Brexit: Circling the Drain

Even though there are unlikely to be any significant Brexit developments prior to Parliament’s “meaningful vote” on May’s Brexit deal the week of January 14 (and even what happens then will probably be a lot of noise as opposed to signal), we thought we’d do some catch-up, in part to let our plugged-in UK and Ireland readers supply their usual informative and sometimes amusing intelligence.

The high level overview is that the UK leadership classes and the press continue to be disengaged from reality even as the Brexit clock keeps ticking. Can I get some of whatever they are smoking?

Theresa May keeps up her Groundhog Day routine. If you follow the Brexit beat, you would have caught that Jean-Claude Juncker chewed the UK, meaning Theresa May, out over “not having its act together” late last week. Recall that at the December EU summit, Theresa May made yet another personal appeal to EU leaders, this time for legally binding assurances regarding the Irish border backstop. The problem is that what May wanted amounted to a renegotiation of terms, such as saying the backstop would only be temporary. For that to be valid, there would need to be a sunset date, which would create the possibility that the backstop would end before a new EU-UK deal was in place, leading to the hard border that the EU (and supposedly the UK) have deemed to be non-starters.

EU leaders had said when they approved the draft Withdrawal Agreement in November that there would be no more negotiations. Donald Tusk reaffirmed that on December 10:

Yet when Theresa May came to the EU summit in December, she succeeded at the only thing she seems good at, which is alienating EU leaders. The EU had made clear it was willing to give not-legally-binding side statements that it was willing to spin in the manner that would be most helpful to Theresa May, such as saying they wanted the backstop only to be temporary and were as eager as the UK to conclude a trade agreement (which would put an end to the backstop). But to the frustration of EU state heads, May didn’t ask for what was on offer, nor did she make a clear request for anything else.

What May appeared to have communicated was that the UK was still not engaging with the reality that Brexit was looming. Their response was to send the Withdrawal Agreement out for approval by national parliaments (yet more confirmation, as if it were needed, that negotiations were over) and stepping up their Brexit planning.

That is a long-winded way of demonstrating that Juncker’s remark was simply a blunt summary of the state of play, as well as a reminder that May was still not taking the EU up on its willingness to try to improve the optics. Instead, has kept asking for what she should understand that she won’t get, as one can infer from the Sun’s account over the weekend:

His broadside came as it also emerged last night that two weeks of talks to try to improve Theresa May’s Brexit deal have failed to produce a breakthrough.

The PM has just nine days to go to win enough concessions on the hated Irish backstop to persuade Tory MPs to back her when the Commons debates it again.

Help me. Juncker is no Barnier, and one can wonder whether his slap at May was another demonstration of his propensity to go off the rails (this time after considerable provocation), or a deliberate display of venom:

In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, he said: “It is not us who are leaving the United Kingdom – it is the United Kingdom that is leaving the European Union.

“I find it entirely unreasonable for parts of the British public to believe that it is for the EU alone to propose a solution for all future British problems.

“My appeal is this: get your act together and then tell us what it is you want. Our proposed solutions have been on the table for months.”

The former Luxembourg PM added: “I have the impression that the majority of British MPs deeply distrust both the EU and Mrs May.”

So what do we see today? May is yet again forcing EU leaders to listen to another appeal for them to do what they have said they won’t do, which is reopen the Withdrawal Agreement deal. As we’ve said from early on, the UK seems not to understand the meaning of the word “no,” at least with respect to Brexit. From the Financial Times, May to press EU leaders for Brexit concessions:

Prime minister Theresa May will on Thursday launch a round of EU diplomacy as she seeks “clarifications” to sell her Brexit deal to sceptical MPs, who return to Westminster next week ahead of a vote on the package.

She is expected to speak this week to EU leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and European Council president Donald Tusk in an attempt to break the Brexit logjam.

Mrs May is seeking legally binding assurances that a so-called backstop plan — intended to avoid a hard Irish border, based on proposals for a temporary UK-EU customs union — will be time-limited. Brussels has so far refused to offer such assurances.

If I were an EU head of state, at this point, I’d be questioning May’s intelligence, sanity, or both.

More evidence of shambolic UK Brexit preparations. The latest episode is the hiring of a ferry charter service from a recently-formed ferry company with no ferries and no experience. UK companies aren’t so lackadasical; they’ve been stockpiling.

But the lack of engagement with reality seems endemic. Richard North gives yet another sighting on what has come to be called “ferrygate”:

Right up front were the throw-away lines from Grayling when he responded to the subject by claiming that he was “expecting the Channel ports to operate normally in all Brexit circumstances”. He’d had “detailed discussions” with his French counterparts and they wanted to keep the Channel ports moving freely. Thus, said Grayling, “I’m confident that will happen”.

Had any sentient interviewer been confronted with such claims from the Transport Secretary, less than 100 days before Brexit day, one might have expected them to clear the decks and devote the rest of the programme to taking them apart. But this is the BBC we’re talking about. The claims were allowed to pass unchallenged.

The point at issue though is that, under all Brexit circumstances, bar one – where the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified and we get a transition period – there will be very significant changes to port operations, with the absolute certainty that there will be serious delays arising from the UK’s newly acquired status as a third country.

That the French want to keep the Channel ports moving freely should almost go without saying, but wishing something doesn’t make it so.

Like May, it seems that virtually every pol in the UK is serving up reheated non-starters. The press today is full of stories about Labour members being at odds with Corbyn over his “no second referendum” stance when there will be no second referendum. Or at least one that makes a difference (we’ve said it is entirely possible that the UK, channeling Greece in 2015, will schedule a second referendum to take place after the Brexit drop dead date, on the misguided belief that the EU would roll over). Consider:

Add to that:

1. May is not on board
2. In the unlikely event that May were booted in a no-confidence vote, there would be only a caretaker government until a new government was formed, which means no starting a referendum or asking the EU for a delay
3. Add to the timetable above a minimum of a month to pass primary legislation (revocation of the sections of the Withdrawal Act bill that hard-coded the Brexit date as March 29 as well as the referendum bill) and the time to set the wording of the referendum question.

The polls continue to deliver mixed messages. Despite the press giving the impression of a lot of support for a second referendum, the enthusiasm is likely to be greater among MPs eager to find air cover for Remain than among the public at large. It does appear clear that voters are not keen about May’s deal or at least would not be if they understood it:

But no one is telling UK citizens that they have only three choices: crash out, May’s deal, or a withdrawal of Article 50 with no referendum validating that action.

Corbyn continues to disappoint. This section of a Guardian story is cringe-making:

Corbyn said May should return to Brussels once her deal is voted down to find an agreement that Labour could support, including a full customs union.

“What we will do is vote against having no deal, we’ll vote against Theresa May’s deal; at that point she should go back to Brussels and say, ‘This is not acceptable to Britain’ and renegotiate a customs union, form a customs union with the European Union to secure trade,” he said.

Turning the mike over to vlade:

Except, of course:
– the “deal” really is a withdrawal agreement. There’s no EU deal. Yet. Doh?
– there’s no time to renegotiate anything, but hey, we just had Xmas, so sure some pressies are due?
– “Full custom union” (which you can talk about once you quit the EU and start talking “future relationship”, i.e. current political declaration) will solve precisely nothing to “secure trade”. CF Turkey. But I guess it you live in 19th century (as seems pretty mandatory for a UK politicians, unless you elect to go even further back), “customs” are the trade barriers you worry about.

I have no idea what will happen when it finally becomes undeniable that the UK has very few Brexit options. But it won’t be pretty.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    I think that the most ominous part of this article is where it is mentions that the Government gave a £13.8m (US $17.4) contract for ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium but that this company has no ships or any experience whatsoever in running a Channel service. In fact, it only came into existence about two years ago well after the Brexit referendum. A quick check shows that this company was awarded the contract without prior publication of a call for competition because of the “extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority” ( Yeah, right! With 85 days left until Brexit, the Government has to really start getting its ducks lined up and making some tough calls. It may not be so but decisions like this make you wonder if this is a case of mates being taken care of by someone in Government and that this will be the trend after Brexit kicks in.

