Brexit: May’s Endgame

With Brexit barely more than a month away, May has made her latest move, which is to drive Parliament’s vote as close to the wire as possible, while refusing to consider revoking the Article 50 notice, or its more socially acceptable cousin, a second referendum.1 May has moved Parliament’s “meaningful vote” back yet again, now to March 12, a mere 17 days before Brexit.

This is consistent with Lambert’s Thesis of Brexit, which is a corollary of “Everything is like CalPERS.”. It is: “At every juncture, the UK has made the worst possible decision.” Readers are welcome to debate in comments; perhaps we’ll elevate it to a Rule of Brexit. But the immediate implication is that this gambit increases the risk of a crash-out, which was already dangerously high. Even before this stunt, the normally measured Michel Barnier put the odds at over 50%.

May’s decision to outrage Parliament yet again by having no shame about playing brinksmanship could lead to more party defections and Cabinet resignations, but as we’ll discuss below, it is unlikely to derail May’s plans. As Richard North put it:

Thus, MPs can continue to behave like sulky teenagers, or wind themselves up into an almighty strop and start instructing Mrs May to take certain actions. But in the final analysis, the MPs will discover that their much-vaunted “sovereignty” does not reach outside their building. As the Queen’s first minister in what is a constitutional monarchy, the prime minister can sit on her hands and do exactly nothing. And the outcome of that is that we drop out of the European Union on 29 March without a deal.

In case you need more proof, here’s a bold idea from unhappy MPs…a motion, also known as a handwave:

In the meantime, May is making yet another ritual trip to Brussels to talk about the Irish backstop, which is again going to get nowhere. One has to wonder if she is actually a master actress, albeit with a very narrow range, and stages these visits as theater to give a veneer of legitimacy for her kicking the can dangerously close to a lava flow.

But the problem is even if May is fully aware that she is engaging in Potemkin negotiations, she hasn’t let her counterparties in on the joke. That doesn’t endear her to them. And interpersonal dynamics matter. Recall that there was a point during the Greek bailout negotiations where EU leaders had worked into the night and talks had completely broken down, which meant a default. Hollande literally pursued people down corridors and talked them back into returning to the table.

Even though May has not admitted to it yet, under almost any scenario, she is going to have to go cap in hand to the EU Council at their next meeting on March 212-22. Even if the MPs hold their noses and approve her deal, she will still need an extension to pass legislation.

And if Parliament again rejects her deal, it appears her intent is again to seek an extension to try to beat Parliament into line or persist in her fantasy that the EU will relent. The Torygraph reports that May is considering an extension of two months if her March 12 vote fails to placate her ministers. However, May is still sticking firmly to her “no delay” line.

The “considering” appears to be a gambit to also push back MP efforts to “take back control” and divert them into passing an amendment that calls on May to seek an extension from the EU if May fails to get the votes for the Withdrawal Agreement on March 12. Notice, however, this is a path to a bill and not a bill….yet more moving parts and thus more opportunity for mishaps.

The Ultras must be over the moon with this development. The fact that there are a lot of steps required to prevent a crash-out, and May is leaving perilous little time for executing them (a mere 13 working days) leaves little room for error. And it greatly increases the odds that the ERG can jam the machinery if they feel they need to.


A vote of no confidence would assure a crash out. That’s big reason why I have yet to see anyone on Twitter calling for May to be tossed, despite the considerable unhappiness with her latest ploy. For those of you outside the UK, recall that the drill is that after a vote of on confidence, there are 14 days in which Parliament can reverse itself and vote to affirm that that it has confidence again. If that does not happen, it is 25 working days to a General Election, and then at least a week to get a new government going (the Queen’s speech and other rituals).

Clive explained by e-mail how the Government and Parliament go into hibernation upon the passage of a vote f no confidence:

From the Cabinet Office Manual

Restrictions on government activity
2.27 While the government retains its responsibility to govern and ministers remain in charge of their departments, governments are expected by convention to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character in the period immediately preceding an election, immediately afterwards if the result is unclear, and following the loss of a vote of confidence. In all three circumstances essential business must be allowed to continue.
As specified in this section:

So, as usual, not entirely clear-cut. “observe discretion” — hmm…

But extending Article 50 would seem to be a “new action of a continuing or long-term character”. So any attempt at serious changes to the entire course of Brexit should qualify for this description and therefore not be initiated.

The Manual is not a statutory document. Nevertheless, any obvious deviation from its stipulations would as a minimum be good grounds for a legal intervention. In the scenario being postulated, that’s all that matters. It wouldn’t need to be a case which is guaranteed to be winnable. It would only need to be a case where the complainant (the ERG, for example) had standing and had enough grounds to proceed to a merits hearing. For such a serious matter with such far reaching implications — and such little case law in existence — it would probably be able to go all the way to the UKSC. Thereby placing a legal hold on any executive action lasting months.

The respondent (probably the government in any such case) would have to argue whatever they were doing really was “essential business”. A very vexed proposition. To the extent any business was “essential” it would have only been made “essential” purely as a result of political processes. A court would have to consider the factual matrix — how government and Parliament had in fact arrived at the point it had arrived at would be germane.

And “Parliament is Sovereign” doesn’t really help here. This isn’t Parliament passing legislation. This would be the government (and even on an existential level, it’s arguable there then isn’t really a government) advancing legislation or exercising the Royal Prerogative.

In any kind of event such as this, “constitutional crisis” is the ERG’s friend.

May and Parliament would need to clear a lot of brushwood for the Government to seek an extension. A couple of months ago, Shadow Brexit Minister Kier Starmer claimed that there were 50 pieces of legislation that needed to be amended or rescinded to prevent a crash out. I’m in no position to verify his claim, but the Brexit date was hard coded into the Withdrawal Act, and it appears that was far from the only place. There are only 7 working days between when March 12 and when May presumably has to go grovel before the European Council. Presumably it is possible to ram amendments to 50 different bills through in six days using emergency procedures…but again, it seems extremely tight. And if May lost the vote, she’s not exactly in a great position to exercise force.

Put it another way, while in theory May could get this all done, as the great Yogi Berra allegedly said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

Rumors of the EU being willing to contemplate, or even offer a 21 month extension sound unlikely to come to fruitio. This was the subject of the lead story in the Guardian. While it has not bee picked up by other press outlets, a post by Robert Peston on Facebook indicates it does have some substance.
It is way too late in the game for out of left field ideas like this to get traction. The time would have been in the early fall when the People’s Vote campaign seemed to be on a roll.

First, that long an extension would cross what well connected reporters heretofore have uniformly depicted as an EU red line: seating UK members in the new European Parliament, which is to be seated July 1. Bear in mind there is no finesse here. If the UK is still in the EU then, its citizens have the right to representation in the European Parliament. EU officials are highly confident that any suit lodged by a UK citizen demanding representation would prevail.

As Ian Dunt explained in Politics UK (hat tip Richard Smith):

Here’s the great secret truth about the Brexit cliff edge: It’s not on March 29th. It’s actually pretty easy to extend that deadline by a few months and there is something close to consensus in Whitehall, Westminster and Brussels that we’ll have to. The real cliff edge is on July 1st, the day before the inaugural plenary session of the newly-elected European parliament.

