Brexit: Chaos Visible

Theresa May’s second go at getting her deal passed, where the only change of importance was the proximity of the vote to the crashout date, was like her first, an even bigger failure than anticipated. A loss of 100 seemed to be a magic number of sorts, since being ~50 votes shy seemed inevitable given the continued opposition of the ERG (aka the Ultras) and the DUP. There’s no way to pretty up a 149 vote defeat.

Nevertheless, it was easy to see that May’s one trick pony of running the clock out to put pressure on the EU and Parliament had already broken down in the home stretch. Some readers were kind enough to say they’d been looking for more Brexit posts in the last week, but despite the UK press again trying to present May as sallying forth to wrest concessions from bullies in the EU, there was absolutely no way anything significant was going to happen. Even with the EU giving May a much better 11th hour fig leaf than she had any reason to expect, it still didn’t add up to much (see Richard North for a long-form discussion), her Attorney General Cox could only hand-wave that this not-precisely legally binding document would only somewhat reduce the likelihood of the UK being stuck in the Irish backstop. And that’s giving more credit to the techno-border “alternative arrangements” notion than it deserves (readers pointed out in comments that equipment would be sabotaged).

One of the ironic features of Brexit is that it’s made Jean-Claude Juncker, the buffoon of the 2015 Greece bailout negotiations, look statesmanlike. And it’s not that Juncker has grown in stature but that he’s managed to get photographed next to diplomatic pygmies of the UK.

In other words (to change metaphors now that we are onto a new paragraph), if you had gotten your hands on the Brexit libretto, nothing that happened in the last week was a surprise. May kept getting in the face of EU pols so as to justify having her votes so close to March 29, and also because she’s obviously bereft of any other ideas. EU officials, who had said they were not changing the Withdrawal Agreement so many times that their remarks were assuming the role of a ritual incantation, utterly predictably lived up to their word. The only surprise that that the EU was willing to offer a third set of optics, and then on the day before yesterday’s Withdrawal Agreement vote.

But in another sense, the magnitude of May’s second loss isn’t surprising. Her wearing the most ginormous necklace I have ever seen her sport, and metallic to boot, looked like an effort to shield herself from an expected debacle. May having been forced into giving MPs two theoretical ways to escape a crash out and hence not be cornered into voting through her deal made it much easier to reject her pact.

But note that even though the Government is supporting the motion against a “no deal” Brexit tomorrow, it’s agreed to have a “free vote”. We’ll discuss below how the Ultras have proposed a diversionary amendment; not sure it will have any impact. And we don’t just mean the vote. Do not forget that the only way out of a no deal Brexit is to revoke Article 50 or get an extension. Parliamentary feel good votes are not sufficient.

EU tells UK no more talking and battens down for a possible no deal. Recall, that as Ernest Hemingway said of bankruptcy, it happened two ways: gradually and then suddenly. The UK has only 17 days to pull out of its current trajectory and the only route under consideration requires EU cooperation. And even if the UK gets an extension, May, most MPs, and popular sentiment are aligned in wanting only a “short” extension. That, as the EU and some commentators appreciate, won’t change anything. So even if the UK avoids a calamity on March 29, it is very likely to be back in the same spot in two to three months.

Key EU officials again go to pains to be clear…not that is likely to make any more difference than it has so far:

This warning from Prime Minister Mark Rutte is significant given that the Netherlands are one of the countries that would be most disrupted by Brexit:

Note that Rutte’s statement echoes the one made by Donald Tusk’s spokesman, a show of EU unanimity.

But Mr. Market is still pretty composed. After slipping 0.6%, sterling firmed to settle at 1.31 to the dollar.

The crunch is even worse than it looks. Assuming that Parliament rejects a no deal Brexit on Wednesday and authorizes seeking an extension to Article 50 on Thursday, the timing is exceedingly tight. (No one wants to contemplate the horror of having the UK wind up bak on a crash out path if Parliament rejects a no deal but then fails to authorize May to seek an extension). The Government ought to get Parliament voting to amend all the legislation that had hard coded the Brexit date. Shadow Brexit minister Kier Starmer claimed 50 bills would need to be addressed.

But even more daunting is dealing with the EU. It would be a mistake to think that the EU is going to roll over and give the UK an extension. EU leaders have been saying that the UK needs to give a reason, and more faffing about isn’t one they’re willing to entertain. There is skepticism that a short extension will accomplish anything, and some businessmen have said that preparing for a crash out on March 29 and having to do so again in 2 or 3 months (particularly if it happens then) is worse than having a crash out in March.

Some EU officials have said publicly that they would prefer that the UK seek an extension of a year, on the assumption that’s how long it would take the UK to change course, as in have a referendum and hopefully decide to rescind the Article 50 notice. But a year isn’t likely to be adequate. A year is barely enough to hold a referendum, given the many views of what the question should be. And what happens if there are more than two choices and Remain wins, but by a plurality rather than a majority? Or Parliament manages to agree on a softer Brexit, but the Government pursues its new idea of Brexit with as much cakeism on display as before?

May presumably gets her marching orders late March 14, a Thursday. The next EU Council meeting is March 21-22. The sherpas need to get materials two days before the meeting to brief their principals, but this Government has generally ignored that protocol. So the UK is likely to ruffle the EU again by dumping something on the national leaders at the last minute.

Another complicating factor is that the EU may demand a concession from the UK to give an extension, particularly if it is the short extension that the EU regards as problematic. For instance, the Telegraph reported over the weekend:

The EU is preparing to impose punitive conditions on Britain as its price for agreeing a Brexit delay if Theresa May is forced to ask for an extension this week.

Member states are “hardening” their attitudes towards a delay and will demand “legal and financial conditions” including a multi-billion pound increase to the £39bn divorce payment.

May is weaker than ever, but still standing. Appropriately, May’s voice gave out during Tuesday’s debate.

The Financial Times has the bizarre headline, Power over Brexit slips from May’s damaged hands. May never had “power over Brexit” because the UK was and remains deeply divided over Brexit. Remember how May has had repeated pitched battles and huge turnover in her own Cabinet as a result of Brexit rows? Remember Chequers? Remember how often it has been predicted that she’d be gone within days? She’s the political version of a comic book superhero, hanging off a ledge by her fingernails since the disaster of her snap election.

On top of that, from top to bottom, no one in a power position understands the EU so that even if the country were united on this issue, it’s doubtful the people nominally in charge could map a realistic path forward.

But at least that story had some good tidbits, like:

Business groups were aghast at the development. “It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus,” said the Confederation of British Industry lobby group. “This must be the last day of failed politics. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it.”

“We are now staring down the precipice,” added the City of London Corporation. “Politicians of every hue must overcome their differences and make avoiding a no-deal Brexit the absolute priority.”

Too many unicorns are still prancing about.For a big dose of why Brexit remains such a mess, you need go no further that an opinion piece by the Financial Times’ editorial board, Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead — MPs must now take over. This article is so wrong-headed that it is hard to know where to begin.

Start with the headline. The idea that Parliament will take control of Brexit is silly. Legislatures are not capable of administering. More specifically, as our David and Clive have set forth in some detail, in the UK, when Parliament is unhappy with the PM, they get rid of him/her. There is no route for Parliament to bypass the PM and take on functions bestowed upon the executive, like negotiating treaties.

Yet the pink paper pushes for the untested and unworkable mechanism of having MPs reach consensus on a new approach to Brexit. I am not making this up:

It should allow time for a new approach to Brexit that tests MPs’ appetite for other forms of withdrawal. Indicative votes should be held on “softer” options including a permanent customs union with the EU — which this newspaper has supported — or a “Norway-plus” option of remaining in the single market and a customs union.

First, exactly how is this deeply divided Parliament supposed to achieve any sort of agreement, when it has been evident for two years the parties themselves, which are the usual vehicles for driving policies forward, are split? And on top of that, neither of the major parties has anything resembling leadership? And given how dopey the FT is being, we are forced to point out that the Ultras, as unattractive as they are, are nevertheless determined and disciplined, which has enabled them to punch above their weight. And with the only two ways our of Brexit being a revocation of Article 50, which is still being treated as a non-starter absent a win for Remain in a second referendum, or a deal, which also seems remote, the Ultras don’t need to win in the normal sense to prevail. All they have to do is obstruct, a much lower bar.

A Guardian op ed by Rafael Behr has a much better grasp of things:

Vital questions about the future will now be settled in a state between despondency and panic. There is no strategy, no guiding intelligence. A plan must be salvaged from the wreckage of a bad idea badly executed….