    1. paul

      That has always been the hallmark of this administration (to use the term very loosely), look at the ‘help to buy scheme’ and how it was a direct subsidy to the building industry’s owners.
      The minister in charge, grayling, is a serial incompetent and genuine z grade genetic landfill. In a reasonably sane world he wouldn’t be put in charge of running a bath.
      Brexit will just be a means to an end for the venal morons presiding over it. A way to continue austerity, rip the remaining copper out of the public realm e.g.privatise the NHS (even further) and put scotland back in its box.

      1. larry


        grayling, is a serial incompetent and genuine z grade genetic landfill. In a reasonably sane world he wouldn’t be put in charge of running a bath.

        Brilliant take on Failing Grayling.

    2. paul

      Until this afternoon Seaborne’s web T&c’s seem to have been pasted from an online takeaway site:

      Placing an order
      Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited will make its best efforts to deal with third parties that are reputable, reliable and provide quality products and services. However Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited does not accept responsibility or liability for the quality or quantity of any goods served, delivered by or collected from any third parties. It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.

      It is the responsibility of the customer to ensure delivery address details are correct and detailed enough for the delivery driver to locate the address in adequate time. You must always provide a valid contact number and email when ordering online. Please provide additional delivery instructions in the relevant section on our checkout page. In the event that your address cannot be found, undelivered orders will be chargeable.

      Still, what do you expect for 20 govt million these days?

      1. vlade

        Hey, but it’s a startup, right? So it has to save money, like a few thousands on lawyers, so it can pay the expensive (100m+ pounds) ships it needs to buy to run the routes..

        If you took a screenshot, I’d suggest sending it to a few UK newspapers. Or at least Private Eye.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The media has already caught on to the story.

        Ridicule was also heaped on Seaborne’s “privacy terms”, which stated: “Members hold freedom to express themselves in their feedback. Although your intellectual freedom is respected, [Business name] reserves the right to remove from our website any material deemed threatening, immoral, racist, inaccurate, malicious, defamatory, in bad taste or illegal.”

        Among those criticising the company after the curious language on the terms and conditions was first pointed out by Twitter users was Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who said: “Seaborne Freight. No ships, no trading history and website T&Cs copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery site.”

        Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Awarding a contract to a ferry company with no ships is yet another disgraceful misuse of public money by the transport secretary.

        “The idea that Chris Grayling is backing a new business and has looked at this ‘very carefully’ is utterly risible. It’s yet another example of his incompetence and mismanagement of the UK’s transport system.”

        Another Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, said: “This is beyond a joke. It’s not just that the government have panic-hired a firm with no ships to conduct ferry services. That firm has literally nothing prepared to suggest the £13.8m handed over to them is a sound investment. They’ve seemingly copied and pasted their terms off a takeaway fast food website, and their login portal sends you back to Google.”

        Other signs that the website may have been cobbled together included a “portal login” section that was an image of username and password boxes rather than an actual means of logging in. A language settings option also appeared to be an image of a union flag rather than an interactive option.

        And the official response is:

        A spokesperson at Grayling’s department said on Thursday: “Before any contract was signed, due diligence on Seaborne Freight was carried out both by senior officials at the Department for Transport, and highly reputable independent third-party organisations with significant experience and expertise into Seaborne’s financial, technical and legal underpinning.”

        1. larry

          PK, as befits this fly by night firm, there appears to be some controversy over who the CEO is. Tradewinds says, Jean-Michele Copyans, while the Guardian says, Ben Sharp. Well, which is it. Sharp apparently has run other companies that have lost money and closed down owing creditors, according to Channel 4 News.

          Not only did the company copy its terms and conditions from a delivery company, they appeared to copy and paste from birdhouse jewelry, a company based in Cumbria (Jasmine Andersson). To quote a tweeter, you couldn’t make this shit up.

    3. gary oswell

      The only reason was to contract with a British company. It has subcontracted to EU shipping companies.
      As part of the “Taking Back Control” the Tories can’t contemplate giving this lifeline to Europeans directly.

  2. John k

    Maybe I’m missing something on the Irish issue…
    But with the May proposal… after a new trade deal is a agreed to, it presumably will be different from what exists now. Say the new deal has a duty of 50% on French alcohol imported into Britain… wouldn’t there need to be a hard border to prevent smuggling?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thats right of course, which is why the UK is trying desperately to make the Irish backstop time limited (which the EU is refusing to do). In reality, it is a permanent restriction on the UK’s ability to set its own trade policy. The EU is standing firm on the line that if London wants its ‘freedom’, this means an Irish Sea border, not a border in Ireland. Its either become a rule-taker, or have an Irish Sea border, thats the blunt choice the UK has been given. Since the EU has all the negotiating strength, they are not compromising on this. This is the trap the UK has found itself in.

      1. Yassine

        Thank you for describing the Irish border backstop issue so eloquently.

        This has probably been explained already but I have missed it : why is the EU opposed to a border in Ireland and thus trying to force an Irish Sea border ? Is it because the Republic of Ireland asked for it as a way to start a process of unification ?

          1. Yassine

            For sure, but this was acceptable at the time to the British because there was no question of an Irish Sea border, right ?

            1. Anonymous2

              It is unfair to write in terms of the EU trying to force an Irish Sea border. It is the UK which is causing the problems by electing to leave the EU.

              The problem arises because the UK has promised to avoid infrastructure at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The question is how can this be achieved if the UK is no longer an EU member.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          The EU isn’t trying to ‘force’ an EU border.

          There is currently an almost entirely open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – this came about partly through EU membership and finally as a result of the Good Friday Agreement which was co-sponsored by the EU. The GFA is central to maintaining the peace process in northern ireland. Leaving the EU results inevitably in the reestablishment of the border which would be devastating for those areas – people currently move freely for work and business and family, it would be hugely disruptive.

          The EU pointed out that the UK had made legal commitments through the GFA to maintain an open border. It stated that a fundamental requirement of the exit that it uphold those agreements. It suggested as the only logical solution that the customs/single market border be shifted to the Irish Sea (in other words, Northern Ireland would stay within the EU trade border while staying within the UK (this isn’t as difficult as it sounds as many powers are devolved to Northern Ireland anyway). The EU stated that the UK could accept this, or come up with an acceptable alternative. The UK didn’t come up with any sort of workable alternative (because, essentially, there isn’t one).

          1. Nat

            Northern Ireland would stay within the EU trade border while staying within the UK

            I fully admit I don’t know much about Brexit, but I am getting an odd sense that EU backed solution for Northern Ireland could be heavily abused by the UK. Couldn’t the UK export anything they wanted to the EU while avoiding its tarrifs by first shipping to Northern Ireland before exporting to the EU. Meanwhile the UK would be able to freely levying tariffs on EU imports in all of the UK outside of Northern Ireland. Or am I missing something?

            1. Clive

              No, there will be, under the Withdrawal Agreement, a new Single Market member, designated as “UK (NI)”. This Member State (or maybe better put “Member State-lette”) will be governed by Single Market rules, under the jurisprudence of the CJEU. Border checks will be imposed to ensure total adherence to agriculture and phytosanitary standards in incoming food and animal products. Manufactured goods placed on the Single Market (to use the EU parlance) will be subject to much less onerous checking at the “border” between UK (NI) and the rest of the UK (checking can be conducted at point of manufacture in the mainland in a lot of cases, probably 99.9% or even in totality) but must still meet Single Market standards to be placed on the Single Market. The UK will have to accept complete alignment with EU tariffs.

              It is a very elegant solution. It benefits all parties. It completely obviates the need for a hard border. It protects agricultural produce standards in the Republic, which is an essential requirement as agribusiness is pivotal to the South and one which the UK could not by any fair or diplomatic norms ever threaten by not having a waterproof solution for. It is a compromise for the UK (and NI) but it is just as much a compromise for the EU, too.

              Labour is stupid, stupid, stupid to not sign up to the Withdrawal Agreement. I am a fully paid-up Labour party member and a hitherto strong Corbyn supporter. But he is being dumb beyond words to be playing a game of (chlorinated) chicken with the Republic and the EU (as well as the UK, lest we forget) over this. I’m on the verge of saying it is unforgivable. I’ll reserve final judgement until we see what happens over the coming weeks.