That’s the dead zone. If you haven’t taken part in the upcoming European elections, there’s no way to extend the deadline any further. So something is becoming increasingly clear. If Labour really is committed to ruling out no-deal, if moderate Tory Cabinet ministers really mean it when they say they refuse to allow it to happen, they must support British participation. This is, by far, the most important aspect of the whole Brexit debate. And there is almost no mention of it at all….

Once you go past July 1st, something serious happens. Things get tangled up in a new bit of law, on the European parliamentary elections.

Those elections take place between the 23rd and 26th of May. Neither of the main political parties want us to take part in them. Conservatives think it means we’ll never leave the EU and that Brexit voters will be baffled by why we are still participating. Labour is terrified they will turn into a de-facto second referendum, with Remainers and Leavers congregating around options reflecting the domestic debate in Britain.

There are also European political problems with us taking part. A European Council decision last June took our 73 MEP seats, kept back a bunch of them for future enlargements, and parcelled out the remaining 27 to countries like France, Spain, Italy and others.

That decision will have been legally enacted in the domestic legislation of the countries receiving a new MEP allocation. Many countries, like Ireland, have already passed legislation distributing them around its regional constituencies. Campaigns have already kicked off. It’ll be an absolute nightmare to try and roll all that back….

Their legal advice has suggested that if an existing member state does not take part in the elections, the parliament would be illegally constituted. And that means that everything it does -the laws it passes, the election of the commissioners, even the vote for the Commission president themself – would be open to legal challenge. The whole legal status of the system would be in doubt.

No-one in Europe is prepared to accept that. So this time, extension will no longer be possible. July 1st is the disaster zone.

PlutoniumKun added:

I don’t know what conclusions they’ve come to, but I do know there is a lot of concern in Brussels about the legalities surrounding the May elections if the UK is not unambiguously out by then.

But in that article all Dunt seems to set out is a very good reason for the EU to absolutely refuse an extension of more than 3 months. They are sick to death of Brexit, the prospect of Brexit setting of a constitutional crisis within the Parliament is too horrible for them to contemplate. They won’t risk it.

So with that as background, it’s barmy to read that Tusk and Selmayr are kicking the idea around. That may be why Politico, which is usually fast out of the box with Brussels rumors, was mum on the topic. But in fairness, Peston signals skepticism:

So the EU is working on three versions of delaying Brexit.

One, against the instincts of the EU leaders, is predicated on the notion that she secures agreement on a Brexit deal so close to the 29 March deadline that just a few weeks of extra time are required to pass associated legislation and complete technical preparations.

The second is a delay, again of a few weeks but not long enough to compel UK participation in this summer’s European parliamentary elections, would be offered to her if she (and they) believed one last heave would get a deal over the line. Again there is not massive confidence this is a credible path.

The third, thought to be favoured by the EU President Donald Tusk – though officials I’ve sounded out aren’t totally convinced – would be for a substantial 21 month delay, to allow a new European Commission and European Parliament to find their respective feet and the UK to decide what kind of Brexit or even no Brexit it really really wants.

That said European governments are, I am told, divided about whether the 21 month delay should be offered to the UK as a kind of rejuvenating sabbatical away from the Brexit furnace or as an elaborate new process with strings attached about what is negotiable and acceptable destinations.

Given the issues Dunt raised, I don’t see how a delay beyond July 1 is possible. And before I say how serious the issues potentially were, I had assumed that any extension beyond that time would come at a price to the UK. And you can’t extract a price if you are the one making an unsought offer. So this is all looking quite barmy.

Peston further claims that May faces a revolt this week. The wee problem is May keeps surviving them. Even though I confess I was stunned by the sheer brazenness of May’s latest move, and I consider myself to be jaded, and the press was in an uproar. the level of outrage I saw on Twitter was less than I expected, although that my not be a valid proxy. More from Peston:

None of this can become any kind of reality absent the UK prime minister actually asking for a delay (brief or long).

And right now she won’t get off the mantra that delay solves nothing…

I said yesterday some of her colleagues harbour a belief that tomorrow she will perform one of her habitual supertanker-sized u-turns and concede for the first time she has an open mind about a (shortish) delay to reduce the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

If she doesn’t, or if she moves towards embracing delay with inadequate conviction, Wednesday’s parliamentary vote will be an epic battle between MPs and her to force her to accept Brexit postponement as an inescapable reality – and she knows it is a battle in which she is set to be trounced.

And speaking of Politico, its report from Egypt, contra the Guardian report, had Tusk again taking a hard line with May:

The walls are closing in on Theresa May. Even in Egypt….

European Council chief Donald Tusk warned May Sunday afternoon that EU leaders will not offer concessions on the Brexit divorce agreement until she holds another vote in the House of Commons, and proves she has majority support for specific tweaks to the current Brexit deal.

Politico tried spinning Tusks’ remarks as throwing a lifeline to May, that if she could get MPs t agree to a different Brexit deal, the EU might consider that. In fairness, that could be where the 21 month rumor comes from, that Tusk’s gesture makes no sense unless there is also a possibility of getting enough time to re-do a deal.

But “tweaks” won’t begin to cut it. The EU has also been clear that the UK would need to drop one of its major red lines to move to another position on Barnier’s ladder. And it’s been clear for some time that there is no consensus in Parliament for any particular flavor of Brexit.

We’ll see how this plays, but my take is May is unwilling to remove the risk of a no-deal Brexit. First, without that, her bill is dead in the water. There is no chance it will pass unless Parliament thinks the alternative is a crash out. Second, May believes she does not have the horsepower to cross the Ultras.

Again, this is going to be a rough week. Fasten your seat belts.

1 Mind you, we’ve said for a while that the UK is past the time when it could get a sufficiently long extension so as to conduct one; we’re merely commenting on May’s strategy. Let us not forget that May is doggedly pursuing a different unicorn: that of getting the EU to revise the infamous Irish backstop.

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  1. Ignacio

    My question to our experts is: given the state of parliamentary politics and maths. What other sensible alternative has May if any?

    1. vlade

      Sensible does not work here, as there’s now too many actors which act unpredictably (including May).

      May hopes that to avoid no-deal Brexit she will get significant Labour vote (She needs around 30-50 Labour defectors I believe, or a significant number of abstentions). She might. Who knows – unfortunately, there’s not a small disaster-socialism contingent there. Even those who are not there might be willing to try it for a hope of killing Tory party for a generation or more.

      Basically, there’s now no high-risk alternative available. The only question is who and what risk.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think Yves has set it out very well (at least as far as my knowledge of Parliamentary procedure goes). May is determined to go to the brink and thinks she can get the deal approved at the very last second. I really wonder if she is aware of all the moving parts that are required to make that happen. I’m told (I haven’t read it as its behind a paywall) that the Sunday Times had an article by ex Tory MP Mathew Parrish that is a devastating portrait of May. It suggests that she is even worse than her public profile suggests and that senior Tories are incomplete despair about her monomania.

      Tony Connolly of RTE suggests that there may be moves to get Geoffrey Cox, the senior Tory legal advisor to finesse something about the backstop – but this seems unlikely given the late hour. Cox caused all the trouble in the first place by arguing that the deal May signed could potentially lock the UK forever into a sort of no-mans land of being half in and half out of the EU.