Every difficulty encountered in Brexit negotiations over the past two years was foreseeable. Most flowed from the same essential miscalculation: the wildly implausible expectation that a bloc of 27 nations, each knowing the value of unity and solidarity, would be the weaker party in negotiations. The path to May’s humiliation began in the weird solipsism of an exiting country, having no notion of the relationship it wanted with the rest of Europe, imagining it might dictate the terms of its exit.

Second, as we’ve pointed out, and Richard North has discussed in gory detail, a customs union does not solve the problems its advocates clearly think it would, such the Irish border and achieving frictionless trade. But the FT is not alone in this confusion. Corbyn is still calling for a customs union, and on Tuesday, falling back on some ramblings of December, membership in the Single Market…when that’s not on unless you accept freedom of movement, adherence to EU laws, and the jurisdiction of the ECJ, when Corbyn was also claiming the UK would still have the right to strike its own trade deals, which is completely outside the pale even with just a customs union (save for goods or services outside the customs union agreement).

Similarly, Norway has already rejected the critical part of the “Norway option,” which is joining the Efta. And that’s before getting to the fact that the EU lets Efta members have a special status because all are small, and giving waivers to little countries isn’t a threat to big ones. And on top of that, Norway has about 50 bi-lateral agreements on top of what membership in Efta and the EEA give it to achieve its relatively close relationship.

It should therefore not be surprising to see the Financial Times op-ed recommend a second referendum if the Parliament’s exploration of non-starters doesn’t go anywhere. I’s astonishing to see this option still being bandied about without a realistic look at timelines. although the pink paper does bleat that an extension “needs to be longer than three months.”

Thankfully, this piece does not take up another notion should have been put to bed by now, that of a general election, which is making the rounds on the Twitterverse. As we’ve discussed, it would have decent odds of leading to a crash out unless it takes place in combination with a long enough extension. Realistically, if there were a GE and the GE delivered a clear mandate on Brexit (unlikely given how clueless the Government and MPs have been and how misleading the media coverage is), it would still likely take a bare minimum of a year after a new GE to reach a new agreement. Is anyone up for neverending Brexit?

UK financial services industry is already diminished by Brexit. Most pundits missed a point stressed by Sir Ivan Rogers in one of his talks: that May’s deal was designed to minimize disruption to trade in goods while effectively throwing the financial services under the bus to enable the UK to opt out of the EU “freedom of movement” requirement. Major players have acted accordingly. From the Wall Street Journal on Monday:

There is one certainty in Brexit: London’s pre-eminent role in global finance has been diminished….

Regardless of how Brexit plays out, Europe’s financial system has been fundamentally altered, industry executives and analysts say. “Brexit forced a re-evaluation,” said Michael Mainelli, chairman of Z/Yen, a London think tank that ranks financial centers.

Hundreds of billions of dollars, as well as hundreds of finance roles, have moved to Europe’s secondary financial centers, especially Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin. JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and UBS Group AG are among those diversifying elsewhere.

The papers have more on the various plots underway for tomorrow, but it seems better to let them resolve themselves than get distracted by details. The UK is caught in a trap of the Tories’ design, the key players are battle-weary, even though getting through this phase leads to years more of more difficult negotiations over the future relationship with the EU. Yet no one has the nerve to call it quits and launch a campaign to rescind the Article 50 notice.

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  1. Mirdif

    A well titled piece. The crisis is in sight now. It will begin next week once only the shortest of extensions is offered. Opinions have hardened much quicker than I thought and they’ve done so in two of the more friendly capitals (The Hague and Copenhagen) and that is indicative of the end of the road.

    If opinions have hardened as much as I think then an extension may well last only until the very last sitting day of the European Parliament on 18 April.

    Nevertheless, no deal remains the least likely and if May’s deal doesn’t pass then we’re more likely to see a much softer Brexit than currently planned. There remains a chance for MV3 and they’ll likely find a way of putting the same bill up again.

    Last night also signalled the absolute nail in the coffin of Al Johnson’s leadership ambitions, the same for that thicko Raab and the same for the slimey Somerset Lloyd-James Jr*. The Tories who voted for the deal last night have already begun accusing the no’s of thwarting brexit.

    Btw, anybody notice that David David** voted for the deal and the same for Nadine Dorries.

    *Jacob Rees-Mogg
    **David Davis but I find the alternative more amusing.

    1. vlade

      I think the fact it was Dutch and Danes sending out the message was intentional by the EU (“look, we’re your friends, what do you think your enemies would like to do?”)- but I doubt the UK government gets it.

      1. fajensen

        The Danes are pissed off with the UK. The Danish prime minister was quoted in headlines as saying: “It is quite difficult to reach out and lend a hand to someone standing with theirs (hands) in their pockets!”.

        The UK’s unseemly departure from the EU means that Denmark has lost its backup on their own version of “The EU is Markets Only”-strategy, and now will have to work actively to align more directly with Germany and France to get some influence on the more federal EU that is sure to follow Brexit.

        That means that there are a lot of Danish “Sacred Cows” that will be going off to the knackers yard, rendered down for biofuel and replaced by EU-wide directives / regulation – which presents an interesting problem:

        The only political party, in my opinion and some commentators, that will immediately gain from this transition of Danish politics from quite strictly nationalist to more regional concerns, is the radical left (Enhedslisten).

        Being a very small party, they saw long ago that if one wants to pursue some of their more reasonable political goals of preserving some acceptable level of living wages, survivable working conditions and effective taxation, it just has to come via Bruxelles.

        There are simply too many vested interests and heavy political baggage in the “Danish System” to move the needle from within Denmark – while being undercut by a deliberately negligent enforcement regime as well as Poland, Ireland and the UK – and the fact is that the “influenced person per vote”-metrics is much higher in Bruxelles. “Moving to Brussels”, they can punch above their weight.

        The current Danish government is right-wing and neoliberal, the incoming social-democrat one will be neoliberal also. Brexit and the EU-realignment after Brexit will ruin a lot of the consensus and planning the “responsible parties” (neoliberal+warmongers and nationalists) have already been doing and move the radical left into the middle of politics as it will become after Brexit. That pisses them off.

        1. Kasia

          Denmark’s 0.25 Gini coefficient is extremely low and way below EU averages. The last thing Danes should do is get closer to EU policies. Even the Social Democrats are now anti-immigration and so if anything Denmark should continue to pull away from Brussels. Denmark is one of the few western European countries that has a chance in 50 years to still be a first world country and to even remain 90% ethnically Danish. Denmark’s political class should be congratulated on their recent manoeuvres to avoid the scourge of globalisation and should take a strongly defensive attitude towards the malevolent desires of the globalists in Brussels.

          1. fajensen

            Denmark should define EU policies. Pulling away from Brussels just gives Brussels the free space to do whatever the hell it wants, unreported and unchecked. Exactly what was also achieved by “the establishment” not entering the immigration debate / debacle early on.

            One should be aware that the Social Democrats are well known for being neoliberal class-traitors and always living in the glories of the past. One can be fairly sure that if that tarpit of dinosaurs adopt an idea, it has gone well beyond the “best before” date.

            And Indeed, the nationalist and anti-immigration DF looks to be getting a crap election this time and the “anti-everything” votes will be split amongst 5-6 flavours of nutters.

            People here are long fed up with the “Danish Values” debate, the “war on poor people”, and people are fed up with that every time there is some kind of problem totally under our control, like unprecedented levels of tax fraud due to systemic failure, the shared political response will be that it is “because immigration took all the money” or “‘something’ EU” of “Look! Some muslim is doing something!!”. Doesn’t work anymore!

            The problem with “anti-immigration” is that amongst the side effects of that idea is that now there is a portion of the population in Denmark that, based only on their name and their looks, per recent government policy because “war on poor people” will be actively excluded and prevented from possibly becoming a productive member of society.

            Then, apart from this being unfair and unreasonable, also begs the question: What will those unwanted people do once they figure out that nobody will ever want them?

            Maybe they figure that since “democracy” decided put them in the shit, then maybe “western democracy and liberal values” are not such grand ideals after all!?

            1. Kasia

              Denmark is a tiny country and doesn’t have the power nor any hope of finding the leverage to impose it’s policies on Brussels. Nor does it have any interest to do so; Denmark will have an increasing competitive advantage as a result of her current policies. While other 1st world countries commit demographic suicide, Denmark will only thrive in comparison.

