Brexit: Chaos

In November, we said that Brexit look destined to produce a state change, when so much energy had been pumped into the system that it became chaotic, like water becoming steam.

The jaw-dropping 230 vote magnitude of the defeat of May’s Withdrawal Agreement was worse than even the pessimistic score-keepers expected. This was a Napoleon-goes-to-Moscow level defeat, the worst loss a Government has ever suffered on a major vote.

Despite this epic defeat, May is expected to survive a no-confidence vote today, which she pressed the opposition to lodge. It was the one fillip she could get. The Tories aren’t about to hand power to Labour and the DUP will vote with them. But the spectacle of a complete failure as a leader still soldiering on is without precedent in the UK.

The UK is in the midst of a legitimacy crisis. Reader David summed it up well:

…. can I suggest that non-UK (and non-European) readers pay attention over the next week or so, at least? You’re about to see the unfolding of a political crisis the like of which happens in the Western world once a generation, if that. The combination of an essentially insoluble problem, an incompetent government, an enfeebled civil service, a bitterly divided political system, and government by convention and precedent rather than constitution, has produced a situation in which almost any outcome, including the most extreme, is possible. The effects on the British political system (and whether, indeed, it survives at all) are the real issue here, not Brexit, no matter how important that objectively is. Whilst I think the “sleepwalking” idea from the Grauniad is overstated, a more dangerous, related, worry is that Britain has had hundreds of years of political stability, and people assume that such stability (itself preceded by violence and revolution) will just go on forever. It may, but it also might not. And whereas in France, Spain or Germany, say, violent changes of political system are understood and lived with, that’s not the case in Britain.

Politico took up the same theme:

British politics is broken. It may not be fixable in time to solve the Brexit mess.

The U.K. wakes up Wednesday with a government unable to govern — in office, but without the numbers to fulfill its central purpose: a negotiated exit from the European Union.

A defeat of previously unimaginable proportions Tuesday — 432 to 202 — has left the country adrift, floating towards no deal, with no party or faction in parliament able to command a majority for any way of moving off the course it has set for itself. The only thing MPs can agree strongly on is a desire to avoid an economically damaging no deal, but they currently can’t settle on a mechanism for how to do so.

And I hate to be mean to Labour, but they deserve it. Corbyn is still fixated on the idea of triggering a GE and taking power when he’s still deep in unicorn phase. Even last weekend, Corbyn finally conceded that Brexit might need to be delayed in the event of a general election, and then didn’t back down when he was asked how he could negotiate a new deal in three months. So Corbyn and May are stuck on the exact same failed strategy that they can somehow wrest a better deal from Brussels. And the patter that Corbyn has served up for what kind of deal he wants makes the Tory cakeism of 2018 look modest. From the Andrew Marr show on Sunday:

As a very minimum, a customs arrangement with the European Union that gives us a say in what goes on but that also avoids the whole issues of the problems of Northern Ireland, which this deal does. Secondly access to the market, the single market, which is crucial, as you were asking the Brexit Secretary earlier. Job losses in Jaguar Land Rover and other places as a consequence of this. And thirdly absolute legal protection of rights, consumer and environmental, and a guarantee that we’re not going to allow British companies to fall behind European standards in order to entice in American investment in the NHS and all those kind of issues that you know are felt very strongly about in the Labour Party.

Recall the Blairite wing has its own unicorn of a second referendum, which none other than Tony himself was pushing hard for a while.

While Blair appears to have gone back into his crypt, John Major surfaced in a op-ed in The Times. His proposal at least procedurally and time-table wise isn’t crazy. He argues for revoking A50 to have a second referendum. But the idea of revoking Article 50 is so far from anything the realm of perceived-to-be-viable options that it’s not included in polls. It’s not hard to imagine the uproar if any Cabinet minister or prominent MP were to propose this seriously.

Now that isn’t to say that that idea could not be sold to the public. Historical examples show that intense propaganda campaigns can achieve major shifts in popular views in as little as six weeks. But who would wield that megaphone? Normally it’s the government. This one won’t and Labour won’t sell that message either.

The EU is sticking to its guns. PlutoniumKun flagged an RTE story saying that EU leaders were actually relieved by the magnitude of the defeat, since it meant that it was obvious that there was no point in further negotiations.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Twitter diplo-speak a Plan B, like calling the whole thing off, might be in order:

Jean-Claude Junkcer’s formal statement threw cold water on any hope UK hope that the defeat would shock the EU into making concessions:

On the EU side, the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement continues.

The Withdrawal Agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union…

The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.

I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible.

The “ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement continues” is wonderfully deadly.

The Guardian’s live blog didn’t have much better news from the Continent this morning. For instance:

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas says the ball is now in Britain’s court to bring clarity to the chaos…

Extending Article 50 would be complicated in the light of upcoming European elections, he said, and anyway, an extension would require a clear idea as to what London wanted.

“It will only make sense if there’s a way which has as its goal to reach a deal between the EU and Britain and at the moment there’s not a majority viewpoint in the British parliament”.

And this tidbit:

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a deputy leader of the liberal group in the European parliament, is sticking to the Brussels line that this crisis is for the UK to sort out.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast she said: “We got a lot of questions last night saying ‘what is the EU going to do now’. Well all the options have been on the table, it is for the UK now to decide what to do. I would strongly recommend all the parties to come together and unite in the interest of the UK.”

May does not appear to be changing course either. Well, that’s not completely fair. In her speech after her defeat, she did show a willingness to work with Labour. But this is still mind-bogggling:

…if the House confirms its confidence in this Government, I will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our confidence and supply partner the Democratic Unionist party, and senior parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House. The Government will approach those meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House.

Thirdly, if those meetings yield such ideas the Government will then explore them with the European Union.

Mr Speaker, I want to end by offering two reassurances. The first is to those who fear that the Government’s strategy is to run down the clock to 29 March. That is not our strategy. I have always believed that the best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal, and I have devoted much of the past two years to negotiating such a deal. As you confirmed, Mr Speaker, the amendment to the business motion tabled last week by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) is not legally binding, but the Government respect the will of the House. We will therefore make a statement about the way forward and table an amendable motion by Monday.

The second reassurance is to the British people who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two and a half years ago. I became Prime Minister immediately after that referendum. I believe it is my duty to deliver on their instruction and I intend to do so.

And in case you thought May might have softened her message with her tone of voice, Richard North points out:

In terms of her demeanour, the prime minister did not come across as defeated. If she was “humiliated”, as some would have it, she didn’t show it. If anything, she seemed more determined and uncompromising than she had been before the vote.

Clever of May to respect the three-day demand rather than the 21 days she was allowed in the Withdrawal Act. But she can’t come up with anything meaningfully different in such a short time, save maybe petitioning the EU for an extension. But doing that also requires primary legislation, at a minimum amending the hard coding of the Brexit date in the Withdrawal Act.

And recall that the EU has to agree, and the EU has previously said they won’t extend unless the UK has a “settled view” of what it wants. Philip Hammond does appear to have gotten that message, but that doesn’t mean he’s in a position to speak for the government, as the subhead of this Financial Times story underscores ‘Parliament’s pantomime’ greeted with corporate fury as no-deal messages from ministers clash :

Meanwhile, the chancellor set out the sequencing by which Article 50 could be extended, delaying Brexit. He said the EU would not consider it unless and until the government had a clear plan — drawn up by MPs of various parties — that would have to be agreed before an extension could be requested. 

The government was in no mood to consider “unicorn” requests, he added.

Politico’s morning European newsletter derided May’s planned next steps:

WELCOME TO DAY 1 OF A NO-DEAL BREXIT. The British parliament voted down Prime Minister Theresa May’s agreement with the EU for an orderly Brexit. Her government now hopes to renegotiate the deal, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC in an (excruciating, for him) interview. The gist of what Theresa May’s government now wants: For the EU to get serious on what it is ready to give in exchange for an orderly separation. Really.

Really! There’s still hope in London that Brussels just hasn’t taken Brexit seriously so far, but will now do so in response to the devastating defeat for a plan the EU never wanted to be activated in the first place (but has spent the past two and a half years negotiating).

Odds of a deus ex machina are low. Richard Smith and I spoke today and neither he nor I see a mechanism for the situation changing. I had an argument with some Americans via e-mail who were insistent that John Bercow would enable Parliament to wrest the steering wheel from May.

May is very wedded to delivering Brexit. And she still seems to think someone will blink if she persists. The only thing that might change this dynamic is if the UK gets an extension and the idea of an Article 50 revocation gets traction in a big way in the coming months. But what is that path by which that occurs? Businesspeople, who you’d expect to have been making a forceful public case for the costs of Brexit, have been almost entirely missing in action. So perhaps I am suffering from a lack of imagination, but despite the high drama of yesterday;s vote, nothing fundamental has yet changed.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Chaos! What chaos? As per, there will be a debate, sponsored by former bankster and bankster owned MEP Vicky Ford, about post office boxes between Prime Minister’s Questions and the vote of confidence debate. It’s great to see that the Brits have not lost their sense of humour. I was worried about returning from warmer climes last week-end, but am delighted that I did.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      There is one force in UK politics which might restore sanity and stability, yet nobody has even mentioned it – the monarchy. England still has a Queen, and she still has power. Of course, if she was to use it and fail to effect “remain,” it would end the pretense of a monarchy. But if successful,……

  2. liam

    Yves, thank you once again.

    It appears everyone is hearing what they want to hear. The rise in sterling stood out for me. I listened to traders, (now I don’t know if they’re just looking for marks), speaking about how the size of the defeat makes a hard brexit less likely, not more likely. It made me wonder about whether it is still the notion in many minds that a no-deal brexit is inconceivable.

    Regarding Labour, I have just one observation. The constraints of any Labour administration would be different. I would expect them to cut Northern Ireland loose, or at least put the DUP in its place. However, like yourself, I expect Teresa May will survive and the Tories will trundle on, so the point is probably moot.

    The Irish government is starting to face real, (and in my view, warranted), criticism for lack of no deal preparations. Like sterling traders, I think they’ve been blinded by the notion of boundaries, and hadn’t considered quite how messed up UK politics has become. I’m hoping that unlike sterling traders, it’s finally sunk in.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I still can’t believe that sterling hasn’t crashed. I don’t know if its mass delusion, or that they know something we don’t know. I find it bizarre, but then again, its not my area of expertise.

      Just to show the level of delusion, it was reported yesterday that Marks and Spencers are cutting back on shops and making redundancies – but not in their (very profitable) stores in Ireland. All those are supplied directly daily with prepared foods from the UK. They seem to think everything will be ok.

      The Irish government were in a quandary for the last year – they didn’t want to prepare for a no-deal because of the optics, they wanted to appear to be 100% focused on a deal. It was a gamble, and it didn’t pay off. Now they are going into panic mode. Certainly, plans have been made (more detailed than UK ones), especially with ferries and flights, but they are still way behind on recruitment and infrastructure.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          He also agreed with economists that a deal will unlock withheld investment by the UK and foreign businesses and could ultimately set the UK up to be the fastest growing major economy in 2019.

          What Keen doesn’t seem to realise is that the UK has had a significant boost in the last year due to companies stockpiling in the event of post-Brexit shortages. In reality I think a recession could be caused by a run-down of stocks alone (independently of all other factors).

          He also buys into the notion that a devaluation is good for the UK economy. The problem, as Yves has pointed out before, is that the UK has run down its physical stock so much that there is no capacity to take advantage of more manufactured exports, and services are not that sensitive to currency changes. A big devaluation would provide a boost to UK agriculture and tourism, but neither are big enough sectors to compensate.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Thanks for the reminder – where is he by the way? I always enjoyed his contributions, but he seems to have gone very quiet lately.

          1. larry

            An amusing feature of the stockpiling, if I can say that, is that pharmaceuricals have been in competition with Amazon for warehouse space. I just couldn’t prevent myself laughing when I heard that.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I didn’t go on about the e-mail argument I had yesterday over Brexit after May’s loss, but it was with Ed Harrison and Marshall Auerback. They were absolutely adamant that there would be a second referendum: “Everyone is for it and no one wants a no-deal”. No willingness to hear that there isn’t time or even that the polls don’t show majority support for a second referendum. And then Harrison went on about Major’s proposal of revoking A50 to allow a referendum, of course THAT would happen.

        So the even normally smart finance people are just as deranged as the MPs.

        This is similar to the reactions I got, BTW, when I predicted that Greece and the Troika would not agree over the bailout in 2015. I was dismissed angrily as a nutter for thinking such a thing, of course sensible heads would prevail and there would be a deal.

        Part of this is finance type have drawn the wrong lesson from the crisis. All sorts of things were cobbled together at the last minute. But they weren’t done via legislation, save in the US for the TARP, and that was a small part of the total bailout mechanisms. You can do quite a lot with a central bank in your corner.

        1. vlade

          I’d be very careful on polls – some show a majority support for it, some don’t.

          For example, this says it has a majority of 60%, and there are similar polls floating around (this was on YouGov data, there’s another for Independent about 4 days old etc.). Of course, each side quotes their own prefered polls, but leave (the extreme one) tends to play with the fact fast and lose

          (I’ve seen a tweet which picked up one of many questions asked, where options were being compared, and put it as clear “people want to leave” when the poll when looked at in detail was a much more ambiguous).

          It’s very clear that revoking A50 to allow a referendum is a no-go zone, as the ECJ ruling says that the A50 can be only revoked if it was done unconditionally and in a good faith – which that would break with prejudice.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Question on that 60% poll is hugely biased: “If MPs can’t agree”. If you ask, “What do you think of the job Donald Trump is doing?” versus “What do you think of the job Donald Trump is doing as President?” the second formulation will boost approval rates by 10 points on average.

            That is where the UK looks to be winding up but that’s a crap question.

            Having said that, with more MPs banging on about a second referendum, it’s likely to keep gaining support in the polls.

          2. Anders K

            Wasn’t it just the preliminary opinion that contained language about “in good faith” which was then notably absent from the actual ruling? Perhaps a small difference, but that might be what the “A50 revocation then resubmission” are counting on.

              1. shtove

                From the horse’s mouth:

                “Article 50 TEU must be interpreted as meaning that, where a Member State has notified the European Council, in accordance with that article, of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, that article allows that Member State — for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between that Member State and the European Union has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period laid down in Article 50(3) TEU, possibly extended in accordance with that paragraph, has not expired — to revoke that notification unilaterally, in an unequivocal and unconditional manner, by a notice addressed to the European Council in writing, after the Member State concerned has taken the revocation decision in accordance with its constitutional requirements. The purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.”

                No requirement of good faith. No requirement, contrary to what the AG stated in parliament yesterday, to provide evidence that the UK would be cancelling its departure from the EU – the Art.50 procedure ends automatically on receipt of a valid notice. And, in my view, no requirement to get parliament’s permission, since the principle in the Miller case, on rights created by parliament, is irrelevant. So May can do it in an instant all by herself. That’s a heavy load.

                ps. May can also alter the exit day in the Withdrawal Act by herself, but the question is whether she can seek the necessary extension without parliament’s permission – highly debatable. I could see her getting the extensions, then revoking.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  I don’t believe that May can issue an A-50 withdrawal notice herself, because it would contrary to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. This Act would have to be rescinded, and only Parliament can do that.

                  1. vlade

                    I believe those are two separate items that BOTH would have to happen. Just doing one of them would not be enough.
                    I.e. to revoke EUWA, and rescind A50.

                    In fact, the former (partial, removing the hardcoded leave date) would have to happen even for A50 extension.

                    1. David

                      Much depends on what is meant by “take a decision” in the judgement.As I said earlier (now lost somewhere at the bottom of the page I think) what would happen is that the government would announce that it was planning to withdraw the Art 50 notification, as soon as the Cabinet had agreed to do so. This would not change the legal situation with regard to the WA, but it would change the political situation completely. In addition, as has happened in previous episodes when Europe was contentious, in the 1960s and 70s, there would be visits to Brussels, informal sounding out of key partners, and letters explaining what the government proposed to do, all intended to create a head of steam that wold then be difficult to resist. There’s obviously an important legal difference between sending a formal notice of withdrawal and sending a letter saying that’s what you are going to do, but the political difference is much less.

                    2. shtove

                      From the EU’s point of view (and in public international law) only one has to happen, ie. receipt of valid notice of revocation.