      The wild card is the Queen herself. I know some people say that she has the constitutional capacity to step in and act as the adult in the room. But its highly questionable if at this stage there is anything she can do, even if she wanted to.

      The biggest problem as I see it is that a substantial part of the UK establishment is busy persuading themselves that a no-deal is actually not that big a deal. The City of London for one seems quite content with the way things are going.

      1. Auskalo

        Just a few paragraphs by Mathew Parris, taken from North’s blog comments:

        “Time and again my informants — MPs, former MPs, civil servants, special advisers — tell me, eyes flashing, that I’ve got it wrong and the public have it wrong, and she’s so much worse than that. She’s not normal. She’s extraordinary. Extraordinarily uncommunicative; extraordinarily rude in the way she blanks people, ideas and arguments. To my surprise there is no difference between the pictures of her that Remainers and Brexiteers paint.

        Theresa May, they tell me (in a couple of cases actually shouting) is the Death Star of modern British politics. She’s the theory of anti-matter, made flesh. She’s a political black hole because nothing, not even light, can escape. Ideas, beliefs, suggestions, objections, inquiries, proposals, projects, loyalties, affections, trust, whole careers, real men and women, are sucked into the awful void that is Downing Street — and nothing ever comes out: no answers, only a blank so blank that it screams. Reputations (they lament) are staked on her, and lost. Warnings are delivered to her, and ignored. Plans are run by her, unacknowledged. Messages are sent to her, unanswered. She has become the unperson of Downing Street: the living embodiment of the closed door.

        And I am, finally, persuaded. Persuaded that Theresa May has not simply failed to unite two wings of my party, but that her premiership has driven them apart, into anger and despair; helped to turn a disagreement into a schism. Before healing becomes possible (one told me) she, and all who wait upon her and have surrounded her, must be hounded out of the party’s cockpit, and every trace of the era of her leadership expunged. Another, careless of the proprieties, told me the political massacre should be on a Rwandan scale. For the first time I understood the passion, if not the logic, behind the self-defeating challenge to her leadership the Brexiteers mounted last December.

        I do not exaggerate the violence of the imagery into which her Tory critics fly at the very mention of her name. And perhaps because I’ve been so reluctant to believe this picture, you will now believe my report.”

        1. Clive

          The problem with all that — and I suspect a lot of it is very valid — is that Mr. Parris is a Remain’er. Nothing wrong with being a Remain’er of course.

          But you can succumb — this isn’t a condition limited to Remain’ers, naturally, but neither are they immune from it it either — to Brexit Derangement Syndrome. Here, as Matthew’s symptoms exemplified, the sufferer expected (with no specific logic behind the expectation) that someone or several different someone’s bring a Remain argument to May and, upon hearing it or having it presented it to her, May is supposed to (in some scene which we can only storyboard for ourselves but would seem to go something like May’s head uncontrollably falling forward and hitting her desk, after which she looks up again, slaps her forehead for good measure then exclaims, in a manner not unlike Saul on the road to Damascus (he’d be dismayed at the state of the place after the West has “intervened” as we have, unfortunately, but I digress) “oh, buggery bollocks, that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years, well, stone the crows, who knew? I wish someone had told me earlier, right, let’s just forget the whole thing, shall we.”) merely rescind Article 50 and there we all are, back home in time for tea.

          A nice idea, of course, no arguments from me there. Unfortunately it is politically completely impossible. If it was as simple as that, it would have happened in the past two years or so.

          So much easier for an ardent Remain’er like Mr. Parris (he’s not alone) to pin the tale of blame for Brexit — and, more’s to the point, the inability of Remain to row it back — on the May donkey. Much trickier to face the reality and the implications that Brexit isn’t about to be reversed imminently or with any degree of certainty. Quite the opposite. Notions that the U.K. is a load of repentant, sanguine and anxious to recant ex-Leave’ers who have Seen The Light and would forever worship the EU if only they could throw off the shackles of that silly old May and her gang are far more comforting than other interpretations of events. But that doesn’t necessarily make those comfortable denials correct.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Gents.

            I have often discussed with Vlade what makes May tick.

            I bumped into a former colleague and Tory activist and asked him. I remember him talking about May calling out the Tory party as the “nasty party” at their annual conference in the early noughties. He attended that event and often worked with May at Tory HQ, but due to age, is less active now and was disillusioned by Cameron’s make over of the Tories. In his view, May looks at an order, mandate etc. and just executes without thinking, so the Home Office suited her, hence flipping from calling out the Tories as the nasty party to creating the “hostile environment” for immigrants. She also wants to show up the upper class types and heir to Blair modernisers who she felt had overtaken her in the race to lead to the Tories once the Thatcher and Major ministers had moved on over the noughties and show them what she can do.

            My former colleague is an eccentric, but not untypical, Tory. He flew to Australia to deliver a petition to the IOC, requesting that they not consider London’s application to host the Olympics. He was escorted out of Hamleys for haranguing parents about wasting money on toys. He’s not married and does not have a TV in the house, just the Daily Telegraph and Spectator. Genuinely nice guy, though.

            My former CEO, a Treasury junior minister under John Major , did not dispute that assessment. She’s about the same age as May, has a similar background and lives near May in Berkshire, but hardly knew May. Also, from what I gather from coming across / talking to Tory women politicians, they all hate each other. I have never seen anything like it. Clive can probably guess my former boss’ identity as he has written about her on this blog.

          2. orange cats

            Thank you for this Clive. From what I have read over the past year, Theresa May does not have leadership qualities. She is awkward, uncommunicative, opaque and unpredictable. But there’s also this: “No one I interviewed envied May, or wished to take her place. A former minister compared her position to being inside Little Ease, a windowless torture chamber in the Tower of London, where it was impossible for prisoners to stand, sit, or lie down. “It is getting tighter and tighter,” the former minister said. “Something has got to give.”” (Sam Knight)

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you.

              There are also suggestions that she is in contact with her former advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, the pair who co-wrote her Lancaster House speech, and, along with David “Double D” Davis, encouraged her to call the 2017 election.

              She wasn’t always so awkward and uncommunicative. Benazir Bhutto introduced her, then Miss Brasier, and Philip May at a Tory party disco at Oxford university. Bhutto was going out with Imran Khan.

              1. Eclair

                Off topic, Colonel, but I can’t expunge the image that your phrase, ‘Tory party disco,’ has created in my brain.

                1. Colonel Smithers

                  Thank you, Éclair.

                  Colleagues, not just party members, who attended them at Tory conferences had some interesting anecdotes upon their return to work.

                  Over the party conference season, plus those of the CBI and TUC, in September and October, the livers and stomachs took a battering.

          3. NotReallyHere

            Ha Ha …. great comment!!

            Some of the comments here are pure gold. The one about the queen intervening is a hoot! I’d love to see the address to the nation.

            “one has decided that one must do something …”

            “the problem with ah-lend”

            “I am the queen of Frawnce too, you know.”

            that’d be awesome.