              1. Nat


                Border checks will be imposed to ensure total adherence to agriculture and phytosanitary standards in incoming food and animal products. Manufactured goods placed on the Single Market (to use the EU parlance) will be subject to much less onerous checking at the “border” between UK (NI) and the rest of the UK (checking can be conducted at point of manufacture in the mainland in a lot of cases, probably 99.9% or even in totality) but must still meet Single Market standards to be placed on the Single Market. The UK will have to accept complete alignment with EU tariffs.

                Interesting. So will the EU will be paying for border guards and customs agents at all the ports in NI? Because if not, as long as UK exports can conform to the EU standards I still don’t see why they can’t just ship them to NI as part of the UK, and then export them from NI as part of the EU. Forgive my stupidity if this is dumb, I just don’t understand though.

                1. Anonymous2

                  The EU has to be confident that imports from the UK comply with EU standards. It can only be that confident if the UK insists all goods circulating in NI always meet EU standards. If the UK does not do that then the Republic of Ireland will have to put border checks in place. The UK has said that it wants to prevent a hard border so should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure this. It is clear however that a significant portion of English politicians want the UK to renege on its promises.

                2. Clive

                  Yes, that is the big advantage to the U.K. of the Withdrawal Agreement. It retains Single Market access via NI. It’s not completely clear if U.K. Country of Origin manufactured goods can be placed on the Single Market unless they physically route through the province or, and this seems more likely, if it will suffice to have the goods marketed by a legal entity which is merely registered in NI iteself but the goods still shipable from their base in the U.K. mainland. If it is indeed the latter, then the Withdrawal Agreement offers, for manufactured goods, the kind of crazy-thinking nirvana that the Ultras actually envisioned in the first place — Single Market access outside of the EU with no payments to the EU27 and no CJEU jurisdiction for the U.K. overall.

                  The nonsense about how it somehow is a weakening of the U.K. union is ridiculous. NI really will have the best of both worlds. Yes, the EU will have a finger in the province’s pie. But NI has always been a sovereignty compromise. Heck, the entire Island of Ireland has always been a sovereignty lash-up. The Withdrawal Agreement actually rationalises and adds a layer of logicality to it all.

                  And pro-Nationalist Corbyn doesn’t like it? Total and utter delusion.

                  Finally, keep in mind the EU doesn’t and never will have border inspection staff or customs patrols and so on. These are all retained responsibility (“competencies”) of the EU Member States themselves. A lot of people really don’t know how the EU works and makes mistakes like these assumptions. Not blaming you at all! The level of education we get on this subject is risible from most mainstream media sources.

  3. voteforno6

    I have no idea what will happen when it finally becomes undeniable that the UK has very few Brexit options. But it won’t be pretty.

    When do you think that realization will finally sink in? From a distance, I don’t know if it ever will. I’m sure they’ll spin the massive disruptions as some sort of deliberate sabotage by the EU.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The one thing that has changed in the last three plus months is better (but still inadequate) UK press coverage of how bad a crashout would be. Even though the Ultras are still running their “This is just Project Fear again, there’s nothing to worry about and the UK will be much better off in not that long a time” lunacy, that spin seems to be recognized as not credible beyond the hard core Brexit fans.

      However, the delusion is still strong on the “The EU will let us have a lot of what we want” front particularly regarding “We can get a better deal” and “We can have a second referendum”. The EU has said it’s not in the business of solving the UK’s political problems.

      I dunno when the exact time will come, but given the caliber of reporting (and in fairness, MP and pundit commentary), it looks like later than January. May’s bill will fail, and we’ll have a ten days or two weeks of frenzy. The very earliest the UK political classes will come to grips with the notion that the EU won’t extend long enough for a second referendum (or if they were to decide to do so, rest assured they’d demand a huge price of some sort, the max for a “free” extension is early July) is probably mid Feb. But May won’t ask for an extension, so until someone asks or the EU decides to make an official statement (as opposed to sending consistent signals to reporters who then don’t say enough about it), the struggle could remain May playing chicken (May refusing to ask the EU for an extension and putting her deal back to Parliament for a vote until it relents). So the lack of Brexit options may wind up looking like a result of May having shut some down as opposed to having only one additional choice, the political third rail of revoking Article 50 without having had a referendum to give air cover.

      So I would guesstimate sometime in February that more reality will start sinking in.

    2. fajensen

      I think Brexit will closely follow the narcissistic grief process: Denial, anger, bargaining, abuse, and stalking.

      Right now every uttering, no matter how bland and contentless, from the EU side leads to scores of articles following the format of: “They really loves us, they don’t wants us to leave, they needs us, we are precious to them, but, we’re just going to leave anyway, once we get A Deal, which we will, because: They really love us …. ”

      It is guaranteed that the EU will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the life of the UK forever after the divorce, whatever the settlement will eventually be!

  4. David

    This is, I’m afraid, pretty typical of the later stages of a political crisis. If you forced May to sit and read the very capable summary above, she would no doubt reply “yes, all that may be true, but I’ve got a crisis to manage. I’ll worry about all that stuff later” In other words, she is fixated, as is everybody else, on the short-term, near-at-hand problems that she can actually understand and potentially influence. It’s that which also explains Labour’s obsession with Corbyn’s views on an impossible referendum, and the efforts that media like the Independent are making, even now, to have that referendum. When the big problems are too big and hairy to actually solve, you console yourself by playing with things you can actually influence, or that will have a short-term impact on you.
    By the way, David Davis has been writing apparently in the Torygraph that “The more we prepare to leave the EU without a deal, the more likely a good deal becomes.” He makes May look sane and balanced by comparison.

    1. vlade

      It’s actually worse than that. The current negotiations are, as all the UK pols seems to forget, about Withdrawal Agreement. Really, three things – EU/UK citizens rights, the UK bill, and the Irish border.

      The Irish border does impose (as PK says above) some serious constraints on the UK trade-wise. So it puts boundaries around the future. But it’s not the future, and the future deal still remains to be negotiated. Regardless of the Irish backstop, the UK’s future deal can have only three broad shapes. No deal, FTA, and single-market access (with all the obligations). The Irish backstop disappears in the last one, and either stays or morphs into sea-border under the first two. Or goes away entirely, as I suspect that on either of those two NI would try to unite.

      The “funny” thing on this is that most of the Brexiters would actually prefer NI to do the last, but can’t say so.

      In either way, there’s still a lot of negotiation, and even more of selling to domestic audience to be done. Seeing what happened so far, I predict that even if May’s deal gets agreed on, we’ll see a re-run in 2020, when the transition period ends.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    May’s refusal to listen really is baffling. I can only assume she thinks that by continuing to annoy EU leaders thismay eventually lead to them granting her some sort of major concession out of pure exasperation. It is not going to work, they have just stopped listening. The irony is of course that they’ve been signalling for months that they are perfectly willing to make conciliatory statements that she can present as ‘victories’ at home to help her over the line, but she just won’t take the hints. It makes you wonder whether she is entirely tin eared or if she is also terribly badly advised – it may be a mixture of both.

    Corbyn is playing a dangerous game. He is playing pure ‘politics’ with it, but he is seriously angering a major chunk of his own supporters by refusing to acknowledge the damage Brexit will cause. The Labour leadership seem fixated on placating Brexit supporters in northern constituencies while igorning the many remainer votes they could win by being more open and telling the truth (assuming they understand the truth, given statements by some of Corbyns advisors, I think they are as deluded and clueless as many of the Tories).

    I think there is one chance of the Deal being accepted – May is chipping away at hardliners in the Tory party, giving out peerages like they are sweets and no doubt other favours. The hard Brexiters in cabinet are positioning themselves as more moderate for the inevitable leadership election in a couple of years. It may be that if Corbyn continues to rile his own Remain supporters enough Labour MP’s will cross the floor to balance out the DUP and Ultras.

    But the UK still hasn’t woken up to the catastrophe a no-deal will create. The fiasco of the ferry contract should by rights have woken up everyone, but watching the BBC or reading the UK newspapers, it all seems to be just a silly political game, nobody seems to have really woken up to the economic consequences.