              The only “poor” people in Denmark have been imported as immigrants. The clear strategy of the Danish government now is to make things so tough on them that they voluntarily leave to temporarily greener pastures such as Sweden or Germany. This seems like a wise strategy to me. Since neo-liberals use mass 3rd world immigration to increase poverty and increase differences in wealth, the current Danish policies are the inverse of this and thus are a very clean way to end poverty and to lessen the differences in wealth. It brings Denmark back towards being a homogeneous society which is the way things were up to the 80’s before mass immigration started.

              No society is perfect but Denmark is as close as it gets. They have found the obvious solution to globalisation; reinforce the welfare state by severely restricting 3rd world immigration. The demographic trends are looking better for indigenous Danes but immigrants still out breed them. But the pressure the government is putting on immigrants should lead to more and more leaving and at some point in the next couple years the percentage of ethnic Danes should start growing and the percentage of 3rd world immigrants decline. Hopefully the Danish government will introduce large family benefits similar to what Hungary recently did.

              The problem will come when Sweden implodes in the next decade or two. But there will be time to prepare, and the coming disaster in Sweden will serve to reinforce the political will in Denmark to continue on the track they have chosen.

              Western democracy and liberal values have almost destroyed the West over the past 40 years so they should very much be questioned as they are certainly not for everyone and one could question if they are any good for anyone.

              1. larry

                It isn’t Western values and liberal values per se that have almost destroyed the West; it is neoliberalism pushed by the mainstream economic institutions. This has led once again to the rise of the financial sector, a group of predators and parasites by and large.

              2. Irrational

                I beg to differ about my country of birth and I have voted with my feet, fajensen is spot on.

        2. bold'un

          There is an old phrase: “don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”; just because there is ‘no deal’ on March 29, it does not ‘no deal forever’. Maybe the UK has decided that
          putting a border in NI for a few weeks and then asking the EU for ideas to get rid of it is the way to nix the backstop for ever.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        This goes back to before Brexit, but the failure of the UK to cultivate its friends in the EU is remarkable. The EU is dominated by centre-right/Christian democrat parties – they should be the natural allies of a Tory led Britain. But they’ve managed to anger or confuse every single one. If they actually set out to press the wrong buttons of each individual EU country they couldn’t have done a better job.

        And the flip side is that when they’ve tried to use bullying tactics, as with Ireland, they were inept with that too. The manner in which they’ve united the Irish political establishment against them is historic. Nobody since Brian Boru has managed to get Irish politicians to stand together in such unanimity.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you and well said, PK.

          In 2009, I sat in a meeting of bank CEOs and a Tory delegation comprising David Cameron, George Osborne and Ken Clarke. Cameron, in particular, was warned not to leave the European People’s Party as the UK would need these right wing allies. Cameron knew better, preferring to act on some throw away comment made in his leadership contest against David Davis, rather than moving on. After the working lunch and the Tory trio were escorted out, the CEOs remarked that Cameron and Osborne were boys about to enter a man’s world and learn a harsh lesson. My CEO said that she had known the pair for nearly 20 years, including at the Treasury when she was a junior minister under John Major and Ken Clarke, and they had not changed, arrogant know it alls. Needless to say, my CEO was one Tory veteran never given a sinecure or a peerage. The Tory boys had nursed their animosity for two decades. I will write more about my first and only encounter with Cameron and Osborne soon.

          Enjoy Cheltenham.

          I may be seconded to Dublin, EU immigration status permitting, late this spring or summer. I will let you know in good time. If I visit, perhaps we could meet.

          1. flora

            …the CEOs remarked that Cameron and Osborne were boys about to enter a man’s world and learn a harsh lesson.

            That seems an apt description. I look forward to your write up.

  2. NJ

    No one wants to contemplate the horror of having the UK wind up back on a crash out path if Parliament rejects a no deal but then fails to authorize May to seek an extension.

    I thought that was the whole plan all along. Whether it’s because May only knows how to follow existing rules without question, or because the UK power brokers told her what to do, this plays perfectly into the current media fabricated narrative that “we’ve tried everything, but we just couldn’t avoid a no deal”.

    I suspect even the myriad contradictory stories in the news were intended to make it look like we’re trying more options than we actually are.

      1. mpr

        This is excellent. I’d like to see an entire analysis of the EU/Brexit from the point of view of the Dune canon.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve had a busy week so I’ve just been able to dip in and out of the news, but as always Yves call can hardly be bettered. The horrifying thing is that despite the chaos and obvious gridlock, I don’t think the people at the centre of the storm actually understand how serious it is. Sterling has even gone up in value this morning! I was watching a few Tories interviewed on RTE last night – it was hard to know if they are as clueless as they seemed or if they were putting on a brave face, but they seemed to think it was all just a bit of a kerfuffle, and if only the EU would act honourably it will all work out.

    BTW, the Irish government 2 days ago seemed determined to put on a show to make it seem like the new ‘clarifications’ indicated real concessions by the EU. Varadkar even ordered ministers back from the airport (they are all on their way to St. Patricks Day jollies) to discuss it. I assume the whole purpose was to put on a show to make it look like a huge concession had been made. Even the clueless media realised within a few hours that the concessions amounted to nothing. There was incredulity in the Irish media that May had gone along with all this without bringing Cox with her – she seemed surprised by his failure to go along with the story. It was just another sign of political ineptitude of the highest order in No.10.

    1. Clive

      One thought that struck me was that, given No Deal is a stronger possibility (and as we’ve often said, there’s no such thing as no No Deal unless there is either a Deal or Article 50 is rescinded) and unless and until there’s an extension Exit Day is only a couple of weeks away, the NI / Republic border resolution can’t be fudged away or blustered away or blamed away. Something specific needs to at least be drafted and formally agreed between the EU27 and the U.K. if only as a contingency.

      Today the U.K. published its intentions for how the border would be managed

      The short version of which is, we’ll just ignore it and say we’re working on it. Given that a legitimate citation of “specific social circumstances” can be made to the WTO (and I don’t see who, exactly, would challenge that nor that, if they did, they’d have standing to do so) followed by (I am trying but failing to keep a straight face here) the U.K. government would seek “urgent” discussions with the Republic to agree a longer term resolution, that would give this particular can a good kick down the road for at least a couple of years.

      Which has a consequence that, if this is what is documented as the fallback position by the U.K. government and the Republic does much the same (the messsging to date has been that it will — and the EU26 will “support Ireland” with “forbearance” accordingly) it will be absolutely impossible for any backstop to ever get put back on table again. The EU27 can huff and puff about how a backstop is needed for any Deal or even mini-Deals or an extension. But any rhetorical claim that something is absolutely essential and there is no alternative to it loses argumentative force when the previous day or so ago you just said, in effect, nah, we’ll get by with a bit of hand waving for a while.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m not sure a joint decision to turn a blind eye to the border is sustainable even in the short term. For one thing, ‘contamination’ of Irish food products by non-EU milk/beef/pork would almost certainly lead to legal action by food interests in the rest of Europe. I can’t see how it can be fudged if the Irish government is told by the ECJ there will be a ban on Irish dairy products until it starts checking at the border.

        And in the other direction, take one issue – waste. The republic has no licensed hazardous waste disposal site, and a huge shortage of landfill and incinerator capacity. At the moment, the surplus is shipped to Belgium and Sweden. Trucking it over the border to NI will become far cheaper and easier, and extremely profitable for all sorts of groups and individuals in NI. There used to be a lot of illegal landfills in NI, just over the border. They will re-open soon if there are no checks.

      2. vlade

        There’s one phytosanitary BIP planned IIRC. I can just see how all the Republic milk and other imports going through it..

        The UK can get away with exception here for a while, but IIRC the rules still require it to be actively working to normalise it, otherwise it can get hit by WTO penalties (give it a few decades..) – and not just pretend. Be sure that the likes of NZ/Australia/Canada will be watching like hawks.

        Also, this will be a very smuggling conductive environment. I don’t see how the EU will be able to continue with any forbearance one hormone-enhanced beef or chlorinated chicken was detected in Ireland. Or Ireland itself, for the matter, although PK would be better able to answer that.

        Among others, it would allow other EU countries to effectively put stop to Irish food exports, which the Ireland can’t afford (see the spat between Czechs and Poles about salmonella in beef and chicken last month). So any forbearance would have to be very limited and basically along the lines “it’s physically impossible to put up a hard border overnight, but you have to start working on it right away and get a move on”.

        I.e. w/o a legal action on the EU’s side, it would not be necessarily Irish or the EU governments wanting to put something in, but they would get sued pretty damn quick and protectionist measures would go up quickly too.

