Brexit: Controlled Flight into Terrain

One has to admire the EU’s parry to Theresa May’s request for an extension to Brexit to June 30, which was to offer an extension to May 22 if she could get her Withdrawal Agreement approved by Parliament by March 29. If not, the UK would be out by April 12 unless it asks for a long extension and described how it would arrive at a different Brexit (“a way forward”) or revoked Article 50, and also agreed to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

The EU faced a number of considerations in coming up with this counter, and don’t kid yourself that any of them were about being nice to the UK. The EU didn’t like the prospect of having to hold an emergency summit when May’s Meaningful Vote 3 failed and being made the bad guys if they denied May’s plea for more runway to flail about. This concern has little to do with the UK; the European press has been giving Brexit virtually no attention, plus for most EU pols, being mean to the UK is more of a vote-getter then being generous

Forgive me for quoting from Robert Peston at length, but he appears to have the most extensive network of EU political/diplomatic sources of all UK/Irish reporters. From EU leaders ‘want rid’ of ‘Brexit poison’ at ITV last Friday:

The big drivers for why the EU’s 27 leaders came up with their new formula for determining when and whether we Brexit are:

  • EU leaders had – and have – zero confidence that the Prime Minister will win her meaningful vote next week, and they quite rationally decided it was unreasonable for them to determine in conditions of extreme pressure in seven days whether we we are falling out at 11pm on the Friday.
  • Many EU leaders are utterly fed up with how our Brexit mess is infecting their domestic political debates and derailing their attempts to forge an agenda to address the huge challenges faced by the EU. “They increasingly see Brexit as poisoning the EU and European nations” said a participant in the talks. “They want rid of it”.
  • They did not dare set 22 May as the new default Brexit day, for fear that if the UK exited with no deal as late at that, elections for the European Parliament which begin the following day would be utterly overshadowed and skewed by the anticipated first-day no-deal chaos.
  • Significant numbers of EU leaders are admitting privately that the time has come to “cut the UK loose”, that the prolonged Brexit uncertainty is damaging both their nations and the EU, and that therefore a no-deal Brexit on 12 April may be the best of assorted bad options.

So the purpose of the concessions to the UK look to have been to make it as clear as possible that the UK was in charge of its Brexit destiny while cutting their losses.

As we said, the EU is still at risk of unwanted outcome of the UK coming back and asking for a long extension, with it too apparent that there isn’t a consensus on a different type of Brexit, just on “no crash out”. It isn’t clear what the EU would say if May were somehow cornered into seeking a second referendum, given that the risks are high that a second referendum fails to solidify a new consensus on Brexit due to the inability to reduce options to simple referendum choices, plus good odds of the top pick getting a plurality, not a majority. But various EU officials had told reporters earlier that a second referendum would justify a long extension; Tusk himself even said so.

But have no doubt the EU would not be happy to have the UK take them up on the extension offer. Again from Peston:

Be in no doubt that every EU 27 leader dreads UK participation in those [European Parliament] elections; they fear our involvement will corrupt the process, and taint the institution. The notion of Nigel Farage leading a new bloc of EurExiters does not warm their cockles…

To be clear, though, the EU’s leaders can’t and won’t say no if we insist on fighting them. But they would hate it and would say yes with the heaviest of hearts.

Public sentiment is moving more visibly against a crash-out… Via e-mail from Clive over the weekend:

Against my better judgement I went to London today to do that most nebulous activity, taking the mood of the country. No better opportunity, I thought, than on the “Put it Back to the People” march…

The stations and, especially, the underground (metro) were absolutely heaving. Worse, by far, than a typical rush hour. I’m quite used to shoving my way onto packed trains when there’s a 10-20 people deep queue on the platforms but I was lucky to get into the second train (I couldn’t get into the first) at Euston underground (a major transport interchange I unwisely went via, I should have stuck to my usual suburban feeder station). Even then, the train was full (each train has capacity for 700-800 and it was at that. It was a slow shuffle to clear the station and get out the exit.

The march itself was peaceful and jovial. Attendees were a mix, a lot of students, a few families and an awful lot of retirees. Keep in mind that I spent £35 on my ticket (I live 60 miles out from central London, that’s what an off-peak day return costs with an underground travelcard). A coffee, water and a pastry in a chain coffee shop (I needed something to keep me going, it was warmer than everyone had been expecting, too) took nearly another £10. Protesting is a middle class pursuit. No-one on benefits or minimum wage in the commuter belt, let alone beyond, would have the resources to do it. A couple would need £50, even if they lived closer to London than I did, a family of four could crack a ton…..

The speakers were pretty dull on the whole. But the audience of marchers were a forgiving lot and clapped or cheered appropriately. The mood, however, especially far from the podium in Parliament Square where I was was much more notable for the grass-roots quality. There were debates, ad-hoc, informal, shifting and sifting as people moved and loosely coalesced about what was to be done from here. A few wanted the softest of soft Brexits, recognising perhaps that the die might be cast and some sort of Leave was inevitable. There was also a smattering of Norways. But most simply wanted Brexit cancelled. If there was a vote, it would be a choice between Remain or Remain. Any mention of May’s Deal was derided.

I didn’t stick around to the bitter end…I sat opposite (on the train home) a couple who were fellow marchers. The bloke was a retired civil servant, the lady (they were married) had the slightest of slight European accents but had evidently lived in the UK for a long time (I didn’t ask personal questions to discover more; we just don’t do that sort of thing here). I made open and neutral enquires about there thoughts on Brexit and why they wanted to attend the march on Saturday. Familiar talking points emerged — how the UK is too integrated into EU supply chains for unpicking it all easily to ever be a possibility (the chap I think was something in logistics in the civil service prior to retirement). Attitudes to migration, specifically being anti-immigrant were deplorable. Economic injustice was rampant and rancid. The couple were middle to upper middle class (they mentioned cruise holidays on Cunard, trips to North America for long periods, how difficult it was for family to live nearby due to the cost of housing). They’d had the benefits of prosperity but were ashamed at the pulling up of the drawbridge by the current cohort of middle-class folk.

They got off at Woking (epicentre of, if not Middle England, certainly affluent London and South East prosperity)…They were the epitome of a metropolitan elite. My working class family in the North of England or Wales would have savaged their cosy and cossetted world — and world-view — with a couple of well-chosen words.

But there were many people there who either shared their outlook or had a different outlook which nevertheless led them to the same conclusions. The UK has to Remain. There is no alternative.

And from PlutoniumKun in response:

It’s always hard to call these things at the time, but from a quick online perusal of the UK Sunday papers I do wonder if this weekend has fundamentally changed the national mood. The interviews with Tory MP’s sound a little like those of an addict who has reached bottom and has finally accepted he has to change. There seems to be genuine surprise at the huge turn out with the march yesterday and the lack of any real response from the Brexiters. It’s a bad look for Corbyn that the mood of the crowd lumped him in with the Tory Brexiters. Plus, it looks certain now that May has lost the last of her allies – she really has to go – the only question is if she is pushed or jumps.

The Remain petition is now up to 5,340,000 signatures.

However, as encouraging as this may seem to Remain and softer Brexit fans, Richard North points out that MPs and the pundits are still refusing to deal with Brexit issues:

A huge segment of the population has also chosen to opt out of any serious debate on the post-Brexit future of the UK, preferring instead endlessly to churn over the conduct of the referendum campaign, and to agitate for another in the hope of reversing the decision – thereby saving them the effort of coming up with any positive ideas of their own.

The net effect of all this misplaced activity, therefore, has been to waste time – even more time. We went through the referendum campaign without a serious debate on what the UK should look like after Brexit, and the bulk of the nation has been avoiding it ever since….

And therein lies our problem – amongst the various actors, there is the dialogue of the deaf. Each have their own little mantras, which they trot out to suit, and none of them listen to anyone else….But when one has Peter Bone, who wants to be a “managed no dealer”, in the list of options offered by MPs as an alternative to Mrs May’s deal, there is not a single one that would pass muster. In nearly three years, between then, MPs have been unable to craft a workable exit plan. This is institutional stupidity at an extreme level.

