Brexit, but momentum is building for a final denouement of some sort.

    I’m of the view that there is relatively little cost in extending Article 50 – the problem is that whilst May is PM this isn’t going to happen. In addition, with the Civil contingencies unit being opened up to inpection, the bizarrely true awafulness of a no deal will probably just boost Project Fear into the atmosphere and make an accidental Brexit more likely .

    For these reasons, fig leaves from the EU can’t /won’t be forthcoming – there really has to be some serious preparations for a no deal – on both sides – oh Coe to Jesus sweet Children for the time is nigh.

    All roads lead to an Article 50 extension – no not ask or grant one is a dereliction of duty and all parties lose out.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please click through to the tweetstorm above. All reports prior to the one above have been that the EU would extend only for a real event like a general election. Even then, they most the EU has been rumored to be willing to give is to early July, and other reports have said two months maximum. The EU is absolutely not willing to let UK representatives be seated in the European Parliament if it might still be leaving.

      Now having said that, the EU might extend but only if it sees advantage. Wanting more crash out prep would be a reason.

      1. vlade

        Another point to make is that the UK _has_ to action.

        Even if the EU was to extend A50 unilateraly, w/o the UK asking, the leave-the-UK act is law, and it says the UK leaves the EU midnight March 29.

        There is no point in the EU acting until the UK gives a clear intention by removing this obstacle (which does NOT stop Brexit on its own – but it forces a no-deal Brexit unless someone acts).

        All the talk of no no-deal Brexit is fluff until someone proposes a bill to remove the date. No-one has done so. If we don’t see such a bill, the UK WILL be out on March 30.

        Now, legislation can be fast tracked. To the point where ALL legislative stages can fit in two days (one in Commons, one in Lords)*, possibly even one, and even Parliament be recalled to do so. But, as the Lords constitutional committee on the fast-tracked legislation found “the emergency legislation process is characterised, even more so than normal, by dominance of the Executive”. I.e. w/o the government cooperating, it requires even more cross-party cooperation. The “silent majority” of MPs that some allude to would have to cease to be silent and go against their party ledership. That would be truly unprecedented in the modern UK history.

        *) Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Security) Act 1998 had Parliament recalled and the act passed in two days. BANKING (SPECIAL PROVISIONS) ACT 2008 (aka “Northern Rock nationalisation bill”) was passed in two days. Interestingly enough, a lot of Northern Ireland legislation tends to get fast tracked, to the point that the Lords’ paper above asks ” HAS FAST-TRACKING BECOME ‘THE NORM’ IN NORTHERN IRELAND?”

        1. Ataraxite

          The EU cannot extend Article 50 unilaterally. Read the relevant part of Article 50:

          The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

          Only with UK agreement can the period be extended.

          1. John. Jones

            Agreed – but May will not ask – this will likely be a new PM. Unanimity required for. A50 extension .

        2. Ataraxite

          (Replying again as my previous reply disappeared into the aether.)

          It is not possible for the EU to unilaterally extend the Article 50 period. Here’s the relevant bit of the treaty:

          “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

          Note that “in agreement with the Member State concerned”. The UK must request an extension.

    2. flora

      Manifestly the UK is not ready for a chaotic Brexit,

      However, I think some financial elites referred to as ‘disaster capitalists’ or ‘disaster speculators’ are ready and possibly waiting for a chaotic Brexit. Their calculations go along the lines of ‘there is profit for us in chaos’.

  5. vlade

    Tyler Cowen says what had been said here before. If a relatively clear-cut problem such a Brexit takes poliics into a chaos, how can we hope to solve the complex problems like climate change etc?

    1. bruce wilder

      Is it “clear-cut”, let alone a “pure” form of decision, as Tyler claims as his premise? That seems a remarkably misguided way to describe a set of issues that have completely frustrated the efforts of politicians to formulate in a summary fashion that can then be rolled out into detailed policy and operational schemes.
      I think it would be easier to make the case that the EU has created a kind of “progress trap” in that members are so far down a certain path elaborating an architecture of governance, that any backing out entails systemic breakdown.
      If Britain chooses to even minimally avoid breakdown of systems (which is surely prudent in the short and maybe the medium-term), by adopting the WA, then it enters a limbo where it can never leave, even though it does not quite belong. It is hard to think of a political choice that I would be less likely to characterize as “pure”.