    1. vlade

      I’m with you on Labour. I sort of can undestand them, but still believe they are making a massive strategic mistake. There’s evidence that Labour supporters (and memebers) will quit Labour if they see it as enabling Brexit, especially if Brexit ends up in a catastrophe, which at the moment I’d say is odds-on.

      To me, Corbyn is turning into UK’s Obama – in a different way (coming to leadership from an entirely different angle), but the same result – building hope that gets squashed. People can stand only so much hope squashed, and Labour managed to do it with Blair already in living memory. If Corbyn does the same, expect more people to turn hard right.

      1. David

        I’m not sure that Corbyn thinks there’s anything useful that he can do to affect the situation one way or the other. I’ve read any number of articles complaining about what he’s doing or not doing, but nothing suggesting that if he did X, then there would, or even could, be positive benefit Y to the outcome. But this is surely part of a wider problem in the British political system. The Brexit problem as it exists has no solution, and the only real question is who, and which parties, will be taken down by the inevitable result of no deal or the WA. I’ve believed for some time that most UK politicians have despaired of actually being able to influence the result, and are essentially positioning themselves for the aftermath, where they can say “If only they had listened to me/us ….”

        1. vlade

          Brexit was Tory’s beast from the start. The fact that it was an ambiguous beast matters not.

          Corbyn and Labour could have been, for the last two years, educating (or at least trying to) what are the real options the UK has. If nothing else, that would have positioned him in the “if only they had listened to me” position.

          That assumes they would have a clue though, which they demonstrably don’t. And that’s the generous assesment, the less generous one is that they do, but hope for disaster socialism, playing their own political games with people’s lives not much dissimilarly than calling for a war.

          Oh, and also, people in the crisis want leadership. May shows some. It’s a charge-of-light-brigade leadership, but in the absence of anything better, people will go even with that.

          Corbyn shows precisely zero leadership. Ambiguous approach to Brexit was ok up till summer, where the crisis started beign obvious.

          But being ambiguous in crisis is not something that makes people trust you (see comparisons on May vs Corbyn as perceived being leaders).

          1. PKMKII

            Corbyn’s accelerationist gambit (I’m becoming more and more convinced that’s the game he’s playing) is an incredibly dangerous one, to boot. Sure, in theory it’s possible to spin the Brexit economic fallout into a wide-ranging socialist/SocDem platform, rammed through as the dire circumstances require action now. However, the hardline neoliberals have been preparing for quite a while now to spin it the opposite direction, play the belt-tightening, make-due card and go full Latvia with the austerity politics. As PK (no relation, I swear) noted, if the remainers and blairites split over Corbyn’s machinations, it would be no surprise to see them revert right back to centrist “responsible spending” policy and get right on board with the austerity regime.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Its true that a lot of the criticisms of Corbyn are of the ‘well, if we wound things back a year he should have done X’ variety, and of course he is also (more or less) following the motion passed in the last party conference, but I think his refusal to acknowledge the Remainers arguments are endangering his own project within his own party. Plenty of Momentum members are very angry with him right now, and this increases the chance of a Labour split which would benefit May significantly.

          The fundamental problem is that he should have one core political goal – make the Tories own Brexit and all that goes with it. He is in very great danger of finding that public anger will focus on Labour just as much as the Tories when everything goes pear shaped.

          1. Clive

            Yep, and worse (can I even say that? indeed I can!) is that, even if Labour somehow escapes the public’s ire (and like you I can’t figure out why that would be the case), Labour’s attempt to be — simultaneously — both the party of Leave and the party of Remain will as an absolute minimum end up disappointing 50% of voters.

            Granted, this was always going to be the outcome which was what Corbyn was I suppose trying to avoid in the first place. But the optics are way worse when the penny drops and its obvious you were just playing politics with the issue. Voters will put up with a lot of crap, but what sunk the likes of Hillary, Jebbie (! he wrote the book on this), Macron and so on are when everyone cottons on to the fact you’re just cynically adopting a seemingly plausible stance on this- issue or that- issue but it’s later obvious it is merely for political positioning. After that, you’re toast.

      2. Kurt Sperry

        I stand by this.

        Kurt Sperry
        May 1, 2017 at 11:02 am
        Amen. The Tories, with an historic Brexit fiasco looming, have handed Labour and Corbyn a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to destroy their brand for years or even longer and he and the party have utterly failed to position themselves to take advantage. All Labour had to do here was to take a strong position, unambiguously and definitively pin Brexit on May and the Tories, then sit back and watch as the near-inevitable trainwreck swallowed them in flames and black smoke. Even if he isn’t personally enthusiastic about remaining within the EU, you don’t see chances like this to destroy your political opponents often.

    2. paul

      But the UK still hasn’t woken up to the catastrophe a no-deal will create.

      From my festive soundings that is very much the case, all bright, well meaning people, but only one had any serious understanding of what was involved, but they were actually privy to some of the behind the scenes crazy.

      Of course, I was the pariah as a leave voter (with much the same motives as Clive here), so it was much easier to blame it all on me, rather than emerge from resentful, denial.

      1. shtove

        I tried festive soundings in 2017, but the conversation went nowhere. In 2018 I had everyone around the kitchen counter raise their hand if they had access to two passports, and finished with: “Let’s move on, shall we?”

        For what it’s worth, I do feel that people who were of the “government will never let it happen” persuasion are now in squeaky-bum time.

        As for Labour, members still support the party manifesto and conference line on Brexit by quite a margin – and that’s from a Yougov poll. I imagine Corbyn has a much better fix on where his internal support lies.

    3. bun

      what would you have him do, given that the great majority of Labour constituencies voted Leave (as this blog pointed out just recently)? Even if most of actual Labour supporters now are Remain (is that true?) the fact is that if Labour wants to form a government, it cannot afford to lose those Leave constituencies. He cannot please his MPs and Remain supporters (likely clustered in London) AND the majority of his constituencies at that same time.

      so, again, even just looking at this one fact, what would you have him do? Of course assuming he would like to form the government one day and not simply enage in some BBC virtue signalling…

  6. Neil T

    A letter from the front line…(warning: some may be offended). Well here in the EU, all is quiet. There are few English on the streets, I presume because they are all buckling in for the big push…BREXmas! Here on the Spanish line, the “enemy” chief has said that the 300,000 legally resident English will be protected (from unknown horrors I presume), however everyone is quiet regarding the approx. 480,000 English loose in the countryside. I blame Google Trains Late, because when the English typed in “casa del campo” and “finca” they got back “country house” and “estate” rather than “shed” and “field” and so cannot get residency or import their uninsured, untaxed cars or pretty much do anything else legally.

    This means that after Brexit they will have the same legal status as some African bloke fresh off a dinghy (but without the free red blanket of welcome).
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to the news reports showing herds of gammons trudging through France as they do their impersonation of the old “Syrian conga” and then camping out at Calais waiting for evacuation back to Blighty. Maybe the French will rename “The Jungle”, “The j’Angle” in their honour.

    Anyway, nearly got all my ducks in a row: vehicle imported, health insurance, cert. of empadronament and just waiting for my final police residency interview. Then I can start my new “economic migrant” life in a land where there is still food and electricity.

    Grasping the Brexit opportunities, I’m thinking of setting up a business giving tours to visit the Kent truck fields. I understand they are glorious in the Spring sunshine.

    Pip pip!

  7. sd

    Labour: I try to follow these articles carefully and still do not clearly understand what it is that Labour is supposed to be doing from its current position. I am hoping that someone could explain what it is that Corbyn and Labour could be doing that would actually help what looks like a rather hopeless and inevitable flame out…

    1. vlade

      First, they should STOP selling unicorns. Leave it to Tories/UKIP/DUP. The reality WILL hit, and then all unicorn sellers will be tarred with the same brush.

      They could even go around and explain to people that Tories & co are in the unicorn markets. It’s not easy, but education never is – but what progress we got was because masses got a bit more knowledgeable. For example, there’s nothing stopping Labour running their own “citizen assemblies”, which, if they truly cared, would take on not just Labour supporters/members, but really the sample.