      3. The Rev Kev

        Unbelievable that, Clive. I heard something recently about these borders so I checked it out. Between the EU and the countries to the east, there are 137 land border crossings. Between Canada and the United States, there are 119 border crossings points. But between the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland there are about 208 recognized border crossing points.

        I do believe that swear words are redundant at this point.

      4. Sanxi

        Clive, I’m not aware of many reasoned arguments in fact none that use words like impossible, and absolutely, etc., so I take your not addressing the post, but adding ad hoc comments, that are in fact opinions? I say with respect, else I’m not sure what your getting at. I too live in the U.K. (mostly), so my reporting differs,

        1. Clive

          It’s not an opinion, it’s a pragmatic reality. There may be No Deal in two weeks and a day. What, exactly, will be the border solution? Having an arrangement, mini-deal, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, let’s just say to the WTO we’ll work on it and get back to them — however it’s characterised — is a de facto alternative to the backstop.

          Having established that, as either an on-the-ground reality or as a documented proposal that will kick in in a couple of weeks, no party can, with credibility, then still insist that the only solution is a backstop.

          1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

            A solution could be that, for an extension of Article 50, the UK pays the EU, say GBP 1 billion/month for every month that the Irish border is either not solved with a techno-fantasyland solution or in an open customs union with the EU.

            I would like to see such a proposal to see the hard Brexiteers react to it.

            1. vlade

              Oh, I had a better solution. How about, if in 2020 there’s still no agreed way, a unification referendum is run in NI, giving choices of either hard border or the island of Ireland becoming one?

              That would be a very definite end of the backstop and it would be NI people deciding what they want (as opposed having DUP and London decide for them) so it would be democratic.

              I can’t see how the EU would be able to say no to that, and, hey, it’s about taking control, so how about London letting NI to take control of how they want to run it?

              1. The Rev Kev

                Personally, my mind was indulged earlier in the fantasy of the Republic of Ireland taking over Northern Ireland using as a template the Glorious Revolution of 1688 also known as the ‘Bloodless Revolution’. For those not familiar with this event, England was at that time ruled by a James II, a Catholic king, and it was set to become hereditary. So William III, Prince of Orange, launched an invasion to kick him out and become the Protestant king of England which he did. Instead of a ferocious defense of the realm with vicious battles, it was a case of nudge-nudge-wink-wink and look-the-other-way by all parties so there were hardly any casualties at all.
                Seriously for a moment, if there is to be a referendum, how about making it on or effective by 3rd May 2021 so it is exactly one century after Ireland’s partition.

              2. chuck roast

                Pardon the interjection from 3,000 miles away, but echoing the opinion of the late Connor Cruise O’Brien…why would the perfectly at peace Republic want to “unify” and inject itself with the cancer that is the DUP and its cohort?

                1. The Rev Kev

                  Will happen sooner or later. The Protestants in the north are on the decrease and the Catholics are on the increase. The time of the DUP is on the wane – and good riddance. Some time ago I was in communist East Germany and if you had told me that they would be unified with West Germany within a decade I would not have believed you. The differences seemed too great and yet here we are with a re-unified Germany once again.

                2. Clive

                  While I have a great deal of understanding for the strongly and honestly held views of all the various identities involved in Brexit, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, I find terms like “cancer” used to define perfectly legal political actors with (to them, anyway) justifiably trenchant policies such as the DUP rather objectionable.

                  My maternal great-grandfather was Irish and had to leave after the Free State was declared. He was too Protestant to live in the South, the North was too far away to move so he ended up in rural West Wales. Where he was too Irish to be Anglo. And that part of the county in the early (Great Depression) era of the twentieth century was not, trying not to sound bitter, exactly a land flowing with milk and honey. Grim, relentless poverty is closer to it.

                  He had the hardest of hard lives (his brother had to join the merchant navy where life was a textbook definition of nasty, brutish and all-too-often short so awful were the available options — if my great-grandfather hadn’t met my great-grandmother and had my grandmother as a tiny baby to resettle from Eire he probably would have had to do similar).

                  So you might be able to understand why I’m somewhat allergic to casual trash talking by people of others who simply have no comprehension of the blowback resulting from long-standing difficult history, political hardlining, casual and careless divisiveness and, for want of a better word, lack of humanity and understanding of the human condition.

                  The DUP are not by any means my cup of tea. I wouldn’t vote for them. I don’t support a single policy position they have. But I entirely understand why some in NI do. It is my fervent hope that, while people can and do disagree in this far too divided world which we live in, they refrain from crude disparaging.

                  If you’re still looking for a good reason after reading that explanation, it also really doesn’t solve anything.

                  1. Avidremainer

                    Whilst the DUP attend bonfires emblazoned with KAT banners he might understand that some people find the idea that the DUP is cancerous is accurate.
                    For those who don’t know KAT stands for kill all taigs. Taigs are catholics. One of the supreme ironies of Brexit is that Jacob Rees Mogg an English taig is in communion with the taig hating DUP.

                  2. el_tel

                    Thank you Clive. As usual I find your comments eminently reasonable and objective. Although from a very different background in terms of grandparents etc (a mixture of Catholic from Eire and Catholic+Protestant from what is NI) and finding the DUP equally objectionable, I also deplore the language used so often on the web.

                    Although the “most immediate” Irish connection is my mother (who moved to UK from Dublin in the 1960s) my paternal grandfather’s family moved to the UK when he was a baby, gaining him British citizenship. He clearly felt a need to “show patriotism”, even though it in some ways ruined his health and life. He never told my Dad and his siblings what he did in WW2, claiming he “saw nothing really”. His behaviour as a stern dad etc would these days be instantly fingered as possible PTSD. And my Dad and siblings were amazed to learn – when he was delirious in final stages of a lung disease – that he fought in the dreadful battle of Caen. But even more surprised to learn he’d told me a few years previous after I had done a school trip to Normandy and been thoroughly humbled about what went on. I never realised the significance of what he told me – perhaps the first person he EVER discussed the war with.

                    Stories from my mother’s side are perhaps less “dramatic” but on a personal level just as traumatic involving Catholic and Protestant friction between families in Eire and NI. My mother has exactly 100 cousins….half of whom are scattered across the globe due to being kids of people who are the “wrong sort” (ex priests, wrong religion etc) – we have located a lot of them in the USA. It all gives me an added sense of despair over the whole Euro issue.

          2. Mirdif

            This policy is of benefit to the likes of Thomas Murphy – “Slab” to his mates – more than anybody else. That the British government would ever give those types more power and opportunity beggars belief.

      5. vlade

        My longer response’s gone AWOL, but PK above has pretty much most of it.

        One more thing occured to me here though – VAT. If the border will be entirely permeable from the UK’s side, it’s going to be VAT fraud heaven, especially since nowadays you have small but valuable VATable stuff (phones for example).

        1. Clive

          All true (both the VAT holes and also the potential for unlicensed imports the U.K. wouldn’t want to take in any circumstances).

          But the only fix available to these is (was?) the backstop. The backstop is a political third rail.

          There’s therefore Unpleasant Choice A (VAT loopholes and lack of at-border import checks) and Unpleasant Choice B (the backstop). It will be Unpleasant Choice A every single time.

          Unless I’m missing something.

          What I’m trying to work out here is, if the backstop has turned into a unicorn. I can’t see it as being anything else now.

          1. vlade

            That depends – we’ve always known that there were alternatives to backstop. Chaos or hard border (which is just a different sort of chaos IMO).

            Now, what is unknown IMO is how bad the chaos (either) would be compared to backstop. The government may believe it will be acceptable. But that’s a belief, not a fact.

            It’s like a chemotherapy. You know it’s (depending on cancer) quite likely to work. But it’s very unpleasant, so you may believe some alternative solutions. The cancer will either get better or worse – but implicitly by taking that choice there’s a belief it will be better.

            If it gets worse, it may be too late to switch to chemo. Does it mean it’s a unicorn at the time of the choice?

            1. Clive

              There’s a very good article in the Telegraph about this subject (paywalled but worth even the Telegraph’s evil registration process to succumb to in order to get some free access and be able to look at it)

              The lopsided tariffs arrangement does *not* make comfortable reading for the DUP. I’m minded of that oft-used phrase where the DUP are concerned in their getting all arsey about the backstop: be careful what you wish for.

              1. vlade

                I might be tempted to buy a paper Torygraph for that, my wife tells me it is a better firestarter than Guardian.

                On DUP, I was long of the opinion that they have no tactics and no strategy, as the _only_ way for the NI to stay in the UK long term (looking at demography) is if it actually does not matter (much) whether the NI is ruled from Dublin or London.