      And, if Britain, somewhat inadvertently, “accidentally” chooses instead “crash out” Brexit, it gets the systemic breakdown of demolishing an existing structure with only long-term prospects of constructing an alternative structure. At the margin, in the short-term, the costs and penalties will be certain and immediate.

      With no widely-shared architectural theory of Britain’s relationship to the world — that is, no viable alternative to the EU’s neoliberalism — any claims or hopes for the long-term seem seat-of-the-pants speculation. And, the actual Tory policy program at home suggests a certain viciousness. Not exactly the stuff of “pure” decision.

      1. vlade

        The reasons that led to Brexit are not the same things as what happens with Brexit.

        What happens with Brexit is clear cut – and it always was.

        The limbo you refer to is largerly due to the process the UK itself decided to do – to exit with no plan, not even a plan for a plan. We have been saying on this site repeatedly, that a really sucessfull Brexit would be possible only with a war-level planning and commitment. That is not what was happenign, the whole negotiation approach was “this is going to be the easiest negotiation ever”.

        Climate change is worse, as the second and third order effects are way less predictable, and there’s not just two parties to the negotiations.

    2. ChrisPacific

      A series of sci fi books by Cixin Liu beginning with ‘The Three Body Problem’ include a discussion of a similar question. (Mild spoilers follow).

      The premise arising from the conclusion of the first book is that an alien civilization has discovered Earth and is sending a fleet to destroy humanity and take over the planet, which will arrive in 500 years. Humanity is faced with the need to conduct a centuries-long war mobilization, including enough scientific research to match or surpass the technology of the invaders, while finding ways around a number of ingenious techniques the aliens have deployed to block them from doing so.

      The global response to this challenge takes many forms, mostly with recognizable equivalents in the present day. These include defeatism (we can’t win, we may as well just enjoy the time we have), escapism (we must build ships and find another planet to live on!) delusion (we’re so great already, the aliens can’t possibly match us) and nihilism (we want you to destroy us, how can we help?) Much of the content is taken up with exploring the psychological and political constraints on possible action.

    3. Ignacio

      I think Cowen doesn’t get it. Brexit, as all questions regarding nationalism, is not a clear-cut problem. It is emotional, something that economists cannot deal with, always sooo rational.

  6. Anonymous2

    Great coverage and commentary as usual. Thank you.

    BBC lunchtime radio news today was reporting strong pressure from other cabinet members on May to delay Tuesday’s vote. I don’t know whether to believe a word of it, such is the world of spin/lies that is now the UK.

    The argument seemed to be that May faces a potentially disastrous defeat on Tuesday so needs to go to Brussels to the Council meeting to ask for help. This could of course just be news management but you are left with the impression that, if the wheels have not yet come off, they are wobbling alarmingly.

  7. Nigel Goddard

    It’s amazing how fast political opinion can change. It’s also amazing how stupid people can be.

    The fundamental point, I think, is the UK (English really) as a society, and by that I mean the elites and the popular opinion they can muster, is engaged in a long-running self-redefinition, which will continue for years if not decades no matter what kind of (no)Brexit happens.

    I suspect there is not enough willingness to tolerate the damage of a no-deal result, but that may be because I live in Scotland where people are less deluded. And probably not enough clarity to forge a path to revocation of A50 as Yves says. So in the end it’s likely to be May’s deal. Which as David Allen Green points out, is just a postponenement of no-deal to 2022 (and four more years of lack of attention to the real problems)

  8. George Phillies

    Corbyn may possibly have noticed that the Brexit treaty debate is already going very badly for May, without his needing to contribute, and speaking up for an issue that will hurt many of his constituents is more voteworthy and central to his party’s theme.

    1. vlade

      A no-deal Brexit, will hurt ALL of his constituents. In fact, the _only_ people it’s unlikely to hurt is the top 0.1% (if anything, they will profit from it).
      Is the new Labour motto “for the very few, not the many”?