      If they wanted none of the above, they could at least keep silent, instead of pedling unicorns.

      And I’m not even going into the misdirection on the EU state-aid which Corbyn always drags out as the reason why not go EU (there’s plenty of reasons. This is not one of them).

      Corbyn is playing politics with Brexit, which in my view is only slightly better than playing politics with a war.

      In other words, Corbyn and Labour leadership could finally grow up. I understand it’s hard in a political environment where one-takes-all and thus has no reason to compromise, negotiate (which all requires ability to learn, something majority of the UK pols seems to lack), but either it will happen, or politics gets changed a lot. Not necessarily for the better.

      1. Avidremainet

        I think the clue is in the title ” Leader of the Opposition “. Corbyn, Starmer et al have done all that could be expected in parliament. They have humiliated Mrs May on numerous occasions. What more do you want from them?
        The Prime Minister cannot get her business through parliament, seems unable to unify her cabinet and her party. This is dangerous for the way our parliamentary democracy is supposed to work. Mrs May is defying all the norms and conventions that keep our unwritten constitution on the road. Hardly anyone points this out or sees the perilous position we are in. Labour does, Jacob Rees-Mogg does but no-one else.
        By all precedents Mrs May should have resigned when she pulled the meaningful vote. She failed, is failing and will continue to fail. The only honourable thing for her to do is resign.

        1. Clive

          No, this time that conventional-wisdom politics playbook won’t wash. For standard-issue left/right political policy stances, the “left” opposing the “right” on any basis which happens to come to hand is fine. But Brexit transcends these left/right norms. You have to, as a policy response, be for one side of the argument and against the other.

          Fence-sitting just gives you a sore backside. As Corbyn is discovering.

          1. Avidremainer

            My point is that we are not in “conventional-wisdom politics”. Mrs May’s conduct is so outrageous, so far beyond convention that we are in new territory.
            What do you do with a Prime Minister who ignores all precedent? Her government is not functioning. She is barely functioning. In the past, when a government ceased to function then that government resigned.
            We are suffering in the UK because Mrs May refuses to see the writing on the wall.

            1. vlade

              Well, precedent is there for ignoring, unless it can be enforced.

              That said, what do you think May would achieve by resigning? The possible outcomes remain the same no matter who is the PM (and that includes Labour winning snap elections). No deal, May’s deal (no time for anything else), or no Brexit.

              It’s likely that the only informal, cross-party, majority is for avoiding no-deal. But as long as Corbyn peddles “renegotiation” unicorns and is forcing his MPs to follow the lead, the clarity is lacking.

              If he really wishes to renegotiate, the first thing he should say that A50 needs to be delayed. He does not say that – and any easily available delay would not be sufficient anyways, even if the EU was willing to renegotiate, which it’s not.

              We’re not suffering because of May. The UK is suffering because of incompetence and cowardice of its pols in both major parties.

              1. Avidremainer

                Once the crisis breaks then everything is in play.
                Mrs May will achieve nothing, not now not ever. Nothing is possible until’ Mrs May is out of the way.
                I agree we are in a mess, however the prospect of being hung in the morning does tend to concentrate the mind.
                We discuss May, May’s fate, May’s deal, Corbyn’s wampum nature, what will, might, should, could happen, and all the time the clock ticks and May flogs a dead horse.
                We need a catharsis.

    2. NIx

      The first thing Corbyn should do is to stop believing that he could get a better deal out of the EU.

  8. PlutoniumKun

    The Irish Times today has an excellent article which sets the facts out quite clearly from an Irish perspective – basically, the Irish government has gambled on either forcing the UK to withdraw A.50 or accept a deal with the backstop – but if there is a no deal crash-out, its every bit as much a failure for Ireland as for the UK:

    As an Irish diplomat was quoted as telling the Bloomberg news agency, “this will either be an incredible diplomatic triumph or a strategic mistake”.

    With the possibility of a hard economic border, economic chaos and poisoning of UK-Irish relations as results of Ireland’s backstop gamble backfiring, it is worth thinking about what needs to happen if this gamble is to come off.

    The fundamental premise of the Irish Government’s approach has been that the British authorities will either swallow the backstop or cancel Brexit altogether to avoid the chaos of a no-deal Brexit.


    The Irish Government’s approach could also result in triumph if the unattractive nature of a Brexit constrained by the backstop (the backstop leaves the UK constrained to follow EU laws in many areas without having a vote on those laws) causes the UK to abandon Brexit altogether.

    Most Member State governments are tired of the Brexit process which they see as sucking up time and energy that could better be used to address the serious problems facing the EU.

    It is not clear that all states would agree to extend time unless they were assured that the UK government would be recommending a remain vote. A Conservative Prime Minister to endorsing remain in a future referendum seems, at the moment, a remote prospect. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that remain would win a second referendum. The polls have not shifted very much since 2016.

    In short, the current approach of the Irish Government may come off but it may not. There are very large political and legal obstacles in the way of either desired outcome (acceptance of the backstop or cancelling Brexit).

    Just because almost no one wants a no deal Brexit, does not mean that it will not come about. Almost no one wanted a World War in 1914 but the parties ended up taking a series of individual decisions that ultimately led to a conflagration that was in no one’s interests. The Irish Government has bet heavily on the idea that the UK will not self harm. Looking at the chaos in London, that may not have been a wise bet.

    In the meanwhile, the Irish government looks to be setting out for full no-deal mode:

    Contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit were published before Christmas, but ministers had less than one hour to discuss them then.

    This morning, they will go through the plans in more detail, before updating them over the coming weeks.

    Included is the acceleration of recruitment for 600 customs officer posts, as well as extra staff for Revenue and Agriculture.

    The Cabinet will also discuss 45 pieces of legislation it believes will be needed if the UK leaves without a deal.

    It means the Brexit issue is set to dominate the business of Government and the work of the Oireachtas between now and the planned Brexit date of 29 March 2019.

    1. JJ

      “The Irish Government has bet heavily on the idea that the UK will not self harm. Looking at the chaos in London, that may not have been a wise bet.”

      I agree – it might also be the case that the EU /member states have implicitly decided that a) they can live without the£39bn and no Withdrawel b) the EU /member states will ,for the next say 5-10 years subsidise the Irish state and effectively let it become an EU protectorate per Greece.

      Hell of a gamble – who knows.

      1. Clive

        The EU lacks, by at least two orders of magnitude, the fiscal resources necessary to provide material support to an entire Member State economy. Especially one which is as cash flow positive and thus dependent on agribusiness as the RoI is (it feeds 25 million people from a population of just under 5 million and is at the cutting edge of agricultural practice for both raw materials produced and also light and heavy food processing — with a big helping of the logistical infrastructure needed to move end products around being very advanced and well developed, too; so disruption would be felt in EU27 food supply as well as the U.K.).

        The so-called land bridge (across the mainland U.K. to get onward access to the EU27) is vital to the Republic’s success in the short and even the medium term. The alternative sea route via northern Spain or France are extremely suboptimal by comparison — prevailing Atlantic gales do not make good bedfellows with a 19-hour sea crossing. That’s before you get to the less useful landing points for Central European markets when you don’t go via the English Channel.

        If France was unable to get its act together to handle a crash out (No Deal) Brexit, it would come under extraordinarily extreme international pressure to resolve matters. It wouldn’t just be the U.K. exporters who were being asphyxiated. Whether any such pressure would result in improved conditions in the French channel ports, that’s another question.

        1. Marlin

          The EU lacks, by at least two orders of magnitude, the fiscal resources necessary to provide material support to an entire Member State economy

          The EU budget is of the same order is magnitude as the Irish GDP.

          1. Clive

            Precisely. It has to cover the entire operating expenses of the EU27 administration. It can’t suddenly divert anything other than a smallish percentage (say, 10-20% tops) to a single Member State. Greece, which is in severe straits, only gets a modest 2-3% of gross GDP contribution.