            1. Tony Wright

              Off with her head! And where are my tarts?
              Either that or bring back Kevin Philips Bong (Slightly Silly)
              With apologies to Lewis Carroll and the Pythons….both almost sane compared to this incompetent rabble.
              Oh and I just heard on the radio that Corbyn has finally come down off his fence and advocated a people’s vote. Curiouser and curiouser.

        2. John Baker

          As North says: “the prime minister can sit on her hands and do exactly nothing”. That’s an incredibly cynical and effective approach. Cynical, obviously, because if ever a situation cried out for action, this is it and her tactics are only exaggerating the problem. Effective because it is very difficult to generate public outrage over inaction. An active proposal can be debated and argued over.

          It’s only effective politically, however. Political junkies get enraged over it but ordinary people don’t see the oncoming catastrophe: Political leaders’ reassurances of “everything will be fine” play well with the casual observer.

          Here in the US, Mitch McConnell plays this game all the time. Refusing to call a vote on government shutdown, refusing to call a vote on a Supreme Court nomination etc. He’s a snake but his inaction necessarily limits public debate to his political advantage but to the country’s detriment.

          1. Inert_Bert

            Thank you John,

            Unfortunately, May is not the only one sitting on her hands. While her failings are clear (her secretiveness, her xenophobia, her poor choice in advisors, her autocratic streak, the list goes on and on and on), it is far too late to lay the blame purely at her feet.

            Parliament instructed her to negotiate an agreement to effect a hard Brexit, without setting further parameters and pre-conditions or putting in place any oversight mechanisms (even though this particular negotiation has extra-ordinary consequences for the legal position of British citizens and for the governance of the UK). May’s priorities and methods were always clear (in the Lancaster House speech, in her years at the Kafkaesque Home Office), yet she gained and retained the full confidence of parliament the whole way through.

            She did precisely what parliament instructed her to do after the Miller case. The WA looks like it was always going to look like – with a bonus All-UK customs-union that May and Robbins have managed to extract from an unwilling EU by holding the Irish peace process and economy hostage.

            Parliament now has to act in one of two ways: Ratify the WA or Revoke the art 50 notification. Instead It is sitting on its hands, vacillating between an irresponsible choice and an impossible one (no deal vs Cake), while MPs are dreaming up ways to dodge responsibility. First through a referendum (even though that possibility died last summer), then through elections (a more reasonable strategy for labout at least, until last december or so) and now most fatalistically: through pre-emptive revisionism (see the piece on Parris* that Auskulo flagged above).

            May’s long-standing foibles and convictions are not anywhere near as big a problem as Parliament’s total failure to engage with both the politics and substance of Brexit. We are dealing with a the failure of an entire political system so there’s plenty of blame to go around but in my opinion the buck must stop with parliament (and thus the people in it, especially the parties that supposedly support this government, yet block it from carrying out the instructions it received).

            *we can expect a deluge of self-exculpatory articles and memoirs from Tory grandees in the coming years, especially from those who voted against the WA.

        3. JBird4049

          Another, careless of the proprieties, told me the political massacre should be on a Rwandan scale. For the first time I understood the passion, if not the logic, behind the self-defeating challenge to her leadership the Brexiteers mounted last December.

          That’s quite a quote there. I’ve a vision of some crazed man in a suit screaming about the cockroaches while waving a butter knife.

          I have been reading the comments here and other posts on both Brexit and Theresa May; I think that I sorta, kinda get why Brexit happened, but I do not understand why May is in office. If she is so horrible, why was she even a candidate?

          I mean I can understand and debate why we have President Donald Trump. He was a great way to flip off the establishment; Bernie Sanders was shafted on the nomination, and Hilary Clinton did her Deplorables Speech and one of worst national campaigns in memory. Why not vote for a different poison? We really only had a choice of evils. Are all of political candidates for Prime Minister also just a different poison?

          Still, just why is May in office if she is a political Death Star? Trump at least has some kind of charm and his political backers are working behind him getting what they want.

      2. vlade

        In theory, the Queen is the (nominal) head of the governmnet, so she could say ask for extension or revoke A50. But that would be a political earthquake not seen since 17th century.

        1. el_tel

          First off, just so nobody thinks I’m thinking pie-in-the-sky, I think (as you imply) that chances of intervention by the monarch is practically zero. However, since we really are in constitutional territory that we’ve arguably never been in, and given that Guardian story about EU “possible delays” (which I think is less “concrete/serious thinking” and more “lets just float something out there to see if it has any traction in helping the EU kick cans down the road like it has proved so expert in doing”), I think it is worth at least considering such intervention.

          We really know very little about the Queen’s views. The closest we get is that she supposedly believes strongly in her “appointed by God” role (though some would argue that’s more to do with head of the Church of England than Monarch and others would argue that that is splitting hairs) and she strongly believes in preserving “the Union”. What advice might she be getting from private sources? Serious civil servants (who know the legal void a crash-out entails) might have told her a lot more than we think. Whilst I don’t think she’d act on this (as I said at the start), I can’t help wondering if a “spark that lit the touchpaper” might cause intervention….particularly if a crash-out was obviously leading to a break-up of the Union.

          Obviously, and as I hope I showed above, we are in no-man’s land….and have NO concrete evidence as to how and whether the Queen might over-rule Parliament. However, it is sort-of well-known that her favourite PMs were Churchill and, curiously, Wilson. Liking Wilson is interesting, given the controversy over whether the “plot to remove him” is tin-hat brigade or real. A relative of mine reads a lot of alternative blogs on the web. Whilst 50% of it is stuff that accords closely with stuff NC reports on (and thus I believe), the other 50% comes from more “tinfoil hat” sources that make me roll my eyes. Thus I can’t vouch for the veracity of the story he quotes about the attempted coup against PM Wilson. But if true, it might raise interesting questions about what the Queen might do if she saw the “constitution breaking down”.

          TL;DR: The Queen probably won’t do anything but if we’re looking at very unlikely scenarios regarding Parliament then considering a desire by the Queen to preserve the Union just *might* give grounds for intervention to stop BREXIT.

        2. Ape

          The Queen represents the state. The civil service, military, intelligence, government, opposition and ruling class.

          If the state acts against the government, what should we call that?

          The only word I can come up with is coup.

          1. Joe Well

            Considering how May and most of her party love to curtsy to the royal family, maybe if the queen told her Brexit was off, she’d respect that. It would mess with Europe, but since when has anyone in her party cared about that?

      3. Chauncey Gardiner

        Re: … “The City of London seems quite content with the way things are going.”

        Don Quijones posted an article at Wolf Richter’s site on Friday noting that “the City of London Corporation has finally got what it wanted: recognition by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) of the three biggest clearing houses it hosts, LCH, ICE Clear Europe and LME Clear. This will allow the three to continue providing services throughout the EU even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which is looking increasingly likely. It will also limit the potential for disruption in central clearing and prevent any negative impact on the financial stability of the EU, says ESMA.”


        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, CG.

          I would add that nothing in this accord prevents EU27 regulators from changing their minds.

          This seems like a short-term arrangement to me. I don’t think EU27 regulators and politicians have given up on their plan to clear EU27 business in the EU27. Give it a couple of years.