                      If the other matters – the UK’s constitutional mess – then I think Queenie will be having some squeaky-bum time as the injunctions pile up. Worth paying for, even if we all perish in the inferno!

              2. Hayek's Heelbiter

                Wait a minute, wasn’t the Referendum a clear exercise of “democratic process”? Why is there even discussion of a second referendum?

                What is democratic about elected rule-makers going against the will of the people?

                Or is it me who’s living in Alice-in-Wonderland?

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  The Referendum was always ‘advisory’ because there is nothing within the British constitution that allows for referenda. In the UK system, Parliament is Sovereign, that means it always has the last word. Parliament is elected too of course.

                  You might just as well argue that the Referendum should be rescinded because the previous Referendum (the one that led to EU membership) was the will of the people.

                  1. Darthbobber

                    Scotland Indyref was a “binding” referendum, but only because the enabling parliamentary legislation stipulated that this would be the case.

                    The Brexitref was not “legally” binding, but when you decide to conduct (with great fanfare) a referendum, and when the government and the opposition parties all make a big deal in advance of how they will respect the outcome, then you do paint yourself into a corner from which all escape routes involve potential political suicide.

                2. Darthbobber

                  Well, if asking the people once precludes asking them ever again, why wouldn’t asking them once who their representatives should be preclude asking them again? One person. One vote. One time.

                3. FKorning

                  a vote called by a minority government (no mandate to call referrenda), where a significant part of the population was disenfranchised – the youth, and most importantly european residents, in clear violation of treaties, on a constitutional issue (which in sane referrenda would require a 2/3 absolute majority), spun by unchecked pools of dark money poured into disinformation and partisan propaganda, where people were told it was non-binding, encouraging protest votes. sure. democracy – without the demos bit. this is an orchestrated coup.

                  1. Fazal Majid

                    Wasn’t the second referendum part of the platform of Cameron’s second government (the one where he got rid of the LibDem coalition)? If so, he got a mandate to hold the referendum as far as the UK parliamentary system is concerned, even if his share of the popular vote was less than a plurality.

        2. Avidremainer

          Yes we are in a sorry state. There appears to be no hope of wiser heads prevailing.
          It took 5 votes of no confidence to bring Jim Callaghan’s government down in 1979. It was the parliamentary equivalent of a war of attrition. The current Labour Party’s tactic is to repeat Mrs Thatcher’s tactics and wear Mrs May down. The trouble is that unless the Tories split it could take too long to make the Tories give up the will to live. If Corbyn had started the process in December ’18, when May shamelessly pulled the meaningful vote, then there might have been time but now?
          Mere anarchy?

        3. Jim A.

          The whole “events march inexorably forward but everybody thinks that sanity will prevail nonetheless,” reminds me of how another Balkan crisis turned into the First World War. Not that I think we’ll have that sort of violence, but this has the same sort of step by step progression to horror that nobody seems to be able to stop. People either don’t believe it will be all THAT bad, or they believe that it will be SO bad that surely somebody will find a way to stop it. In the meantime the calendar keeps speeding by.

        4. disillusionized

          I think you are on point with the Greek experience – The UK will be taken to the brink, and when Mr market has his tantrum then the parliamentarians will move.
          The question is if that happens before the crash or not. Sadly way to many UK MP’s, seemingly sincerely, believe that no deal is fine, and or that it’s actually the UK that’s holding the cards. The scary part are the numbers of Tory members who believe that –

          On a personal note i have gone a roller-coaster on brexit, first thinking it was a stupid idea, and that the UK shouldn’t do it, to thinking that it’s a stupid idea but if they want to feel free, to please leave, to now please crash out. I fear that with the negotiated settlement dead, article 50 revocation and then a permanently bitter UK left in the EU is a terrible, but plausible outcome. The only way this argument will ever be settled is presumably by crashing out and then having reality descend on the UK.

        1. Bugs Bunny

          I imagine those French M&S food shops will shut down a week before Brexit. Too bad, love the crumpets.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Vidimi,.

              I thought the clothes shops on the Champs-Elysees and at Levallois-Perret had closed. The food shops, as in Blighty, are keeping the rest afloat.

              The food shop at Palais des Congres / Porte Maillot has stiff competition across the corridor.

              1. FKorning

                The So-West and BeauGrenelle are going Strong, as is WH Smiths, which in Paris is an upmarket bookstore rather than a cheap stationery and magazine stand.

                1. Lambert Strether

                  So, we get the ground truth of M&S in France from one commenter, and then another commenter confirms it, also from the ground in France.

                  The NC commentariat is the best commentariat.

          1. David

            They came back, and last year announced that they were partially pulling out again. Typical of the British …..

      2. liam

        Whilst I can understand the quandary, they really did leave a very large hostage to fortune. I really do suspect that they applied far too large a discount on the possibility of no-deal. Well, we’ll see…

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      A Labour government would not have enough time to do anything.

      Even if May lost a vote of no confidence, next comes 14 calendar days to try to pass a motion of confidence.

      Then you have the election process, which is a minimum of 25 working days.

      That’s 7 weeks.. Then even assuming there wasn’t another scramble to form a coalition to govern, you still have another week at least for “new government” stuff. Nothing happens till after the Queen’s Speech.

      So you have eight weeks of no progress, actually no activity. How do you pass primary legislation to undo the Brexit hard coding in the Withdrawal Act? Ask the EU for an extension? Formally, it’s the head of state that has to ask the EU. How does that happen when no one is at home? The government goes into caretaker mode until a new government is formed.

      But even assuming that is somehow finessed, the new government isn’t operational till mid-March. Maximum extension the EU will give is till early July. Corbyn is fixated on his unicorn that he can negotiate a better deal with the EU when his remarks are as bad as the worst early-stage Tory cakeism. He’s not even serious about what the issues are.

      He can’t get anything done in 3 1/2 months and he won’t. And would Corbyn revoke A50? Like May, he’s promised to deliver Brexit.

      1. vidimi

        Labour could revoke article 50, if that’s what they were campaigning on. unfortunately, corbyn has been very pro-brexit, so if labour were to go that route, it would be seen as a massive betrayal. while there’s a lot to like about corbyn, he has rather infamously snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on brexit.

      2. liam

        Thanks Yves. Your point is well made. As I noted, I think the point is moot anyway, and even more so given the time constraints. That Corbyn is so deep in unicorn territory has been bothering me. I can’t help wondering is it a marker of things. Kind of like the reaction of sterling. A kind of schizophrenic response, (apologies to schizophrenic sufferers), whereby there’s a baked in inevitable outcome that is somehow understood, and so the rest is all theatre. A sort of political crisis for the age of hypermedia, where we have this bifurcated self, within which each part of self suspends disbelief in order to accommodate all other parts; like some platonic cave, with the world a play of shadows.
        Mass delusion really is a sight to behold.

        1. chuck roast

          Yes, beyond the “Backstop” lurks age olde “Irish Question.”
          Only a Liverpoodlian could explain it.

          I remember reading an article many years ago on the olde question by Connor Cruise O’Brien. It was O’Brien’s contention that the people of the Republic would be fools to embrace Irish unity. After all he opined, what healthy body or peaceful body-politic would voluntarily ingest cancer.

          1. Monty

            The only reason any Tories in Westminster care about the “Irish Question”, is that the DUP is providing their majority status. Remove that shackle, and the problem goes away from their perspective.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Liam.

      I reckon that any administration will be so overwhelmed by the fall out from Brexit, that Northern Ireland will be as irrelevant as what’s left of the tropical colonies.

      There are still other Unionists to contend with, not just the DUP. One of the big aristocratic landowners in Northern Ireland owns land in Scotland. His father got his brother in law, an historian nicknamed Dishy Dan, to organise a petition to oppose IndyRef as the family feared a Mugabe land grab of their Sutherland estate (Reay). That family is well connected with the Tory Party (a dozen ministers), military (a dozen former generals and admirals), secret service (a cousin headed MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller) and the media.

      Also, does the Republic really want a sullen DUP base just yet when it will be grappling with the fall out from Brexit. I say this as a supporter of Irish unity.

      Labour should pick its battles carefully. The above permanent and deep state await, ready to ambush.

      1. liam

        God I don’t know. Without major constitutional change I could see an absolute disaster taking the North onboard. And I say that as a supporter of Irish unity also. The only way I could conceivably see it working would be to go to a provincial (federal) structure with massively distributed competencies. That alone would do us good, but with the likes of the DUP on board, I fear the whole exercise would be reduced to an extended, protracted and violent renegotiation of the border. It wouldn’t surprise me in that scenario to find MI5 involvement either.

        Thanks Colonel. Another point well made.

        1. makedoanmend

          My 2 cents.

          The border question re unification isn’t a starter at this juncture. It’s just too complicated for all parties concerned – including Sinn Fein. The EU wants clarification at all levels right now. As PK reported via RTE, both the Irish government and the EU were happy that the deal was voted down so heavily. It clarified the situation. The EU will avoid, imho, anything that muddies the waters at this stage.

          However, I have noticed in some article and reports on RTE and the Irish Times (the official voices of the governing class and their electorate) references by establishment authors about the cavalier attitude of the UK on the ramifications of the GFA via Brexit. The GFA is seen by many in the Irish business community as a great boon to economic stability and investment. It almost part of the myth of the Celtic Tiger.

          Needless to say, even such muted criticism of the UK would have been verboten previously from this cohort in the past.

          Therefore, and given that the nationalist community in the North is not on any politic party’s radar in the South, it might be in the interest of Fine Gael and the rest to let the economic chickens come home to roost if a crash out occurs. It would allow the economics to dictate the run of play whilst shielding the Southern politicians from direct responsibility.

          What ever happens, the dynamic between these peripheral European islands in the West Atlantic has changed. What Brexit has set in motion will not be stopped at this juncture, even if Brexit were to be cancelled tomorrow. Predictions, as we can’t know how the new variables will react amongst each other, are pretty tenuous at the moment.

          1. liam

            I think that’s fairly well reasoned and I suspect you’re correct. The only problem with it that I see is events. Just like across the water, there’s an internal and quite emotional logic to these things, that can quite easily overwhelm rational voices. These are historical narratives playing out. This is why the EU is so attractive to so many. It’s an institution with the weakest of narratives if it has any at all. The impartial observer so to speak. Thanks makedoanmend.

          2. PlutoniumKun

            I’d agree with this – SF see a huge opportunity in a crash out Brexit, but they certainly do not want to jump the gun with a border poll, and they know full well that a chaotic reunification will be a disaster for them as much as anyone else.

            And yes, the Irish establishment have had a huge wake up call in this. I’ve found it amusing how so many have found their inner Republican. I think that discovering just what both the DUP and many in England thought of them was a rude awakening – previously I compared it to a rich spoiled kid overhearing his parents discuss about how much they really loath him and wish they’d had an abortion when they had a chance. Only the pathetic Stephen Collins (political writer for the Irish Times) clings to his old illusions.

            It has had the effect of ensuring that Ireland is even more firmly tied to the EU project, through thick and thin. The interesting dynamic is whether NI, Scotland, and even Wales, try to tag on in its wake (the leader of Plaid Cymru was suggesting just that in an interview on RTE radio last week).

            1. vidimi

              that’s a terrible analogy. i would say it’s like a redheaded stepchild overhearing her adoptive parents discuss splitting their estate among only their natural-born children despite telling her they love them all equally.

              1. Tony Wright

                Er, speaking literally as a red-haired stepchild……
                I still think that May could still go down as the greatest charade player of the 21st. Century ; mechanism as per shtove above. At the last possible hour:
                “Sorry, everyone, we have done our best, but we simply cannot make Brexit work. We therefore revoke Article 50 forthwith”.
                We will as per the proper process initiate a second referendum with sufficient time allowed for a thorough public debate of the relevent issues which arise. Such debate having been largely absent within the first referendum campaigns which were characterised by simplistic sloganeering.
                The result would be public uproar on the part of brexiteers of all shades. However that would almost certainly be preferable to the economic chaos and ensuing breakdown of law and order, together with the vulture-like oligarchal opportunism , that would result from a no deal brexit.
                Remember, before this debacle was initiated, Theresa May was a Remainer.
                And since when have politicians really been held accountable for promises broken? Not in my 65 years on this planet.

      2. shtove

        Yes, I think the Skripal affair has revealed just how active the posho military types are, right across public life. Wouldn’t surprise me if we see more direct activity.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you.

          It’s not just Skripal.

          These posh types co-founded and own SCL, parent of Cambridge Analytica, and were also involved with Bell Pottinger (who used to invite me for client suppers at the Cavalry & Guards Club).

          Carol Codswallop and the other useful idiots at the Grauniad and Channel 4 don’t dare look higher.

          Please see my earlier reply to Liam about the permanent state.

          1. WJ

            Hopefully the Integrity Institute will reveal that the past 500 years of British history leading to this mess was all a Russian ploy to undermine Western democracy.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, WJ.

              I forgot to mention II.

              There have been others going back to the 1960s, all sharing the nexus of posh officers and, sometimes, less posh, but wannabe business types.

      3. FKorning

        No amount of justification will change the fact that the ulstermen are basically laland scotts mercenaries, for whom “land was made available” by ethnic cleansing and subjugation of the native irish.

        I hope no one missed the DUP flattering itself of receiving yet more investment in today’s proceedings (mercenaries to the end).

        Their time has come.

        1. Darthbobber

          But even further in the past than our own much more recent seizure of a large chunk of North America from its inhabitants.

          If we’re going back 300 years, there’s a lot of territory on this planet occupied by different groups than those who controlled it then.

          1. FKorning

            By that token British India was older still. Time of occupation doesn’t trump demographic and cultural realities.

            It’s worth noting that the 10 seats of the DUP kingmakers alllowed her to cling by a fingernail. Had they flipped, that would be -10 on her side and +10 on the opposition, beating this 19 vote margin with a single vote for NO Confidence.

            The DUP, a mere fringe party, which was illegally financed to the tune of 800K£ by shady groups last GE if I recall, once again used to usurp democracy. And the unashamably asked for more blood money.

            Recent elections and plebiscites in the UK have been so rigged it’s lookimg like Jeb Bush’s Florida.

            The DUP and their backers need yo be brought to justice.

    4. vidimi

      i think sterling’s rise is due to a comment may made about cancelling brexit should she lose the vote. while the likelihood of a hard brexit went dramatically up, so too did the likelihood of no brexit. i would peg it now at 90-10

      1. larry

        She didn’t quite say this: “a comment may made about cancelling brexit should she lose the vote”. She listed this as an option. Admittedly, she has never been quite so explicit about this option before. I think it was reasonably clear that she was attermpting to put the frighteners on some of her opponents. It doesn’t appear to have worked.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, she said when she came back with her deal in November that there were only three choices, her deal, no deal, or no Brexit. So this isn’t the first time she’s mentioned no Brexit as a possibility. And then she meant it as a threat, and I would hazard she still means it as a threat.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    The Guardian has a poll of its writers asking for ideas and its clear from the answers that even those very close to the action are clueless as to how serious it is.

    I honestly don’t see a way out. There will be no election and I think its highly unlikely that May will lose the confidence vote, which means she stays in power. The ambitious Brexiteers will be happy to sit back and let her take the flack for a few months or more before they put her out of her misery and they fight among themselves for the leadership (in their delusion, they are probably thinking there will be a post Brexit boom next year). And its clear she has neither the inclination or authority to push through an A.50 revocation. May has lost any shred of authority she had in Parliament or the country, but it looks like she can’t be shifted and she won’t go voluntarily. Not that a new Tory face is likely to be much better.

    There is no majority in Parliament for any viable option and no chance of one before March. Which means a no-deal.

    I think the EU will grant an extra 3 months extension in the hope that some sort of dynamic changes. But I honestly don’t see where that change will come from. From the EU’s point of view, there seems little benefit from allowing endless extensions (leaving to one side the issue of the EU Parliament elections in June). They want enough time to prepare for a crash out, and after that they want to wash their hands of it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, the EU will agree if nothing else to get more prep time, but they won’t want to look keen about granting one. Not sure how they will manage the optics.

    2. Anders K

      Agreed. It is now becoming apparent (not in the UK Parliament, though) that getting a new deal from the EU or an extension for Magic Funtime Brexittalk (UK remix) is not going to happen.