            And besides, that’s not the way the EU works.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The Irish economy is vastly stronger than Greece. And the most valuable parts of it are not particularly subject to trade disruption as its not dependent on heavy manufacture with complex supply chains (its mostly pharmaceuticals and IT related). It will take a severe hit, but its highly unlikely to be the sort of hit that would make it dependent on the EU. The wild card though is if violence erupts in Northern Ireland.

    2. c_heale

      I’m not sure the Irish government could do anything else. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the complete incompetence of the current UK administration.

      After all many people didn’t really think the British government was stupid enough to go for a no deal. It was just a bargaining point. But through arrogance, imperial dreams, and whatever else, the British government was stupid enough. Stupid enough to make the bad situation of Brexit vote in the referendum, much much worse.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Exactly – I don’t think even the most cynical among us could have anticipated just how incompetent the UK government and establishment has been over this.

        I think its true to say that the Irish political establishment (not just the government) decided quickly after Brexit that it was in Irelands strategic interest to tie itself as firmly as possible to the EU while doing its best to ease London towards a BINO solution. Not unreasonably, it was assumed that the UK establishment would also see BINO in one form or another as the best outcome.

        As it became more and more evident that London has taken leave of its senses, this has forced Dublin into a harder line. I have to say, in terms of geopolitics, they’ve done an outstanding job in isolating the UK and keeping all the key European players onside (and I write this as someone who is not a fan of the Irish government). What they didn’t I think anticipate was just how venal and clueless the Tory establishment would demonstate itself to be, and they certainly didn’t anticipate the DUP becoming a key part of the government.

        So Dublin has simultaneously found itself being a driver of the chaos in London, while being forced into having little option but to take on a crash position knowing a no-deal Brexit will severely damage Ireland.

        1. vlade

          I was cynical from the start – the expected incompetence of the Uk’s pols was the reason I voted remain in the first place.

          But they managed to suprise even me, it’s way way worse than was my worst expectation. I thought some adults in the room would stand up and shake it up, but it turns out there are no adults in the room, and the shouty kids scare even businesses out of their minds to the point where they rather close up the shop than deal with it.

  9. John A

    In addition to the sheer logistics and impossibility of organising a second referendum before the March deadline, as Yves has regularly explained, what kind of question can the second referendum be based on?
    Right now, there are, effectively, 3 camps:
    1. The diehard Brexiters
    2. The diehard Remainers
    3. Those prepared to vote leave/remain depending on the terms of withdrawal and having it spelled out exactly what leave/remain will mean.
    What kind of question could not fail to further split the electorate fed poisonous lies about Brussels for decades?

  10. Adrian Kent

    For an alternative (and convincing) argument as to why Labour are completely correct not to jump on board with the Remainers and People’sVoters, read the piece I link to below. The UK marginal seats that Labour MUST win in the next General Election are almost all Leave voting constituencies. Clambering aboard a Metropolitan Europhile bus with the likes of Blair, Campbell, Straw, Kinnock, Major, Mandelson et al will do monstrous damage to their electoral chances in these constituencies and virtually assure a Tory victory:

    1. vlade

      That makes “they have nowhere else to go” assumption on others. Example I like to give is Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. This does not look like a marginal for Labour by any means. But looking just at that ignores history, and the fact that in 2010 it was the most closely contested constituency across the UK. It can drop away from Labour on hard or no-deal Brexit very easily.

      Labour can easily lose more constituencies in Scotland too.

      I understand that Labour needs to win the Leave constituencies to win. But it needs to hold the Remain ones not to lose. Right now, it’s making a good job of persuading the remain Labour supporters that they do not matter to Labour, that it takes them for granted. Look where it got Hillary in the US.

      Moreover, it ignores the fact that hard-leave will NEVER vote Labour. Just look at the leave/remain split by party. There’s exactly zilch likelyhood that leavers will go to Labour in any large numbers, as they are dyed-in-blue Tories.

      Labour should have concentrated on persuading marginal remainer and marginal leavers, who both likely could accept something like EEA/EFTA instead of hard, no-deal Brexit (and leave that firmly in the Tory territory). Instead, Labour at times sells as many unicorns as Tories, and manages to persuade exactly no-one. It’s actually managing to lose in national polls to Tories, against the most incompetent government for decades – and 2017 is NOT an indicator. Lest we forget, Tories won that one, by over 750k votes. Demographically, Labour did as well as it did by winning below 40 vote by a wide margin – again, the vote most likely to swing from them in case of no-deal or hard Brexit.

      A lot of remainers moved their vote to Labour in 2017, and will move it from Labour as willingly as they did in the first place, they are not sticky votes. We saw how the disappointment with (Labour) government and unwilingness to vote Tories catapulted LD up in 2010. Anyone who thinks this was one off never again to be repeated is naive (it does not have to be LD. It could have very well been UKIP that had tens of seats – in proportional representation, it would have).

  11. NIx

    The British colonial classes have always had a speak-English-slowly-and-loudly-and-the-natives-will -understand-you attitude to foreign relations. The corollary to that is: if you are not, you keep saying the same thing over and over until the other side, in desperation, gives you what you want.

    1. Mattski

      Could be a bit of this in play, but these latest maneuvers are as convincing a proof, finally, as any yet offered that May is a couple of chocolates shy of a sampler. The EU made clear how it could help and she didn’t take them up on it. Even if–for those in the cheap seats–she felt she needed to make a play for further concessions surely she should have come prepared with the fallback ready (the fallback being a resort to what was in fact on offer); she didn’t.

  12. David

    Whilst Corbyn could certainly have played a different hand, and perhaps a better one, I’m not sure that it would have changed things much, nor necessarily done Labour any good in the long run. Most voters have only the haziest understanding of Brexit issues, and current support for the Tories is based less on fundamentals than on the reflexive rallying to authority that tends to happen when there is a crisis. The Tories, with their ruling-class heritage, benefit particularly from this feature. The reflexive rallying is likely to continue for the first few months after 29 March, but there’s no certainty that it will survive a General Election campaign in which different bits of the Tory Party will be knifing each other in the back. The only precedent I can think of in modern times is the February 1974 campaign, in the middle of the miners’ strike (there were mines then). Ted Heath, buoyed up by encouraging opinion polls, made a dash to the country under the slogan “Who runs Britain?” To which the voters quickly replied “not you mate!”

    1. vlade

      Well, I have a more recent example – 2010, with “pox on both your houses” (as much as it can be), with LD being the main beneficiary. I’m not saying that LD would be the beneficiary now – but assuming it can’t happen is just naive.

      Corbyn (and Tories) are still running the UK politics as they used to be for most of the post-war. But 2010 LD and 2015 UKIP show that it’s changing. And with a big crisis like a no-deal Brexit, it can change way too fast for any of the major parties to be able to react well.

      1. David

        Traditionally, UK elections were lost by whichever main party had alienated enough voters that the voters turned to the Liberals (now LDs) and their wasted votes let the other main party in. As you say, things have changed (or at least become much more complicated) since 2010. I’ve thought for a while that the two and a half party system in the UK has effectively broken down, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 2019 election turning to chaos, with no clear winner, and no relationship between support in the opinion polls and seats won. It can’t be emphasised enough that 29 March will be the beginning,, not the end, of the crisis.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Thats one of the curiousities for me – the time should be ripe for third parties, but the far right are (thankfully) too incompetent to make any headway, the LibDems are getting nowhere and the Greens still can’t get traction. Only the SNP and PC could advance, and for obvious reasons there are limitations to how far they can go. I wonder if this mythical ‘centrist’ party is going anywhere, presumably Blair and his cronies have been doing the rounds.

          In Ireland, when things broke down a few years ago, the electorate turned to a ragbag of independents, but the UK electoral system doesn’t really offer that option. So I think you are right that the country could end up with with both main parties far below a majority with no clear way to form a government. I know Belgium survived that situation, but that country seems to have had a very strong lower level of government which kept it going in definitely. The UK doesn’t.

  13. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves for another excellent post and commenters also for a lot of sensible comments.

    On the question why the British political establishment seem to continue to live in Lalaland, I think part of the problem is that too many in the Tory Parliamentary Party have been playing to the constituency party gallery for so long that it is very difficult to change. Retired small business people who have been hearing for so long that Brussels is the incarnation of all evil are not going to want to hear the truth.