          1. Mirdif

            Colonel, might I ask if you can confirm the veracity of a certain story that came my way recently: A certain German TBTF had graffiti daubed on a wall at its offices in the smoke that amounted to “Fornicate off back to Teutonia”. Is it true or false?

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Mirdif.

              I have not heard about that.

              I am not the only person working for German TBTFs on this blog…

              1. Mirdif

                Thanks. I’ll pay attention to this blog even more and continue asking around offline as I did about somebody who used to work for a German TBTF and is now in a very powerful government position.

                In that case, the one person who knows the family refused to tell me anything on the basis that if you can’t say something good don’t say anything at all. Let’s hope he keeps the journos happy and none of them go digging in to how exactly his one living uncle moved to the UK in the quite recent past.

                1. Colonel Smithers

                  Thank you, Mirdif.

                  You mean the uncle of pensionable age who got into the UK on a student visa?

                  Wasn’t The Saj, as he denied calling himself over a recent lunch with the FT, a director of the family firm that arranged such matters?

                  It helps that The SAJ is wealthy and can entertain / buy off journalists.

                  1. Mirdif

                    Indeed. But there’s more to that student story than meets the eye but nobody is talking details and I don’t care to share the tidbits I’ve as yet picked up. The one person who would have talked details without hesitation, close friend of my late grandfather, sadly passed away many a year ago.

          2. Redlife2017

            Colonel smithers – I agree with your assessment and will add that at my large asset manager they are just breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to pull the trigger on a huge move of Euro client assets to Ireland/Lux. Quite honestly, as the CBI (Central Bank of Ireland) is showing a lot of teeth lately*, I think that these deals will be totally undone in the next few years.

            *Such as a letter sent out by the CBI in the past few days around EMIR transaction reporting. They are getting into more specifics than the FCA is willing to do, which means they will start driving the implementation of the regulations. They are also not pulling their punches when it comes to firms getting segregated authorisation. Punchy and finally not just taking direction from the FCA like they used to.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              About 6 months ago it was reported that the Government here in Ireland was trying to pressurise the CBI into easing off enforcement in order to attract more City refugees. But they seem to have stood up to the pressure. Ironically, the Celtic Tiger debacle greatly strengthened the independence of the CBI and its massively expanded (their new building on the Liffey, in the shell of what was to be the HQ of Anglo Irish Bank, is very impressive).

              I’m by nature pretty cynical about the CBI and the government, but so far I’ve been surprised at how strongly they’ve stood their ground. They are trying hard to overcome the reputation of Dublin as a financial wild west, without actually driving out investors, a pretty hard balance to get right. The fact that they’ve been willing to say ‘no’ to a few City operators is quite surprising and a good sign.

          3. Yves Smith Post author

            Yes, this has been a prize they have been after for a very long time.

            One simple way would be to say that a transactions tax will be applied to all derivatives cleared in the UK, say starting in 6 or 12 months. Suddenly all those positions which were oh so hard to move will wind up being migrated over.

        2. Olivier

          I saw that, too, and wondered on the deafening silence here on NC. Yves and the NC commentariat in general have been adamant that the EU negotiates from a position of crushing superiority (crushing, we tell you) and that the EU would never, ever blink on such a major plank. Then this, which is quite the plum, as DQ explains. What gives? Maybe the City was right to be sanguine all along.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            As the good Colonel above has been saying for over a year now, the major European capitals well aware that it does not have the regulatory capacity to handle much of the vital clearing house and other primary financial activities carried out by the City. It would take several years to build it up. But since at least five major cities in Europe are in open combat to grab as many jobs as possible from the City, then they will cut the UK out as soon as they can.

            All that deal Wolf refers to did was prevent a no-deal cut-off. It provides zero long term guarantees to London. Europe will slice off the City’s business salami style over the coming years. It has no incentive not to, and the UK as a ‘third country’ has no power whatever to stop it happening.

          2. vlade

            The EU wants the UK companies to quit and relocate gracefully, not to go bankrupt. Hence it also said that in no-deal it would take a number of unilateral steps which on the surface look like giving in to the UK, but since they are unilateral and can be rescided anytime, in fact it’s just making time for the EU.

            1. Redlife2017

              They are biding their time and showing they have more of an ability to do long-term thinking. The British, to be fair, are a bit of a low bar.

      4. vidimi

        may’s actions are consistent with those of somebody who wants a no-deal hard brexit crash out. her negotiated deal was a tick-the-box exercise but it has become clear over the last month that a no-deal is what she is really after. she played everyone.

        1. Summer

          She is a servant to power, like the rest. Some powerful people want a no-deal or it wouldn’t still be on the table.

      5. EoH

        Sadly, it seems clear that awareness or no, the Tories have ignored “all the moving parts” required to make any form of Brexit happen without an Alice-like plunge down the rabbit hole.

        Even Tories have to work hard to be that criminally incompetent. That makes a no-deal Brexit look like the Tory’s intended outcome. Between one and two decades of time and hundreds of billions of pounds will be lost reinventing a very serviceable wheel. Cui bono would be the next question, because damage control is unlikely to help this ship-on-fire make it to port without significant loss.

        1. JBird4049

          So this whole mess is disaster capitalism on a truly massive scale? It has been done on plenty of 3rd and even some 2nd tier countries, but the previous marks were more isolated, and more controllable, from and by the international economic interests. I assume Brexit could cause more widespread damage.

          It is a good point. Some people are that awful.

  2. larry

    Missing end of sentence.

    “Notice, however, this is a path to a bill and not a bill….yet more moving parts and thus more opportunity for “.

    Opportunity for what?

  3. Mirdif

    For completeness, Jean-Claude Piris responded on his twitter to the Ian Dunt article (quoted above):

    -1) My view is that U.K. will be in illegality if did not organise EUropean elections, but that would not prevent the Eur. Parliament to continue and do legally its tasks according to the EU Treaties. Otherwise one of the 28 Member States could stop EU activities by diung that.

    2) it is the principle of continuity. In the 1960ies despite the French « empty chair » the Council continued to work and take decisions, in the 1990ies the Commission lacking one member did the same (in 1980 the UN Security Council did the same)

    So I think it’s not exactly clear cut what the legal opinion is but I’d be more inclined to the view of Piris and thus a longer extension is possible but I doubt it would be requested or even granted. Also, according to other rumours circulating on twitter especially those who are “well connected” in Bruxelles, the EU does indeed prefer a longer extension but this is most likely not tenable in London.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ahem, how can the UK organize elections now that their seats have been apportioned away or designated as held in reserve?

      The 1960s is well before any EU treaties existed! Arguing from a precedent a full 30 years before the Maastrict treaty? Come on!

      This is so obviously strained that it serves to confirm Dunt’s take. And Dunt’s reading is also consistent with the undertone of the previously uniform comments to various particularly credible EU reporters (only a select group were given these views) that the idea of having the UK in the EU after the European Parliament seating was a non-starter. The idea seemed to be rejected with prejudice that was not explained.

      1. Mirdif

        1. The seats have only provisionally been apportioned away.
        2. Piris was previously DG of EU Council’s Legal Service. I’d trust his opinion in this matter over Ian Dunt’s every single day of the week.