      The EU is consistent in saying “no extension without a plan.” I do agree that the EU is not prepared for no-deal; how much the EU leadership is aware of this remains to be seen – and it is here that the “interesting times” start to roll. It is likely that the UK will be able to get an extension. One. Once. Probably right up until, say, a week before the EU election – but that is AFAIK in May, not June. If an extension is granted until after May the MEP election will go ahead (once again, AFAIK) which might lead to a rather weird experience for the UK – why are we electing MEPs? Aren’t we leaving?
      I am sure that some Ultras will blame the EU for not allowing the UK MEPs to remain after any Brexit (EU is punishing us for leaving!)

      What my rambling is meant to convey is that an extension may happen, but only if the EU leadership are actually aware of the problems of EU/UK transport/customs. The performance of the UK politicians has made me leery of overestimating all politicians competence (after all, even if the EU pols are more competent than the UK ones, that is not a particularly high bar to clear).

      For Ireland, I suspect the EU has, at this point, decided that “the internal border in Ireland is part of the GFA; let us blame the UK for its breach to the WTO if necessary in case of no-deal Brexit so we avoid the responsibility short term” and if a no-deal happens, sloooooowly start building border infrastructure while attempting to get an Irish reunification going and/or a border in the sea.

      1. vlad/e

        Technically, the EP convenes in July, but promptly goes into recess. The real stuff starts late August. The costs of holding EU elections in the UK would be on the UK.

        Which is why I believe that the EU would be willing to grant extension till about mid August (while huffing and puffing). Anymore but that is extremely dubious. Yves doesn’t think even that is viable.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The reason I don’t think so is no one on the EU side has said anything like that to a reporter. Plus on the UK side, in one of the many articles I can never find a second time thanks to the state of Google, the Torygraph had a story which claimed the Government’s lawyer (based on their reading of the European Parliamentary schedule) determined the latest an extension could go was July 11.

          1. vlade

            Guardian had something like that earlier his week, which North quoted (and seemed to agree with July cutoff). That was about the technical extension, and I believe that it could stretch for a few more weeks – but really not more than mid August (a quote from “an European diplomat” – ‘The first session of the parliament is in July. You would need UK MEPs there if the country is still a member state. But things are not black and white in the European Union.’)

            The “unnamed EU source” (make of it what you will) also said that for something like GE or a referendum, even longer extension would be possible.

          2. larry

            Last night, the VP of the EP, in t’ veld, said as a kind of aside to Matt Frei of Channel 4 News that an extension past July was possible under certain conditions without the UK being involved in the elections. Should the UK reject leaving, then it could hold its own elections to the EP. But the main point made to Frei was that the UK had now to tell the EU what it wanted. And the vote against the WA had to be dissected in order to assess why voters voted the way they did. This would apparently inform the EU about how to respond in a more nuanced way. A number of the things Cox said in his quite long speech were rubbish. He is not to be trusted. I’d trust Grieve more than Cox.

        2. Fazal Majid

          The EU doesn’t care about having UK MEPs with the half-life of a mayfly. They do care about the elaboration of the EU’s next budget cycle, and the UK remaining in half-limbo, Schrödinger’s cat like would wreak havoc with that process.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        You are right it may be May. I’ve read people arguing it could be until July but May was mooted about earlier. Robert Peston said July based on his sources. Around the same time, the BBC EU reporter IIRC said June based on hers.

        The EU legal boffins will probably now get serious about figuring out what the max is. The divergence in dates is likely due to no one having developed an official view.

        Re your last point, Macron made some very scattered comments yesterday in response to the vote. The subtext seemed to me to be he was hoping for an extension. Richard North had been carrying on about how the local official for the Calais port has gone from sounding alarms to “everything is under control” mode when that isn’t at all credible. Macron probably gets that too.

        1. m-ga

          There’s some discussion on Twitter about the UK participating in EU elections:

          I couldn’t find a source for the assertion that the UK could participate. However, despite the inconvenience and awkwardness for the EU, UK participation is not altogether a bad move for the EU. Not only does it buy the EU more time to prepare for no deal, but it also allows the UK public the opportunity to participate in MEP elections.

          Historically, the UK government has done nothing to publicise MEP elections, and the UK public have been indifferent to them. That’s how the UK ended up with Nigel Farage as an MEP.

          This time around would be very different. The UK MEP elections would be proxy Brexit elections. The UK MEP seats are likely to be hotly contested, with a lot of media coverage. It might be a good opportunity for the UK public to let off some steam, since the MEP elections don’t affect the Brexit process, and become irrelevant if the UK leaves soon after.

          There’s also the point that UK citizens are also EU citizens, at least for now. As such, the EU may be inclined to offer them at least some of the democracy that is being denied to them by the UK government.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            No, UK reporters who speak to EU pols say they are adamant the UK is not going to be seated in the next Parliament if it has a live Article 50 notice. This is a huge red line.

            1. vlade

              See the unnamed EU diplomat quote above (“Things are not black and white”).

              Most MEPs would hate it, as it’s very likely that the likes of Farage and such would run and be seated.

              But under the EU law the UK cannot be deprived of the EP elections even with A50 notice – a UK citizen could take it to ECJ and would almost certainly win, as
              A50 only excludes it from EC decisionmaking.

              If May gave A50 notification now, not two years ago, the EP elections would have to run as normal. That was, in fact (and the fact that the EP does have input into the EU budged and the new cycle is starting), one of the largest leverages the UK had two years ago, and thrown away.

              1. David

                To add to the fun, over here, where the EP has a much higher profile, people are agonising over the prospect of a new Parliament with a large nationalist bloc, led by Le Pen. British MEPs are assumed to be part of the counterweight to such a bloc. There is thus a political incentive for the EU to let British MEPs sit.

                1. fajensen

                  Might backfire badly: By filling up the UK MEP slots with UKIP’ers and Nigel Farrage types and they join up with Le Pen and anything else that wants to destroy the EU.

              2. Colonel Smithers

                Thank you, Yves and Vlade.

                Apparently, funding has been secured for such an eventuality, both in the UK and in Brussels and, for the away day / jollies, Strasbourg. Also, the UK seats have not been reallocated yet.

              3. Yves Smith Post author

                The earlier reports from well placed reporter were getting the “no way will the UK be seated” from EU diplomats, which ultimately means from heads of states. They are the ones who will make this call, not the MEPs.

                The reason for not reallocating seats yet would be to nor provoke the UK and give the hard-core Brexiters something to bang on about. The EU has been very careful about that. They do not want to do anything that might reduce the (still not very high) odds of the UK cancelling Brexit.

                1. vlade


                  “The European Union is willing to delay Brexit well into the second half of 2019, diplomats said”

                  “The EU is likely to approve any U.K. request to extend the Article 50 negotiation period beyond March 29 and the extension could go well beyond the first sitting of a newly elected European Parliament at the start of July, three diplomats said. One said September was a possible new deadline.”

            2. Anders K

              I read an article about what would happen in the EP with Brexit happening afterwards (source: Nick Clegg site) – I am unsure if it is correct, but it stated that the Greenland MEP being booted out when they left the EU allows the EP to do the same to the UK MEPs.

              It would still not help with the rebalancing of the EP that is wanted, and I am sure that the EU would not want the UK to be a part of its parliament, but allows the EU to kick the can juuust a bit further (at the risk of having hooligan UK MEPs around). I am unsure whether the attraction of can-kicking is strong enough to go through with this, but I will submit that the EU is pretty proficient in the art of can-kicking, especially if the alternative is lots of immediate problems.

              As a sidenote the problem I fantasized about (UK MEPs refusing to stand down after UK leaves with no mechanism for booting them out) is actually just that, a fantasy. How dare those out of touch EU bureaucrats have considered things in advance! :)

        2. David

          A small point, but who knows what will be significant in the long run? Macron is in deep trouble politically at the moment, and he needs chaos in the French ports like he needs an outbreak of rabies. The areas around the ports include some where the gilets jaunes have been active. Everything comes together in the end.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Could it not be seen as a blessing in reverse for him? It would be a huge distraction from the gilets jaunes and international crises have a habit of making leaders look statesmanlike so long as they don’t do anything too stupid – especially when the crisis is caused by someone else.

            1. David

              The political crisis, yes, and if there’s any way in which he can present himself as the Man Who Saved Europe, then you can be sure he will. Macron will be one of the EU leaders who’s prepared to ride over procedural EU issues if that’s what’s required to find a solution. The real problem is the disruption and all the little aggravations that would arise in everyday life from a crash-out Brexit. He really could do without that.

          2. Bugs Bunny

            And – as anyone who’s recently visited a port city on the Channel can attest – there are thousands of refugees camping there waiting for a chance to jump on a truck, train or boat to get to the UK.

            How the total chaos on the coast could be policed when France seems to be in a constant state of emergency is beyond me. It would be the final nail in Macron’s coffin.

          3. Darthbobber

            If Macron would like to be in even bigger political trouble, doing anything that could be perceived as caving in to British fecklessness would be almost guaranteed to accomplish that. Particularly because the industrialists and banking interests who support current French brexit doctrine are also his remaining core of support, as well as the people who contributed most to his installation in office.

            Everything does indeed “come together at the end”, but all this means is that there’s a result. Everything came together at the end after Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination. But it didn’t come together in a manner that anybody hoped for.

            What’s most likely to come together at the end of this are the UK and a locomotive. Maybe not, but that would be the way to bet.

  4. Anders K

    Spelling/capitalization problems:

    while Blair appears to have gone back into his crypt => [While] Blair appears to have gone back into his crypt

    PlutoniuKun flagged an => [PlutoniumKun] flagged an

    Jean-Cladue Junkcer’s formal statement => [Jean-Claude Juncker’s] formal statement

    A sidenote – it would be nice if the Andrew Marr quote (which I am assuming it is, at work so can’t see the video) is indented a bit to make the difference between what was said by Corbyn and the rest of the article clearer.

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Further to Yves’ point about business people being absent from the debate, some of the trade associations (Confederation of British Industry, Chambers of Commerce and, Redlife’s favourite and my former employer, the Investment Association) piped up meekly overnight, too little and too late, frankly. Employers / members won’t as, for example Hermes Asset Management, they are quietly applying for EU27 authorisations and don’t feel like getting stuck in the middle of the debate and being boycotted, picketed etc. This is especially the case for employers that are subsidiaries of overseas firms and / or managed by CEOS from abroad, e.g. the Palestinian Saker Nusseibeh at Hermes. In addition, since 2008, the credibility of business, especially the City’s, has been dented, so discretion is the better part of valour.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      6 months ago I was at a construction industry talk and the CBI spokesman said they’d been frantically lobbying individual Conservative MPs ‘behind the scenes’, but he didn’t explain why they wouldn’t do it more openly – presumably for the reasons you say. He was remarkably pessimistic for it, even back then, but he could have been out outlier.

      An issue that will keep lawyers busy for a while is dealing with authorisations for companies with complex cross-border ownerships. I’ve heard a few companies who feel they’ve ‘covered’ themselves by having a nominal HQ or stock market listing in EU States, but I do wonder what will happen when these are tested in the courts.

      An Ernst & Young study on UK financial companies that was published a week or so ago indicated that what they called the ‘third tier’ of finance companies (from the context, I assume they meant the smallest scale) had little idea of how to deal with it, and implied their heads were stuck in the sand.

      Even Michael O’Leary has been uncharacteristically quiet about it all, which I suspect means that there is a broad consensus among CEO’s that sticking your head above the parapet on Brexit is just not worth it for one reason or another.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, PK.

        EU level and member state level regulators I talk to say that, once some regulatory forbearance has been exercised over a transition period, official or unofficial, unilateral or bilateral, local tests of substance will be imposed, including discussions with local regulators in the local language. One expectation is that certain types of local clients must be dealt with locally, not by some skip in London as now.

        I am a bit puzzled by the FIs. Even in Mauritius, firms are hurrying to get EU27 licences. The government and private sector set up Brexit working parties soon after the referendum, but there was soft pedalling until a year ago.

        Air Mauritius cautions travelling to and fro London after 29 March. The island’s arrangements are with the EU, not the immediate former colonial power.

  6. The Rev Kev

    No doubt far more qualified commentators than I will weigh in on Brexit today with their own facts and opinions as is already happening so I will bring up an ancillary point here. There is a financial saying that states it is only when the tide goes out that you find out who has been bathing without swimmers and I think that this is the case here. Brexit was the tide going out which has revealed the mendacity in the UK of the political parties, the hollowed-out public service sector and political leaders trying to have a stare-down competition with reality. But let’s get honest here and think how many other countries in which the same can be said to be true.

    Because of a political impasse Belgium was once 535 days without an elected government. You can look it up in the Guinness Book of Records. You could say in part that the election of Donald Trump was also a tide going out which has revealed the mendacity of US political parties, the interference of the intelligence and FBI agencies into the workings of democracy as well as the vileness of the main stream media. I would hate to think what would be revealed if the tide went out here in Oz and personally I do not want to know. If you want to scale it up even more you can say that the tide went out on the world financial system in 2007-8 revealing the fragile foundations that it was built on and the endemic corruption in place. Call this all real world stress-tests with very poor results showing.

    1. vlade

      The Belgium or even US now doesn’t compare.

      If (and it’s a very likely if) the UK goes out in March (which now pretty much means no-deal), it will find itself in a war-like emergency situation with a government unable to govern. Civil service (what’s left of it), will be unable to do much, as for example stuff like “drop the custom checks to allow food in” requires at least secondary legislation (i.e. executive order equivalence), maybe even primary. It’s a recipe for total, unmitigated disaster, costing quite likely millions of jobs in the process. And blame for that WILL land on BOTH major parties.

      IMO, the only realistic non-catastrophic way out now left is A50 revocation, but I cannot see May asking for it, and I doubt there’s a parliamentary majority for asking for it either (at least at the moment).

      If MPs were serious about anything like trying to avoid no-deal Brexit, the first thing they should do is to remove the hardcoded date in the leve-the-eu act. I don’t know what the schedule is, i.e. whether anything in front of it could be amended with that and fastracked.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Regrettably, I agree with your estimate of the situation of the seriousness of the consequences. There may be some amelioration if power is devolved to layers of government further down the stack but it won’t be enough. Checking my calendar, I see that there are now only 72 days to go until Brexit.

        1. vlade

          UK central government was very good at killing any local authorities powers and budgets. That’s going to be compounding the problems in no-deal brexit, not helping.

      2. fajensen

        The government can always pull the ‘Civil Contingency Act’ and for example let the military run logistics and borders, under the act, they can also requisition goods and storage.

        Of course the military are underfunded and over invested in white elephants.

        1. vlade

          You mean they could use the aircraft carrier to patrol the channel, since it doesn’t have the planes anyways, right?

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Rev.

      Over Christmas, three infants died in local authority care in True Blue Buckinghamshire, a Tory one party state since time immemorial. At one point last year, over one hundred children in the same local authority’s care were unaccounted for at times. If the UK can’t or won’t look after its most vulnerable, does that polity need or deserve to exist. And when will the citizenry wake up?

      1. JTMcPhee

        Elites get to decide which “most vulnerable” humans are “valuable” enough to be “worth” looking after.” Long before Dickens and Hogarth, the rulings were made. How many True Blues have interests, protective or perverse, in the lives and fates of mope children?

    3. Tony Wright

      Maybe when the housing bubble bursts Kev – have you read any of the financial newsletters/blogs about the levels of indebtedness of our Australian households? Said up to here indebtedness ( envisage my attempts to disprove the old movie title “White Men Can’t Jump”….) resulting largely from a combination of mass rorting of the Negative Gearing tax laws and the widespread and multi-dimensional criminal malfeasances revealed by the recent Banking Royal Commission. For US readers -similar to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle.
      It’s going to be very messy, especially when some of the multiple international financial dominoes also start to fall.
      Currently on holiday in -20degree Lapland, the world looks rather surreal from here…

      1. The Rev Kev

        Actually when I wrote about what happens when the tide goes out, I was also thinking about Oz. It will hit us harder as we have not experienced really bad times in decades so a whole generation has grown up thinking that good times are normal times and that we re bullet-proof. Hope you enjoy your holiday in the cold of Lapland. It’s as hot as a b****** here right now.

    4. Olivier

      The comparison with is not apposite because Belgium has an extremely devolved political structure, perhaps the most devolved in Europe. There was no national government for 535 days but at the regional level it was business as usual. The UK, of course, is very centralized nowadays.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    I think its worth pointing out here once again, that almost alone among commentators around the world, Yves has been predicting exactly this outcome for well over a year.