…but the game will be play out between the Government and Parliament. And it’s not looking too good for things changing much between now and April 12. And the real deadline is not April 12, but some time earlier, since the EU Council would need time to consider any extension proposal by the UK.

First, May can’t be made to leave, absent a vote of no confidence, which would pretty much assure a crash out. Recall she survived an intra-party challenge, so the Tories can’t force her out for a full year from the last vote, in December.

Ironically, this is one of those rare cases where the Queen could play a decisive role. She’s the only person who could tell May she needs to go now and get May to accept that. But I don’t see that as likely.

Second, even in her badly diminished state, May is holding on. She has enough in the way of self-preservation skills not to put it to a vote if it would obviously fail, but she’s still trying to breathe life into her zombie. May is planning to hold a vote allowing Parliament to express views on a series of Brexit options. This is likely to show a lack of a majority for any particular choice.

Third, but even if May goes, what does that solve? A new Prime Minister won’t have May’s baggage with the EU, but EU leaders appear to have worked out that the UK is both divided and clueless about Brexit. A new PM can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.

The reason May has managed to soldier on despite repeated political death events is that the Tory party is split between soft and hard Brexit factions. They would have gotten rid of her long ago if they had any alternative remotely acceptable to both wings. The Financial Times gave an update on the infighting. Note that pushing for a general election is a threat:

Theresa May fended off a challenge to her leadership on Sunday but struggled to win over some of her most ardent Conservative opponents to her Brexit plan….

Senior ministers rallied behind her in public appearances on Sunday, with MPs threatened with the prospect of general election if they supported rival plans for a soft Brexit this week when she makes a last effort to save her premiership and her plan for leaving the EU.

Possible successors — including the de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington and the environment secretary Michael Gove — said it was the wrong time to change leader.

Mr Lidington said that he didn’t have “time for plotting” and had been cured of “any lingering shred of ambition” for the top job….

MPs will decide on Monday whether to take control of the parliamentary agenda, allowing them to vote on alternative ways forward, such as a soft Brexit or a second referendum, as early as Wednesday. That could force the government to choose between a deal that splits the Conservative party or one that fails to win MPs’ approval.

Chancellor Philip Hammond raised the stakes by saying that another referendum was “a “perfectly coherent proposition” that “deserves to be considered”….

But Downing Street remains resolutely opposed to a second referendum or a softer Brexit. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said that there would be a “constitutional collision” if MPs backed staying in the European customs union or single market against the letter of the 2017 Conservative election manifesto.

In such a scenario “the risk of a general election increases”. said Mr Barclay. That view was endorsed by Downing Street officials, who hope Tory MPs will choose to back the prime minister’s deal if the alternative is an election.

Leading opponents of Mrs May’s deal, including former cabinet ministers Mr Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, could lose their seats if a vote were called. But members of the Eurosceptic European Research Group sought to face down the prime minister, saying they, too, would prefer an election to implementing a soft Brexit.

Read this tweetstorm (hat tip guurst) for more color:

Such as:

Forth, even if MPs do “take control,” of Parliamentary time, what does that solve? They don’t have time to forge a consensus even if they had sound idea, which aside from revoking Article 50, they don’t. On top of that, if the procedure changes fail to get rid of the ability of individual MPs to kill private bills by objecting to them, the Ultras can object to any legislation that would require the PM to act to prevent a Brexit on April 12, like revoke Article 50 or ask for an extension so as to hold a referendum. Recall that Parliament has no standing with the EU Council; only the PM can submit requests.

Brexit has looked like a controlled flight into terrain, where a pilot misinterprets flight information, usually altitude, and crashes the plane while in control. But another image that applies is operating a Boeing 737 Max, where the plane has gone into one of its programmed nosedives and the pilots are frantically trying to shut off the automated controls and right the plane. But in this case, some of the crew is part of a doomsday cult and are trying to confuse the pilots to assure a crash.

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  1. Chris Miller

    Regarding “protesting is a middle-class pursuit”, (early in the article) many people from outside of London went by coach in (more or less) organised groups, the usual way of large protest demos in the UK. But apart from the politically committed – mainly left-wing – who else goes to demos? The far right have been out over Brexit but fares etc. for them are often paid for by monied groups.

    1. Clive

      At random, I looked at coach travel arrangements for the march. from Wrexham was first on the list, a good random pick for the provinces (north west England, not too far from the motorway but definitely not anyone’s idea of the Home Counties).

      £26. Per person. You’d need lunch and tea, this would be a full day out. Even economising you’d need another £5-10 per person, assuming you could take a flask and sandwiches for some of the sustenance. You’d also need to get to the pick up point. You’d also need a free Saturday and — as we often point on here — free, unencumbered weekend (or any) time is an increasingly middle-class luxury.

      I hate to break it to you, but the really impoverished simply don’t have twenty to thirty quid to throw around like that. If it is a couple of you, then you’re looking at £60-70. That’s an entire week’s food bill for those who don’t shop in Waitrose.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Certainly, the Guardian video makes it plain it was a very middle class affair, which you can read any way you like – either that makes it doubly impressive as mostly middle class people don’t march, or less impressive because it didn’t have enough salt of the earth gnarly handed types. But it does seem they were all committed, I didn’t see any accusations of ‘bussing in’.

        1. Clive

          Yes, everyone there (certainly those I spoke to and saw) were very genuine. No one was marching just to make up the numbers e.g. party activists, the usual protest rent-a-mob types. This was reflected in the good natured vibe and very light touch policing. If there’d been any kettling tried on, a good chunk of the marchers would have asked to be let out to use the, er, conveniences and promised to pop back as soon as they could.

      2. Joe Well

        I totally identified with your comment that protest is middle class, or at least the kind that requires masses of people in the middle of a large urban area.

        I’ve made the same mental calculation with events here in Boston, USA. Transportation ends up being the biggest sticking point. The organizers instead might have people mass at strategic points across the metropolis or the country and then add up the numbers?

        Yet another way that inequality has given the professional class a stranglehold on our civic life. Also why gentrification/geriatricization is one of the leading problems of our time.

      3. Synoia

        When I lived in Woking, a long time ago, I earned 100 GBP per month.

        A three month train season tiket cost 90 GBP.

        I could not afford to live at home in Woking, nor could I afford to live in London. So I emigrated.

        I was working for CentreFile, and working over 80 hours per week, for their entry into the payroll business.

        I fully understand “working poor.”

        I never got paid for those extra hours per week. I never worked for British Management again.

  2. The Rev Kev

    Many thanks for Clive and PlutoniumKun’s contributions to this article. I am betting that there are going to be a lot of people weigh in with comments here today so I will only add a minor note. Checking on the numbers on the ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU petition’ at I see that currently there are 5,399,803 signatures which sounds like a lot. But a quick bit of checking found that in the original Brexit vote that there were 16,141,241 people who voted Remain. So the question is why the other 10,741,438 have also not weighed into this petition, especially when Brexit is so close now?
    On a lighter note, scientists have gamed out the latest trajectory for Brexit using Theresa May’s ringtone as background music-

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t think there is a reason to question why the petition isn’t up to 16 million. It hasn’t been widely publicised so I would guess many simply don’t know of its existence or significance or how to sign up. It is also, unlike a vote, not anonymous. Plus there is a big difference between voting for the status quo and, in effect, asking the government to ignore a referendum result (since many leavers have accepted the argument that ‘its democracy, so live with it’). I do think 5 million is an extraordinary number in the circumstances and Labour in particular would be very foolish to ignore it.

    2. Anders K

      A simple answer is that they don’t know it’s there; the referendum vote was more well known and was given more weight than a petition.