          1. Mirdif

            Unfortunately the ECJ disagrees with you since it gave a judgement that the UK can unilaterally revoke its withdrawal from the EU.

            1. Clive

              Which would be fine, but no court can magic up ballot papers, seat number allocations and other legally binding requirements like candidates’ notification periods. At some point, and that point must be imminent, the European Parliament must be in a position of legal certainty — knowing that its divvy’ing up of seats is inviolable and cannot now be overturned.

              Otherwise, candidates, voters and even entire Member States which have proceeded on a particular set of assumptions who then find that those assumptions are proposed to be invalidated can sue the European Parliament.

              And there’s practical things like arrangements for citizens of one Member State voting from another. For example, the voter information page in English language (EN) doesn’t have any information for U.K. citizens (natch’). But if somehow this got changed and I was able to vote, someone would have to update that information. But the other EU27 members would have to put in place the systems on the ground for me to do that (as would the U.K.). But right now, as a fact, I don’t have that information available to me. So I’m disadvantaged, compared to other EU citizens because they know what’s happening but I don’t. So I can legitimately bring a case for voter suppression merely on that basis.

              1. Mirdif

                Which brings us back to the point that Piris made.

                The EU will be in legal certainty with regard to the seat allocation on 29 March or shortly before when/if an extension is requested. There is no certainty yet.

                Politically, I tend to think that holding election to the European Parliament is as close to zero in probability as you can get. It would be politically far too toxic and the results may well be very unpalatable.

                1. Clive

                  Well then, the U.K. would already be in breach of the EU Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 because it has not submitted its “Distribution of UK MEPs between electoral regions” report from the Electoral Commission to the appropriate Minister.

                  If the U.K. can’t tell the European Parliament where any potential U.K. MEP seats would be formed from, the European Parliament would not legally be able to allocate any re-available seats to the U.K. because it would not be able to verify that the seats were correctly drawn up (e.g verified for anti-gerrymandering rule violation). Again, any attempt at rushed through hatchet jobs would simply land the European Parliament in front of the CJEU.

                  Sorry, you can only fudge things so far before it all catches up with you.

                  Process. Detail. These things are written right through how the EU works like words in a stick of Blackpool rock.

              2. Ape

                Good question. What happens even with a one month extension? Uk voters in third countries vote for reps that can not represent them by the time of session.

                I guess the legal solution is to just overlook it.

                But any extension starts to open gnarly problems in the ad hoc structure of the EU. There’s probably thousands more mines waiting to be triggered.

          2. Wihawn

            Not sure if this has been over-ruled, but this:

            Seems to suggest that there is a fallback position regarding the UK seats in the EU Parliment. Specifically sections H5 and 6 which state that 5) The UK is leaving but 6) In case they don’t the allocation of seats will remain the same as the 2014-2019 period until such time as they do.

            There were also stories a while back (which are all behind paywalls as far as I can see, like that the Electoral Comission had set aside nearly £900k as contingency money in case the UK has to participate in the EU elections.

            So, unless I’ve massively misunderstood, I don’t think that it is entierly impossible that the issue of UK seats in the EU Parliment could be resolved – even if it is highly likely that not all of the moving parts are being bought to bear correctly in the run up.

            Finally, obligatory thank you to our gracious hosts and the regular commenters for possibly the most useful site on the ‘net.

            1. Clive

              Not all problems can be fixed with money. The EU Parliamentary Elections Act of 2002 clearly states that the Electoral Commission must:

              …as soon as possible after 1 May in a pre-election year [Clive: that’d ‘ev been last year], carry out a review (referred to in the legislation as a ‘periodic review’) of the distribution of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) between the twelve electoral regions of the UK and report its conclusions to the Secretary of State.

              There is no way either the U.K. domestic courts nor the ECJ would rule that “as soon as possible after May 1st” would be “the following March”. And the reason for such a long lead time is for the Electoral Commission’s report to go out for statutory consultation and for the new boundaries to be agreed with the local authorities who have to administer the vote.

              And in the 2013 report, the Electoral Commission unambiguously required the Minister to update the legislation which requires 3 MEPs per region because Northern Ireland (oh, yes, of course, it would just have to be Northern Ireland, of all places, wouldn’t it) was now underpopulated for that method of apportioning and now as a result over-represented. The Electoral Commission made it abundantly clear it would tolerate this one more time (for the 2014 European Parliament election) but not the next time.

              The UK Government and Parliament should ensure that it has concluded its review in time for any changes to the current statutory criteria to be made in advance of the next scheduled European Parliamentary elections in 2019. This means that any changes to the legislation should be made and in force by 1 June 2017, six months before the publication of the electoral registers potentially to be used for the next distribution recommendation.

              In the event, there wasn’t a “next time” so nothing got done. Which makes it far too late to sort all this out on any new, resurrected “next time” i.e. a 2019 poll.

              So, just sorting out the MEP seats in the U.K. needs a detailed report from the Electoral Commission on a valid regional seat boundaries allocation, secondary legislation to remove the “3 MEPs per region” requirement and the Minister to agree this with the European Parliament. All by the 12 April when the Electoral Commission requires any European Parliament election to be announced.

              Not. Going. To. Happen. No matter how much money you throw around. Messing up elections only works if your name is CalPERS.

        1. Frenchguy

          Indeed Piris credentials are more convincing than Dunt’s.

          And I would take issue with “The 1960s is well before any EU treaties existed!”. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 and the ECJ was actually formed in 1952 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1951). While the EU constitutionnal order has changed a lot since then, I don’t see what’s wrong with invoking precedents from the 60s…

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you and well said, FG.

            It’s not as if such aged precedents are unknown in English law, especially public and constitutional law.

            Also, a fudge of sorts is the more likely outcome, so scraping the barrel for a precedent, however ancient, could help.

            Piris had his 15 minutes in the UK last year, a pity as he has a lot to contribute. I got the impression that he was talking to his former Legal Service colleagues and the EU27 leadership as much as the UK audience, Newsnight on this occasion.

  4. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén

    re: “Rumors of the EU being willing to contemplate, or even offer a 21 month extension sound unlikely to come to fruitio.”
    This piece of news has been taken up by Finnish news outlets as well as Dutch newspapers.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      If I had a dollar for every Brexit (and Greece bailout) rumor that proved to be ill founded, I’d be rich by now.

      What led most reporters and virtually all pundits astray (at least until recently in the UK) was the deep seated belief that of course there was a deal to be had, when you could map out the positions (and in this case, the size of constituencies) of the various parties and see that that was a very questionable assumption.

      More specifically, there is considerable evidence that EU politicians and businessmen think they have marked a Brexit to market, even though the reality is they almost certainly have underestimated the full impact (unless they are in one of the fields that will benefit). Richard North today cites a survey of German businesses, and Brexit doesn’t make their top ten list of concerns. Even the prime minister of Malta, which has close ties to the UK, assumes Brexit will happen this year and isn’t trying to prevent it (not that he could do more than wave pom-poms but he isn’t even trying that).

    2. Ignacio

      This means that Finnish as well as Dutch (and Spanish I can tell) newspapers are similarly clueless or that they just parrot brexit stuff they see here and there without any critical thinking. It indicates that not many neurons are dedicated to the issue. Irish media look like better sources.