    Further, I think there is much in the comment made by another some time ago that the UK politicians know perfectly well that the reason the UK is in the mess it is is because the public have been told so many lies for so long by them and the newspapers but that no one dares to be the first to own up because of the anger that will be directed at him/her.

    Disaster looms?

  14. oaf

    ” UK leadership classes and the press continue to be disengaged from reality even as the Brexit clock keeps ticking. Can I get some of whatever they are smoking?”

    Main function of MSM seems to be: to distract the constituents’ attention while their pockets are picked; as they tread water……

    A line from a hit song: “gimme something I can use!!!”
    Same over there as here…just a slightly different flavor…or is that flavour??? : )

  15. Newton Finn

    Why are so many in the world’s fifth largest economy running scared about cutting ties to a domineering neoliberal monster? Watching this play out from across the pond, I just don’t get it. Britain has more than enough resources, clout, and savvy to pull itself together and move forward, possibly leading other shackled EU countries to follow its lead. I can’t help but sense an immense lack of vision and courage. Tennyson, anyone?

    1. vlade

      Huh? I suggest you read up on Europe. You may then see who is the Europe’s domineering neoliberal monster, but as a hint, it’s not either France, nor Germany (if you wrote, say for Germany, ordoliberal, well, we could discuss that. But that’s an entirely different beast.)

      It would also do you reading up on the British resources, which these days are not even Premier League footballers (soccer players for the over the pond), as most of them are foreign. There’s a few actors and others in creative industries, but that’s about it (and a bit of overhyped biotech, which in theory, may still deliver on its promise, but we haven’t seen much so far).

      The UK’s most saleable resources right now is finance. Where you’d find a highly paid Russian quant or French trader more often than a UK one. And that will come to some end, as at least parts of those businesses are moved to the Europe.

      Majority of UK ailments are entirely self-inflicted. And that incldues lack of vision by its pols – unless you count visions of the Xmas past as visions.

    2. Avidremainer

      Because the winds from the east are blowing hard in our faces. China’s one belt one road policy is only a harbinger of what is to come. We need to be within a strong trade block to have a chance of competing with India and China.
      If you want an example of what the strong can do to the weak look at the Unequal Treaties negotiated between the British Empire and China in the 19th century.
      I believe our chances in the future are better within the EU than without.

      1. Newton Finn

        You seize the future or go down trying. That used to be something that was understood and admired, before neoliberalism made calculating cowards of us all.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Help me. The UK is patient zero (along with the US under Reagan) of neoliberalism. The UK is further down that path than the EU. Trying to blame the UK’s keen embrace of neoliberalism on the EU is flat out false.

          And the UK “seizing the future”? I suggest you try your hand at comedy rather than attempt national strategy. This is a country that is no longer capable of producing simply statements of positions in negotiations, or handling basic functions like contracting (see Carillion and now Ferrygate). The UK has rotten leadership. Whatever talent it had went to the City or multinationals and has no loyalty to the UK as a country.

          1. Oregoncharles

            That is historically true, but doesn’t address the reason the British Left, like Corbin, were anti-EU – which is also the reason their present position is so incoherent.

            That is that neoliberalism may have originated in Britain, but it’s locked into the foundations of the EU, and even more of the Euro. British policy presumably could be changed by a Labour government; EU policy could not. If they Remain, they’re stuck with Germany’s (or Thatcher’s) approach to the economy. As Greece discovered to their cost, and Italy is discovering. (Sorry that conflates Euro and EU policies, but the Euro appears to be an extension of the underlying EU approach.)

            The immediate problem is that Brexit isn’t being administered by the Labour Left, but by the Tories, and an incompetent government at that. So at best, they’d have an extremely ugly transition to get through. Of course, from Labour’s POV, that should lead tothe destruction of the Tory Party and long-term Labor control. Don’t know if they’re really that ruthless; the price is high enough to call the goal into question.

            1. vlade

              The German ordo-liberals hate neo-liberalism (as it’s used now, the original neo-liberalism, which meant something entirely different was founded in Germany) as much as soc dems do (for other reasons though). Neo-lib is an Anglo-Saxon export, and was not “locked into the fondation of the EU” (please provide supporting evidence if you believe otherwise).

              Also, the EUR is disputable, as EUR was first and foremost political tool for furhter integration. Only when Germans (BundesBank) started to have significant influence on ECB (one wonders what it would look like if the ECB HQ wasn’t in Frankfurt, but say Rome or Madrid), did austerity policies go down.

              But to understand why Germans do austerity one needs to understand not just German elites, but Germans as such, for whom thrift (which easily gets translated and confused with austerity when applied on large scale) was THE way of life pretty much since 1930s onwards. So it’s not neo-liberal austerity imposted by the elites on the masses. The Germans (and Dutch, Austrians, and to some extent Czechs and Poles) are very much so as people – and I have personal experience, and there’s also some academic evidence to support that. US houehold savings rate is about 6%, and it’s very much affected by the top 1% wealthy. Germany is much more equal, and has savings rate almost double US rates, and before 1990s had them closer to 20% than to 10%, when US was around 10%.

              At the moment, there’s zero indicators that Labour administration of Brexit would be any better, as the unicorns which Tories field are brought out by Labour in the same, or even larger numbers. The Labour Brexit plan was WORSE than May’s, as it basically was full benefits of single market with zero obligations (May at least admitted some benefits, like services, would be unachievable).

              The understanding of the EU is as dismal by Labour as it is by Tories.

            2. PlutoniumKun

              You say the ‘British’ left, but its more precise to say the ‘English’ left – the Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish left have always been generally strongly pro-EU (although in the latter case the conversion is more recent). The English left itself has always been split or ambiguous on EU membership. Trade Unions have mostly been strongly pro-EU as its allowed a levelling of worker protections throughout Europe.

              As Vlade says, the EU was never neo-liberal at the beginning, at least by most definitions of the term. If anything, it was based on protectionism for Europe, seen as a form of protection from the more laissez-faire project proposed by the Anglosphere in the post war years. The neoliberal infection is more recent, and is a very simple reflection of the strong neoliberal turn of nearly every major country in Europe from the 1980’s onwards. Even then, the driving motivation of most Brexiters in the UK is that the EU was ‘holding back’ the UK – i.e. not neoliberal enough.

          2. Newton Finn

            I seem to have struck a nerve, so let’s continue. The entire world watched as a small, weak country like Greece was bullied and humiliated by neoliberal EU banks and bureaucrats. It was a painful spectacle, similar to watching a frail boy be intimidated and pounded on by a schoolyard bully. But by God, at least Greece tried to make a fight of it at first. Now Britain, on the other hand, is not Greece; it’s a much stronger, more resourceful country. And to its credit, a majority of Brits had the guts, for whatever reason, to finally tell the EU bully where to go. Is now the time for a failure of nerve, for fussing and fretting and second-guessing, after having taken this brave and admirable action that cried out to be taken?

            In “Reclaiming the State,” Mitchell and Fazi compellingly explain that a new form of nationalism–one that’s not xenophobic but inclusive, humane, protective of citizens–is the ONLY conceivable force powerful enough to break the deadly vise-grip of global neoliberalism. Because of the courage (and yes, the risk and danger) of Brexit, Britain has a singular opportunity to set its sovereign house in order (no, it won’t be easy) and to take the lead in this crucial battle against a malignant global economic system that is destroying not only national economies but the planetary ecosystem itself. Here in the states, we’re sadly mired in the morass of Trump and Russiagate and lose leadership ground everyday. You, at least, have Corbyn waiting in the wings.

            This should be a proud and shining moment, full of peril but even more of promise, not just for the UK but for the human race. The EU is a major manifestation of the neoliberal beast that must be slain, and that battle can begin only when one is no longer chained to it. If one cannot see that, if one cannot FEEL that, then I’m lost for words to continue the conversation.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              The entire world took no notice of Greece. This site gave it way more attention that most EU and UK media outlets.