      I doubt that, at this late stage, revocation is going to be on the table directly (barring the extremely unlikely chance of the PM doing it and quitting in a huff). Getting another referendum might be, but that means going in for the long haul, which will have backlash from Leavers (understandably so; so much time wasted and no guarantee it won’t keep being wasted). Formulating the referendum questions will be exceptionally hard, and will be challenged in court, so it’s going to be perceived as another can-kicking exercise (perhaps even by the EU).

      Effectively, no-deal is now closer than ever, and the EU leaders seem to think their countries are prepared for it. As Clive and PlutoniumKun has pointed out, many times before, this does not seem to be true, particularly in the UK-facing countries. I think everyone is still underestimating the UK Governments ability to underperform and what the effects of that will be.

    3. vlade

      You are pressuposing that
      a) all voters have equal access to internet
      b) those that do, all follow the news (to know that there’s petition)
      c) those that satisfy a) and b) have time, inclination etc. to sign the petition

      a) alone would most likely account for quite a few millions on its own.

      If you look at the map, the concentration of signatures is in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Edinborough – all university towns. Young, very internet savvy, connected to social media and having time and will to sign it.

      I’ll point out that there’s no “Dear PM, take us out of the EU with no deal” petition (or if there is one, it’s having problems getting enough signatures). And TBH, in all likelyhood my points a)-c) above would apply even more to a large number of leave voters.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Actually you and Anders K are quite right here. I overlooked that without a major concerted effort, a lot of those people would not only not know about the petition but even if they did, special efforts would have to be made to get them to an internet-connected place to vote online. Those concentration of signatures in London, Cambridge, Oxford & Edinborough. Weren’t they epicenters for the Remain vote back in 2016 anyway? Kinda preaching to the choir here I suppose as far as Remain is concerned.

      2. paul

        Plus the pantomime level plotting at the weekend served to push the petition and the march out of the ‘news’ cycle.

        The Withdrawal act is still there and friday is still the 29th of march.

        1. Clive

          May said in Parliament just now that (boiling it down) as international law takes precedence over national law, and as the position in international law is that the EU27 have granted the U.K. an extension, the legal position is that the extension is in effect. If the SI isn’t passed, May ‘fessed up there’d be one heck of a legal and legislative mess, but it wouldn’t change the validity of the extension.

          Litigation futures, if it happened. It would be hideous. Parliament really must pass the SI to avoid a train wreck in terms of U.K. law. But the legal logic is perfectly sound. There is an extension in force.

          1. urdsama

            If it comes to this (invoking May’s defense for not passing the SI in time), won’t it just make the EU even more draconian on what offer/plan must be provided for a long extension?

            I believe that every act of gross incompetence by the UK Government and Parliament just increases the odds that no plan will be enough for a long term extension.

          2. ChrisPacific

            I am struggling to find anything in the news cycle about this so I assume May intends to take it down to the wire, especially as she’s admitted she doesn’t have the votes for a 3rd crack at her deal.

            As I type this the Letwin amendment has just passed, which seems to boil down to “here is what Parliament will be doing for all of Wednesday” (I’ve never heard of any organization doing their weekly appointment calendaring via legislation, but Brexit has brought many new experiences for everyone). So Wednesday is probably out for the SI. Hopefully someone will remember it in all the chaos. If not I expect ERG mailboxes will be rapidly filling up with business cards from legal firms.

      3. ArmchairNo10

        There is/was a “No deal” petition. This is a quote from dambrill on Richard Murphy’s Tax Reseach UK blog:

        “t is worth noting that a petition to ‘Leave the EU without a deal in March 2019.’ is also on the go and has seen a rise in activity over the last few days no doubt as a response to the ‘revoke 50’ petition. For the record it was debated in January and has been on the go for about 5 months. As of about 10.30pm it stood at about 532,000.
        This gives us some context with which to look at the numbers who want to revoke article 50 – the petition has just reached 5.3 million.”

      4. Lee

        95% of UK households have internet access. The top 20 websites indicate that people are seeking information and news and communicating through various social media. It’s hard to imagine that the Brexit issue has escaped the attention and concern of a significant majority of UK citizens, particularly given that the matter is likely to have a major immediate effect on their material circumstances.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Brexit has looked like a controlled flight into terrain, where a pilot misinterprets flight information, usually altitude, and crashes the plane while in control. But another image that applies is operating a Boeing 737 Max, where the plane has gone into one of its programmed nosedives and the pilots are frantically trying to shut off the automated controls and right the aircraft. But in this case, some of the crew is part of a doomsday cult and are trying to confuse the pilots to assure a crash.

    Thanks Yves, that’s the best description I’ve seen so far of the process.

    It is possible that May could pull ‘a fast one’ on the EU and present them with a superficially good plan – a vague promise of a referendum, more discussions on the backstop, etc., and then portray them as the bad guys if they refuse – but I’m really not sure she is even capable of that level of tactics.

    The only way I can see how this can be rescued is if May goes. I think the weekend was the chance for a visit of ‘the men in grey suits’, or even of the lady with a crown. But that time has gone I think. It was floated in the Guardian that a solution could be for someone like Lidlington (who seems one of the very few Tories left who isn’t stupid and has some integrity) to step in for 6 months on a commitment to step down in the September party conference, and in the meantime smooth things over with the EU. But of course Brexiters will see that as a plot to revoke A.50 so would fight tooth and nail over it. I don’t know if there is a constitutional way for this to happen if its opposed – could the Queen simply nominate him as PM if asked by the cabinet?

    A key question I think is what Labour is thinking in the light of the huge demonstrations on Saturday – and indeed they were shockingly large, dwarfing anything the Brexiters could manage. Along with the petition could they have now decided that they need to get off the fence and perhaps help May get her agreement over the line? The huge danger now for Corbyn is that his fence sitting has alienated a very large chunk of his potential base. I would not mind betting that most of those 5 million signatures for withdrawal are Labour supporters or potential labour supporters. Corbyns one political task in all this has been to make sure the Tories take the full blame for any Brexit chaos. He may fail if he doesn’t respond positively to the demands made by all those people on Saturday.

    1. David

      The test that Lidlington (or anyone else) would have to pass is that they are capable of forming an alternative government. The Queen can’t sack May, and indeed her role (like that of all ceremonial heads of state) is essentially managerial. May would have to go, and then AN Other would have to come along with sufficient evidence that they could form a government. This evidence would have to be of two types: (1) that they could put together a Cabinet, to take over the business of government and (2) that they stand a reasonable chance of not losing a vote of confidence on the second day. Normally, this is a question of simple arithmetic. Here, it would need a series of undertakings from inside and outside the Tory party. And bear in mind that the Queen would ask AN Other to try to form a government. It’s not a question of appointing a new PM.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The situation I’m envisaging (although its probably too late for this), is if sufficient number of the cabinet were to turn up at Buck Palace to say ‘The Tory Party will select a new leader in September, but in the meantime it is a national emergency and PM May has lost the confidence of… well, everyone and has agreed to step aside. Therefore we are requesting that you nominate Lidlington as interim PM to carry out the necessary negotiations with the EU, the rest of the cabinet will sit as before’.

        This of course assumes May can be relied upon to step aside. And it would assume that all the cabinet who don’t agree with this can be fired and replaced. And it would assume that Corbyn would not move a motion of no-confidence (could he be persuaded that if such a motion meant an immediate no-deal which would be blamed on Labour it would be better ‘in the national interest’ to refrain from such a motion?).

        Obviously, lots of ‘ifs’ there and at this stage its probably a moot point anyway.

        1. Avidremainer

          I agree with David. Mind you whichever side of the cabinet went to the queen it would precipitate a split in the Tory party which would be no bad thing.

      2. Douglas Flagstad

        > The Queen can’t sack May …

        Sorry, but why not? If John Kerr, as Governor-General, i.e., the queen’s representative, could sack the PM of a commonwealth state, why can’t the monarch herself dismiss the PM in the metropole?