      1. Mirdif

        It’s been leaked only to pressure the ERG by threatening no Brexit. This is so they will ratify May’s deal, sooner rather than later. I still think that the chances of ratification are higher than all the other options (crash out remains the least likely at the moment) – an extension will be needed in any case. If it is not ratified and a short extension is requested then crash out will become as likely as ratification, IMO.

        I read something (can’t remember where) last week that said industry on the continent is asking for there to be only a longer extension or the EU to force crash out on March 29. The piece also said that industry on the continent thinks short extension followed by crash out is the worst option.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The ERG will never ratify May’s deal. Go read BrexitCentral. They can still hope to stymie a deal they regard as a non-Brexit, which is how they see May’s deal, and a 21 month extension gives them a bloody flag to wave too.

          1. Mirdif

            The announcement by Corbyn backing a referendum will force the ERG to vote for May’s deal. As I said previously her deal goes through and now I think it goes through in March before the European Council meeting and there she will request a short delay to pass the rest of the legislation. The alternative for the ERG is to campaign for May’s deal vs Remain with no guarantee of any Brexit in that case.

            Corbyn has backed another referendum to cut the legs off the Blairite party aka Independent Group who in turn were positioning for the post-Brexit fallout and to prevent any chance of a “Marxist” government.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Per Clive below, Corbyn is whipping for nothing, so his comments don’t mean much. And May won’t back a second referendum, so she would need to lose a vote of no confidence and have a government constituted before that might even get consideration. His “backing” is for a motion, which May can ignore. It’s not legislation.

              And there’s apparently a reason Corbyn isn’t doing much more than the Brexit version of virtue signaling: a second referendum doesn’t have the votes to pass. That’s why Vote Leave had its motion pulled last month. Scroll down the tweetstorm for confirmation:


              Again, I guarantee the ERG is not voting for May’s deal. That guarantees defeat. They would rather live to fight. and that would include fighting a second referendum if need be.

  5. jackiebass

    I don’t know much about British politics, but was Mays party in favor of Brexit being approved by the voters? If they weren’t then its obvious why she is behaving like she is.

  6. Anonymous2

    Various of today’s UK and Irish papers are talking of a two year extension to Brexit. You have to wonder where these stories are coming from -Selmayr has been suggested as one possible source. Also why? Is this just disinformation to muddy the water further? Could well be and it could be coming from all sorts of places in that case.

    Confusion reigns it would appear. Putin is said to be a master at creating it to keep people off balance. Perhaps someone has been learning from him?

    What a way to run a country.

    1. larry

      Game theory is all about probabilities. The vid argues why a No Deal is highly likely, not why it is inevitable.

  7. Ataraxite

    There is the interesting possibility of the ERG calling for a vote of no confidence, their last throw of the dice to get their cherished No Deal, and then Labour and other parties voting for the government, aware of the chaos that would happen if Britain had no constituted government and no agreed deal as March 29 came and went.

    I’m not confident at all that an extension can actually be agreed. There are 3 factors that mitigate against it:\

    1. If Theresa May asks for it, the Brexit ultras will go apoplectic. They will go completely mad, and all bets are off then.

    2. All 27 remaining member states must agree to it. Yes, most of the noises from the most influential ones like Holland and Ireland have pretty much said they’ll agree to any extension, but I saw the President of Estonia recently saying (but cannot find the link) that there seems little point of agreeing to an extension, since nothing much will change. Will Italy, Estonia, Latvia and Spain all agree to an extension? Will a single country be willing to veto the extension, or will the pull to consensus that operates in the Council override that?

    3. The EU and the UK must agree the length of the extension. I personally hope the “21 months” story is true, because imagining the frothy-mouthed meltdowns in the UK press and Brexit cultists is a delicious thought. What happens if May asks for a 3 month extension, but the EU is only prepared to agree to a 21-month one?

    4. The EU have been pretty consistent in saying that any extension request must be accompanied by a credible plan to bring Brexit to a resolution. Maybe they’ll back down on this, maybe they won’t. But what plan could May possibly offer that won’t blow up in the inflammable political environment of the United Kingdom?

    It’s going to indeed be a rough week.

      1. Mirdif

        I tend to think that May is mendacious rather than delusional. Some of the ERG don’t like her because they consider her mendacious, devious and untrustworthy. I think it is why they fear she might nix Brexit somehow.

    1. Pavel

      I don’t believe the ERG can call for another vote of no confidence so soon after the December attempt but I may no doubt be wrong…

  8. Avidremainer

    There are an extraordinary number of chickens coming home to roost in all of this. One of the biggest is whether or no the UK can be trusted to keep its word.
    There is an old Arab joke that goes like this: Is it better to be the enemy or the friend of Britain? The answer is the enemy. If you are the enemy of Britain there is always the possibility of being bought. If you are the friend of Britain there is the certainty that you will be sold.
    The EU does not trust the UK to keep its word, hence the backstop. A while back Michael Gove was interviewed by Andrew Marr. During the programme Gove argued that MPs should vote for May’s deal and then do what we like after. A wonderful example of bad faith expressed by a senior UK British politician. No one in the UK questioned this stance. I bet the EU 27 said to themselves ” See Albion Perfide how right we were to insist on the backstop.”
    How can Mr Cox, no matter how agile a mind he has, change the meaning of the backstop sufficiently to pacify the ERG and keep the EU27 happy? He can’t and won’t. No deal is is a growing possibility because the UK has done nothing to build up trust in Europe. No trust equals no deal.

  9. The Rev Kev

    Since Brexit, the UK has been brought to a precipice with disaster in front of them. Under Theresa May, they are about to take a great leap forward.

  10. David

    The Cabinet Office guidance cited by Clive is essentially a formalisation of established practice during election campaigns. It’s important to realise that the purpose is to ensure equality between government and opposition during an election campaign by preventing the outgoing government from taking advantage of its status. Although a vote of confidence now would lead to an election, the election itself would actually be a secondary issue to the political crisis that had provoked it. There may not be a government (or opposition) in the normally accepted sense anyway. During the 14-day period, unlike the campaign proper, there is also a parliament. It’s thus conceivable that a new government could be formed during that time, whose only programme would be to get an extension or withdraw the Art 50 declaration. I don’t see how it would be possible to mount a legal challenge to such an initiative which would of course have to be carefully prepared in advance. (Obviously this would not of itself resolve any of the practical problems we have discussed).
    I’m now starting to think that the EU may actually prefer a longer extension. Everybody accepts that two or three months is pointless unless there is actually reason think that the underlying position is going to change, which it obviously won’t. But between now and the end of 2020, any number of things can happen. The situation may be no better than it is now, but then again it may’ and that’s how policians think. The EP dimension can be fudged temporarily and kicked into the long grass. The EU’s assumption will be that whatever government emerges from this shambles cannot be worse than the present one. Of course the 27 are thoroughly fed up with the UK, and everybody wants this settled. But there’s a choice between evils’ and an extension may be the lesser evil. I don’t suggest this is the most probable outcome but I think it’s possible if May is forced to go cap in hand to Brussels to seek an extension. If that destroyed the Tory party in its current form I don’t think too many tears would be shed.