                Looks to me not very different from the South during ACW – the more it was clear that South was done for, and slavery especially, the more they clung to it.

                Ironically, Irish Pat Cleburne had the balls to tell the South that if it wanted to preserve itself, it needed to drop slavery as it went from asset to liability. He got sidelined for his effort, not that it saved him in the end..

                Also ironically, south had a lukewarm death-bed conversion on it, but as Catton wrote, it was an insincere one of someone who thinks they may still recover. Funny thing is it was still fiercely opposed by the elite (despite apparently having wider support) and passed very narrowly. Even though pretty much all of them knew the Confederacy had weeks, if not days to live, so it was a moot issue. Hmm.. does it remind me of something?

                1. Clive

                  My mother in law insists I get a free Telegraph from a supermarket which gives them away with a small minimum spend now and again. Her cat will accept no substitute when it comes to newspaper with which her litter tray should be lined with (the cat’s, not the mother-in-law’s).

                  1. ChristopherJ

                    Good use for that rag, Clive. And, thank you for all your comments in this place. Maternal grand parents came to Scotland and later Liverpool from Cork. Proud of my roots.

                    Here you are for the future:


                    The current paywall model is hackable, for the present, and they aren’t happy…

                  2. Tom Bradford

                    In my long-ago days as a UK citizen and resident the Telegraph did have IMHO the best cryptic crossword in all the dailies – ie in that I could actually complete it now and again. Mind you that was the first thing I turned to, and the last, over morning tea.

    2. Lee

      …a few Tories interviewed on RTE last night – it was hard to know if they are as clueless as they seemed or if they were putting on a brave face, but they seemed to think it was all just a bit of a kerfuffle….

      I suspect that even if their political futures are lost to them, they will not suffer future material privation as the result of whatever policy prevails. So yeah, given who and what they are, it is perfectly reasonable for them to wonder what the fuss is all about.

  4. Biologist

    UK now revealed tariff plans in no-deal scenario:

    Government to slash tariffs to zero in case of no-deal Brexit
    Tariffs on 87% of UK imports cut to zero to avoid £9bn shock to consumers and business

    However, it seems they will not apply them in Northern Ireland:

    The measures also raised immediate concerns about Northern Ireland being turned into a smugglers’ paradise after it was revealed that tariffs would not apply to goods crossing from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland.

    RTE has a bit more detail here:

    Under the proposals the UK will not introduce any new check or controls on goods moving across the land border into Northern Ireland, but tariffs will be payable on goods moving from the EU into the rest of the UK via Northern Ireland.

    So let me get this straight. The UK no-deal plan for Northern Ireland involves a tariff border down the Irish Sea?

    What a mess. What a nightmare for (Northern) Irish farmers.

    1. Clive

      Not quite. It’s no tariffs for Republic of Ireland (and other EU27 countries for that matter) goods imported and consumed in NI but tariffs would be payable for EU27 goods sent onwards to the rest of the U.K. completing their transition via NI. Cabotage will be available for Republic of Ireland (or any other EU27 goods) being conveyed onwards to another EU27 Member State via the U.K. but where those goods are not going to be consumed in the U.K.

      At least, that’s what I think is proposed. It is all a bit of a muddle, but that is the kind of arrangement which operates elsewhere in the world where there is a border and the countries either side of that border don’t have a customs union.

  5. fajensen

    On top of that, from top to bottom, no one in a power position understands the EU so that even if the country were united on this issue, it’s doubtful the people nominally in charge could map a realistic path forward.

    Someone recently described explaining how the EU works to the British like “… explaining quantum mechanics to a pond!”

    An unrelated fun-fact is that, if one does supports Denmark’s continued membership of the EU and thing one should be using the EU actively, f.ex. against tax fraud, rather than merely tolerating it’s existence, then the best party to vote for in the upcoming EU-elections will be the radical left (Enhedslisten). Quite a reversal.

  6. Sanxi

    Given the post and by definition the data it subsumed, in what way is their “political ineptitude of the highest order in No.10.”? If I understand things correctly, the E.U. position as reflected in the WA was the best anyone was ever going to get. Thus, one either accepts it or rejects it. Accepting or rejecting are not acts of ineptitude, high or low. I’m not sure that the entire process of ‘leaving’ is understood. One might argue that before ‘leaving’ the U.K. should have worked out any future relationship with the E.U., doing all the due diligence stuff. Nope. Can’t be done: by treaty law. The U.K. is in the E.U. until it is not, then and only then can a future relationship by the U.K. with the E.U. be determined. Like the USA having to win the revolution to negotiation our future relationship with Great Britain. Not saying it’s logical but that it is the legal/treaty process.

    What the withdrawal agreement is fundamentally but not exclusively is a framework, a criteria for determining what any future relationship between the E.U. and the U.K. is. Understanding, the mindset here is: the E.U. thinking themselves as any established trading/political entity and the U.K. for all practical effect, as a third country with no established rights. The E.U. Commission clearly gets this, the U.K. politic class not so much. It’s not that the U.K. is stuck in some 18th/19th century paradigm, rather they haven’t forgotten they are not ‘E.U. – Europeans’ anymore. A good illustration of this, to paraphrase Junker’s lingo is that the U.K. won’t get any benefits being out of the the E.U. per se, that they had when in the E.U. Like what? Like anything. Take food, sure the E.U. will allow certain imports and exports of it, as long as it serves the needs of E.U. member states – that’s the criterion. It doesn’t really have any reason to care about the U.K. outside of any existing agreements.

    If political ineptitude has occurred it is both by the E.U. and the U.K. and what the hell the Republic of Ireland for allowing the border to part of something that it shouldn’t be part of in the first place (the WA), i.e., the construction of what was to be in the withdrawal agreement (remember a framework for a future relationship between the E.U. & U.K.). This (Irish border) is a moral issue of grave consequences and while it belongs in some agreement in does not belong in the above defined withdrawal agreement. And the Irish border is not the only moral issue between the E.U. and U.K. . They are others:

    1.There was the need for the U.K. to agree to pay the money it was legally bound to pay to EU coffers, 2. assure the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and 3. respect the legitimate expectations of all signatories of the Good Friday Agreement that brought Ireland’s violent “Troubles” to an end. By the way facilitated by the US.

    Looking at the record it’s clear the E.U. started the negotiations with the these issues. Morally, not pragmatically, eg fishing rights. As would normally be the case. The E.U. did this by design, playing internal power tactics to the detriment of the E.U./ U.K. withdrawal, it was wrong and resulted in the current impasse. The U.K. was not so much inept as unadept in negotiations with lead to the current impasse. All of this was to be expected as none of the parties had experience in ‘leaving’.

    A couple of other points, what leave or remain meant to those in the U.K. it meant something. Throwing radical doubt on everything and everyone, does nothing. Something serious was going on. As a game theorist, that runs system models on socio-poltio-climate events, I’d say democratic government at the local level is essential for dealing with our quickly arriving future. To that end Brexit is essential. That Brexit is what it is, is no surprise, humans making things more complicated than necessary is the historical norm. Second, Globalism as in ‘trade’ had no future. Not as in zero, but as in a system. Capital costs if as discussed here on this site, that included all its costs, including energy, climate and social effects make such investments going forward impossible.

    Lastly, not to be overlooked because Brexit, the E.U. and the age of Trump all exist in frameworks larger then themselves, here’s what’s actually going at least economically(as a friend has put it): “Globalism is winding down as a decade of Central Bank machinations reach their limits of deception, leaving the major trading nations with little more than comparative disadvantages. Europe is dissolving into political chaos. Japan is cannibalizing itself in preparation for its return to the Tokugawa shogunate. China is groaning with factories that turn out too much stuff; America is groaning with so much of that stuff that it’s turning into Yard Sale Nation. In the background of all that are the problematic flows of oil on tankers through dangerous chokepoints like the Straits of Molucca and the Straits of Hormuz, with a looming horizon on the supply as US shale oil production chokes to death on unpayable debt.” And the global temp has reached 1.5 C°.

    1. vlade

      It was “the best EU was going to give” given the red lines the UK adopted. The EU has helpfully provided slides of what the options were based on red lines.