    1. Steve H.

      PK, it’s the NC special sauce. It’s been years now since I did my meta-analysis review of sources. It still stands at less than a half-dozen sources for predictive value.

      I’ve got Lambert’s Superbowl prediction queued up, less than three weeks to verification.

        1. Steve H.

 is one!

          I’ve noted them elsewhere at NC, and don’t want to linkjack. The thing to do is, go to a site you frequent and go through the archives. It allows you hindsight into what was confirmation bias bs and what was more likely an accurate understanding. Invaluable.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Just goes to show you what happens when you get a highly trained, educated person that takes the time and trouble to educate themselves on the issues of a particular topic. You do wonder how many in the UK establishment are taking furtive looks at Brexit pages on NC to get up to speed.

  8. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves, a cogent summary of the madness.

    The key question for me, in attempting to divine where this dance of lunatics may end up, is this: Who breaks first?.

    Let us enumerate the contenders.

    1. Theresa May breaks, by abandoning her deal, and throwing her weight behind a second referendum or No Deal. Likelihood: No deal, almost zero as half her cabinet would instantly resign; people’s vote, also very unlikely considering the magnitude of the U-turn it would be.

    2. Theresa May breaks, by resigning. Very unlikely, since she now cannot be forced out, and it would not really change anything.

    3. Theresa May breaks, by calling a general election. This is a growing possibility, in my opinion. It’s madness, but it throws the question back to the people, and I think the Tories could do quite well if they could fight an election purely on Brexit – Labour supporters are disillusioned by Corbyn’s luke-warm response, and there’ll be no 15-point swing again. A dark horse.

    4. The Ultras break, by supporting the deal. Likelihood: doubtful, since they have what they want already, a No Deal Brexit in law, and can simply wait out the clock.

    5. Labour breaks, by supporting a people’s vote. There are political, legal and logistical difficulties, but these could all be overcome in a crisis. If Labour does commit to a people’s vote, it will probably be able to command a majority for it in the Commons. Once the No Confidence vote fails today, the pressure from members is going to massively intensify, and Corbyn is going to struggle to suppress it. Likelihood: possible.

    6. Labour breaks, by supporting the deal: Labour can oppose the deal now, but a month from now, when a No Deal Brexit is just weeks away might be a different story. Corbyn will struggle to enforce a whip against the deal, as there will be plenty of Labour MPs who will vote for a deal they hate to protect their constituents against the consequences of No Deal. Likelihood: I think this will be May’s path forward, perhaps with the cover of additional “negotiations”.

    7. The EU breaks, by abandoning the backstop. Not gonna happen.

    Additional possibilities such as extensions of the Article 50 people might be tried, but ultimately won’t affect the calculus, which is, and always has been reducible to three options: No Deal, No Brexit or the Withdrawal Agreement. One day, the UK will have to choose one of them.

    (A final mischevious option: the ERG supports a motion of No Confidence much closer to March 29, so that the UK is left without a government who can agree a deal before the clock runs out. Would they dare to get what they want?)

    1. Ataraxite

      And if no-one breaks?

      Then the UK crashes out of the EU at 12:00am CEST on March 29, 2019 by the automatic operation of law.

  9. None

    If no-confidence passes, does that make Corbyn the dog who caught the car? What is the likelihood? And who is John Bercow? Thanks.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      John Bercow is the Speaker of the House of Commons, he is the final word on procedural matters, so he is the single most important figure when it comes to deciding what can be put to Parliament.

      As for the no-confidence motion – it may well be that Corbyn will be as shocked as anyone else. There is no doubt he is desperate for an election, but I don’t think the timing is good – the polls are not very favourable.

    2. blowncue

      Bercow: Short fellow in the oversized comfy chair, issues well-enunciated, occasionally humorous directives, liberally shouts–


      If Dudley Moore and Ben Bradlee had a love child…

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        Bercow was a promising tennis player as a teenager and prominent Young Conservative as a university student. As a YC, he was well known for wearing Springbok rugby shirts and Hang Mandela t-shirts. He saw the light, attributed to being married to a Labour supporter, and, in the Commons, admitted to being on the wrong side of history when Mandela died.

        He also said that one was more likely to come across an Eskimo in the Sahara than Ian Duncan Smith was to lead the Tories to a general election victory.

        1. FKorning

          Bercow is a gem. His repartee, quip, and fierceness in the House is matched by his integrity for due process – at least in the sense of fairness to the members on all sides of the aisle (his integrity was bit more lax on the expenses scandals, it must be said but as a Speaker he is fantastic).

  10. Adam1

    I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years about how the government really works in the UK, but as an American observer I am still a long ways from really getting all of it. As the light at the end of the tunnel becomes observably not the end but an oncoming train (no deal Brexit), is there a possible role for the queen to help shove the system out of the way? I suspect that anything in this area would first require other on-delusional grown-ups to be present and they seem to be in extremely short supply at the moment.

    1. Ataraxite

      No. For the Queen to act as anything other than a politically-neutral figurehead with no effective power would be the greatest constitutional crisis in the UK since the civil war in the 1640s. It would be unthinkable (not least for the Queen herself, who understands well her role)

      1. Olivier

        Let us not exaggerate. While it is true that no british monarch since the ill-fated Stuarts has had a proper conception of monarchy they were not complete figureheads until that sourpuss of Prince Albert drilled it into his adoring young wife. It was Albert who effectively surrendered royal prerogative, so that is not so ancient.

        More to the point, the present Queen has never evinced any discomfort with her puppet status, so why would she do a U-turn at her advanced age? Charles would indeed have been more likely to at least consider the thing. His business activities, his outspokenness on some topics like architecture and so on are controversial and that has not deterred him.

        1. Darthbobber

          It was actually the growth of party discipline and the evolution of that system from one in which unaffiliated “country gentlemen” held the balance and would sometimes back a royal preference against the faction that formed the government to one in which virtually all MPs were party affiliated and subject to that discipline that led to the continuing decline of royal prerogative in the course of Victoria’s long reign. She and Albert both reacted to this, they did not cause it.

          Even William and Mary and Queen Anne (Mary and Anne also Stewart’s, BTW) found it necessary to throw favorites overboard and forego preferred outcomes in the face of parliamentary disapproval. And this trend continued pretty much unbroken going forward from there.

    2. Anders K

      Theoretically, the queen could act against it. Practically, it is not going to happen due to the history of the UK and the high likelihood that that would spell the end of the Monarchy in the UK.

      I could see it happen (maaaaaybe) if almost all people (like 90+%) was for one of the alternatives (Deal/No Deal/No Brexit) and the politicians were doing nothing (similar to what they are doing now), but since no poll shows that massive preference for one alternative, I just don’t see why the Queen would act.

      Acting in the will of the people (frustrated by its politicians) could be excused, perhaps. Acting to save the UK from itself, when it does not seem to be asking to be saved, is not going to happen.

      1. Sanxi

        In 1830 give or take, the King did in fact cancel the existing government due to lack of faith in. So the government was terminated. And the King was told in very harsh terms not to do that again. But it is still constitutionally possible. I don’t see Elizabeth doing it, but Charles would in a second

        1. Darthbobber

          I don’t see anybody actually obeying such an order if the monarch were to give it, and I think everybody involved is pretty clear on that.

        2. Fazal Majid

          Charles is highly unlikely to do it, well, because he is named Charles, and won’t want to end up like his eponymous ancestors.

    3. Ape

      I believe that would be what a coup in the UK looks like.

      The Queen is essential the rep for the deep state – military, civil service, old families and such.

      The common description that she really couldn’t is in my estimation legalistic bs. It can happen under precisely coup conditions.

  11. m-ga

    This opinion piece, from last week, about Corbyn is worth a look (but do be sceptical, particularly about the phrase “so popular at the last election”, which is an overstatement):

    Corbyn, unlike his liberal critics, understands that Brexit is a matter of timing. If you oppose it too soon, you’ll be labelled as someone who never accepted the referendum result, showing contempt for the 17.4 million leave voters. When thousands took to the streets demanding a people’s vote last summer, I couldn’t help thinking that, up north, many leave voters would be digging their heels in even further.

    Something dramatic has to happen before Labour changes the stance which proved so popular at the last election. The past few weeks have felt like the start of that drama: a dud deal; cabinet resignations; the withdrawal vote pulled at the last minute; a Tory leadership challenge; a parliament asserting itself over the government. In the following days there will be more such moments.

    If May’s deal is voted on and then defeated, everything will change.

    Paradoxically, even if May gets her deal through, she will automatically lose the support of the DUP and therefore provide the very real prospect of the government losing a no-confidence motion. (So if Corbyn really was putting his party’s interests above the country’s, he’d back May’s deal and create this very scenario.)

    Assuming her deal is defeated, this would indeed be a moment for Corbyn to push for an election.

    And given the calamity of no-deal, which was certainly not on the side of any bus in 2016, it would also be a valid moment to call for a second referendum.

    Read the whole thing – the intro and scene setting is good, particularly the point about MPs of all sides completely overlooking the reasons for the Brexit vote in the first place.

    The contention is that there’s a lot of posturing from Corbyn. This posturing is believable, because Corbyn really does want to be out of the EU. So, there is no difference between the way Corbyn is acting, and his sincerely long-held anti-EU beliefs. As a result, it’s totally convincing. But it doesn’t follow that Corbyn wants anything like a no deal, or even like the unicorn model he’s been offering.

    A telling moment yesterday was when Theresa May lambasted Corbyn for failing to provide adequate opposition. She appeared sincere and (for her!) animated. And the criticisms hit home. She really had a point. Corbyn genuinely has been weak and useless in opposition.

    But a couple of things spring to mind:

    1. Why did May want Corbyn to have opposed more strongly? Perhaps, she was thinking she’d have liked to have been saved from herself. If an opposition leader (maybe, some Blair type) had made a strong and persuasive pro-EU case, May could have had the option of a comfortable climb-down. She’d have been able to meet the opposition halfway, tack to a soft Brexit, blame the lack of hard Brexit on a perfidious opposition who had betrayed the public, all the while increasing the Tory lead in the polls and keeping her job as PM.

    2. Could Corbyn have actually done anything to change outcomes? Other than (1) – which keeps the Tories in power and increases likelihood of soft Brexit, options are slim. The most apparently negligent act of Corbyn was in whipping his MPs to vote to trigger Article 50, which was perhaps the most stupid act ever by a UK parliament. However, the motion to trigger Article 50 would have passed anyway (remember, the Tories had a majority at the time – it was before the 2017 election). So, all that Corbyn would have achieved is putting himself in the frame early on as the saboteur of Brexit, which is a framing he’s been able to evade entirely (because, he really is anti-EU – doesn’t need to pretend).

    I’m not trying to make a case here that Corbyn is any kind of great strategist. But I’m not sure he’d have achieved much by acting differently. Maybe he could have increased the likelihood of soft Brexit.

    I think one of the things to watch is whether Labour drop their unicorn model over the coming weeks. When the Theresa May strategy (transition deal plus undetermined future relationship) remained possible (i.e. before yesterday’s vote), there was pressure on Labour to match or exceed it. But now, the short-term options are narrowing towards no deal or no Brexit, that’s not so necessary. However, the unicorns may need to remain as long as the Labour leadership is pushing for a general election.

    1. shtove

      Well, even today, after announcing she would consult prominent parliamentarians on a way forward, May still hasn’t spoken to Corbyn. Hasn’t spoken to him about Brexit since the referendum result.

      Bear in mind that Corbyn was denounced by Cameron under cover of parliamentary privilege as a threat to national security. They really do think of him as the devil.

  12. Ignacio

    Something about Labour:

    I think that the “true left”, and I believe that Corbyn is somehow a representative of it, is in desperation to gain power. It is an extremely rare event a “true left” achieving government in any OECD country. When or if it does, it is or will be in very weak terms, far away from absolute majority, and/or constrained by supranational and international institutions.

    I think that the labour branch that Corbyn represents is so desperate that it is not surprising they embrace all unicorns when they see an historical opportunity like this. I am not justifying their actions, just trying to understand those.

    1. makedoanmend

      What you say is true but the wants of a person or groups are often superseded by the tide of events.

      It seems entire swathes of current humanity have been lulled into thinking that events can be controlled or mitigated through technologies, perseverance, desire or some combination thereof. Yet, history is full of examples where the deus ex machina fails to show up at the right time and all hell breaks loose. I hope this is not one of these times, but it seems precariously close to such a time.

      And what is incompetence if not the over estimation of one’s abilities, especially one confronted with novel situations. As a working class stiff I am all too aware of this flaw in my make-up but it seems our leadership classes across the world don’t labour under such a restriction.

      1. Tim

        A few things:
        Relying on the Guardian or the BBC as a main source of info is going to skew your perception on the matter. As a long time reader of the Guardian, it has degenerated into clickbait hyperbole, along with pretty much everyone else, as emotionalism and conflict sells. You might as read the Daily Mail (no, really) as they do the same thing. They just ignore facts that aren’t convenient to their narrative, and keep the daily outrage machine ticking along.

        As such, there is a complete lack of insight regarding Corbyn’s rather odd behaviour on Brexit and his current situation with Labour supporters.

        To understand it, you need to understand where his power comes from. Young urban ‘socialists’ have joined the party in their droves in the last few years (no doubt aided by a partisan education system).

        These impressionable new members are a huge part of Corbyn’s large popularity (in his own political zone at least). The problem is that they are labouring under the false assumption that Corbyn and Mcdonnell (the Shadow Chancellor) are pro EU. History shows that they are not, and that they are acolytes of Tony Benn who argued against the EU due to the lack of democracy (look up his awkward questions to ask those in power).
        And a brief search of their past views would clearly show what their opinions are on the EU.
        Now of course there is the argument that ‘they’ve changed’, but I wonder if anyone could show me examples of where Corbyn has changed his views in the last 30 years. He has been remarkably consistent in his positions if nothing else.

        So he is having to walk a tightrope by remaining non committal on the EU as he needs to feed the delusion amongst his new, young, urban based supporters that he is pro EU.
        However, there are a large swathe of non urban traditional Labour supporters who voted for Brexit.

        Corbyn’s primary goal is to just keep his mouth shut in order not to annoy these competing factions in case of a General Election and he has done quite well. Although I would argue that this is largely because his new young supporters are incapable of seeing what is right in front of them rather than anything spectacular on his part!

        It’s a familiar game-Corbyn is relying on the fact that in a GE, traditional Labour voters will still vote Labour, along with the new young urban labourites who actually hold the rural Labour supporters in contempt. As UKIP has imploded there is less opportunity for a protest vote, whilst May’s ‘deal’ is so bad, and she is a Tory, then they won’t vote for the Conservatives either.

        One caveat though. The rural (ok, non London) Labour supporters have been vilified by the urban elites for the last two years across all types of media, mainly from a left wing progressive slant (that’s the way it is here). From MPs, news commentary shows, even comedy unilaterally talking about people being stupid, not understanding, not listening to facts, being old, racist, wanting a return to the Empire, wanting black passports, being lied to etcetc there is no escape. The narrative has been framed extremely well by the media and political urban elite .

        My analysis assumes that the traditional labour voters who voted for Brexit will, in spite of all the bile and condescension thrown their way, still vote Labour. Considering what I have listed above in terms of their treatment after the Brexit vote, this is an assumption which could well be rather wrong.
        I just can’t see them voting for May either!

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are out of line to suggest I am relying on any UK news outlet. Their reporting has all been terrible and I have said so repeatedly. If any source has been a “main source,” it’s Richard North, and I have to read through his biases. The Guardian has a useful live blog when things are hot, as does the Torygraph. Both quote directly from live testimony and use tweets as hot takes.

          Corbyn has never been a party leader before. His remarks in interviews and op-eds, not mediated through press interpretation, on what his Brexit plans are simply ludicrous. To say he has a strategy is absurd. That is the point. He’s not at all serious about what to do about Brexit and is preoccupied about getting elected. This is a manifest demonstration of unfitness for office given the magnitude of the Brexit challenge.

          1. c_heale

            In my opinion, as a UK expat, the BBC is useless, it’s really dumbed down even from a few years ago (it just follows the government line now), and the Guardian has gone really neo-liberal since about the time of Snowdon. On Brexit, Richard North is worth reading, but he is becoming increasingly repetitive (and irritable when people criticise his position). I think we will get some kind of extension from the EU, but it will be just for the EU to make preparations for a no deal, and then that will be the end. I would be more optimistic, but Yves called it right about Greece and I wouldn’t bet against her again.