        1. The Rev Kev

          I remember talk at the time of how legally, the Governor-General in Australia had more legal power than the Queen in England. Just one of those things.

        2. Avidremainer

          Can the Queen dismiss Mrs May? Damn fine question. There is nothing to stop her. Except, as I understand it Malcolm Frazer knew that Whitlam was to be dismissed and Frazer’s coalition held the majority in the senate plus the fact that Frazer won the subsequent general election and therefore nothing was done about it at the time. Of course John Kerr’s life was made a misery in Australia and he spent most of the rest of his life in exile in Europe.

          In the current situation it is hard to see the Queen in cahoots with Corbyn. It is also hard to see her appoint Johnson or Liddington or anyone else in May’s place. That way would lead to complete chaos and we have enough chaos at the moment thank you very much.

          Your question is very pertinent because in the end it is the Queen’s government and there is no law to prevent her from interfering in how her government is run.

          There is a conversation bubbling up about the need to make our unwritten constitution a written constitution. We would have understood the EU better if we had had a written constitution. We’re in a mess now because there are no rules. Everything depends on people obeying the conventions and precedents that constitute our unwritten constitution. Mrs May is a constitutional outrage.
          Republic anyone?

          1. David

            Republic certainly. As regards the powers of the Queen, the only really useful guide is precedent. I think it’s true to say that if the PM of the day is clearly unable to carry on governing, and can’t secure a majority in the Commons, then theQueen can and should ask someone to have another go. But the Queen can’t simply intervene because the government is making a total shambles of everything. Imagine, for example, that the Queen tried to sack May, only to find that the PM she appointed in her place couldn’t command a majority? You can’t sack a government because its unpopular. Back in the 1960s, there were all sorts of suggestions that the Queen should sack Harold Wilson as PM because the then Labour government was doing very badly in the polls. These were quite correctly rebuffed.

            1. Avidremainer

              Agreed. The problem is that Mrs May is clearly unable to govern yet still clings on. What do you do in this circumstance?

    2. Clive

      I’m not sure May has to be especially smart. Anything that’s not blatant rubbish will do in order to be presented to the EU27 before April 12th as a “plan”. A Macron-style “national conversation”. An Obama-style “listening to you” tour. “Preliminary discussions” with Efta members. A Royal Commission. A public enquiry. A Ouija board. Okay, so I made the last one up. Well, it was supposed to be made up, but after everything, who can say for sure.

      And the UK government gets to float as many trial balloons before April 12th as it takes to get one that the EU will let fly.

      I wish I didn’t have to be so cynical. But I’d rather that than my previous naievete’.

      1. Jeff

        I read the latest EU27 text as confirmation of a no-deal Brexit on April 12th, unless Parliament gets its act together: either MPs sign the WA, and get until May 22nd to settle outstanding details or they sign the necessary primary legislation to hold EU elections, to be able to get a delay beyond the May 22nd drop-dead date.
        So an Ouija board or ‘preliminary discussions’ are not good enough. As the MPs seem to be as rudderless and spineless as usual, nothing will happen, the UK leaves the EU on April 12th.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            They certainly did (accidentally or deliberately, I don’t know), leave a very big opening there. But I’m still not convinced that May has the capacity to get enough agreement to get even a wet noodle pointed in the right direction. I couldn’t help but notice that her Chequers meeting over the weekend seemed to involve all hard Brexiters. They will fight tooth and nail for the next 2 weeks to drive the bus over the cliff.

            I think the EU is quite split over whether they should wield the axe or give the UK every chance. I think Merkel is by inclination someone who will never deliver a final chop if there is any opportunity to avoid making a decision. I think Macron can deliver the axe chop and crucially, he will likely not pay any domestic political price if he does (he might even think that it could help him in the upcoming Euro elections).

            1. David

              Macron’s main domestic priority here is to ensure the welfare of French citizens in the UK, and to do that he needs a reasonably tidy settlement, whatever that is. He also wants to play the internationalist, European, multilateral card against Le Pen and others in the European elections, and frame those elections as a choice between atavistic nationalism and foreword-looking cosmopolitanism, not just in France but in Europe as a whole. His ideal outcome would therefore be for things to go very quiet for the next couple of months. Whilst bashing the Eternal Enemy is always popular, don’t forget the very wide and very deep scepticism about Europe outside the elites that Macron frequents. Positioning France implicitly at the head of the cheerleaders for Brussels may not be that good a political move.

              1. Fazal Majid

                Even Marine Le Pen belatedly realized her presidential campaign promise to pull France out of the euro was a political non-starter, apologized for it and took it out of her party manifesto. A great many Frenchmen perceive the EU as neoliberal, but that doesn’t mean they are are flippant about leaving like the British were due to decades of Murdochian propaganda and a shocking general ignorance about the EU (not just in the populace, but also at all levels of government except the handful of skillful EU diplomats like Ivan Rogers).

                Macron realizes there will be no decision from a hopelessly divided UK public and Parliament, and he is in favor of ripping the band-aid so at least the damaging uncertainty is lifted. Otherwise France is one of the EU countries with strongest interest in keeping a relationship with the UK, mostly because it is vital for both countries to pool defense procurement to keep it sustainable with economies of scale.

                1. David

                  I agree that outright opposition to the EU, and a desire to leave it, are not that popular in France, but there is still a widespread unease about “Europe” as it has become, which is not confined to Le Pen’s party, and indeed not just to the Right. Further and deeper EU integration is not a vote-winner for Macron outside his core constituency, so he needs to avoid being seen as the gendarme of Brussels, or the European leader keenest to inflict pain on a state that wants to leave. His approach will need to be nuanced, and even if nuance is a French word, it’s not his strong point. I agree about the bilateral links – they extend to things like the P3, nuclear policy, Africa and other areas. He won’t want to burn too many bridges with whichever UK government finally merges from this mess.

          2. Jeff

            The line just before your citation reads In the event that the withdrawal agreement is not approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019, the extension will be until 12 April 2019, which does look final.
            For me, the “way forward” is for what happens on April 13th: does the UK play nice, and EU does not ground all planes immediately, or is it a total breakdown, and all UK citizens are to leave EU within a fortnight, and nightmarish stuff like that. So, is the UK slamming the door or just leaving the house?

            1. Clive

              That section gives the U.K. a fortnight from the (inevitable) voting down of MV3 to communicate its “indications” for a “way forward”. That’s the limit of what the U.K. has to provide. Now, the Council could vote to reject whatever the U.K. submits. But if the EU27 was really gearing up to take the U.K. out to the Brexit woodshed, why not toughen up the language? The bar for the U.K. to surmount (and the EU27 to approve) is set so low, it’s almost subterranean.

              1. urdsama

                Maybe the language is more gentle to avoid looking like the bad guy? This has been a prime concern of the EU from the start.

                While you may be right, I can’t help but think that at some point the EU will say enough is enough and if May provides a way forward that is unicorn vapor, they will reject it.

                I also get the feeling that parts of the EU are terrified of having the UK seat any MEPs. It’s getting close to the point, if not there already, that no option will really fix the current situation – even rescinding Article 50.

                1. Clive

                  Then they (the EU27) could have turfed the U.K. out on its ear this Friday. They decided not to. And I am not buying “because they didn’t want to look like the bad guy”. This is international politics, not a county fair beauty contest and the EU27 wants to be voted Miss Congeniality. No one is sitting there on their couches tutting and giving the EU27 dirty looks. Except maybe the ERG, but they don’t count.

                  The U.K. invoked a treaty clause. The EU responded. After two years, the conclusion of the clause was perfectly entitled to be fulfilled by the EU27. If they didn’t follow through then-and-there, it was because they didn’t want to. Why is a matter we can only speculate on, but Germany dropped some pretty big hints about a messy NI/Republic border which it either didn’t fancy trying to sort out or wasn’t even especially sortable-outable with a lot of doo-doo to shovel up. But there could be many other practical reasons.