    1. Clive

      The Cabinet Office Manual specifically invokes the restrictions during the 14-day period following a No Confidence motion. The restrictions are the same as for during an election campaign, but the Manual clearly intends them to apply during the 14-day timeframe as well.

      1. David

        Indeed but my point was that these conventions (and that’s all they are) were rolled over from a time of sudden death political transitions when you could come into work one day and find you had no government and no parliament. It’s clear that the application of these rules to the 14-day period is on the assumption that the existing government will flail around for a bit before giving up, and then the campaign will start. But I’m not sure that will happen this time and I can see a lot of activity and a lot of involvement by the civil service as well.

    2. vidimi

      the EU has become quite infamous for its kick-the-can-down-the-road philosophy so what you write is entirely consistent with that.

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    May’s incompetence is such that I am beginning to believe that it is deliberate.

    Specifically, she opposed Brexit before the referendum, and I am beginning to think that she is negotiating a bad deal in order to prevent the UK’s exit from the EU.

  12. Ptb

    What about the Copper amendment, now more likely to pass (and the follow up vote to it)? Is it really completely without effect on the government?

    1. Clive

      As for whether it will pass, on current evidence that’s a “no” because it will need Labour front bench support and Corbyn is doing what he did the last time — saying he’s “minded” to support it without actually doing anything specifically with regards to telling the whips’ office, leaving everyone unsure and confused. If at the last minute he says he’ll support it, he can then say he supported it, but without having laid any of the groundwork to ensure it is supported. I hope y’all followed that.

      If, however, one or more of May’s ministers supports it (and it in effect became a government bill that was the diametric opposite of supposed government policy) May would have to — I say have to, “have to” would apply in any normal circumstances, but… these aren’t normal circumstances really, are they, so we can’t assume anything, so I’d better rephrase that as “May should” face a (~nother) Confidence Motion. Which she’s probably going to win. So can then safely ignore the dumbass amendment entirely. I know this sounds completely ridiculous. And indeed it is. But it is by willing to end up looking — and being — ridiculous and totally washed up (and not, apparently, seeming to mind in the slightest) that May is still there, still doing everything she’s always done.

      I try. I really do try. Honestly. But I cannot help it. I have a horrid guilty pleasure in almost — almost — admiring her sheer unmitigated brass neck. It should be put in the British Museum.

      1. ptb

        Ok, but just for the sake of a pure hypothetical, suppose it passes with newfound Tory support, together with accompanying votes as required by procedure. Would it actually firmly obligate the government to ask for extension if no-deal hasn’t been ruled out by the March 13th?

        1. Clive

          I’ve never seen *any* explanations about how it would work as a practical proposal. It can’t force May to adopt any specific negotiating basis so May could just present the EU27 with some obviously unacceptable demand. It cannot force the government to commit any funding. So May can merely say “we ain’t go no money for that” (whatever fiscal implications are arising as a result).

          I don’t read it at a serious attempt at forcing any particular government action. It’s merely an exercise in showing how weak May is and to undermine her authority. But May shows every appearance of not giving a flying fig about those. And actually, the more any ammendment seems to make May and her government seem precarious, the greater the likelihood is of a Confidence Motion going against her. Which has a not trivial risk of — tah-dah! — a No Deal Brexit.

          Cooper et al are just as dumb as May, in my opinion, if they can’t play out the next couple of likely moves in all this. Dumber, in fact. At least May knows she’s Dumb. Cooper and her compadres are dumb too, but they don’t know they are dumb nor in what ways.

        2. vlade


          The government could be in contempt. So what. It already is.

          The government could be jailed (one of the more obscure parliamentary powers in the UK is that the parliament can jail ANYONE without a due process for a fixed period of time, which automatically ends with prorouging the Commons, although people imprisoned by Lords aren’t). But it would be still the government, until the Parliament replaced it.

          The only way the parliament can really force the government to do what it wants is to no-confidence it and put a new one in place (which assumedly would do what it wanted). There is no third way.

          Now one more thing occured to me. The parliament could ask the sovereign (Technically, it’s the soverreign who has the executive authority, although by custom exercises it via PM or on PM’s advice) to overrule the PM and ask for extension/revocation directly, going over PM’s head. That would give Queen the cover, and ignore PM. It would also throw a nice juicy bone to all the constitutional lawyers.

        3. Darthbobber

          If there’s some way of literally ruling out the lack of a deal other than having a deal approved by both parties to the negotiations (the principals, not just their negotiators), I’m at a loss to see what it is.

  13. Synoia

    It appears to me that May wants to be Prime Minister as long as possible.

    Is that her sole objective? She personally would lose the job by embracing Remain, delayed article 50, did not have all the appearance of negotiating, or advocated a crash out.

    Viewed from that perspective, she’s doing everything almost perfectly.

    Something about “Overweening Ambition” comes to mind.

    Postulation: She is the Prime Minister, and wants to keep the job as long as possible, whatever the situation.

    Observation: I could be being overly cynical.

    1. thesaucymugwump

      “Is [being prime minister] her sole objective?”

      Yes. She is incompetent to the point where she cannot think medium-term, let alone long-term. Remember she was the home secretary who eliminated 20,000 police jobs in a failed attempt at austerity, leading to the explosion of Islamic and regular crime today.

  14. Ape

    Is it possible that the players don’t understand basic logic/probability?

    If there’s a default state requiring N steps to avoid, the probability of avoiding default is multiplying the probability of succeeding every step – and is the same as times.

    When you multiply probabilities which are number between 0 and 1, ver quickly you come to a number that is 0 or very close to it. That is true even if most or every number is closer to 1 than 0.

    Multiplication. You can’t beat it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, I’ve made your probabilities point before. That is also informally called the “too many moving parts” problem. This is a big reason I regard the odds of a crash out as high.

  15. skk

    I really really shd know the UK, what with a childhood there etc… I really shd know it. I watched an older Question Time recently via vpned BBC iPlayer and honestly it’s not just the MPs acting like pillocks, its a lot of the vox populi too. With that, yeah I’m starting to bet on a crash out. Cos like the origins of WW1, as per Prof Clark, all parties are acting rationally but there’s no centroid point here except for a no deal crash out. And that goes for the populist populace too.

  16. Tony Wright

    Humans are not always rational – if they were we would not be overrunning the planet like a bunch of myxomatosis and calici virus resistant rabbits, and stock markets would not crash every decade or so just when so called experts pronounce that in future crashes will not occur. Etc.etc.
    It is a bugger being in the wrong timezone for NC…it always hits my inbox around midnight…could be worse at least I dont live in the UK…

    1. JBird4049

      If you are an American like me, I would not be that cocksure about how not living in the UK is better just yet. The political leadership especially in Congress seem to want to make doing anything impossible in worse way possible. Government shutdowns, multiple failed wars, depopulating the various agencies, Russia!Russia!Russia!, the humongous asset bubble and all of this set to implode at about the same time. I think our fireworks will be more impressive.

      If my life wasn’t so desperate, and I wasn’t struggling so hard to financially survive college and California’s housing, I would stocking beer and popcorn for this Summer’s Collapseathon and the upcoming elections.

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