          2. FKorning

            Imho it’s a huge inversion to put such onus on the opposition for coming up with the final credible plan and is part of the Tory misdirection and ad hominem campaign. It’s up to the governing party to come up with a plan, and for the opposition to shine a torch in its holes. But I am, like many, disgusted by Corbyn’s lack of faith in the EU and complicit silence. The forces of globalisation are amonsgt other things, not so much championed by sinister agendas, but products of a vastly interconnecting technological and social landscape and are night unstoppable. The only sane response to neo-liberalism, ie globablism from the right, is internationalism, ie globalism from the left. Not parochial trade-union protectionism.

    2. vlade

      Except it’s likely, that as a dog who caught a car, they will do more harm than good to their cause. CF Johnson’s wish to be PM and thus going against Cameron in Brexit.

    3. Pookah Harvey

      From a TRNN interview with John Lansman, founder of Momentum, and a member of the Labor Party’s national executive committee:

      They’ve spent three years fluffing around, focusing entirely on Brexit without actually making any progress towards it. We would rather see they take responsibility for this, for the state they’ve got in than for us to force a general election……..

      But the difficulty we have is this. Our supporters, if you include the people not just who voted for us in the last election but people who voted for us in previous elections, are very divided. It’s true that amongst our members, there’s overwhelming support for remain. It’s true that most Labour voters in the constituencies that we won support remain. But unfortunately, in the constituencies that we have to win in order to form a government, there are many potential Labour voters who voted for Brexit. And therein lies a dilemma for the Labour Party.

      And our belief, it’s not purely electoral interest that we’re talking about, our belief is that the most important thing for the British working class is that we have a Labour government under Corbyn that pursues the transformative economic program that he and John McDonnell have been developing. And that would benefit Britain whether we ended up with some kind of soft Brexit rather better than the one that May has initiated, or continuing to be within the EU. It’s the economic program that matters most, not whether we are in or out of the EU, though certainly we would want to avoid a hard Brexit.

        1. Pookah Harvey

          From my read they don’t plan on putting their economic plan before any resolution of Brexit but after. An attempt of “disaster socialism”. As Lansman states “We would rather see they take responsibility for this, for the state they’ve got in than for us to force a general election”.

          Labor has little power to change anything, but can make meaningless “sound and fury” to make it seem that they are trying. Once Brexit resolution occurs, knowing it will be a disaster economically and/or politically they have a chance at power and ” It’s the economic program that matters most, not whether we are in or out of the EU”
          My 2 cents worth.

          1. Mattski

            Yes, Yves’ antipathy to Corbyn notwithstanding–given the internal divisions in Labour itself–and assuming the looming disaster that Yves herself has astutely, it appears, foreseen, I’m not sure I see what more Corbyn could have done to now. It’s true that it will have to be a form of disaster socialism (nice coinage) and that it will hardly be under the circumstances Labour would have chosen, but it WILL need to take place only after the voters’ reckoning that the Tories broke Britain, with Labour standing far clear of Ground Zero. This rather simpler take on what a deeply divided Labour has been up to, with Corbyn playing his cards very close to his vest, may be closer to Ockham’s Razor than the deduction that Corbyn is an outright idiot, contradictory noises from his corner notwithstanding. At the very least, I’m far more interested in what Corbyn would do with the broken pieces than the Veneerings in the Tory Party. Corbyn is not Hillary Clinton.

  13. makedoanmend

    Does anyone care to give the likelihood of an extension? >50%? or <10%

    I suppose, like everything this very day, it's now up to the EU to decide. I have to believe that Varadkar and Coveney (Irish Taoiseach/Chief & Tanaiste/Foreign Minister) will be lobbying the EU hard today for this option, and will have friends in the likes of the Netherlands in their corner. However, I can't see the extension being granted into June because of the European elections. It seems to me that the EU, for the most part, has decided the UK can revoke Article 50 in good faith or leave with the existing negotiated exit treaty or just leave. That's it.

    The extension is the only mitigating factor left.

    1. Ignacio

      Ops I just commented behind you. As I see it, on the EU side an extension could serve only one purpose: improve preparations for a no-deal. In the UK side I cannot distinguish anything in the fog.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Its pretty clear that if the UK asks an extension will be granted, there have been plenty of signals about this from the EU, but as Yves says above, they’ve been a little contradictory which means there probably isn’t an agreed limit.

      Most likely, a one-off extension to June/July would be granted (anything else would mean all sorts of problems with the European Parliament extension), and thats it.

  14. Ignacio

    On the extension of withdrawal to july:

    IMO, the only good reason for the UEto go for such an extension would be to allow for better preparedness for a no-deal.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agreed, and it’t not clear how aware the EU member states are of their lack of preparedness. France, Ireland, and the Netherlands probably are. Beyond that….

  15. Mirdif

    This is not even the beginning of the crisis.There are still at least 6-8 weeks before the crisis begins. You can tell from May’s attitude and body language after the vote yesterday that she was not especially bothered. There is a lot of posturing and those who propose WTO and such nonsense are liars without exception and it says something about Britain as a country where such liars are repeatedly elected. They are all aware of the negative effects of a crash out and when they were in ministerial posts acknowledged the problems in meetings – looking at you David Davis.

    One thing being missed amidst yesterday’s noise is that crash out has now gone as close to zero as possible. The abiility to unilaterally rescind the article 50 notification means there is a very powerful tool to prevent crash out after a parliamentary vote to prevent the same and opposition to crash out is very high in both Houses.

    Some predictions:
    1. May’s deal gets voted through in March. Most likely as close to 28 March as possible.

    2. If crash out looks likely a vote to rescind Article 50 takes place and it passes with ease in both houses and it is rescinded at the last minute. I tend to think this is very unlikely however as it would need a some kind of event, like a massive run on the pound for it to occur. Also, it is likely to mean May resigns and is replaced by one of the other morons in cabinet and the Tories will lose the next election.

    3.There will be no new referendum.

    4.An application for an extension is unlikely and if the current scenario persists is likely to be turned down.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I beg to differ.

      A crash out is a default. Doing anything else takes a lot of moving parts. May claimed she is not trying to run the clock out but she is still insisting on delivering Brexit. May is fabulously stubborn.

      The more things have to happen for anything to change, the less likely it is to occur. If you have 3 events, each with 70% odds, the cumulative probability is a mere 34%.

      The fallacy of your argument is that if the crisis starts in more than six weeks, it’s too late.

      For an Article 50 revocation to be valid, it has to go through constitutional procedures. That means Parliamentary approval. That’s a month. And the political groundwork has not been laid. A lot of MPs are not willing to go against the referendum results without a new referendum to give them cover. An Article 50 revocation is so not an acceptable idea yet that pollsters haven’t even been asking about it!

      The preferred path for dealing with a crisis will be an extension. That does not mean the UK will necessarily get one but that’s far and away the less politically toxic route.

      1. Mirdif

        There is no fallacy in my argument about rescinding article 50. The legislation for it can be passed in one day using fast track procedures.

        The groundwork is already there; the opposition to crash out is very high.

        1. Clive

          It it not at all helpful when people contaminate the comments sections here by just making stuff up.

          As an absolute minimum removing the hard-coded date in the EU Withdraw Act (2018) requires secondary legislation. Theoretically the minister can amend the date via a Statutory Instrument. But the timescale for a notification is 28 days (the so-called Affirmative Procedure) or time limited to 40 days for the Negative Procedure but this would almost certainly be an Affirmative Procedure. There has to be both a debate and Lords approval.

          But the use of a Statutory Instrument would almost certainly be challenged. The parent Act makes no provisions to amend the Withdrawal Date. None was anticipated when the Act become law. It might well be that Primary Legislation is deemed necessary to make such a fundamental change in law so as to allow a valid Article 50 extension to be issued to the EU27. It is not merely a U.K. domestic matter in play here, it is international law and Treaty adherence. So it’s not like the U.K. legislature can mess this up and then simply say, oh, oopsie, never mind, we’ll sort it all out later. Absolute inviolable certainly is essential.

          1. vlade

            Primary legislation can be passed pretty damn quick.

            The “Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980” took less than 14 hours to clear all its Commons stages, and all its Lords stages the next day.

            Dangerous Dogs bill was about the same for Commons (longer with Lords I think)

            Banking (specal provisions) Act 2008 (aka Norther Rock nationalisation act) took 3 days across all its stages.

            More recently, Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill 2014 was first mooted in Commons on July 15, and received Royal Assent on July 17.

            Official Secrets Bill 1911 was across all (Commons, Lords and Royal Assent) stages in ONE day.

            1. Clive

              Emergency legislation where parliamentary approval was given for both the Bill and also, crucially, the timing of the Bill. And they were government bills which the government backed with (reluctant) opposition support or if not support, acquiescence to.

              Any objections would have killed the timescales.

              1. vlade

                I’d not say any objections – a good majority would work (Speaker has enough rights to kill US-like delays by talking heads).

                But yes, it would be much harder to get it through with active opposition from the government, even if there was a majority in the Parliament to do so.

                Firstly, it would be pretty hard to get the bill in front of the parliament, which is sort of a must.

                That said, if May is ever going to ask for A50 extension, it would have to cooperate.

              2. vlade

                Oh, and guess who was the Home Secretary sponsoring that particular bill and pushing for its fast passage?

                1. Clive

                  In response to a CJEU ruling, just for laughs. Opposed by one David Davis!

                  But it is a good case study about the circumstances where emergency legislation can be used — all examples I’m aware of, which is post-war, are where the government has found itself acting unlawfully for some reason or other (such as a court ruling, where a supposed agreed interpretation of an Act is found not to be what everyone thought it was) or else a genuine emergency such as in the GFC where a Lehman type cascade failure was suddenly threatening to swamp the entire financial functioning of a country (my TBTF was faced with not being able to access cash via the Bank of England’s bulk cash management operation, for example).

                  While a No Deal might well be dire, it’s stretching what could be considered “emergency” given most of us, not least anyone who took the time to read this blog, have known was a distinct possibility for at least a year. Plus that it is an arguable case that the event is even mandated by parliament in the first place. It’d be like me declaring a “tea and biscuits shortages emergency” solely on the basis I couldn’t get my act together and go to the supermarket when I had previously eaten the last biscuit in the pack yesterday afternoon, used the last of the milk in the fridge at breakfast and hadn’t put the kettle on. My incompetence and hoping something else would just turn up might create a bad situation, but to then use that as an excuse to foist an “emergency” response on everyone is taking a bit of a liberty. If that ended up being tested in the courts, I’d be right behind it.

                    1. Clive

                      Dangerous Dogs (well, supposedly dangerous, more like dangerous owners) and the Daily Mail baying like a banshee can just about get away with rolling emergency legislation through Parliament on a rocket docket.

                      The most important social, political and economic question of our generation? Probably less so.

      2. Frenchguy

        If I may, while I do agree with your analysis in general, I think the “constitutional procedures” bit is overdone. If May is certain to have the backing of Parliament, she could certainly send a technically invalid revocation of article 50 at the last moment and I’m sure the EU would look over that and accept it. There would be legal challenges but the courts, strangely, won’t move swiftly and by the time that have to rule over its validity, all the correct procedures will have been followed.

        I don’t think it changes much of what you are saying, the problem is having the backing of Parliament in any case…

        1. Clive

          As per my comment above, requesting an extension to A50 is the easy bit (but after the rather unwise intervention of Gina Miller limiting the ability to use the Royal Prerogative, there’d be an inevitable legal challenge, which would have to end up in the Supreme Court, so the only safe option would be to take it through Parliament). Fixing the hard-coded date in the Withdrawal Act is far more difficult.

      3. vlade

        TBH, I’m not sure whether A50 revocaiton would need a Parliamentary assent.

        The reasoning for A50 _invocation_ to require Parliament to assent was that it will (deemed irrevocably, which was position of both sides at the time) lead to depriving UK citizens of some rights, and only the Parliament can do that.

        A50 revocation would not deprive the UK citizens of any right currently available, thus I’d say it’s not entirely unlikely that a court would find it does not require assent. Ironically, with the ECJ ruling, the A50 notice now would not require Parliamentary assent anymore.

        1. Clive

          I don’t think it’s so much that it would need parliamentary approval, more that in the absence of parliamentary approval it would be dragged through the courts. So it would be quicker to get parliamentary approval, regardless of whether it turned out to be essential or not.

  16. David

    I suggest that, if we are to understand what might possibly happen, we need to accept two things, neither of which this morning’s MSM seems to have grasped.
    The first is that the British political system is broken. Brexit didn’t break it, but was the proximate cause of its failure. Between them, Thatcher and Blair left a political system that was always going to be incapable of taking the strain of a major political and constitutional crisis. And this is the father and mother of such crises. So, whilst this outcome was not predetermined in detail, its main outlines were visible from last summer, since the machinery no longer existed for producing any better outcome. The operating system of UK politics, if you like, is no longer capable of dealing with the new software that has been loaded. I think many of us agree on this, but the real issue is therefore that any solution (I use the term loosley) cannot come from within the existing system or through existing assumptions and processes. It will have to come from outside, in a way which we can’t at the moment imagine. No amount of tinkering with parliamentary procedure or adding up votes can solve the problem now.
    The second is that any conceivable outcome now is going to be bitterly controversial and divisive, and will probably lead to a major realignment in UK politics. What this means is that, for example, withdrawal of the Art 50 notification, although very difficult and massively controversial, is not likely to be much more difficult and much more controversial than any other outcome. In spite of what May still appears to think, there is no longer the possibility of an orderly, neat solution whose consequences are containable within the present operating system of British politics.
    So the field is open, though we don’t know what will happen. But here’s an example of what could conceivably happen, although it would be very difficult and cause a lot of damage. But then so would any other outcome. We start from the wrinkle that there’s a difference between a political decision to revoke Art 50, and the need to enact legislation to make that a practical reality. Whatever government we have could write to Brussels saying, OK, the people have spoken but there’s no way of implementing their wishes without a lot of damage to you and us, and no consensus about what we want. So we are hereby revoking Art 50, and we are introducing legislation into parliament to make this happen. That would constitute a political resolution of the crisis at international level, and make parliament responsible if it refused to pass the necessary legislation to overturn the Withdrawal Act. OK, it would cause immense damage and bitterness, and probably mean political suicide for some politicians. But is there any outcome which would be easier and cause less damage?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      To your last point, as I read the press release to the ECJ ruling, the constitutional process has to come first. The UK can’t send a note in without having passed legislation first.

      Re your more general point, the political energies are going into a second referendum as the way out, not an A50 revocation. I was stunned to see after the ECJ ruling that the idea of an A50 revocation died as a story in a week. No real pundit follow on in terms of discussing it as a solution. It just seemed to be an add-on to a referendum: “Oh, see, this makes a referendum better, we don’t have to rely on EU promises to let us back out if we change our minds, we are assured we can do that if that’s how the people vote.”

      I don’t see how Parliament votes it through with no softening up of public opinion. It would be suicidal.

      Also remember that 67% of Tory party members prefer a crash out to Remain.

      In a three-way referendum, with the options of leaving without a deal, staying in the EU or leaving with May’s deal, 57% preferred leaving without a deal. Only 23% of members said they would vote for May’s deal in a three-way referendum…

      The second issue is 76% of members being sceptical about warnings that a no-deal Brexit would cause serious disruption, he said.

      “Tory members, like Tory voters, are utterly unconvinced, despite their own government’s best recent efforts, that a no-deal Brexit would cause serious disruption.

      “Some 72% of voters currently intending to support the Conservatives think the warnings are ‘exaggerated or invented’ – a figure that rises to 76% among Tory members.

      1. David

        I agree it’s not likely, but what is? The point is that the exact order of events will be as follows (assuming it happens). First Cabinet decides to revoke Art 50. Next government makes statement to Parliament that it has taken this decision. Next government writes to Brussels not making formal withdrawal (unless it gets legal advice that it can do that) but explaining what it intends to do. Champagne all round. Then government introduces bill. You may think it’s splitting hairs, but in my experience such things are possible, and the effect would be to put enormous pressure on parliament.
        You are right of course about opposition, and that’s why I used this, not as a prediction, but as an example of how outré a solution would have to be. But I seriously wonder whether, especially as the deadline approaches, any alternative scenario (including crash-out) is going to do any less damage, and be any more popular overall Furniture will be broken, political careers destroyed and British politics upended whatever happens. In the end, the solution (if there is one) may just be the one that is less apocalyptic than all the others.