      2. David

        I agree. What the EU is looking for is a signal that the UK has realised that May’s one-note samba is never going to work, and that it’s time for a change of tune. Almost anything coherent will do, because the gesture will be more important than the content. Since such a gesture will either have to be forced out of May, or she’ll have to be forced out of No 10, it will amount to removing a big (if sadly not the only) obstacle to progress.

        1. ChrisPacific

          Or, alternatively, the absence of such a signal as a mandate for holding the line and refusing further extensions. Hence the deliberately low bar. They’re trying to make it the UK’s choice as far as they can.

          It’s a risk on their part, as if the UK gets its house sufficiently in order to participate in elections then they’ve opened themselves up to the never-ending unicorn parade scenario that they were hoping to prevent. Obviously they decided it was a lesser risk than holding to the original deadline in the face of UK paralysis.

    3. John A

      To paraphrase Charlton Heston, probably the only way to prise the prime ministership from May would be from her cold, dead hands.

    4. Tony Wright

      To expand upon the excellent aviation analogy Yves has provided, it could be argued that the current pilot failed her light aircraft apprenticeship as ? Minister for Home Affairs, so what the hell is she doing trying to fly a 737 Max? And who were the fools who let her into the cockpit?
      And Corbyn is still trying to drive a bus, and not very well either.

    5. John k

      Those around London have always been remainers. Brexit voters are in the hinterlands, can’t afford to go to London and march on something they already won.

    6. animalogic

      “The only way I can see how this can be rescued is if May goes. ”
      I can’t see any answer except a general election. Simply put–this parliament is not constituted to deal with the issues before it. Like shuffling a bad poker hand, it never gets better.
      Yes, a GE may possibly not provide a majority constituted to deal with Brexit but the current parliament is plainly Brexit impossible.
      “Corbyns one political task in all this has been to make sure the Tories take the full blame for any Brexit chaos”.
      And there’s the kicker. Corbyn should win in a landslide. However his temporising, disoriented approach leaves a Tory victory a possibility.
      UK politics — Lost in Space.

    7. rd

      Brexit has looked to me more like one of those great James Bond fight scenes in a speeding car, speedboat, or airplane. The problem is that the protagonists don’t seem to know that the gadgets they are relying on to save their lives at the last second were designed by the ACME Company for Wile E. Coyote.

  4. skippy

    “Brexit has looked like a controlled flight into terrain”

    Um I don’t know …

    Feels more like a 500′ pop and bang out of a C-141 over hostile territory in an unceremoniously exit after someone in the back of the chalk playing around with their reserve – causing it to deploy ….

    Your going whether you like it or not ….

  5. Winston Smith

    The defining issue as outlined above-and why the EU has decided to cut the UK loose-is the continuing cluelessness and polarization of the country. Better cut off the gangrenouss limb and cauterize, with a red hot iron if necessary

      1. Clive

        Here in the U.K. too, same messaging,

        Plus a sub headline that it has “completed its preparations for a potential No Deal”. I’m still waiting, though, for a published summary — let alone detailed description — of the legal, technical and political EU responses to the NI / Republic of Ireland border. If and when they actually issue that, then I might believe they’re serious. But not until.

        1. Clive

          The most we’re getting is somewhat waffley briefings. From RTE:

          They [the EU] said they will “intensify their discussions” with the Irish Government over the coming days about a no-deal Brexit outcome.

          The officials described the problem as “very fundamental and very complex”, but stressed the talks will try to ensure any customs controls are “… away from border, if at all possible.”

          They added: “We are working with the Irish authorities so controls can be the least intrusive as possible.”

          The officials also said: “controls have to be where they belong, but that does not mean seeing visible infrastructure.”

          “try to ensure”, “least intrusive as possible”. I’d laugh if I wouldn’t end up crying. Now, blaming London will go a long way here as a talking point to deflect ire, it usually does. But only so far.

          1. David

            Yes, that’s diplomatic speak for “we have no idea how we are going to solve these problems but we’re working on them.” And notice “working with” and “trying to ensure”, which means “we are trying to persuade Ireland to do things it doesn’t want to do, but we are a lot bigger than they are.” I’d be surprised if there’s anything much decided at all, let alone ready. This is why I have argued (see further down the page) that the EU itself has need of more time, though in fairness it’s using the extra time more creatively than the UK.

  6. David

    Thanks to Clive and PK as usual. I would add two points.
    The EU has been signalling for some time that it wants the UK to get rid of May. The European Council leaders are politicians, and they are very well aware how much personal factors influence negotiations. They are perfectly well aware that a change of May will not, by itself, solve anything, but also that as long as May is in charge nothing can be solved. So getting rid of May is not a sufficient condition for resolving the crisis, but it is a necessary one. This must also have occurred to MPs in London.
    In addition, the EU is now beginning to realise that this is only the beginning of its problems. An uncontrolled UK exit would simply begin a new period of crisis over the summer, and even a controlled exit would involve years of negotiation, and endless Council meetings dominated by the relationship with the UK. The EU itself, I think, is starting to realise that it is stuck a dilemma of its own: the faster the UK leaves (or the faster it gets rid of the UK) the greater are the problems that will follow. Some EU leaders, at least, appear now to realise that in a few weeks, the EU could have a land frontier with a non-EU country, similar to that between France and Switzerland, except with no agreements in place. (You can think Poland-Belarus perhaps). Whilst some thinking has been done about trade and movement of goods, none, so far as I know, has been done about the movement of human beings. I can imagine someone in the Commission’s legal service already drafting a proposal that nobody be allowed to cross the frontier without an identity document of some kind. After all, if you allow free movement between the two Irelands, you have to allow it everywhere the EU has a border.
    Now this is not to say that the EU therefore has to give the UK what it wants. Nor is it a lever the UK, at the moment, is skilful enough to exploit. But it does mean that the EU itself has to balance the desire to get rid of the UK as soon as possible with the need to make sure that the UK’s exit doesn’t create more problems than it solves. This is the principal explanation for the EU’s current willingness to let the agony drag on a bit longer.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’m not convinced the EU is that concerned about the border issue, simply because the Atlantic acts as a sort of buffer. Remember, Ireland is not within Schengen so there isn’t total passport free travel between Ireland and the continent now. So the migration issue is at least partly manageable – its the UK that has more to fear with Ireland becoming a staging ground for movement into the UK (which is why there is, and always will be, strong checks on the Irish Sea, even between Belfast and Scotland).

      I do think the trade issue on the border is partly manageable, even if the UK does not co-operate. Agriculture is the big concern, and from what I know, the Irish government is convinced this can be managed away from the border. In other words, checks will be at the factory gate. Dairy and beef are huge industries and the big food companies are both Irish owned and hugely dependent on trade with the EU and with the ‘EU’ label abroad (especially to China). It will be difficult, but the industry will co-operate and in its own self interest will not permit significant one-way ‘leakage’ (the smuggling is likely to be the other direction, into the UK).

      Other major trades are probably irrelevant for the EU. There is a huge potential problem in the Irish construction industry – but this is a very localised trade so its hard to see Brussels get too upset about, say, the Irish construction industry importing ‘smuggled’ pre-cast concrete or aggregate or cut stone from Northern Ireland. This isn’t something that will be traded onwards due to transport costs.

      There will of course be a huge logistical issue if Ireland has to redirect trade from the Holyhead route to a direct one to France/Spain/Netherlands. But this is a logistical rather than I think a legal problem.

      The Irish governments big fear is a wipe-out of retailing of a dropping sterling and reduced VAT means everyone drives from Dublin to shop in Newry – but that’s not Brussels big worry either.

      The Irish government will turn a blind eye to ‘local’ businesses and smuggling – the big issue I think with this would be phytosanitary arrangements – but again, this is something that can probably be managed over time, unless there was terrible luck with an outbreak of Foot and Mouth or something similar.

