Brexit: Opening the Seals

And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

– Revelations 5:1-2

We’ve been more pessimistic than most commentators about the likelihood of the UK escaping the default of a no-deal Brexit. We may not have been pessimistic enough.

EU officials had repeatedly made clear their condition for giving the UK an extension to the Brexit date of March 29: it had to give a reason, and that reason had to be persuasive.

As most readers know well by now, Theresa May sent a letter into the EU Council on Tuesday requesting an extension to Brexit, a day later than planned. The content of the letter was also different than what the EU had been led to expect. May had intended to ask for a short extension to try again to get her Withdrawal Agreement passed, with the option of a longer extension if that failed. That was unlikely to have gone over well with the EU. Parliament had decisively reject the idea of holding a second referendum, which was the most plausible device for the UK breaking up its Brexit logjam. So even if May had gone down that path, the EU very likely would have rejected her request for longer extension, due to May’s inability to explain why the EU should believe the UK would come to a political consensus on Brexit, and on top of that, one that didn’t amount to new versions of cakeism and unicorns.

But May’s cabinet had a 90 minute row on Monday, with the hard Brexit faction telling her she needed to drop the request for a long extension or face large-scale resignations. So May sent in a missive that was still likely not to sit well with the EU. It asked for an extension through June 30 and gave a long litany of what she had done so far. But the letter didn’t even clearly state why she was asking for more time, save she was still hopeful of getting the Withdrawal Agreement approved despite being barred from holding another vote. She asked for for formal approval of “supplementary documents” she and Juncker had settled on to help. And she also needed more time to pass a bill to amend the Withdrawal Act (which as reader David pointed out, is more cumbersome than using a Statutory Instrument).

The EU reaction was harsh. Donald Tusk announced that the EU would consider a short extension only if the House of Commons approved the Withdrawal Agreement next week. May is going to Brussels to make her case on Thursday. But in another blow, Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU was unlikely to make any decision at this summit. And on top of that, May’s track record is that her charm offensives usually are just offensive.

Moreover, the French magazine Le Point reported yesterday that Macron planned to tell the EU Council today that France would veto any Brexit extension. The French government basically ignored the question when asked about the rumor. If the story is true, then there’s nothing to discuss with the EU and the ball is entirely in the UK’s court.

The Financial Times confirmed that France is not willing to cut the UK any slack:

France’s pro-EU president Emmanuel Macron never wanted Brexit. But as the clock ticks down towards Britain’s intended March 29 departure date — and with Theresa May’s government in open crisis over its plans — Mr Macron is among the most hawkish of EU leaders in questioning why Britain should have more time to get its house in order…..

Jean-Yves Le Drian, foreign minister, told members of the French National Assembly that France would oppose a Brexit delay without a credible plan from the UK.

Mr Le Drian said France would be open to a “technical” extension of a few weeks to allow British institutions to finalise formal ratification of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. But without a vote in the House of Commons to approve the deal, “the central scenario is a no-deal exit — we are ready for it”, the foreign minister said…

An extension that would require Britain to take part in the EU elections — which are due to start on May 23 — would be a “red line”, said a person familiar with Mr Macron’s EU strategy.

Even if Macron was merely privately saber-rattling and does not take an extreme a position today, he’s not the only hard liner. From the Telegraph:

At least three European Union countries are ready to block any extension to the Brexit talks, unless Theresa May can convince them she has a credible plan to break the impasse in the House of Commons at Thursday’s summit in Brussels…

Countries such as France, which has struck a consistently tough stance on Brexit, Spain and Belgium are thought to be among the countries signalling they will demand concrete assurances from Mrs May. “A situation in which Mrs May is unable to deliver sufficient guarantees on the credibility of her strategy at the European Council meeting would lead to the request being refused and a preference for a no deal,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in the French parliament.

This may explain Juncker’s pessimism that anything will be agreed this week, that it would take a full bore effort just to keep the tough trio from telling the UK to pound sand.

It’s also not clear what the legal implications would be if May has cut things so close to the wire that she manages to get her deal approved but the UK had not passed the legislation needed to extract itself from the EU legally as of Brexit day.