        1. Anders K

          I highly doubt that the EU will want to accept to stand target for the rage of the Leavers again – but this time for something they’ve actually done. It is also not a very wise move for May and the Tories, as it opens up the narrative for a Dolchtoss Legende from the Ultras which may finally split the party apart.

          The ECJ has said that a revocation needs to be done in accordance with that nations constitutional procedures. There is no incentive for the EU to skip that, and I would expect the response to be “Super! We’ll give you a months extension of the deadline so you can get on all the t:s crossed and i:s dotted; looking forward to hearing from ya! Tschüss!

          What I do agree with you is that, just as Yves has talked about, the further we get in these (hopefully) last days of Brexit, the more chaotic the whole situation will grow, and that very outré proposals will be considered. I just don’t see this particular path likely to be followed, as it requires both May and the EU to leave themselves wide open for attacks.

          1. David

            As I said, this is not a prediction, but rather an illustration of the sort of desperate expedient that might wind up being resorted to. There’s no doubt that, if obliged to choose between a crash-out Brexit and a scrambled but ultimately successful revocation of Art 50, the 27 will choose the latter, because it’s in their interest to do so.
            The consequences you foresee, which I don’t necessarily disagree with, seem to me to be inevitable anyway, or at least highly likely, whatever the outcome. The Tory Party probably will split, several different tendencies will cry betrayal and treason, and the EU will wind up being blamed for some things. These are all very likely, if not unavoidable anyway. So the question is, against an apocalyptic background, which of a series of very bad options will you choose?
            Whilst, as I said, I’m far from convinced that such a strategy is likely, it is clear that if a British government said publicly that it wanted to withdraw the Art 50 notification, and was starting the necessary actions in parliament, this would change the political situation fundamentally.

    2. Ignacio

      hummmm, as I see it, the only way for the political system to muddle through brexit without collapsing would be to sign the withdrawal agreement and then shake its branches during the transitional period as the magical tree in Hogwarts. That is why I see the W.A. approved as the most probable outcome.

      Anyway, I am just an outsider…

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, this is the Corn Laws again, and arguably the dust still hasn’t settled from that.

      There is no solution to this – revoking A.50 is an escape hatch that would probably (politically) kill the person who opens it. The scenario you suggest – for May (or someone else) to activate it prior to Parliaments approval would be one form of escape, but I don’t think it would work, not least because the EU may decide not to allow it – they don’t want to be caught in the back-blast (sorry to extend that metaphor to breaking point).

      Ironically, the Ultras are probably right – the only way out is no-deal, take the pain and the medicine, and pick up the pieces over the next decade. Maybe even a Corbyn government could do it, although I very much doubt they’ll be allowed.

      Incidentally, I heard an interview with the leader of Plaid Cymru on Irish radio last week – very thoughtful he is too. He was talking of a post Brexit celtic alliance to help the fringe areas recover – the implication being that Wales and Scotland would creep back towards EU membership via sectoral deals with Ireland. So some are already thinking long term, but none of them are in power.

  17. Meddle

    Viewed through the lens of managing the Remain/Leave question on behalf of Britain’s elites, Jeremy Corbyn’s line maybe doesn’t look very good. But where the British working class is absolutely divided over the question, to fully support either of the elite factions fighting this out would alienate one part of his natural base for the wrong reasons. What he is doing is politics, and that’s his job.
    Note also that reporting of what he actually says is dismal, absolutely atrocious. A good example would be his recent speech in Wakefield. In a nutshell:

    I would put it like this: if you’re living in Tottenham you may well have voted to Remain. You’ve got high bills rising debts. You’re in insecure work. You struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit, and forced to access food banks. You’re up against it.

    If you’re living in Mansfield, you are more likely to have voted to Leave. You’ve got high bills, rising debts, you’re in insecure work, you struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit and forced to access food banks. You’re up against it.

    But you’re not against each other. People across the country, whether they voted Leave or Remain know that the system isn’t working for them.

    Wonder why all that got reported was: “Corbyn to call for vote of no confidence”?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is beside the point. What Corbyn said he is going to do about Brexit is at least as loopy and uninformed as what the Tories have been saying about what the EU would be willing to agree to. His lying to the public is even less forgiveable in light of what’s happened over the negotiations. Corbyn wants to be PM and he’s been totally out to lunch regarding what can be achieved. He can’t punt on this question which is what the bit you gave above has him doing.

      I’d like to back Corbyn but I can’t. He’s as incompetent as the Tories.

      1. eg

        With respect to Corbyn’s competence, as somebody put it better than I could, “we have to argue with the morons we’ve got, not the morons we wish we had.”

        And that goes double for May and Co …

      2. WJ

        Yves, this is not a hostile question. What are the two or three of the most important safeguards that, in your view, *could* be realistically achieved by either May or Corbyn in negotiating Brexit given the limited timeframe now available? Or do you think, as I infer (perhaps wrongly) from the above, that the only likely way to avoid a hard Brexit is to revoke A.50 altogether? Do you believe the revocation of that Article, even if secured by dubiously legal or extra-legal actions on the part of the Government, would likely lead to less social unrest than going ahead with the hard Brexit? Is there any consensus among even the most informed commentators on this issue?

        1. vlade

          May’s deal is hard brexit (not immediately due to transition period, but still hard).
          Not sure what you mean by safeguards?

          The EU made very clear that there will be no changes to the treaty text – it’s now sent to EU27 where it must be approved and also by EP.

          1. WJ

            By “safeguards” I mean items that the U.K. is not currently negotiating but could realistically negotiate with the EU re Brexit and/or internal UK policies or plans or entities that could or should be (but are not currently being) put in place in preparation for Brexit. I am asking–in Yves’ terms– whether in relation to Brexit there are any animals that are *not* unicorns, in other words.

            1. vlade

              UK’s only leverage left is that it’s one of your customers, so if it commits suicide, you’ll be a bit poorer for a while.

              Sort of like this

          2. WJ

            Thanks for the correction, vlade. I did not mean to write “hard Brexit” but “no deal” Brexit in the above comment.

    2. vlade

      Even on pure politics base, Corbyn is failing.

      MORI poll shows 69% of respondends dissatisfied with the govt (vs 24% satisfied). Its major policy (Brexit) is seen by the public as being failed to be delivered. Almost 70% of people see Tories as deeply divided (and historically, UK voters punished divided parties).

      These numbers are worse or comparable than Tories in 1990s, or Brown in 2008, when the opposition had massive lead.

      Inability of Labour to capture more voters in face of the most incompetent and split Tory party since can’t remember when (it was split pre-Thatcher kick-out, but it wasn’t nearly as incompetent then) says a lot.

      If you’d come to someone saying “imagine your opposition party is split, government in shambles, a third of its MPs votes against their own PM on her landmark bill”, you’d expect them asking how large a majority they would command. As it is, it’s dubious Labour would actually win an election or even be the largest party.

      1. WJ

        Isn’t Labour split at least as much as Tory, with the majority of established Labour politicians and credentialed types being neoliberal interventionist Blairites who have more in common with the Tories than they do with Corbyn? From what I have been reading about the Labour Party over the past few years, it’s not clear to me that Labour Blairites would prefer a Corbyn-led Labour government over a May-led Tory one when push comes to shove. Or am I wrong about this?

      2. Clive

        I’m a fully paid-up Labour Party Member, I am actively involved in my Constituency Labour Party (which is actually quite sensible and realistic about policy and what any Labour government could or should try to do) and even I wouldn’t vote for Labour while Brexit is a thing and needs to be at least managing (if not actually being possible to be resolved or guided by political action).

        May is at least realistic in terms of what can be achieved. The rest of her party are largely completely off-the-scale gaga. But so are most of the Labour parliamentary party. Corbyn adds having a gaga party leader into the mix, thus allowing Labour to win the ugly contest in terms of (un-) electability.

        My, my. The depths we’ve sunk to…

        1. Lambert Strether

          Totally spitballing here, but it has occurred to me to imagine — I’m not saying this is possible — a Grand Bargain between Labour and the Tories.

          1) Labour gives May Brexit. May’s horrid deal is better than crashout, and there’s no support for Remain in either party leadership, so too bad so sad (and if Remain can’t develop its own leadership, how much of a political force, as opposed to a movement, is it anyhow?)

          2) May gives Labour (a) an end to austerity and (b) re-industriaization (Green New Deal-equivalent) in the Labour heartlands — the Corbyn constituencies that voted Leave.

          Now both May and Corbyn have something to take back to their respective voters.

          Yes, this is a change in the British constitutional order (puts a stake in the dead heart of neoliberalism).

          Frankly, I don’t think Corbyn has the stones or the imagination to propose this, and I don’t think May has the stones or the imagination to accept it. So, on we go to, so far as I can tell, to a full-blown legitimacy crisis involving the breaking up of the United Kingdom, along with open class warfare in Britain (the rump), as Brexit turns out to deliver the opposite of the results promised, at least in terms of NHS, employment, etc.

          Again, just spitballing. I’m ignoring the timeline, which at this point is all-important…

          1. PlutoniumKun

            That sort of deal can and has precedents in other European countries (see the various odd alliances in Germany and so on). But I think the nature of British politics and the constitutional order (put simply, a winner-takes-all principle of power in Parliament) precludes it. Not least because there is no way Corbyn could hold May to the deal if he agreed to it. Once the exit deal was done she could simply use her majority to do what she wanted anyway and impose even more austerity. The Tory press would cheer her on for this.

          2. Clive

            The problem is deeply embedded tribalism. No kidding, even if May offered austerity amelioration on a big scale, both Labour Party members and MPs (and a lot of Labour’s voters) would still reject it, just because it’s Conservative anti-austerity.

            Plus — and this isn’t necessarily apparent unless you get yourself embedded into Labour’s on-the-ground structures (I didn’t know until I joined and started actually going to Constituency party meetings) is that Labour is really several parties in one. There’s the old school unreformed Trotskyites. There’s the Bennite hold-outs. There’s the Blairite second coming lot. There’s the younger, newer, happy-clappy Momentum anti-neoliberalism types who have the right agenda, but have not a clue in their pretty little heads about how to as a matter of policy definition and implementation you don’t end up with a Soviet Russia style collapse if you pull the plug overnight.

            The only thing that keeps everyone even vaguely on the same page is a venal hatred of all things Tory. If you take that away, you simply don’t have a party. Ironically Labour is cut from the same cloth as the DUP. Nothing that you could reasonably label an ideology to hold it all together, merely anything but those dastardly nationalists (or dastardly Tories, in Labour’s case).

            Compared to Labour, the Conservatives are “only” split in two ways. The ERG Ultras (about 80 to 100 MPs) who want No Deal and another majority faction (150-200) who want May’s Deal. Conversely, in the Labour parliamentary party, you’ve got about 100 or so Second Referendum’ers (Remain’ers in a not very convincing disguise), 20 ERG type Hard Brexit’ers, 50 Brexit In Name Only BINO’ers, 50 May’s Deal but with a special Labour packaging which doesn’t change the contents but looks different compromiser’s. So any notion that Corbyn can get the parliamentary party to coalesce around anything is optimistic.

            If he looks ground down and fed up with the whole thing and shows every sign of not having the foggiest idea what to do about it all, it’s probably because that’s exactly what he is. Even if he were willing to do a Nixon Goes to China, which he probably isn’t, he’d merely find that rather than coming out looking all statesman-like out of it, he’d just give his factious parliamentary party an excuse to add “sell out” to the list of charges against him from the Blairites, Remain’ers, Leaver’s or whoever. Corbyn is wildly popular in the membership of the party, but only barely tolerated in the parliamentary party. It was only 18 months or so ago they were all (or, say, 60-70% of them) trying to knife him in the back.

            1. ahimsa

              Thank you for the breakdown:

              Compared to Labour, the Conservatives are “only” split in two ways. The ERG Ultras (about 80 to 100 MPs) who want No Deal and another majority faction (150-200) who want May’s Deal. Conversely, in the Labour parliamentary party, you’ve got about 100 or so Second Referendum’ers (Remain’ers in a not very convincing disguise), 20 ERG type Hard Brexit’ers, 50 Brexit In Name Only BINO’ers, 50 May’s Deal but with a special Labour packaging which doesn’t change the contents but looks different compromiser’s. So any notion that Corbyn can get the parliamentary party to coalesce around anything is optimistic.

              I think some in the press are leaping to false conclusions. Just because there is a big majority against No Deal and another big majority against The Deal, does not mean there is a majority for anything else, including LCTWTO (Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off).

            2. Lambert Strether

              Clive, thanks for this breakdown. It’s very helpful.

              Is there a way for Corbyn to cut the Gordian knot and go directly to the membership? With my “deal” of course :-)

              1. Clive

                Well, I shall certainly be proposing The Lambert Settlement at the next Constituency Labour Party meeting, I expect it will receive unanimous approval ;-)

                But seriously, this is a big sticking point. Only very indirectly do members have any influence on the parliamentary party (Labour MPs) — and the linkage, despite earnest attempts by Corbyn to increase democratisation in the party, is at best flimsy. The most we can do is deselect the candidate. They either don’t get to stand as our constituency MP at the next election (if they are not sitting currently i.e. it’s not a Labour seat) or else, if they are currently a sitting MP, they get replaced with another candidate who is more to the local party’s liking.

                While this sounds as if it should be effective leverage, and indeed it potentially is, it is one of those powerful tools which blunts through repeated brandishing. Representative politics, where you have MPs, congressmen or women etc. is a package deal. The representative has to encompass a divergent range of views of their constituents and their selectors. I think we’re all still slightly stunned by AOC’s inroads into the Democrats swamp-like inner sanctum, and it genuinely is remarkable. But what is even more remarkable is how awful the incumbent had to be before she or someone like her made headway. And how effective she had to be, even then, as a campaigner to get through. Similarly, to allow a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) to genuinely give the candidate the heave-ho is still a big task because the CLP members have to be almost universally united in their ire at the existing candidate.

                It’s telling that only a few of the most odious unmovable Blairites have been successfully deselected by their CLPs. Normally, they can divide and conquer their CLP by picking a few well-chosen local issues to split the voting. Planning decisions (what you’d call zoning in the US) is a particularly good way of doing this. Land use is a hot button issue in most constituencies so there’s always some decision or other with which to drive a wedge through the CLP. Plus there’s always a fair few CLP members who are way too ready to threaten deselection on trivial matters, which ends up with the candidate being able to say, with some justification, that certain CLP members want to deselect them for wearing socks with the wrong colour.

                So, in short, no, members are to a large degree of stickiness stuck with their MP. If the members want their MP to actually follow through in supporting a particular policy or, as here, a cross party agreement, there’s nothing they can do in the short term to ensure that happens. And even in the medium to long term, if they want to exercise retribution on an errant MP, that’s definitely not a given either (although it is a risk to the MP so it will influence their actions somewhat but not in a way which will pan out and would be certain to smooth the path of the Lambert Settlement).

            3. FKorning

              That’s not unique to the UK. The inclusivity of the left means chronic factionalism. The French even have a phrase for it: “la gauche plurielle”. Still, soften out the edges and fringes and you do get a cohesion with a core of ideas. Kudos on the Nixon bit, who despite his crooked flaws had statesman potential after all.

          3. vlade

            The UK politics with its FPTP systems put premia on not cooperating and actively trying to scupper any sort of compromises.

            It took starting to lose a war to do anything like that last time. I could, just barely, imagine it post catastrophic Brexit. But not before.

          4. David

            If I were Corbyn, or any other Labour leader, I wouldn’t touch such a deal because it’s asymmetric. Once Brexit is done, Labour has no way of holding May to the bargain. What do they do if she just shrugs her shoulders and tells them to get lost? The only thing that might work would be a coalition government, but except in extraordinary circumstances (like WW2) it usually eats the smaller and weaker partner. Think of the destruction of the Communists under Mitterrand, or what happened more recently in the UK to the Liberal Democrats.

            1. Lambert Strether

              A “government of national unity” being impossible. Yes, I was assuming Theresa May is agreement-capable. If this were Game of Thrones — which it isn’t, right? — the asymmetry would be solved with an exchange of hostages….