    2. Redlife2017

      Vlade – Whilst I know Brexit is supposed to be the only thing in town, people are very worried about Universal Credit. In Corbyn’s constituency it already is causing havoc and is only going to get much worse with the full role out in Islington in January. This is catastrophic. People (and their families) are becoming homeless now, people are not able to find food to feed their children now, people are committing suicide now. The Islington Council is bracing for the [family blog] storm that is going to roar through in the New Year. And Corbyn is very connected to his constituency.

      I know that Brexit is going to do the same thing (to the middle classes in that instance and it will be horrific as well), but there are multiple political cross-currents going on and each requires it’s time.

      1. vlade

        I understand that, believe me (and not only via articles like this).

        But a no-deal Brexit will make that worse – because for example it has a good chance of moving hundreds of thousands people on the Universal Credit. Some of them in his constituency. All of his constituency will suffer from higher prices, which will hit those that are already streched to the breaking point by UC even more.

        All Corbyn can do about UC right now is talk – and few, where it can make a difference, will pay any attention (he’s going to win his constituency in the next GE anyways. Those where it can make a difference can be very well distracted by Brexit)

        He *can* do something about Brexit (like, *gasp*, allowing some part of Labour to vote for May’s deal – not great, but better than no-deal. Or trying to get Tory soft-Brexit rebels to do something in coordination with other parties. But that’s hard when you have Labour elite saying they could not be a friend with Tory, ever).

        As you say, each of it requires it’s time. I can’t see an argument that the time to deal with Universal Credit is right now to the point of ignoring Brexit. Brexit, for better or worse, will not wait.

        To me that smells of rearranging deckchairs on Titanic, saying “Look! First class passengers have gone away, steerage lot can now come up and enjoy the air!”

          1. vlade

            I actually do suspect that’s his thinking.

            But unlike Corbyn, I have actually experienced two revolutions. Fortunately, the violent one not that closely, but it still wasn’t anything I’d wish on people. It was not fun being shot at, no matter what the movies show.

            Even the non-violent one failed to deliver most of what the people wanted at the time.

  9. larry

    There are two legal articles that have appeared over the past couple of days that are worth perusing. One by Geoffrey Robertson, ‘Keeping the Brexit legal advice secret is in no one’s best interests’, and the other by Jolyon Maugham, ‘Britain can legally cancel Brexit. That’s EU advice – but will parliament agree?’ — both in the Guardian. Robertson’s main point is that the situation between client and lawyer in the general civil sphere does not transfer to the situation between attorney-general and members of parliament. Cox’s legal advice seems to have been a personal missive to May herself.

  10. Brick

    Brick says

    If recent history tells us anything then it should be to expect the unexpected. What seems obvious to external watchers has become obscured to UK residents and politicians. This I think has it’s roots in politicians consistently making policy detail mistakes and being out of touch, in media competing for attention with snappy soundbites and headlines, and the resignation and disillusionment of the electorate. The electorate give more weight to peer group beliefs rather than anything else as a result.

    My crystal ball suggests a potential for a total mess. Firstly that the vote on the exit deal will result in the deal being rejected(mainly due to lack of guarantees for labour rights). There probably will not be a vote of no confidence in the government because the votes are not there. Neither do I think Theresa May will be challenged for similar reasons. Mrs May will have no option to call a referendum on whether the British public want a hard Brexit or soft Brexit, because the EU will not come back to the table. Despite reasoned arguments that the UK does not have its WTO Schedules sorted and while it wants to subsidize and keep the NHS, wants to protect its universities, and subsidize certain industries it will find it hard to do any free trade deals, simple boredom with Brexit will swing the vote for hard Brexit.

    Mrs May resigns and Boris takes over and the UK goes hard Brexit. The UK is initially is OK, but slowly is affected by trade squabbles about WTO schedules. Inflation exceeds wage rises and Boris has to cut welfare and lower business taxes to increase growth. International businesses slowly start to give up and pull out of the UK.As job losses rise we start to see unrest and eventually rioting. Votes of no confidence whether in Boris or his government fail. Rioting gets so bad Boris calls on the armed forces to keep peace on the streets. With the backing of the house lords and the royal family parliament is suspended by the armed forces who will refuse to intervene internally. The UK decides it will do without politicians and implement a block chain Ethereum solution to governing.