What May said after she reached an agreement with the EU last November is still true. There are only three choice: her deal, no deal, or no Brexit.

As we’ll discuss, however, a lot of the UK press and punditocracy is still in unicorn land and thinks May can resurrect an opportunity that was never there, that of a long extension. The reason that was never on was the EU’s clear position that the UK had to give a reason for an extension, and more specifically, lay out a strategy about how the UK would arrive at a different sort of Brexit, meaning what process it would take to change its red lines so it could find a different position on Barnier’s ladder. Parliament’s firm rejection of a second referendum killed the only plausible case and Labour rejected it again last night.

May would never offer to hold new general elections, and even if she did, with both parties divided, there’s no strong reason to think it would lead to fundamental changes with respect to the UK’s stance on Brexit.

Now there is a popular push for an Article 50 revocation, with a petition already at over 400,000 signatures as of this hour. But as we’ll discuss, May would have to do a complete reversal to revoke Article 50, which is within her power, not just a Prime Minister, but also implementing the motion by Parliament rejecting a no-deal Brexit.

But as we’ll discuss, May has given no sign she is considering that idea, but is stuck on her brinksmanship plan of getting Parliament to knuckle under and approve her deal. And she didn’t help her cause with her speech to the nation last night, which alienated MPs she needs to win over (mind you, that doesn’t mean they won’t get over their pique by next week).

Let’s turn to the factors in play.

The EU is really, really over Brexit. For months, there has been a subtext in reports from EU-oriented news outlets that European leaders feel they have more pressing matters than the never-ending Brexit. Our readers confirm that Brexit has gotten virtually no coverage in European media outlets over the last year. A poll in France found a significant majority thought the UK had already left. Voters don’t see Brexit as an important issue:

Despite the widespread antipathy for a crash out, May’s deal is still loathed, so it is not clear who will win the contest between Cinderalla’s ugly sisters. Note we are assuming Bercow will allow Meaningful Vote 3; our informed readers believe he does not have the stomach to risk going down in history as the man responsible for a no deal Brexit. On top of that, May’s letter to Juncker asked for formalization of their side agreements. If the EU takes that step, that would also allow Bercow to save face in reversing his earlier view.

Why May’s deal looks likely to lose again. Admittedly, when the stakes weren’t quite this high, Robert Peston, who does actually seem to get out a lot and listen, was of the view that a third vote would fail. He thought that MPs who had voted twice against May’s deal would find it hard to justify changing their vote on the same treaty.

While the DUP may relent, that’s only 10 votes when May needs about 75. The Ultras are much less likely to defect than before since now a defeat for May means an almost-certain Brexit, when before she was threatening them with a long extension, which could eventually morph into no Brexit.

So it would appear that the fate of May’s deal lies in Labour’s hands’. Labour so far is still opposed. There are clearly Labour MPs who will defy the whips, but the tone of the press right now is it’s not significant numbers.

Another reason why some MPs may vote against May’s deal despite the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is too many MPs are still in unicorn land and believe that a long extension is to be had. In other words, they think if they reject May’s agreement yet again, the EU will blink. I’m not making this up.

First, from a borderline unhinged editorial (yes, editorial, not op ed) from the Guardian that was published relatively early on Wednesday. It argued that May had blown her letter by not making a good case for a short or long Brexit. But it took the position that May could have asked to “reboot” Brexit if her deal failed again. That would never have worked. The EU is long over the UK faffing about. Various EU leaders all made the same demand: the UK needed to provide evidence that there was agreement to pursue a different type of Brexit, or at least a credible strategy as to how to get there.

The key bit is the editorial still depicts a longer extension as a possibility…and makes no mention whatsoever of revoking Article 50.

I fail to understand why cancelling Brexit is still being treated as a third rail issue, particularly since Parliament rejected a no-deal Brexit earlier this month (although we pointed out they really meant no “no deal” as of May 29, as opposed to doing a Brexit “never mind”).

But we see the same sort of illogic here:

Notice specifically: “We know the European Union is likely to offer a long extension if we don’t vote for the deal.”