      The ineptitude of the UK pols includes (but is not limited to):
      – inability to understand how the EU works. Which lead to try negotiating bilaterally with countries even after it was very clear the EU will be unified on this. Inability to understand that asking the EU to move in single-market red-lines is tantamount of asking the EU to break itself up and sacrifice its own sovereignty on the altar of the UK’s one. etc. etc.
      – inability to look at any consensual solution. That includes ignoring the fact that the leave result wasn’t 60/40, it was much much closer, and the Tory red lines basically entirely ignored the 16m remain voters – and likely a good chunk of the 17m leave voters too (not all of them were hard brexiters).
      – inability to understand it had the weaker hand from the start – and because it was breaking up, not making up, the other party would not, could not (in good faith to its own stakeholders) act otherwise than to try to get whatever advantage it could. One could argue that the EU was in fact way more lenient and nice to the UK than it needed to.
      – ” the U.K. should have worked out any future relationship with the E.U., doing all the due diligence stuff. Nope. Can’t be done: by treaty law.” There’s no treaty, or law, which prevented any internal UK discussion on what sort of relationship with the EU it wanted. The realistic options were known (no-deal, FTA, EFTA, no-Brexit). Yes, the parameters of those could not be discussed officially with other EU countries. But they still can’t, until the UK is third country. The reason why the EU wanted the UK to trigger A50 as soon as possible wasn’t because it would prevent any and all talks, official and unofficial, It was because while it was untriggered, the initiative was on the UK’s side, and the UK could be running the process. The moment A50 was triggered, the process started to be run by the EU, and the UK would have very little leverage (especially with hard deadline).

      WA is NOT a framework. it’s what it says on the tin – the treaty governing how the UK leaves the EU and what are the legal obligations of both parties on that (and you are right that those mostly come from moral obligations like the border and citizens, and the reason for that is so that those moral issues do not get used as a lever in trade negotiations).

      The only part of the future relationship is the political declaration, which sets the scene for the next round of negotiations, which cannot be even held until the UK leaves (under the current EU law). Which is why the fishing rights can’t even be considered.

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        I just can’t wait for the UK to approve an Article 50 extension tomorrow and the EU’s response is “NEIN”.

        And then no one knows what to do and looks to Theresa May for leadership. THAT will be entertaining.

        1. Jim A.

          Yeah, that’s what I have been thinking. Or as other have pointed out offers an extension with a pricetag (monetary and or conditions)

          1. notabanker

            I’m not discounting British Parliament voting down an extension. Anything seems feasible in this fiasco.

            1. vlade

              Wouldn’t it be fun if they voted in no-deal today? If today’s vote is close, or if today’s vote gets the idiotic “Malthouse B” amendment, the ride is going to be even more fun than we think now.

      2. Sanxi

        I don’t agree as to the use of terms but it’s not worth the effort, I do like the vigor of the response very much, the trashing of ideas, I find this one of the few sites for really good debate and analysis. I always learn a lot, thank you vlade.

    1. eg


      I was thinking anything approximating a comeuppance for it might be the only good thing that emerges from this awful mess.

  7. Avidremainer

    Labour can accept Freedom of movement of workers. The acceptance of this is quite compatible with controlling immigration.
    Before you all fall about laughing hear me out. EU legislation is quite clear and concise. Any EU citizen may enter any other EU member state and exercise their treaty rights to seek work. The worker has obligations. They must obtain gainful employment within three months. They must be self sufficient and are not allowed to have ” recourse to public funds ” as the jargon goes. If the EU citizen fails to obtain work after three months they are expected to leave the host country or if they do not leave may be removed by the host country by force if necessary.
    With typical incompetence the UK government did not align UK legislation with EU legislation. This led to silly but extremely annoying head lines in the anti-EU press like ” UK tax payers pay for Polish plumbers’ children to receive private education IN POLAND “. Now this was true, it was/is possible for an EU citizen to claim UK benefits for children resident in the EU citizen’s home country. As spun by the UK press this was put down to the crazy rules of the EU and the Commissars who ruled the UK. The problem, which existed in a small way, was of the UK’s own making. The rest of the EU aligned their legislation to enable them to enforce the EU legislation surrounding the freedom of movement of workers, the UK didn’t.
    The above example can be reproduced endlessly across UK legislation. There is an EU directive that comes to the UK. The UK deliberately either misunderstands it or over complicates it or doesn’t consider all the possible ramifications across government and when its incompetence is found out blames the EU.
    Accept freedom of movement of workers, restructure and reform UK legislation to allow the UK to enforce EU legislation properly and the freedom of movement of workers, for the workers party, becomes acceptable. The problems surrounding the single market and Jeremy’s unicorn becomes a runner.

    1. vlade

      I believe Yves and others on this blog pointed out that the control of the EU migration was possible and very much in the government gift. The govt of the time (Labour) decided not to use the extension period (UK and Sweden were the only two countries in the EU to do so on the first wave. Not that many people speak Swedish, so not much migration there).

      The Tory government later on decided not to use even the common control mechanisms you describe above.

      The oft-quoted examples of Poles getting benefits for kids back in Poland is rubbish. I positively know that, as my wife was working for a UK Company but was told that because the child is not in the UK she’s not entitled and was told she would have to claim in the state of the child’s residence.

      So any case of that was pure and simple benefit fraud (claiming for the child as if it was in the UK when it was not), not an entitlement.

      And, incidentally, 20GBP/week will not pay for “private education” even in Poland. Unless by “private” you mean paying to get your kid into a normal nursery. A real private nursery costs in larger cities start at about 10kUSD/year IIRC.

      1. Avidremainer

        You game the system by claiming, and proving your children are in the UK at the time of your claim and then sending them back home without informing the UK authorities of that fact.
        In any other EU state this behaviour would result in the removal of the culprit. This is not the case in the UK. All that happens is an appearance in a magistrates court and a fine.
        The UK has never enforced the EU rules on the freedom of movement of workers. My point is that if the EU rules were to be enforced properly then it is possible to accept the freedom of movement of workers.
        Not much immigration in Sweden? Are you sure?

        1. vlade

          But that’s what I mean by the fraud – it’s not “normal”, and it was up to the state to enforce it.

          Same way they could have said “Polish plumbers do not pay UK taxes!”. Could well be – but it’s actually a crime, not a feature of the EU system. You could equally say, I don’t know, “Australian bartender overstayers do not pay taxes and take jobs!”.

          That said, I believe we’re on the same page here – this is not an EU bug, it’s UK government feature.

          I believe that there was little (relatively speaking) immigration to Sweden from A8 countries in 2004 and later. It was an increase on previous years, but still trivial. IIRC I saw figures in low thousands. Nothing like the UK.

      2. fajensen

        Not that many people speak Swedish, so not much migration there).

        There is enough immigration here in a small town in Skåne for the local hypermarket to stock several aisles with Eastern European foodstuff, pickled things in large jars, basically.

        The Swedish like that the Polish works for not much and is paid in cash-only and the Polish like that if they work slowly and carefully they will earn the same wage per job as the Swedes.

        1. vlade

          Interesting, given where Skane is. From what I know, there might be ~50k Poles in Sweden that got there from 2004 onwards. That would make it about a third of the polish immigration to the UK on per-capita basis (i.e. 0.5% of population in Sweden vs about 1.4% in the UK). Poles are the main group there I believe + some Baltics (L/L/E), but IIRC they are fairly small compared to Poles.

          But 50k Poles is a drop in the bucket TBH – from 2004 Poland itself estimates 2m of Poles moved abroad. Most of the to the UK. But even Germany (>400k), France (>300k), Ireland (>100k) Dutch (>100k), and Italy (close to 100k) of all places have now significant Polish minorities. And all but the UK and Ireland (as I was reminded) had the five year stop-gap..

  8. David

    Over the last months of debating this question, I decided that I wouldn’t post anything unless it amounted to more, in practice, than another “what a familyblog familyblogging familyblog this all is.” Well, you can certainly say that today, but perhaps more than ever. Vlade and Clive give a good list of the major familyblogups on the part of the UK: I’d add one more: total failure to do the requisite preparatory work before the negotiations started, so as to have some idea of what was wanted and what was acceptable. “Red lines” mean nothing unless you know why you want them, and how red they really are. I don’t think that any major negotiation in modern history has ever been less prepared than this one.
    I haven’t had the strength to read all the instant punditry last night and this morning, but I increasingly think that we are finally close to a moment of stomach churning realisation of two basic truths. The first is that the conditions under which the UK will leave the EU, now or at any time in the future, are essentially fixed. There is a Withdrawal Agreement, signed by the UK (but unacceptable to Parliament at the moment) which is the default text governing the mechanisms of any withdrawal at any stage in the future. This text contains the Irish backstop, so the backstop will always be there, irrespective of how much prestidigitation the Attorney General has been able to do. The idea that such an agreement can be renegotiated is worse than fantasy under any conceivable circumstance. So even if there is an extension, the long term choices for the UK don’t change: the WA as it is, a no-deal exit, or a revocation. There are no other options, ever.
    The second is that much of the garbage being talked about Canada ++ with a soupçon of Norway– is simply irrelevant to the current crisis. This all takes place after the UK has exited, which means that it might as well take place in ten years for all the relevance has now. I’m fed up with pundits and potiicians talking as though what we were now debating is a future relationship. That will be the next nightmare.
    For the most part, I think, NC readers are familiar with all this. I hope it’s not too much to hope that after this week, our masters will be too.