              As we have discussed, Mitchell is not a credible source on the EU. He is blinded by hatred of it and has not bothered understanding its institutional arrangements. And he has pointedly refused to understand the enormous lead time and costs involved in creating new currencies.

              The idea that the UK is involved in a heroic struggle is laughable. Brexit was an intra-Tory power play that spun out of control. And the hard core Brexiters are motivated by greed, by the belief that they will clean up on the economic dislocation of Brexit.

              1. larry

                I realize that Bill Mitchell hates the EU, or rather the EU elite and some of its institutions, but why do you say that he refuses to understand what is involved in creating new currencies? After all, he is a money theorist if he is anything.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  I can’t talk for Yves, and I haven’t followed Mitchell that closely, but he certainly expressed the view during the Greek crisis that Greece should immediately ditch the Euro.

                  Like many theorists, he has no idea of the practical implications of some of his ideas. The problem with changing or creating a new currency is not the macroeconomic or other issues, its the hard graft of managing the transition – changing every banks IT system simultaneously, ensuring ATM’s can handle the cash, setting up an independent Central Bank with the ability to manage it, etc. It took well over 5 years of intense planning and investment to handle the changeover to Euro, there is no reason to think that it can be done quicker without causing potential chaos.

                  1. The Rev Kev

                    PK. The subject of ATMs during any changeover. Is that such a critical factor? I mean, banks could go back to the practice of pre-ATMs and just deal out cash over the counter in the bank itself like they did in the old daysa. Doing that would surely take some of the strain off the bank’s IT system too. Just a thought.

                  2. eg

                    I believe Warren Mosler has some thoughts about abandonment of the Euro in polities by issuing a parallel currency which citizens would require to pay their taxes and fees.

        1. Tony Wright

          Ah! Now I understand why Blair followed Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. into Iraq. Silly me…

          1. Tony Wright

            On a more serious note; I am an Australian of English birth with a wife of Scottish birth, Australian citizenship and German and Italian ethnicity. We have just finished visiting relatives and old school and University friends in Germany, England and Scotland, all of whom are of at least average intelligence, some downright smart.
            Yet amazingly only a few of the Scots amongst this crowd were willing to discuss Brexit at any more than a perfunctory level. The conventional wisdom seems to be along the lines of “we are over this!”
            Get real people, the serious manure/fan interface has barely started.

    3. Unsympathetic

      Britain has resources? What, specifically? Unobtanium?
      Britain has clout? With who, specifically? You do realize the US already formally objected to Britain’s attempt to fast-track its use of the WTO goods schedules, right? [Of course the others mentioned are the main countries regularly cited as the ones who would be Britain’s saviors — Australia, China, and NZ] This means that in the world of reality, Britain does not have the option to trade on WTO terms..
      Britain has savvy? As shown by May’s repeatedly begging EU leaders for help?

      As one Ben Shapiro puts it, “facts don’t care about your feelings.”

  16. fajensen

    Can I get some of whatever they are smoking?

    You don’t want to, ‘Datura Stramonium’,Thorn Apple, is probably what they are smoking: Produces total psychosis, meaning the user is not aware that they took something, together with vivid visions of a demonic nature – in this case visions of pretty much everything related to the EU, France or Germany.

    Those Dutch painters like Hieronymus Bosch probably smoked this stuff once or twice for inspiration!

  17. Dave in Austin

    My analysis:
    1) The EU has overplayed it’s hand. A nice, Norway-style agreement with the UK would have encouraged eastern Europeans to consider the same move- immigration is a huge issue there. Juncker, Labor and May’s own party are all trying to shift the blame elsewhere.
    2) A crashout is a done deal- but both parties will apply the magic of “temporary”, “informal”, “based on an opinion by” and “limited exeption”. The EU Ireland border will harden up but “measures” will keep it running and the EU will look the other way because they have no choice. Ad hoc and quiet agreements will handle the details. Nobody wants Good Friday to end or the Celtic Tiger to get sick. That may mean Irish flights to France get “enhanced scrutiny” and magic “best efforts” paperwork will accompany trucks getting on ferries.
    3) Nobody- especially France, Belgium and the Netherlands- wants an escalating tit-for-tat. Take air travel. British flight will overfly Europe because EU flights need to overfly the UK. Heathrow will still be crowded with EU planes. “Special arrangements” will prevail.
    4) The EU has no central organs that matter, which is, in this case, very good. Imagine trying to get all the EU members on-board for anything? Malta, Bulgaria or the Republic of Ireland might object. So the bureaucrats will fill in the details.
    5) The long-term issues remain; First, the UK was a net payer into the EU. How will it be replaced? Second the future of a lot of activity from the London stock exchange to Airbus productionwill have to be sorted out and a lot of cottages in France, condos in Spain and hotel rooms in London will still need to be filled, so people will “find a way”.. Third, the biggest risks are a screw-up by an Court that locks in some disaster, a shudder in the financial flows or, God forbid, an election that raised the temperature to a boiling point.
    Personally, I’m betting on fear and common sense to prevail. And it will be spring, which really matters in Europe.

    1. Unsympathetic

      1) Norway objected to UK being allowed to join its agreement.. because Britain joining their deal is simply not good for Norway. Thus there is no “Norway-style” option.. it doesn’t exist.
      2) It’s funny when you say the EU has no choice.. because they already made exactly the opposite choice from what you asserted. They won’t look the other way.
      3) The side that wants tit-for-tat is the UK. British flights won’t overfly Europe because they won’t be permitted entry. It’s pretty simple for all European airlines to stop service to UK.. you don’t think KLM already has their contingencies created?
      4) EU members are all on board with the deal handed to May.
      5) The UK was not a net payer into the EU — you’ll have to back out the billions of EU loans to British towns that have not been repaid. They don’t need you.

      Airbus production would move to China from UK.. The contingency plan is UK loses those jobs, full stop.

      The only way “fear and common sense” would prevail is if May rescinds A50 due to a fear of the economic crash that would ensue within UK.

      Seriously, what is the proof behind your constant assumption that people will find a way? You do realize that bad things can happen, right?

      Please go watch the entire “#3Blokes In A Pub” youtube series. They’re not joking.

  18. Savita

    Plutonium Kun
    Whats the ‘Vox Populi ‘ – the general mood of a (native) Dubliner or rural Irish woman on the street or in the village, with regards Brexit? I mean, beyond ‘they’re all a bunch of [family blog]’

  19. Savita

    when I say ‘whats the mood of the folks’ I mean, whats the informed stance if you dig beyond the knee-jerk reaction, for most Irish? I appreciate it’s hard for you to comment outside your own social demographic, and indeed there are not as many Irish in Dublin these days

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Waterford Whispers sums it up well:

      Cripping Post Brexit Recession Worthit just to see Look on Brit’s Faces.

      A NEW study has shown that the majority of Irish people have no fear about the potential impact to the economy in the wake of a No-Deal Brexit, as they are certain they’ll be too busy laughing their arses off at the Brits.

      Fears over how Britain’s disorderly exit from the EU will cause chaos at the border with Northern Ireland, as well as mounting unease over multinational firms’ jitters, have been at the front of economists’ minds since the UK voted to fall into a financial and cultural dark age back in 2016.However, the average Irish person sees Brexit as ‘a bit of a laugh’, and can’t wait to see the look on the faces of British people when the magnitude of their folly is finally unveiled.

      “It has been some craic watching them fuck everything up for the last few years, and it’ll only get better when the plug is pulled and the lights go out. Granted, it could mean that I lose my own job in the next twelve months, and then there’s a big aul worldwide recession, acres of unemployment, blah blah blah… but the Brits, though. I can’t wait to see their faces!”

      Meanwhile, EU officials have been warned to practice their straight faces for when Brexit hits, to ensure they don’t break down laughing on camera.

      Thats it in a nutshell really. People see it as bizarre and insane but really kind of funny. As one colleague said to me ‘wow, it makes a change to see our politicians as the intelligent, mature ones’.

      1. Tony Wright

        You can’t eat schadenfreude though, and it won’t pay the power bills. Then again, a significant proportion of the western world could do with going on a food diet for their own sakes , and an energy diet for the sake of the planet and the other species with which we share it.

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