May only alienated more MPs with her address to the UK last night. The clip from Peston above is representative; if you look at his Twitter feed, he has clips from interviews with several other MPs who excoriate May for bullying Parliament. Ian Dunt (admittedly a reporter, not an MP) was foaming at the mouth while live tweeting her speech. For instance:

Labour is also performing badly. Corbyn stormed out of a meeting with Theresa May because May had invited Chuka Umunna from the breakaway Independent Group. So he’s wasted at least a half day when time is of the essence.

A bigger picture take from Richard Murphy:

And now the reality has really hit. And it is rightly said that we have no obvious way out of the situation that we (or at least Theresa May) has created. It is entirely possible that we will crash out of Europe as a result. Indeed, that seems the most likely outcome to me. And yet we still have no obvious political opposition.

Was Labour demanding parliament sit all this coming weekend to deal with this situation as yesterday’s fiasco unfurled? No, it wasn’t.

Was it demanding that emergency legislation be tabled now to address the issue? No, it wan’t.

Was it even very obviously backing one of the routes forward that the EU has offered, such as a second referendum? Again, no it wasn’t: it did not agree on that approach with the leaders of the four political parties that asked it to do so.

Has it published its own route through this crisis, saying what it wants to happen and when to prevent us crashing out? No, it hasn’t.

And whilst May has to take responsibility for this crisis, and nothing will prevent that being true, it has to be said that Labour’s failure to offer any coherent response to this is deeply disturbing.

Everyone seems to have lost sight of the clock. Let us say May actually does manage to get her deal passed. The EU Council has an emergency session penciled in for March 28-29. May proposed a short extension to June 30 but the EU has signaled that May 23 is the limit so as to give a sufficiently wide berth to the European Parliament elections.

This is still very tight in terms of agreeing a new Brexit and the UK getting all of its legislation passed, particularly since May’s letter indicates she intends to pass bills rather than rely on a Statutory Instrument. And we have the risk of the Ultras somehow jamming the controls. If the UK gets that far, it is still likely to scramble across the finish line, but there is still a risk of mishap.

May is not going anywhere soon enough to make a difference. Let’s say May blows it as badly in Brussels as she did in her address last night. There’s no changing horses now. Even if her ministers were to resign en masse, the only way to replace her quickly would be if the Tories had reached a consensus on her replacement. Our Clive points out that leadership contests routinely take “weeks and weeks” and a fortnight is on the fast end. No one in charge would pretty much guarantee a crash out.

Could May blink? What happens if the EU, as expected, just reaffirms what Tusk said before the summit, that the EU might approve a short extension if the House approves the Withdrawal Agreement and Parliament again says no? Is it possible that submarine May would execute one of her U-turns on March 28 or 29 and revoke Article 50? By then, the petition for revocation could easily have 2 million signatures, giving her air cover in addition to Parliament’s “no ‘no deal’ motion. She’s guaranteed to go down in history as the worst PM the UK ever had if she presides over a crash out. That might change even her fabulously rigid mind. It seems highly unlikely given her well-established pattern of carrying on despite repeated defeats (Richard Smith recalled a famous deportation case when she was at the Home Office) but it can’t be ruled out.

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152 comments

  1. Kasia

    The ECJ has stated that revoking Article 50 must be “unequivocal and unconditional” which means totally abandoning Brexit — no second referendum will be necessary or possible. This amounts to Britain’s unconditional surrender to the EU and would lead to insurrection in Britain and so this is not really an option for May.

    The EU has basically checkmated the UK with their conditional acceptance of an extension based on Parliament passing the WA. It’s clear from her speech last night that May is now in the mode of managing the political fallout from the coming no deal Brexit and is no longer even attempting to get the WA approved.

    So no deal it will be. Interesting time ahead…

    Reply
    1. vlade

      “would lead to insurrection in Britain”. I have my doubts. People are saying that, but on the ground, when you look at things like Farage’s “brexit betrayal march” attracted few hundred people. If the “revoke A50” pettition gets a few mil signatures, it’s fairly significant too.. (2nd referendum petition in Sep 2016 got over 4m signatures, which both Tories and Labour happily ignored).

      People are tired of the whole Brexit, and want a government that actually does something for them. If May revokes A50, she would resign immediately, asking for GE to be triggered (which MPs would have to do, she can’t trigger it on her own).