    1. Joe Well

      No matter what happens, even in a best possible outcome, the UK has been greatly diminished economically, politically, and culturally by Brexit and will only be further diminished, even by a revocation. Is the source of the denialism the simple refusal to deal with the reality and an insistence to look for a silver lining that isn’t there?

      Watching this debacle from a relatively safe remove, it’s all an object lesson in facing up to reality. I really feel like it’s almost the original sense of catharsis produced by great drama.

    2. larry

      David, I completely agree. However, it may be too much to hope that the politicians will become familiar with what they are doing. The Truss was on Politics Live earlier today and she was appalling. She didn’t give any indication of understanding much of anything. She contradicted Hammond and claimed indirectly, when asked whether that she meant that, that she wasn’t. It was dreadful.

  9. The Rev Kev

    I just did some working out on the historical dates. It has been 993 days since the Brexit vote passed. Think about that – 993 days. Where they are should have been where they were on day 93, not day 993. Even when, for political reasons, they dropped the hammer with Article 50, that was still 714 days ago And very little has been changed since then. People still do not have an idea of the implications of a No-Deal Brexit. It did not need to be this way. They could have set up, for example, a website for people to point out some of the implications. You could submit a fact that, after quick verification, would have been posted online. But this was not the government do that as they wanted to keep the process all to themselves. And now they own it all for all to see.
    One major consequence of the whole Brexit disaster has been to reveal the sheer incompetence of the British establishment which includes the political parties, the bureaucracy and the media. But let us be fair here, how many other governments would have been competent enough to cope with all the challenges involved, it at all. The Australian government? The Canadian government? Trump’s government? But the fact of the matter is that if the government of the UK had not been so incompetent in the first place, they would not only have they won the Remain vote in 2016 but likely this would never have come to a vote in the first place. It would never have been allowed.
    Here is a question. If the UK had not adopted a policy of austerity so enthusiastically several years ago which impoverished so many people and left them with nothing to lose, would that have meant that Remain would have just gotten across the line instead because life for so many people would not have been so hopeless? The Tory idea of decided which major cities that were to be essentially abandoned came back to bite them in a way that they never considered possible as those regions were hot spots for the Leave vote.

    1. vlade

      I voted remain, and am on record here on NC that my reason for that was assumed incompetence of the UK government at the time to get the UK out in any reasonable form or shape.

      I can now say that:
      – the current government is worse than the government at the time (even with the extremely low bar that set)
      – and the levels of incompetence are even worse than I had assumed, and I thought I was gunning for the worst case.

      1. NJ

        I still don’t think it’s incompetence. I think this has all been done to make the No Deal crashout look like a sad inevitable result of diplomatic breakdown when it was really an intentional act to give some powerful donors opportunity to buy UK assets and industries on the cheap.

        Businesses have not even been subtle about it. James Dyson has suddenly shown an interest in agriculture. And both Tory MP backbenchers and Trump himself have mentioned the first thing an American trade deal with the UK would do is to grant American businesses access to the NHS and the UK drug market.

    2. David

      Agree with vlade. I thought it would be bad. I didn’t think it could possibly be this bad.
      But it’s about more than austerity. The EU (as opposed to Europe) is the ultimate toy and pet project of the austerians and the neoliberal elite. Because no British government has ever really tried to explain what Europe is all about, or what it’s for, the debate has for decades been dominated by issues which are either (like access to markets, cheap imported labour and nannies for the children) irrelevant or inimical to ordinary people, or (like easier foreign travel, jobs abroad, trendy new restaurants and university years abroad) completely outside their experience and way of life. To instruct British people, many of whom can’t go to restaurants and can’t send their children to university anyway, to vote for a continuation of nice things for wealthy people was incredibly inept. To threaten the poor with poverty and the unemployed with unemployment unless they voted the right way was even sillier. This is all a massive self-inflicted wound by the establishment, and it’s ordinary people, as ever, who will bleed.

      1. vlade

        I’d not claim the “easier foreign travel” as “completely outside their experience and way of life”

        I have to fly every other week between London and the continent (and back of course). The planes (unless I fly BA, which is rare) are pretty much always full of British “tourists”, who are likely to go, or are returning from a weekend bender. Most of them are blue collar, young guys.

        The cost of the air ticket can be less than 20GBP one way. A one way train ticket to Gatwick from London will cost you 11GBP, London to Stanstead 16GBP. So it may well cost you more to get to/from the airport than the flight. Same way a third class rail revolutionised holidays for working classes in 19th century (think Blackpool and the like), EasyJet/RyanAir did the same for travel around Europe. At a massive cost to the environment, but hey ho..

        Once the pound buys less beer/girls/fun, and once they have to get in the non-EU queue which can take a couple of hours to go through, the easier foreign travel will be a history though.

        1. David

          I was talking about “around Europe”. The advantages of the Schengen area are pretty theoretical unless you travel from one European country to another, as I often have to. As such, the EU doesn’t make travel to and from Europe from the UK any easier than it used to be. There’s a fundamental mismatch between the kind of travel you describe (which I also see from time to time) and what the elites mean when they talk about freer travel. But for a family of five from a depressed area who can’t afford a week by the sea … well, it’s a different world, with was really my point.

          1. vlade

            TBH, that’s to an extent not EU’s problem but the fact that the UK is an island (and an expensive one to boot), so car travel around Europe is hard for people in the UK, and little is going to change that.

            Say, for a Slovak or a Czech family (2+2) 14 days car-trip to Croatia’s coast (crossing 2-3 sets of borders) could cost about GBP1k all-in (food, accomodation, gas for car travel, incidentals etc.) on the cheap. That’s slightly more than a monthly income of an average family. Definitely not elite, either domestic, never mind European.

            The bigger issue is that a poor family from a depressed area (from anywhere) might not have a month’s income to spare on anything, never mind travel.

        2. Joe Well

          That would be consistent with younger people being more likely to vote Remain across all other divisions, if your Ryanair jets were filled with young people.

          Here in North America, my unscientific feeling is that people who grew up before airline deregulation have much less interest in travel.

    3. eg

      “how many other governments would have been competent enough to cope with all the challenges involved, it at all. The Australian government? The Canadian government? Trump’s government? But the fact of the matter is that if the government of the UK had not been so incompetent in the first place, they would not only have they won the Remain vote in 2016 but likely this would never have come to a vote in the first place. It would never have been allowed.”

      What other polity would allow its sitting government to run a national referendum to sort out its own internal party squabbles? I’m hoping the answer is none.

  10. Ptb

    Ok, they’ll extend. The only option that has a majority, and the least harmful if backstop is acknowledged as defeated.

    With extension, are there other Brexit variations that don’t create an Irish border?

    Could NI residents be given dual EU citizenship? (Customs at the waters edge, basically making NI effectively part of Ireland economically). I know that was a completely unrealistic option, but how about now? Better than crash out, and less unlikely than the backstop gaining a majority in parliament?

    DUP would need an payoff of epic proportions, obviously, and the EU would have to take the initiative on that b/c otherwise, May will just hold out for a 3rd vote at the end of the extension period. But this is going into overtime so anything is possible, right?

    Alternatively – months of high drama, ending in a repeat referendum, delivered as promised by a hypothetical Corbyn govt after a successful election, during an uncomfortably long extension, with UK MEPs in place. So that’s what, four declared impossibilities?

  11. Jim A.

    And it’s not that Juncker has grown in stature but that he’s managed to get photographed next to diplomatic pygmies of the UK.

    It has occurred to me that the same crew that can’t seem to negotiate an exit from the EU are going to be the ones tasked with negotiating new trade deals with every other country in the world. These are going to be interesting years.

    1. vlade

      Oh, we already saw that. I don’t know what the latest count of trade deals rolled is atm, a couple of weeks ago it was 6. The largest of them with Swiss, but all of them with countries that the UK had trade deficit with, and arguably few could make it better (Swiss might have tried).