      In the longer term, smuggling of goods could become a major issue, but I think this could only become an EU issue if it is very large scale, and this is controllable – while much is made of the number of crossings, only a few are suitable for multiple HGV trips (at least without being noticed), so could be monitored just as it was in the bad old days.

      1. David

        Accept all that, and as you say Ireland is not fully in Schengen, although as and when the UK leaves the EU there will surely be increased pressure for them to join properly. But it’s more the principle of the thing that worries me.The EU has a legalistic approach to things like this and it’s not obvious why there should be one border between the EU and the outside world over which no control is exercised at all, irrespective of the degree of actual risk After all, you generally have to show ID of some kind to go from Switzerland in to France.

      2. Clive

        There’s two permutations to this. One is that Ireland doesn’t get to turn a blind eye to anything, unless the rest of the EU is willing to agree to it doing that. And if Ireland is allowed to turn a blind eye to non-standard goods, Poland, Greece, Italy or whoever can do the same and the Commission cannot impose penalties on them because they have a defence that they are being subjected to inconsistent and consequently unfair treatment. Other Member States could sue the Commission for non-enforcement, too, under the legal principle of promissory estoppel.

        And its not primarily Ireland’s industry the Commission will be concerned about. Goods placed on the market within the auspices of the Single Market are then free in circulation and cannot be subject to any further checks. Goods imported into the Republic can then be resold from the Republic (via cabotage via the UK, if needed) and entirely legitimately marketed under the IE origin coding. Another EU member state (France, Germany, etc) has no way of verifying that, say, butter which has been churned then round-tripped from NI to the South then sent onwards to its destination country has not been sourced from a Single Market-compliant dairy. It would need to do no more than to enter the Republic and be sold on from there. Now, market surveillance, vehicle movement logging, random sampling and intelligence-led interceptions would be very effective in countering anything done in a big way like this. But, this brings me onto the more salient point which is…

        Two — this would end any chance of the Backstop getting passed by the UK. The EU would have killed it, if it accepted that the sorts of countermeasures outlined in the above paragraph were satisfactory. Why have to have a Backstop, supposedly to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, when there doesn’t need to be a hard border by the EU’s own admissions and actions?

        Finally, if the EU isn’t willing to accept any of that and, rather, it isn’t buying any of this as being other than unacceptable levels of fudge, it has to impose physical infrastructure on the border or at least noticeable border checking activity then the EU27 aren’t about to knock the UK on the head on the 12th April. If they did that, it would be doing the very thing they are claiming to not want to do — create a hard border. This was the same call the EU27 had to make last Thursday. It will the be the same call they will have to make when May sends in her piffle about where to go from here. The EU27 will make exactly the same decision then as it did last week, for exactly the same reasons.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think I should clarify what I mean. Ireland can’t of course turn a blind eye to anything, but the advantage of Irelands situation is that it can prioritise what it wishes to do along the border. This means, in a broad sense, not bothering too much with minor roads, and only imposing rules that suit it. This means imposing tariffs on products that suit domestic Irish products (hamstringing Tesco and M&S in favour of Irish domestic retailers), allowing construction products through but not food products, and so on. Europe can and will turn a blind eye to the use of UK construction products in Ireland because so long as there is no leakage outside Ireland its not something that bothers them much, and they’ll see the commonsense in allowing it for the current construction cycle (Dublin is in boom mode at the moment). Only in the longer term is it possible that European competitors start looking closely and think about bringing legal action – by which time a few years will have passed and it can be dealt with – Irish construction companies are already actively looking to source more products from EU countries.

          I understand your point about the backstop, but I honestly don’t see this as a big deal. Its not as if the EU is going to say ‘oh noooo, you saw through our ruse on the backstop, we are so embarrassed’. They are going to make it work as much as they can for Ireland and those Ireland choose to help (i.e. border businesses), and make it painful and bureaucratic for everyone else. Nobody in Ireland will blame the EU for the border, everyone knows who’s fault it is (and that includes DUP voting farmers). The dairy and beef industry will be allowed largely police itself in the short term. They can be trusted to do this because it would be a catastrophe for it otherwise – any ‘contamination’ from the UK would devastate the entire industry. The big producers will simply not allow it to happen, its not in their interest. I can guarantee you that any company or individual that was caught smuggling UK dairy products into the Irish supply chain would have to catch the first available flight to Australia – they would simply be lynched by farmers if they showed their face in Ireland.

          A lot has been talked about violence on the border, but almost all the anger is directed at the British government and DUP. Irish border posts will be resented, but they are not going to be the target of violence unless they do something really stupid. It will be the first border post flying a Union Jack that will attract riots. Regulation will be as light touch as they can possibly get away with – except when it comes to anything that annoys the UK or the DUP.

          I’m not suggesting the border issue is one that can be taken lightly – the Irish government is spectacularly unprepared for a no-deal and as you and David have pointed out there are diplomatic suggestions that the EU is getting very concerned about this and will not tolerate too much fudging. But there is no way the EU is going to go heavy on the Irish government on this for a year at least. In the longer term, the border will prove a bigger headache for London that Dublin. Their first response will be to increase security on ferries and flights from Belfast – and that will make the DUP look very stupid indeed (and they know this, witness their attempts in the last few weeks to wiggle out of the hook they put themselves on). They will eventually have to start securing it themselves and it is this which will attract violence.

          The issue of any physical smuggling to continental Europe will be relatively easily patrolled – there are only three main ports in Ireland trading with Europe – all have the room and capacity for the necessary checks and customs posts. There will be some smuggling, but I find it hard to see it being on a very large scale.

          1. Mark

            I think you fail to take into account an administrative issue that is certainly involved as soon as smuggling starts, criminal fraud. Any smuggling is certain to involve fraud, mostly fake invoices or fraudulent tax reports. Accountants might shut both eyes for a time but both are crimes which must be investigated and prosecuted by authorities while political hinderance would quite likely be obstruction of justice or something similar. Therefore the potential benefits for a competitor turning snitch to force prosecution of the smuggling companies is very large even within Ireland alone.

          2. Clive

            I do actually agree. There isn’t a problem with border infrastructure (and even border inspections) so long as it is the Republic which has ownership of these. The DUP can get to crow a little, but in the end, so what. Politics in NI moves on to the next squabble and the last one fades into a memory.

            So if Varadkar is nudged (as Merkel has been doing for the past month or so) into formalising that position, the Backstop can be quietly put on a bus*. It should make progress possible. But it will take at least a year to negotiate, assuming both the EU and the U.K. can reduce the temperature a little.

            And yes, eventually the U.K. will want to normalise border arrangements and plug the holes its suboptimal fix-that-isn’t-really-a-fix will create. A shared border infrastructure, but branded “RoI” for political convenience reasons, would suit everyone.

            Now. All we have to do is convince the politicians. How hard can that be?

            * I wouldn’t entirely rule out Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.

  7. Avidremainer

    I have just checked the petition referred to above. It is now in touching distance of 5 1/2 million. It seems to go up at the rate of 300 signatures every 10-20 seconds.
    There were two marches on Saturday, the 150 person version sponsored by Farage which reached the East Midlands and the anti brexit march in London. There have been rumours that some of Farage’s marchers are being paid so to do. Does anybody have any information on this?
    This may be wishful thinking on my part but does anyone agree that the Tories seem as if the stuffing has been knocked out of them?
    I think that we are now in the end game for this government and the Tories. When a former Leader of the Conservatives and prominent brexiteer recognises Mrs May’s conduct is a ” National humiliation” ( Ian Duncan Smith) then the writing is on the wall. There is always a race in British politics as to which party will split first. Happily, from my point of view, the Tories are in pole position.