              1. Norm de plume

                Oh for an unaligned Varys figure working ‘for the realm’, with some little birds in Brussels…

          5. Norm de plume

            That is far too wise to be considered (does that make it a unicorn, or a pony?) but it would get my vote, if I had one.

      3. Olivier

        Vlade, why do you talk up Labour vs. Tories like that? This is no longer where the fracture line is: it now runs within both parties. And therein lies the answer to your implicit question: Labour can’t take advantage of Tory weakness because it is just as weak as the Tories and for the exact same reasons.

        Now, how long it will take for the political landscape to recompose itself along more pertinent lines I have no idea. Montaigne once wrote “Tout ce qui branle ne tombe pas” (not everything that totters falls). But until it takes place all UK political leaders will be more or less lame ducks.

        1. vlade

          Labour split is much much smaller number-wise than Tory. It’s basically head vs body.

          Pretty much all polls suggest that Labour membership is vastly pro-remain, or pro-soft Brexit.
          Most of Labour MPs are similar (you find rebels everywhere, Corbyn was a perma-rebel). Majority of Labour voters are also pro-EU (i.e. at worst, soft Brexit).

          The unicornism, everything to everyone, is being driven by Labour leadership. Not members, not Labour voters. That is from a man who promised to run the party the way the members want.

          While there may be majority of Tory MPs for soft Brexit, their members and voters (majority of) are firmly in the no-deal corner. So their loony wing (ERG) has actually quite a strong support by the members and voters.

          If Labour booted out Corbyn and went officially with say second vote, lost vs gained voters would likely be about the same – even if Corbyn formed a new party. (Labour would then again, for worse or better, became electable for quite a few marginals who would otherwise give it to LD or even soft-Tories).

          If Tories booted out ERG, a lot of their voters would go to any new party they formed.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Might have a bit of doubt vlade with what you said in part. If Labour booted out Corbyn, that would amount to the Blairites taking back control of the Labour party. The same faction whose work led to the conditions in the UK being so bad that led to a Yes vote in Brexit. Would Tony Blair come back for one more bite of the cherry? I am sure that he would like to.
            That might lead to an implosion of the Labour party in the coming months if not an out and out revolt. With the Tory party likely to have their own implosion when Tory voters see what post Brexit is like, can the UK seriously entertain the possibility of having both the major political parties coming apart when solid leadership will be needed then?

            1. PlutoniumKun

              I don’t believe the Blairites would retake the Labour party if Corbyn went. There has been a comprehensive move left within the Party in the last 10 years and they are now very much a minority (a noisy minority, but a minority nevertheless). Blairites are a minority, but it also has to be said that having a perma-rebel like Corbyn take control was something of a political freak. Most likely Corbyn would be replaced with someone from the ‘firm, but not far’ left, if you know what I mean. It should be remembered that his predecessor was actually considered from the left of the party, although fatally he made the mistake of trying to ‘moderate’ in power rather than stand firm on his principles.

            2. vlade

              If we had solid leadership, and if either of the two major parties was able to provide solid leadership in the last decade or so, we would not be where we are.

              As someone says above – we live with the morons we have, not the morons we’d like to have

              1. The Rev Kev

                Thanks for those answers PK & vlade. I have just been imagining what the UK leadership will be like for the rest of the year and what the fallout will be as in where the future leaders will be coming from. Maybe from the ‘insiders’ of each party?

      4. Mattski

        Seems to me that a political realignment is in order, as all across the west. Yes, there is potential for a new center party, and I know that Blairites are mulling such an animal. But–as with the Dems here in the US–much of “Labour” is in fact neoliberal there is a real vacuum on the left. That vacuum needs to be filled with policy proposals and shoeleather consensus-making politicking, but one has to start somewhere. At the very least the thesis wants testing.

        No, you might not win the first time out, but that’s the work and consensus-building part, the “party” part.

        1. vlade

          The problem is if Corbyn loses, and loses significantly, not just Corbyn (whom I dislike for a number of reasons) but also a number of policies he puts forwards ( a number of which I do like) will get a short shrift, as they are associated mostly with him

        2. David

          This has been going on in UK politics for generations, but every initiative has fallen flat. A lot of people thought it had happened in the early 1980s with the formation of the Social Democrats, but what they didn’t realise was that the SDs were just right-wing Labour politicians, so the “centre” party actually became a second non-Tory party, split the anti-Tory vote, and let the Tories in for another 15 years. This is always going to happen, so far as I can see, because Tory politicians, historically interested in power, are unlikely to leave the party to move more towards some hypothetical centre. I do think a re-alignment is coming, but it will have to be after the destruction of the current parties as we know them.

          1. vlade

            If I was to hope for one thing, it’s the destruction for FPTP.

            Or, elect Commons on proportional basis, and move to elected Lords on FPTP (I’d happily allow one 10 year term there, but challengable with enough voter signatures).

            1. David

              Amen. In the past, the defence was that FPTP brought stability and assured majorities. Haven’t heard that argument in a while ….

  18. George Phillies

    Way back at the beginning May and the EU outlined red lines, lines seemingly corresponding to what each side’s parliament etc would accept. I seem to recall that not partitioning the UK was one of them. She then so far as I could tell agreed to things inconsistent with those lines, perhaps because she thought her bargaining position was weak. She appears to have gotten it right back at the beginning. There were limits on what she could accept and get through parliament. In other words, her bargaining position was stronger than she thought, because there were things she could not negotiate away.

    Herr Schauble and his alleged desire to make things unpleasant for the UK appears to have succeeded, for better or worse.

  19. Mark James

    Theresa May was a useless Home Secretary and has proven to be an even worse Prime Minister, if that was possible. May being a remainder proved to be a useless Brexit negotiator.

    Many MPs have shown their true colours, pursuing its own agenda as opposed to that of the people. MPs who ignored their constituents, should be removed from office.

    The Brexit fiasco is a lesson in shear incompetence and has shown the political process and the mantra of democracy to be a complete illusion!

    1. vlade

      Phuleease. Not the old “ignoring the referendum result is NOT democracy!” again. Unless you’re of the “unless they vote my way, it’s not a democracy” school.

      Swiss have the most experience with running referenda in the world. They have been doing it for hundreds of years. They have, in fact, a hard-deadline for implementing the result (3 years) – unless ANOTHER referendum drops it. Which means running another referendum with the same question within TWO (not three, as would be the minimum in the UK) years. I guess Swiss are not democrats by your measure.

      Oh, as an aside, for anyone paying attention, object lesson in how the EU negotiates was the implementation of 2014 Swiss EU immigration referendum.

      We had three years from the referendum – there are countries that run GE every three years (New Zealand). Does it mean they are undemocratic?

      We had another expression of public will since the referendum – 2017 GE. Parties that (at least officially) supported soft or no Brexit (Labour, LD, SNP, Green, PC vs Tories+UKIP) won majority of the popular vote in those, on pretty much any count.

    2. Darthbobber

      But “the people” also have no clear agenda. UK politics looks a lot like a convention of Schizophrenics Anonymous.

  20. Quentin

    Second referendum? Evidently this will be a referendum on the first one which is far from being implemented. And who says/thinks the second one will turn out any different from the first one? But if it does the whole London Lambeth Walk will begin again at GO—Tory will probably win anyway.

  21. Paul Handover

    I am a Brit living in the USA: Southern Oregon. Have been in the US since 2010. And very happy to boot!

    But I still think as a Brit, probably always will, and can’t believe my eyes and ears as to what is happening right now over there.

    Haven’t got anything to add to the conversation than that so will revert to reading the many interesting comments!

    1. Annotherone

      Ditto here, from another Brit in the USA, this one since 2004, US citizen now. I’m aghast at what has been going on over the past couple of years in my native land. I’ve always been of the opinion that British politicians, even when not of my chosen party, were at least highly competent within their own spheres and beliefs. Now all I see are “broken reeds” in all directions. It’s hard to get my, still British, head around it all.

      Thank you, Yves and all the commentators here for such helpful commentary.

  22. DJG

    As an American not of British descent, my main concern has been the fallout in the U S of A, given that the American elites ape everything English, down to Rhodes Scholarships, naming their kids “Trevor,” and use of the word “amongst.”

    What I see is: After Brexit, the United States.

    The incompetence of the English elites (and it is mainly the English elites) is manifest. It is a real irony that Oxford and Cambridge, constantly ranked as the best universities in the world, have produced such a crop of Pythonesque ne’er-do-wells.

    Yet the U.S. is much the same, and I’d venture that the main difference is that the U.S. still holds to our written constitution. Yet that constitution and its structures are paralyzed, too, by such infestations as corporate personhood, the barely constitutional “intelligence community,” and divided government.

    So I see all of this as a cautionary tale. Which does not bode well, as we here endure a governmental shutdown and the moral collapse of both political parties.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, DJG.

      Did you not get the memo?

      Firstly, get the American with similar ancestry to the Queen, German and Scottish, and real estate, property in Scotland, elected, on a Make America Great Again. Then, the Manchurian candidate says, “Just kidding! It’s make America Great Britain again!”

      Larouche will confirm. Big Phil is behind it all.

    2. WJ

      “It is a real irony that Oxford and Cambridge, constantly ranked as the best universities in the world,”

      In my experience, one needs to distinguish between (in US terms) undergraduate and graduate education in thinking about such universities (and Harvard and Princeton and Yale etc.)

      At the undergrad level, these unies are the best because they give you the most access to power corridors in London, NY, and DC, and as a result are attended largely (I did not say entirely) by kids from established oligarchic families who want to become rich and powerful (and most of the time become so).

      At the graduate level (PhD), there is a greater diversity of students (though not as much as there should be) who are brighter and harder working than most (I did not say all) of the undergrads at these institutions, and correlatively a much more intense focus on the subject matter at hand (astronomy, history, biology, literature). At the grad level these really are some of the world’s best universities.

    3. Ape

      The US really hasn’t had a written constitution for a long time. It’s pure common law with the propaganda of a written constitution.

      In the long term the reality principle is pretty harsh. The US is approaching that.

    4. FKorning

      You’re skipping ahead of yourself if you think higher learning is where political affiliations are formed. What North-Americans and non-British fail to graps is that Britain is still a class-based society, and that indoctrination occurs much before Oxbridge, in public school, meaning private boarding school, which makes up the vast majority of the Tory core. And even then, there are categories of public schools, with Eton at the top, then Harrow, Winchester, Rugby, and a plethora second rate and minor public schools, Catholic schools, military schools. Then there’s the grammar schools, which is where Thatcher’s lot came in, and a number of Labour politicans. The take-away is that to make it in Tory circles, it takes a private education, which means it is already selected for an affluent patrician class and to them class affiliation comes first. Many Tories are not concerned with governance, only with ensuring it is they that do the governing. Incompetence would be a valid criticism is the premise was that they were actually attempting to achieve something that would be judged by the public. I think we need to be more cynical here: it’s not incompetence, it’s contempt.

  23. DJG

    The assassination of Mayor Adamowicz of Gdansk made me do some fact checking. I didn’t realize that Donald Tusk is from Gdansk and is a political colleague of Adamowicz. The English elites couldn’t have asked for a better interlocutor, given Tusk’s career as what seems to be a moderate Tory, yet the English elites weren’t looking for interlocutors.

    Another cautionary tale.

  24. Burke

    As always, Yves and NC were way ahead of the game in accurately predicting this was going to happen.

    What I would love to hear is your prediction for what will happen after a no deal outcome. In an economic catastrophe is there a chance the UK would try to get back in to the EU, and could this be accepted? If not, then what happens next?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There is no chance of the UK rejoining the EU for decades after it drops out. In purely practical terms, the UK joins the back of the queue of joiners. Because it would inevitably be traumatic politically the EU would not even consider a request unless it was 100% sure that there was a popular concensus behind it, and its impossible to see that developing in the short to medium term.

      In my opinion, the most likely scenario after a no-deal is that the UK breaks up, either gradually or in a fairly catastrophic break-down. Its possible Northern Ireland and Scotland could rejoin the EU under the ‘wing’ of Ireland (there are precedents for this although it is technically against the rules). Last week on Irish radio the leader of Plaid Cymru suggested that it would be his policy to pursue the same policy.

      The irony is that Brexit, driven by English nationalists, may end up reviving the old 19th Century idea of an alliance of the Celtic Nations, developing closer links to Europe than to the Auld Enemy. This is just one scenario of course.

  25. EoH

    As others have said, the referendum was legally inconsequential political cover for Tory Brexiteers determined to de-regulate their state to serve the neoliberal order. They are in the midst of doing so by leaving the EU with a bang.

    If the government wanted to change its mind, however forlorn the hope that it would do any good, a second referendum would not be needed. It is all up to Parliament and always has been.

    The Brexiteers’ neoliberal path will cost the UK hundreds of billions of pounds. It will consume governments for over a decade as they unevenly try to reinvent once integrated laws and regulations and resolve the unprecedented chaos this unprepared for exit will generate.

    Asset prices and the pound will swing and plummet. Global capital will periodically swoop down and snatch a surprising list of asserts at fire sale prices. National and local governments, under tremendous stress, will be tempted to sell even more of what they have left to stay solvent.

    The resulting widespread dissatisfactions will make governments come and go at a rapid rate, further nobbling effective government. Some businesses will leave and most will not reinvest for years. Amsterdam and other regional capitals will be winners in that process, a mixed benefit given the costs of reinventing their trade regime with Britain.

    The United Kingdom will be under great pressure to undo itself. Scotland will say, I told you so. Wales will be unhappy. Northern Ireland will return to a hard border with Ireland, leading to obvious tensions and possibly violence. London will be the great loser in all of the above.

    I think there’s a chance that the EU would relent, regardless of written rules, and allow Britain to remain, though there would be quite a price to pay for all the hassle. But there is no party in Britain who would dare to ask. Parliament should feel like it has stuffed it and the country into a barrel and launched it just upriver from the Horseshoe Falls.

    1. Tony Wright

      Or maybe ” Anarchy in the UK”, followed by “Ride of the (Elitist/Oligarchal) Valkyries”.
      If a Hard Brexit does go ahead.
      Great discussion everybody.

  26. Pespi

    Jackals arguing in jackal court over who gets to eat the eyeballs and who gets to eat the anus.

    Jeremy Corbyn imagining a humble communitarian state, which could never exist without a civil war, which would result in he and anyone on his side ending up crucified along the road.

    Franco-Germans want to feast on the blood of the Britswho feasted on their own. There is no love or pity here, as a do-over vote imagines. The EU wouldn’t let them back in with the same privileges without massive real threats, and the willingness to carry them out. How does this sclerotic island of 1915 austro hungarian pretensions have the will to even buckle its shoes? No Jaguar? Who cares. Better for Mercedes No BAE? Great, we could use some weapon dollars. No City of London onshored offshore banking sector? We’d love the blood money in Frankfurt.

    It would take something like an American-British threat to bomb Paris and Berlin, or the initiation of such a thing, for this hunger for metaphorical blood to be quieted, in other words, a fantasy, a movie, “a unicorn.”

    To be a non mercantile economy in the EU is to feel the weight of chains, but the master does not let you go free by referendum. To rejoin, FUGITIVUM is carved into the heads of every UK citizen

    1. Conrad

      Well he hasn’t released anything since last August so maybe we’re in for something truly epic to celebrate Brexit.

      In the meantime I’m sure there’s something suitable in his 306 recordings

  27. larry

    Richard North has what I think is a strange take on what took place in the Commons yesterday. Cf. “the ayes to the right”. Be interested in what others think.

  28. ambrit

    The consensus view I’m getting here, which could be bias projection of course, is that ‘bloody mindedness’ is going to win the day.
    So, for leading indicators for ‘Post Brexit’ I’m wondering what preparations the UK military are making?
    Stockpiling supplies for the troops, who might have to step in to ‘maintain order’ through the ‘Hard Times’ looming on the horizon. Establishing bases in strategic spots, like next to ports. Training service members in traffic management to run those ports. Making provisions for ‘dragooning’ skilled civilians to keep strategic systems working. Mapping out alternate distribution channels for strategic supplies for when the ‘normal’ supply system collapses. Drugs and medical supplies? Where does the UK get it’s insulin from, as an example.
    In this regard, the military and the emergency response departments are a shadow government and instrumentality. What are their plans, and how far along are they in preparing for the worst?