      A number of other large trade parties said they would want concessions for rolling the deals. Some of those will not be trade but more along the lines “we promise to shut up on human rights in your country”, although I belive NZ/Australia/Canada are eyeing other stuff. India already made it clear a condition for its FTA would be opening the immigration gates (the irony of it. You close immigration to 500k Europeans to open it to 1bln Indians).

      Japan has also already said they would not do the same deal as they have with the EU, and would require a number of (unspecified) concessions from the UK. I.e. the Japan-UK deal would be _worse_ than what the EU got.

      The US ambassador is already in full on “your food safety rules are medieval, chlorinated chicken and hormone fed beef is good for you” mode – he even accused the EU of spreading misinformation in the UK on these (guess he’s been taking lessons from Trump)

      So much for “we can do our own trade deals”. Yep, we can screw our own trade ourselves, thank you very much.

  12. David

    On the assumptions that (1) tonight’s vote goes against no deal and (2) tomorrow’s vote goes in favour of asking for an extension, it might be worthwhile to ask where this leaves the 27.
    The quick answer is that they won’t be keen on an extension, especially without a good basis, and that they will want to keep it as short as possible. That may be true now, when leaders are fed up with the UK, and just want to get everything over.
    But the realisation will quickly dawn that even a rapid exit doesn’t mean it’s over. Indeed, the worst may still be to come. Even the most benign scenario – space aliens brainwash MPs into accepting the WA at the third time of asking – simply gets us into the transitional phase, and the negotiations over future arrangements. And during the years that this will take, all sorts of completely unexpected , divisive and insoluble problems will come crawling out of the woodwork. Oh, and there’s the Irish backstop, which still awaits its solution by some magic technology yet to be invented. One way or another, Brexit will be the major agenda item for the EU until perhaps 2025, even if all of these questions actually have solutions.
    I believe that the EU 27 gave up on May and her government at least a year ago. They do not believe that she or her party can ever come up with the goods, let alone the customs arrangements to pass them. So the best plan would actually be to give the UK as long an extension as possible, in the hope and expectation that May’s government and the Tory Party will tear itself to pieces, and the UK political landscape will be fundamentally changed. Nothing will change in three months, on the other hand, and everybody knows that. Of course, there’s the huge problem of the European Elections, and there’s the natural tendency of politicians, for whom next week is a long time, to want to get this all over. But as I’ve said it’s not going to be all over. If I were in Brussels, I’d be telling the EU to play it long.

    1. Mirdif

      Rumours are circulating once more that the EU will offer a longer extension – 12 months has even been mentioned. In the case of the 12 months the notion is that the Davos types in the capitals along with the Davos types in Brussels want to give the Davos types in the UK the time and opportunity to take control of the situation. I can’t see how that would happen so I tend to think it’s wishful thinking (h/t Clive) but…

      The EU27 ambassadors meeting today was split about an extension. A hardline group emerged which wants to do nothing i.e. force crash out but most of them want to give an extension. Ambassadors have asked for conclusive legal analysis of what happens should the UK remain in the EU past May. The analysis is expected prior to the Council next week. EU lawyers are absolutely clear that the Parliament will be legitimately constituted even if the UK did not hold elections.

      I get the impression that the French are the most hardline. This might mean that some “credit” remains in the friendlier capitals including with Merkel. However, opinion in the commission seems to have hardened a lot in the past 24 hours if the comments by Barnier are anything to go by. My guess is the antics of Geoffrey Cox have not helped.

    2. Spratz

      If I were negotiating for the EU I would deny May any short term extension.

      With only a few days left, this would force the UK parliament to come to a decision.

  13. vlade

    Dutch PM Rutte (as quoted by Weyand): ‘ decision to vote for [I assume ruling out] no-deal was “like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”’

    1. Mirdif

      That’s good ‘un but this is even better:

      Stephen Kelly, head of Manufacturing NI about the no deal plan for NI: “This leaves us with one door being shut in our face and one door being thrown open to allow the world in to punch us in the face.”

  14. Pookah Harvey

    I know I’m being terribly naive here but:

    1) The Good Friday Agreement in legally binding
    2) I’m guessing the passage of no-no deal would be legally binding
    3) The referendum was not legally binding
    4) Theresa May voluntarily invoked Article 50
    By not revoking Article 50 wouldn’t May be breaking the law?

  15. carl

    I’d just like to echo The Rev Kev’s suggestion of a couple of days ago to watch the Three Blokes in a Pub series on Youtube. For those of us who are watching from afar and are unfamiliar with how the intricacies of how world trade works, this stuff is brilliant. Just a few minutes of viewing has opened my eyes quite a bit. Brexit is like watching a fiery car crash as it happens (well, in slow motion) and being unable to take your eyes off it. Just as tragic too.
    In other news, I’m in South Africa this week and ran into a Scottish couple who’ve been living in Portugal for 15 years. They happened to be the only Brits I’ve run into in international travel who voted for Brexit. The rationalizations were interesting: “we like the EU, we just don’t like being under their thumb, they’ll be winners and losers, it won’t be bad at all, it’s just the politicians failing to get a good deal…” Unbelievable, really.

  16. ljones

    Just watching the news now and from what I’ve seen apparently even if parliament votes a) to reject no deal and b) to go for an extension according to the EU this carries zero legal weight, and if may were to go to the EU to ask for an extension they’ll say no.

    I’ve also heard it said that may’s plan might be to have (yet another) vote, aka “Meaningful Vote 3” possibly maybe even the day before brexit day.


  17. vlade

    They are all semi-mad, just in different ways.

    The only sensible result tonight was that Malthouse was rejected by a significant majority (210), although it’s notable to see who voted for it (Javid, Williamson, Leadsom, Mordaunt, Hunt).

    1. David

      Yes, at least there was that. Apparently the scenes in Parliament with the government whipping against its own motion on which it had promised a free vote were unbelievable. It is very possible that the Speaker will refuse May permission to put the WA to a vote again, even if she can get agreement to do so. So a (non-binding) vote against a no-deal crash-out, ever, a deal (the WA) that has been rejected, and a crowd of headless chickens with no idea what to do next. Is this a new low, or is it just me?

  18. ChrisPacific

    BBC is reporting that the vote to reject no-deal as an option passed but only by 4 votes! 312 to 308. I haven’t seen the breakdown yet.

    Perversely I think this vote achieves the opposite of what was intended by positioning No Deal as the runaway favourite. We’ve just seen that the number of MPs who are willing to consider No Deal as a viable option comes within the thinnest whisker of a majority and vastly exceeds the support for May’s deal. So much for all that rhetoric about how nobody except the ERG supported it. And even if the vote technically rules it out as a deliberate choice, (a) it’s non-binding and (b) it doesn’t do anything to prevent No Deal by default or accident. Aside from unicorns (which I file under No Deal by accident) if we assume May’s deal is now dead, the only other viable option at this point is Remain. While that might enjoy reasonable public support, it wasn’t even on the ballot this time around, and it’s far too late for it to make a serious run, especially if the EU declines to grant an extension (which is how I’m reading the EU signalling at present). Contrast that with No Deal (as an option) polling over 49% in the latest vote, and it looks like the writing is on the wall.

    1. David

      The first vote was on an amendment which would have ruled out “no deal” as an option under any circumstances at any time, which was too much for many MPs even on a free vote. The government wanted a much more limited motion. The second vote (on May’s original motion as therefore amended) resulted in a decisive defeat for the government, which had changed its mind at the last moment and whipped its MPs to vote against its own motion.

    2. vlade

      The 4 votes was for Spelman amendment, which removed the date, i.e. saying that the Parliament does not want no-deal ever (except it has no power, and it’s not legally binding, so hello unicornia).

      The final vote was thus not on the original government motion, but on the as-amended-by-Spelman motion, which the government (which at that time was whipping against its own motion, despite promising a free vote on it) lost by 43 votes (i.e. the motion not to leave w/o a deal ever was passed).

      To make it even more confusing, Spelman tried to withdraw her own amendment, but it was too late. Confused yet?

      1. ChrisPacific

        Ah, thanks. I see the BBC article has changed now that I’ve reloaded it so I’m not sure if the BBC got that wrong or I did (or both). They also filtered out the clown car aspect of it somewhat – I expect that was more apparent if you were watching.

        I think everything I wrote still applies, although a bit less so.

  19. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves and commentators. Excellent coverage as always.

    Lewis Carrol would be having a field day. A Government whipping against its own motion would make perfect sense at the Mad Hatters Tea Party.

  20. Knute Rife

    That FT article so thoroughly misses every significant point, I think it qualifies as “not even wrong.”

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