  8. Brick

    I think the Tory party split is a little more complicated myself. If you take the D.U.P. into account then I think the following is a closer summary of the splits.
    1) Remain (Tariffs as is and no borders , no other trade deals)
    2) Soft Brexit (Tariffs as is and no borders, no other trade deals) (D.U.P.)
    3) Soft Brexit (Tariffs as is , soft border and other trade deals)
    4) Theresa Brexit ( Tariffs as is , hard border and other trade deals)
    5) Hard Brexit (Tariffs lowered, soft border and no trade deals) (E.R.G.)
    6) Hard Brexit (Tariffs lowered, hard border, other trade deals and smaller government)

    A repeat referendum is probably off the table not least because it would probably give a very similar result. The explanations and discussion is not much better than it was when the last referendum took place.The idea that the EU is all good or all bad is a fabrication of the media and MP’s and the electorate would bear in mind the disharmony a referendum causes.

    My guess is that smaller government and sovereignty (Just not for Scotland) are not key issues for the electorate. Especially if it was explained as privatization of the N.H.S. and differing rules might make it uneconomical for Apple to sell I phones in the UK.

    Fundamentally the conservative party wants to make its own trade deals, set it’s own tariffs or at the very least have a seat at trade negotiations and that almost certainly means borders.It is a catch 22 situation where they can never get a solution through parliament without other party support.My crystal ball suggests there is no majority view in parliament even if the risks and rewards are properly explained.The general leaning of parliament may however trigger Brexiteer resignations and a confidence vote.I think the weekend plotting by the Tories will most likely backfire for Mrs May.

    1. Avidremainer

      Brexit is a problem. A bigger problem is the Tory party. At root the referendum was a bun fight between two factions of the Tory party. Labour had perhaps four or five committed brexiteers the rest of the Parliamentary party were remain and reform. Unless the Tories split then we are heading pell mell to a no deal catastrophe.

      The Conservative party has been captured by a virulently anti EU membership who would happily see Johnson ( ” you are a nasty piece of work aren’t you? ” Eddie Mair BBC 2) or Rees-Mogg as leader. For many Conservative MPs this is anathema. The Tory “left”found the coalition quite congenial and that they had quite a lot in common with the LibDems. There is a home for them with uncle Vince and crossing the floor would not necessarily be career suicide. The head bangers of the ERG’s would be isolated and their influence over Mrs May gone. The internecine strife within the Tory party must be resolved. A slit is the only way to do it.

      The above of course means J. Corbyn as PM. Now I know many commentators on this site have accused him of being away with the fairies but at least he has a plan that Barnier et all have not dismissed out of hand indeed have welcomed as a good starting point for new negotiations. Remember that the EU can stop the clock on any negotiation. In EU land it can be 29 03 19 for as long as it takes.

      For as long as the Conservatives continue to pretend they are one party then this horror show will continue as it is and we crash out with no deal, no FTAs rolled over, no MRAs, an economy dependent on good weather in the channel and the SE of England turned into a lorry park.

  9. Ignacio

    One just has to read John Kay’s “The Truth About Markets” to realise what a bad idea is Brexit in economic terms short and long term. On the theme of direct democracy he cites Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility theorem” that states that “no voting mechanism can derive consistent social preferences from conflicting views about how society should be organized”. Political choices are sometimes (often?) incompatible and inconsistent. The problem here is that the other political devices available (political parties) have failed miserably. This said, as a EU member I just don’t know if I prefer, a reasonable but improbable art.50 revocation with an unwilling UK membership or a soft brexit. No-deal brexit is such a failure!

    1. Ignacio

      I have to say that lately Brexit has been extensively treated in the press and TV. The other day I saw a program devoted to brexit in a public channel and it was quite well treated (although some unicorns were present, for instance “Norway”). An expatriate english woman was participating in the program. She said that she was not worried about her situation and her rigths as a worker where reasonably protected but she was much worried about her daugther and son in their university years who fear to travel abroad because they migth loss their residency rigths. This kind of possible outcomes reveal how unreasonable or even toxic has become brexit.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think the fears expressed by that woman is the big driver behind the last minute fight by the remainers. This is something I’ve heard repeatedly from UK friends ‘I want my kids to have the opportunity to study/work in Europe’. Its why even Northern Ireland Unionists are queuing up for Irish passports, much to the amusement of Irish republicans.

    1. larry

      She can’t. She does not have the authority to do so. A couple of commenters above have explained why this is so.

      1. Synoia

        She could, and it would be rule by the Privy Council.There is precident, but it is very old…

        I am thinking 17th centuty…

        In theory The Lords coud also step in…

  10. rtah100

    The Remain petition is another unicorn. It does not resolve anything and it does not compel Parliament to make any particular decision. It is the same pipe dream as a second referendum etc. As has been pointed out above, it is preaching to the choir.

    It has also been the talk of the media for the last week. You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about it. And living under a rock without the internet is the habitat of the Leave voter (allegedly) – old, poor and outdated – not the glossy haired young Remainers whose future is being sold out (allegedly).

    For Vlade’s benefit, there is a Leave with no deal petition with 540,000, i.e. a tenth of the number (+1 from me).

    I suspect the reason for the disparity in signatures is that at the moment, Leave is the status quo. I could barely see the point in signing it. You’ll have to prise Brexit out of my cold, dead hands but until there is a serious threat to it, why waste the energy protesting etc? Leave that the bad losers of Remain and their friends in the media bubble.

    PS: The whole petition system is wide open for abuse since it required only an e-mail address, tick-box declaration of British citizenship or UK residency and provision of a UK postcode (not sure what non-resident British citizens are asked – passport number, possibly, but that would disenfranchise dual nationals without a current passport).

    1. ahimsa

      I’m sorry but the Petition is a joke – verification is simply by unique e-mail address.

      In a recent petition in Bavaria (Germany), one had to present in person at your local town hall (where you are registered) and provide a state issued photo ID before you could sign the petition.

      Does anyone really believe that with so much at state there are not individuals or groups gaming such an e-mail system to boost figures.

      1. larry

        There is no evidence that this is happening. And the petition results are being assessed frequently. If it was a large as you suggest, it could be uncovered.

        1. ahimsa

          There is no evidence that this is happening.

          Because no one is looking for evidence?
          Because there is no trail of evidence?
          Because they have looked but have not found?

          And the petition results are being assessed frequently.

          What exactly does that entail? The only Information specified is a name, e-mail address and postcode. How are they possibly cross-checking that data against a register of legal voters? And even if they were, there is no way to verify the e-mail sender is who they say they are!

          One can easily create 50 e-mail addresses and then select the real names of registered voters on my street or in my block of flats and send of an E-Mail for each one. I imagine a first year programmer could write a short script to automate the process.

          I’m sorry, the fact remains that on such an emotive and important issue such as this:
          if there is a way to game or abuse the system, someone will do it.

  11. Marc

    To Yves comment on how long it would take to come up with a modified proposal (not to agree on one but to draft it), Wolfgang Munchau of the FT disagrees. He suggests it would require a modest change of political declaration and could be achieved over a weekend. Having said that, he is very much of a pessimist as to whether we will ever get there

    1. vlade

      Munchau has been consistently wrong on any and all Brexit issues for about last two years. Of course, even a broken clock is right twice a day, but ..

      1. marc

        Agreed. But the push back is on the relatively factual point (as opposed to his opinions which I often disagree with) that the redraft of this aspect is not hugely complicated in-and-of-itself if all it changes is, say, customs union. So if the will and support is there…

        Actually, his article is relatively in tune with the tone of the commentary here.

  12. TG

    “controlled flight into terrain”? Feels more like the PM is like a boxer taking a dive, that the entire exercise is to make it look like anyone trying to leave the holy EU is a moron and leaving the EU would be a disaster and any idea of gaining more independence from the EU is a priori a circus… I mean, the PM refuses to make any preparations for a hard Brexit, thus removing any realistic alternative, her agreement with the EU includes ridiculous and unprecedented and irrevocable ceding of sovereignty to the EU… Maybe the PM really is this stupid. But I have a prediction: if, after all this is over, Brexit does not occur, the PM will retire and the big EU banks will quietly make her fabulously rich. And then ask yourself: would the big banks shower money on an ex-PM who was just stupid?