    In other words I will be pleasantly surprised if serious strategic mistakes are not made. Its about the only consistent thing we can expect from many UK politicians. More Unicorns just about sums things up.

  11. Tim Smyth

    A couple points that may have already been made.

    1. A LOT of the discussion about a second referendum is that the ONLY options would be May’s deal or Remain with NO DEAL NOT an option. It is debatable whether this is realistically but at least the people I have been following seem to be strongly hinting that this is how a second vote would occur.

    2. The UK would bear heavy losses in a unilateral revocation of article 50. The legal decision’s to move the EU agencies in London have already come into force and would require unanimous approval of the rest of the EU to undo(Maybe the Dutch would give back EMA but no way do the French give up EBA). Even more broadly the UK has lost a lot of political influence on the continent.

    3.It is possible to interpret the preliminary ECJ ruling as heavily restricting the UK’s ability to invoke article 50 ever again in our lifetimes. Any future article 50 invocation could be assumed to create no obligation unlike this one to negotiate any withdrawal agreement on the part of the rest of the EU. A future article 50 is essentially a no deal guaranteed.

    The interesting thing for me is whether once all of this comes into focus among remain supporters is whether their is some movement away from the idea of revoking article 50. Some in the unions like UNITE who are big supporters of Corbyn, are already putting pressure on Labour to find some type of face saving way to support May’s deal.

    1. fajensen

      The 2’nd referendum does not solve the problem, which is that parliament does not agree on anything and they will only go back to bickering & backstabbing after the 2’nd referendum since there is apparently nothing that can make them pull their sh*t together and get to work. The only way to break the parliamentary deadlock by way of the ballot is a general election themed on “Brexit Stance”.

      It is also the only way to “ask the people” given the deadline. If there is one thing the EU does not want is UK leaving late enough for the EU parliament being filled up with Nigel Farage characters (and much worse, like EDL)

      1. Clive

        I’m afraid the “Brexit General Election” fails the My Mother-in-Law Test. She, like an awful lot of others, simply vote on a tribalism basis. All her life (and she’s not the only one) she has voted Conservative. She’s not about to change the habits of a lifetime now. It is no use anyone saying she’s stupid or saying that “someone” should try to explain things better to her. For one thing she’s not stupid and there is an element of logic in what she does, even if it is perverse.

        And two, she’s 70, never been politically minded so it’s a little bit of a stretch to say that all that can suddenly be changed. And she not about to listen to what I say, her lived experience, to use the dreadful modern parlance, it completely different to mine — why should she take my word, or anyone’s word, for it?

        Plus, the U.K. system doesn’t work that way. Look at my constituency and explain how, even if I were to vote for anyone other than the Conservative candidate they would stand a hope in Hell of getting elected. I vote Labour as a rule, but where I live, that’s just a meaningless protest vote. And there’s nothing written anywhere that my Labour candidate has to offer any particular flavour of Brexit or even Remain. The avowedly Remain Liberal Democrat candidate might as well not bother turning up, such is their share of the vote.

        1. vlade

          Added to that, there’s zilch guarantee either of parties would win majority, or be even able to put togehter a realistic coalition (as in one that could agree on a shape of brexit).

        2. fajensen

          Maybe one can dig out some medieval rules about trial by combat? Have parliament fight it out literally? Livestream the event and have Ladbrokes set up live-betting on the proceedings? I think everyone could live with that (apart from a few organ-donors on the losing side of the debate).

        3. Ignacio

          My mother in law resembled yours until she passed away. And my voting experience is quite similar to yours. Being conservative is the default option once one has “settled”. If life changes and all the certainties are shaken is when one typically becomes ultra-conservative. Many so-called progressives when subjected to close scrutiny are just nostalgic conservatives that rebelled when younger.

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