    1. David

      Historically, the UK military have been used to keep essential services running, and to provide organised and disciplined groups of personnel for all sorts of general tasks. I would imagine that there are contingency plans to use them for such purposes if needed, but they will be plans drawn up by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. Some details of how the system works are here. The military will do what they are told so long as it is within the law, but they are now too small to play a major role, and many of the functions they used to provide in emergencies have been contacted out to the private sector. So far as I know, the most recent legislation on emergency situations is the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act.

      1. WJ

        …and many of the functions they used to provide in emergencies have been contacted out to the private sector.

        This is a delicious, horrible irony on so many levels.

      2. ambrit

        A quick perusal of the first document suggests that something as far ranging as a nationwide systems freeze up was not of primary importance. Discrete disasters seem to be the base line to measure from here. A systemic disaster is more appropriate a base line object.
        So, according to this, the Army will act when called upon. Considering the level of incompetence this government has shown, that ‘call out; of the Army will be too little and too late. However, I could be wrong and the Army already tasked with preparing for Brexit Deluxe. Where would such information be found, if at all available to the public? It makes me think of the infamous “Keep Calm and Carry On” defeatist posters run up at the very beginning of WW2. That was a ‘contingency plan’ that was kept secret for decades. Is the same process happening now, with Brexit? Secret Plans?

        1. c_heale

          I don’t think the UK military is up to the job. They are always hyped up in the UK as being the best in the world. I doubt they are.

          1. David

            Depends what the job is, and what the alternatives are. They are organised and disciplined, and they know how to get things done. They are also used to planning and conducting large-scale movements. Beyond that, there may not be a great deal anyone can do….

            1. The Rev Kev

              I myself am an admirer of the British Army but truth be told they have been gutted over the past few years. Probably to pay for big ticket items like the F-35 program and the construction of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers as well as for paying for the Trident nuclear program. There has been cut-backs on troops, equipment and I would guess a lot of training as well. Be interesting if the UK government had a choice of using British troops to manage the Brexit fallout or to send them to outposts in places like Syria which they would choose first.

  29. SW94

    Executive threatens Legislature with chaotic outcome unless legislature delivers executive’s policy objectives. Strange how the US and UK seem to be in lockstep.

    As a Brit, my distant view is that Trump will lose this fight- giving in to a bully is just an invitation to repeat the bullying. So Congress has to win.

    On Brexit, I am too close, and too biased to be a reliable predictor, but I also think May will lose, for slightly different reasons- the timing always works against her as she needs more time to implement her deal than anyone else needs to get their preferred outcome. And there is no practical way she can eliminate their first preferences in order to drive them towards her deal as their second or even third preference. And that dynamic will continue even if she gets an extension.

    Corbyn will also run out of road because a GE as part of resolving the impasse by 29 March will soon be self-evidently impossible. He either becomes a no dealer by default, or finds a new tune.

    So my “Best Buy” is a March struggle between no deal and Parliament, with Parliament winning. They have the numbers, they have a supportive Speaker. They just need a direction to march in, which won’t become clear until May’s and Corbyn’s first preferences are ruled out by time, releasing party loyalists to contemplate alternatives.

    And the lowest common denominator direction to march in is a second referendum. Personally I think the EU would not allow issues with the European Parliament elections to get in the way of what would be a win-win process for them.

    The other scenario-May suddenly develops a talent for consensus building and an appetite for flexibility. But I don’t believe in miracles.

  30. ChrisPacific

    Sturgeon is looking for a way forward, but doesn’t see one from May:

    Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, told the BBC that she spoke with May after the defeat of her Brexit bill. Sturgeon said, “To be perfectly frank, I didn’t glean very much – she was at pains to tell me she wanted to sit down with other parties and listen to other ideas. But I got the very strong sense she does not have a clear idea herself of what the next steps are, and it doesn’t seem to me as if she is prepared to abandon or move any of her red lines to open space for new approaches to be brought forward.”

    Sturgeon added, “It sounded like what she wanted to do was find a minor variation of her current deal – the one that was so overwhelmingly rejected last night.”

    Labour have also confirmed that ‘other parties’ didn’t include them. The one thing May does apparently have the ability to do is stay in power. So the concern for the next 10 weeks will be optimizing the arrangement of deck chairs, unless May decides otherwise.

    1. Anonymous2

      Excellent post and comments as usual, for which many thanks to Yves and all.

      Labour is now saying it will not talk to May until she ‘takes no deal off the table’. I suspect this is designed to cause problems for the Tories more than anything else. The party politicking goes on. Is this the most depressing aspect of Brexit – that party trumps country, it seems, at every turn?

      1. ChrisPacific

        The only way No Deal can be taken off the table is by either making a deal or reversing Brexit. Both are, if I’m not mistaken, subject to parliamentary approval (or perhaps disapproval would be a better term, given the result of the vote). So how can May possibly deliver that as a precondition to talks?

        Doubtless Labour has several alternatives in mind (of the sparkly equine variety) that they feel would count.

        1. larry

          What is meant by taking No Deal off the table is the removal of any intentionality attached to this result, so that, if No Deal happens, it will be accidental rather than by design. Whether this is realistic is another matter.

          1. vlade

            she tried that, didn’t she? She got an agreement, which the Parliamnet turned down.

            At this stage, there are only two possible outcomes for no-deal. May’s deal, no brexit (w/o referenda). Corbyn does not support either, but offers no other realistic options.

      2. Darthbobber

        And her version of cross-party talks seems to involve refusing to talk to the leader of the opposition, so how serious is anybody, really? And given the state of play it isn’t even clear that there’s anything to talk about.

        The antics of the politicians seem feckless, but they may well be a reflection of the confused divisions among their electorate.

        If there actually were a single clear preference among the potential voters, then sheer opportunism might bring sufficient political leadership to back that. But there isn’t.

      3. Ape

        Why not? Why is country a more natural loyalty than faction or class?

        If Corbyn really is Marxist wouldn’t one expect class loyalty over country?

  31. Savita

    19 votes! That’s all that stood between the no-confidence motion and May!
    Is that almost historic?

  32. Jack

    I am again and again surprised by the fact that no one here cares to mention that the referendum didn’t have a clear majority ! If you count the number of people who didn’t vote (but are eligible) there is no clear majority. In any half decent democracy that would have been considered. Maybe someone will pose a legal challenge to the uk govt on this basis.

    1. Lambert Strether

      It’s always dangerous to project one’s own country’s politics onto another country, but your comment reminds me forcibly of the Clintonian argument that Trump’s election was somehow illegitimate because he lost the popular vote, when what happened is that the shambolic Clinton campaign failed to allocate campaign resources to states they should have known they needed to win, by the rules they knew going in (rather like a football team claiming they “really won” because they racked up yardage, even though they didn’t put points on the board).

      If a legal challenge to the vote on the basis that you propose were going to happen, it would already have happened. Turnout was 72%, which would make political pundits in this country scream with joy. 51.89% to 48.11% is also regarded as a clear majority in this country; a margin like that wouldn’t trigger a recount, for example. Now, you could have argued that for a decision of this magnitude, a supermajority should have been required, but those were the rules. Or you could have argued that Parliament (also democratically elected) is sovereign, and so the referendum was purely advisory, but events have overtaken that view.

      Your comment does not do this, but in this country, the next step, for liberal Democrats, after (attempting to) delegitimize the vote is to delegitimize the voters (“the deplorables”) who were “wrong.” (“To dissolve the people And elect another,” as Brecht puts it.) This profoundly anti-democratic attitude is shared by many Remainers, who seem to believe that the best way to win Leavers to their cause is to denounce them for being ignorant, racist, the wrong age, the wrong color, etc. etc.

      What bugs me about both tactics — delegitimizing the vote, delegitimizing the voters — is that there’s really no way forward. If the last election is delegitimized, why would any subsequent election be seen as legitimate? Especially if it reverses the results of the first? And if to bring about that reversal, it’s necessary to win votes from voters who were “wrong,” why harden their positions by denouncing them, and in the vilest possible terms, too? These are scorched earth tactics that end up delegitimizing the entire electoral system.

      Oh, and I’m too lazy to do the search, but I’m almost certain that someone here has made that point. Sheesh.

      1. SW94

        How about this thread as charting the way forward

        The background is a referendum in Wales on setting up a devolved assembly, in parallel to a referendum in Scotland on doing the same.

        The problem with this referendum result is the majoritarian “we won, you lost, get over it” approach faced with a narrow win. Compounded by the splits in the win side over what happens next, with the most vocal being (unsurprisingly but regrettably) those demanding the most extreme solutions.

        If one side oversells their victory, it is almost essential for the other side to question its legitimacy. Offering compromises to a side that isn’t interested in compromises is an invitation to be ignored.

        Having said that, the deplorables line was just flat wrong. Their votes are as valid as anyone’s. And the rules are the rules.

      2. Clive

        The Guardian does try to make this point, from time to time e.g.

        … but it tends to get lost in the general outpouring of screechiness that makes up the majority of the their coverage. And yes, suffice to say that over two years of what might well be the largest and most sustained ad hominem in recorded history hasn’t exactly advanced Remain’s cause. I’d argue, though, that they didn’t have much else to proffer. Claims that the alternative to Leave could be Remain and try to reform the EU by some unstated mechanism wasn’t exactly going to bowl anyone over. As we occasionally see in Comments here, ad hominems are more likely to show up when the person putting forward a viewpoint has only weak arguments or no arguments to advance. The shelves in Remain’s intellectual store cupboard are pretty thinly stocked.

        1. David

          Exactly, and I wish this was said more often. It’s ironic that De Gaulle’s concerns about letting the UK into the (then) EC have turned out to be entirely justified. The UK played an almost completely malign role in Europe after 1991, cynically supporting every successive expansion which weakened and diluted the EU, and pushing their neoliberal agenda whilst preventing the growth of effective foreign and security structures. All that Remain had to offer was a continuation of this, although I’m convinced that an ambitious EU Reform agenda would have been very popular. As it was, UK elites were quite happy with things so long as they could send their children to good universities and business schools in Europe, and pop over to Tuscany whenever they felt like it.

          1. Thomas Cobb

            Hi David,
            New members don’t join the EU by QMV, but need to be approved by all members firstly by European structures and secondly by ratification by every country. In other words eastern expansion could have been vetoed by any eu state, but they chose not to, ie they fully agreed. It is disingeuous to blame it on the Uk as if this was some backdoor plan that went unnoticed until too late. It’s an argument I hear from irate Europeans but it is just not not true.

            1. David

              You are right that it wasn’t a backdoor plan, but it was nonetheless settled UK policy since 1991 (I was there). Whereas other states wanted enlargement for its own sake, the UK supported and encouraged it as a way of avoiding the deepening of the EU, and diluting the French influence.

        2. larry

          Reform of the EU was stated outright in a letter to the UK by over 100 MEPs. Unfortunately, I have never heard of most of them, though that may not be that odd, as I live in the UK and don’t hear much about EU parliament goings on. Why they thought the UK could assist them in this effort, I don’t know.

          1. Clive

            That’s the EU equivalent of a hundred Congress critters writing a letter saying the US will, henceforth, mend its wicked ways and be a fine upstanding global citizen. Not worth the paper it was written on, in other words.

            The Parliament has no power to do anything than to approve or vote down Commission Directives. If it votes them down, the Commission can tweak them and send them back again. I can think of only two documented occasions in the last thirty years or so when the Parliament has really put its foot down and said no way Jose and thrown out the Directive never to have it return. It can’t do anything about the appointed, rather than elected, Commissioners. It can’t break the Four Freedoms lock.

            It can, and does, tweak around the edges. But no more than that.

      3. jack

        Umm… you are thinking about it the wrong way. See it this way, there is ‘none of the above option’ in the UK, like in India. So there’s not really a way to distinguish those who didnt turn up and those who didnt want to vote for either/ reject the very premise of the referendum. So you should be considering these people. So then taking numbers from, we get 37.4% of the electorate(17,410,742 of 46,501,241) for brexit and 34.7% of the electorate (16,141,241 of 46,501,241) for remain. There simply is no clear majorit for any side. People are being taken for a ride!

    2. PlutoniumKun

      This is the problem with the British ‘constitution’ – it doesn’t set out rules for these things (well, there are rules, but they are vague).

      The biggest issue with the referendum is not that it was narrow, or there was a low turn-out (although this should rightly have led to caution by the government), but that two of the four ‘nations’ in the UK – Scotland and Northern Ireland – clearly and comprehensively voted to stay in the EU. If the ‘Union’ meant anything, this should have led to at the very least a pause for thought.

    3. David

      The problem is that in the absence of a written constitution, nobody really knows how to “read” such a result. In most countries there are rules -eg a constitutional amendment requires X votes in Y fashion. In the UK, it’s accepted that you can win a parliamentary seat by one vote, after a recount, but that’s about it. Custom and precedent is fine, but it’s no guide here. I think the reality is that Cameron was so sure of winning easily that the Remain campaign simply didn’t focus on this issue. I’m also sure that if it had been Remain that had won by the same margin, they’d now be saying: “get over it you lost.”

      1. skippy

        My personal fav was “bringing more open and free [tm] markets” … I think I just heard a bell ring …

        On a personal note the discussions I’ve had over the topic by the leave group have morphed from sovereignty and freedom from the oppressive E.U. to the E.U. is now punishing the Tories for wanting to leave so as the other E.U. members watch the chicken get it.

        That’s right Kev the E.U. is responsible for the whole thing, I just suggest looking up the term Chutzpah.

        1. Ignacio

          That is consequent. Nothing good comes from the EU and thats why they wanted to leave in the first place. The consequence will be, whatever brexit path brings the future, that anything bad will still be… EU’s fault!!!

          As I see it the path the UK is following will result in something more than just brexit. It will have long standing consequences on the relationships between the UK and the continent, except in case the UK is partially or totally splitted in its different nations.

          1. skippy

            My response to the same link on another blog …

            Sweeper MEMBER
            January 17, 2019 at 11:11 pm

            If the Tory government was even slightly competent in preparing for hard Brexit he may have had a point.

            January 18, 2019 at 7:02 am

            I don’t get it Sweeper ….

            Had the Tories not dismantled or sold off the responsibility of the public sector to the private sector, for a quick pound, in the name of “open and free markets” e.g. more efficiency[?????] – that might have been an option.

            It always seems this mob is dead set on burning up intellectual capital in the name of profit and then when none are left to advise or inform on matters that are not grounded in PR – Marketing – MBA myopia the only option left is to extenuate their own failure on something or someone else.

            Personally I’m waiting for them to devolve to the point of calling the E.U. a totalitarian socialist commie destroyer of liberty and freedom …. when in reality its just the outcome of their own machinations – over decades – coming home to roost and thinking none of it applies to them e.g. double standards i.e. lesser beings or nations are the ones that are supposed to get the burnt end of the stick – always.


            This is what it really boils down to from my perspective Ignacio.

              1. skippy

                Cheers mate … I understand its a mugs game and loath the enablers when heaps of people would like to get on with things ….

  33. Norm de plume

    Not often I agree with Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian but there is a kernel here:

    ‘Perhaps, though, the seeds of the vote were planted in the rubble of Britain’s wartime experience. Never occupied, many Britons never understood the intense need for the EU as continental Europeans feel it. In 1984, at a ceremony to honour the fallen of Verdun, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl held hands, in a powerful gesture of Franco-German reconciliation. According to her biographer, Margaret Thatcher was unmoved, instead mocking the sight of two grown men holding hands’

    1. David

      Yes, me too. I went to Verdun not that long after the Kohl-Mitterrand visit, and it’s absolutely overwhelming. It’s not exactly a fun visit, but I have recommended it to anyone who wants to understand the original dynamics of European cooperation. I say “original” because Kohl and Mitterrand’s generation was the last to have experienced the war, and control of Europe has passed progressively from the visionaries to the bureaucrats, as was probably inevitable.

  34. Yves Smith Post author

    Are you serious? You expect to be served up a perfect choice for you in electoral politics? As if what suits you personally is what should rule the land? This is an astonishingly narcissistic perspective.

    Plus you’ve shifted the grounds of your argument, which is acting in bad faith. You are accumulating troll points.

    In US races, there are often only two candidates. You pick one or you choose to be disenfranchised.

    And if you don’t like the choices, how about getting involved in promoting better candidates for lower level offices so they grow up politically and can eventually serve in bigger offices, and in the mean time improve local government?

    Whining and expecting things to be done instead of you doing some work is a big part of why politics are so dysfunctional.

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