  13. Fazal Majid

    I went with my British wife (I myself am French-American). Heard the speeches at Parliament Square. Most were ho-hum, apart from the Green MPs, Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland First Minister) and Tom Watson.

    The thing that struck me most was how there was no mention whatsoever of the 1.5M Brits living in the EU (a number of whom were disenfranchised in the Brexit referendum despite having been promised a vote by Cameron). In contrast most speakers went out of their way to show EU citizens living in the UK they were welcome, specially those who work in the NHS. It’s a little-known fact EU citizens in the UK actually have superior rights to British citizens: they can bring their spouse in to live with them without any income qualifications, even if the spouses are not a EU citizen themselves, whereas Brits would have to show their spouse would not be a charge to the community (via a GBP 37K/year income IIRC).

    1. Fazal Majid

      It’s also worth mentioning the last time there were 1M protestors in London was against the Iraq War. That didn’t sway the government then and I think it’s unlikely to do so today.

      One of the main interjections I heard during the speeches were “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn”. Tom Watson was there, and it was clear he was there without official sanction from his boss.

    2. Ape

      It’s eu citizens including brits migrating from elsewhere into the uk excluding brits migrating directly from outside the eu into the uk. In only that last case, uk immigration laws avoid being overriden by eu rights.

      So more rights isn t precisely the way to put it – any eu citizen who migrates from france to the uk may bring their non eu spouse even if they are brits.

  14. Jon Cloke


    For those of you finding the events of the last few months hard to bear and the future uncertainties too stressful to think about, I can highly recommend this exercise flow –

    You could also try the ‘Trump Flow’ by the same guy.

    You’ll feel a lot better, honest,

  15. Susan the other`

    Since I don’t understand UK politics, I’ve avoided pontificating on Brexit. But I see it as tragedy, best described by Jonathan Pie’s sadness. “Controlled flight into terrain” is a very good metaphor. Brexit is the equivalent, in my mind, to our Congress and their cronies allowing the Great Financial Crisis to happen. The Tory split between soft and hard Brexiteers seems almost familiar because we had Democrats split into illogical factions in a similar way. Causing paralysis that prevented an honest appraisal of the political-economic situation. It’s tragic because, as Yves says, “financial time moves faster than regular time.” In this case economic time is moving forward as if nothing important is going to happen. But the reality on the ground is a different story, it is in chaos. Makes me think Brexit started out as a big bluff. All the Tories would allow Theresa to say was “Brexit means Brexit” – no serious discussion, only propaganda. And the EU, wisely, was impervious to the theater of it all, knowing it was absurd. This is an awful situation. I actually wish Theresa well right now because if the UK doesn’t take her deal (even if it has been totally construed by the EU) all hell will break loose. She at least knows this to be true.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I too, don’t understand UK politics, but I’ll hazard pontificating on Brexit — not the politics and details of mechanism but the possible implications for the future. Governments in Great Britain and the EU have failed to deal with a problem of government. The populous will suffer misery, loss, and chaos in a time of growing instabilities in the world. Can I hope for better from the governments in the US? How well can or will our governments deal with Climate Chaos or Peak Oil or any of a number of sources looming promise of chaos and disturbance to social stability? I’ve never been optimistic about possible answers to these questions.

  16. Matthew G. Saroff

    There is a context here that people are missing: The prospect of a hard crashout scares both London and Brussels, but they are TERRIFIED at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

    This is because Corbyn threatens to upend the apple cart, as opposed to Blairism, which is firmly a part of the neoliberal project.

    1. Avidremainer

      Our Jeremy is just to the left of Angela Merkel. What Murdoch Rees-Mogg and much of the City fear is that he will co-operate wholeheartedly with the EU against tax havens. Brussels has nothing to fear from a Labour government.

      1. Matthew G. Saroff

        I think that he is a bit further left than that, but I would agree that, on domestic policy, he’s not much to the left of Clement Attlee.

        1. Avidremainer

          Our greatest peace-time Prime Minister would be regarded as an out an out commie today. What he and his government achieved was a miracle. He took whole industries out of private hands and into public ownership. Set up the welfare state and instituted the National Health Service-free at the point of need healthcare for all.
          I am one of the beneficiaries of that wonderful man. I was among the first generation of Brits who knew where the next meal was coming from.
          As to Merkel-Corbyn I’m afraid we have to disagree. Merkel espouses policies that would make Senator Sanders blush. Workers on the board of directors, Unions in charge of the curriculum for apprentices. (Which by the way are equivalent to University Degrees) Strong unions, strong Union and Company co-operation, high social welfare benefits etc etc… The only people who dumped on the German social contract were the SPD and their Hartz reforms. The SPD swallowed the Clinton-Blair route and they are paying for it now.
          Corbyn would love to replicate the current German system.

  17. urdsama

    First, I want to applaud the great work being done on the whole Brexit debacle by Yves, Lambert, and the rest of the NC staff. You have done an amazing job of cutting through the fog and bringing light to the situation. Additionally, I want to thank the NC commenters, especially Clive, PlutoniumKun, vlade, and CS for the comments being posted. The insight into the process, and the information from different parts of the UK and EU have really helped to put the situation into context. NC should be required reading for all “serious” journalists and media outlets – the Brexit coverage even more so.

    It appears to me that there is one risk the EU has opened up for itself with regards to the April 12th deadline (if no agreement is reached by March 29) that gets less attention – what really happens if the UK does manage to go back to the EU with a plan to request a longer extension? The language for granting a long extension is vague – from Clive’s comment:

    “The requirement is “in that event, the UK will indicate a way forward before 12 April 2019, for consideration by the European Council.” “indicate a way forward” is wet noodle-like in its rigidity.”

    This seems like a recipe for chaos and acrimony among EU member states. Who decides what is enough of a way forward? While Merkel may be willing to accept very rough brushstrokes of a plan, Macron may want very defined milestones and outcomes. It will be interesting to see what happens in France over the next few weeks – and does the activity of the gilets jaunes play a role in Macron’s response? Additionally, depending on how the UK Government and Parliament comport themselves this week, and in the next two weeks, do certain EU states look for any excuse to say no? While I understand the path they took was most likely the only way they could make sure Brexit was seen as the UK doing it to itself, and not the EU forcing them out, it does open the risk of breaking the fairly united front the EU has presented up to this point.

    1. David

      “Indicate a way forward” is the kind of phrase diplomats come up with to hide internal disagreements. There are probably a number of different opinions within the 27 about what would be satisfactory, but no chance of resolving the disagreements now, and anyway no need to do so until the UK proposes something. You don’t advertise disagreement if you don’t have to. States will be camping on their own understanding of what the phrase means, and wait to see what’s proposed.

    2. Richard

      The EU probably considers this unlikely as the UK parliament would have to have agreed to hold EU elections and the chance that the UK parliament agrees anything at the moment is remote.

  18. Gary Gray

    What the anti-EU neoliberals and the EU neoliberals are scared of is a anti-capitalists coming to power that calls for liquidation of capital markets and death to the bourgeois. Reese-Mogg, Le Pen(who is of part Ashkenazi descent), Macron………..Putin all fear it. The bourgeois nations collapsing. I can see “France” dissolve. Germania “dissolve”. “Italia” dissolve. Tribalist impluses, war.

    Nice to see the old anarchist impluses being awakened. Righties better watch it, that goes for the US as well. You impose your “nationalism”, we impose are tribalism.

  19. IsabelPS

    “One has to admire the EU’s parry to Theresa May’s request for an extension to Brexit to June 30, which was to offer an extension to May 22 if she could get her Withdrawal Agreement approved by Parliament by March 29. If not, the UK would be out by April 12 unless it asks for a long extension and described how it would arrive at a different Brexit (“a way forward”) or revoked Article 50, and also agreed to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections.”

    One has to admire Yves’ knack for summaries.

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