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        The problem is of course the old Yeatsian one of the best lacking all conviction, the worst being full of passionate intensity. Probably a quiet majority would sigh with relief if A.50 was withdrawn. But there would be a very hard core who would be absolutely furious, beyond reason furious. Fortunately most of them require walking sticks, but they are still potentially dangerous, I’ve no idea what the response would be if A.50 would be withdrawn, but I certainly would not like to be around in the UK if it happened.

        Isn’t there an old rule of thumb about a country not being governable if 20% or more of the population refuse to be governed? There may just about be enough of a hard core to make that a reality.

        Reply
        1. EoH

          An awkward percentage, given that in the US, roughly a third of Americans are die-hard Trump supporters, whom he is preparing to protest any loss of office in 2020.

          My preference would be to withdraw Art. 50. I consider Brexit a world shattering waste of resources, with no positive gain for anyone outside a small elite; everyone else will suffer considerably. But I see no way to get there from here.

          I agree that May would never consider a withdrawal. She would never survive politically if she did, given her party’s fractiousness. Corbyn and Labour, sadly, provide no counter position firmer than a bowl of gruel.

          The comparison of the UK’s political leadership on Brexit to WWI generals seems cruel and apt: Tommies are once again lions being led by donkeys.

          Reply
      2. Thene

        This is in the realms of stuff people don’t like to think about, let alone say, but while few British people are privately armed it is likely that those people are nearly all on the Hard Brexit side. Of all Westminster parties, the DUP have the most heavily armed voters, hands down. Outside of NI, UK shotgun ownership is heavily rural. (The image of Britain as gun-free is pretty hollow if you’ve ever lived in a rural area). So if an MP is thinking of insurrection as a potential side risk, while that insurrection may arise from either side, it would be potentially much more lethal from Leavers. An MP was already murdered by a far right white supremacist in 2016. I wonder how many others are afraid they could be next. British politicians generally don’t have American-style security details.

        Even leaving aside the risk of lethal violence, I remembering the real fear in the UK during the fuel protests in 1999-2000, which were led by truckers and farmers & exposed how much fragility was underlying the country’s infrastructure. It only took a small group of people from 2 key industries to find the choke points. I wouldn’t blame any MPs for being scared of ‘insurrection’ to some degree and I wonder how paralysing that fear is becoming right now.

        Reply
    2. DHG

      Doubtful there will be an insurrection the referendum was never binding in the first place. There will be a clamoring for Mays head either way.

      Reply
  2. Thomas P

    Kasia, “checkmate” suggest EU is winning, but I see no winners here. This is more like a game where you throw around a live hand grenade and whoever holds it at the ends gets blown to pieces while the others get hit by shrapnel.

    Reply
    1. Clive

      I agree.

      Article 50 rescinding? Does the EU really want a furious and resentful UK as a Member State, determined to be as obstructive as possible and even minded to wreck the joint?

      Does the EU really want a UK signed up under pressure to a Withdrawal Agreement and a Backstop it sees as unfairly imposed like a latter-day Versailles? It was always a potential litigation futures even under the best of circumstances. Rightly or wrongly, the UK would feel morally entitled to try to tie the EU up in legal knots. The Irish Protocol is so badly constructed, you could drive a truck through the holes in it. That’s before the constitutional lash-up that is NI itself. If the price of getting it through Parliament is a May resignation imagine what a character like Boris Johnson will be like to deal with, not only with the practical day-to-day implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement but also of the future relationship.

      Does the EU really want a No Deal exit — it knows the border arrangements for the NI / Republic and can calculate the effects on trade. Solidarity payments will be a sticking plaster for a while but it’s hard to see the EU27 thinking to themselves oh, sure, let’s just bail out agribusiness in the Republic which has problems as a direct result of a gambit its government tried that went bad on it — how, exactly, is this our problem and, besides, we’ve got industry of our own which is suffering that’s just expected to suck it up. Besides, you can subsidise an industry for a while but a fundamentally broken business model is a fundamentally broken business model that isn’t going to be fixable any time soon so what’s the point in trying to ameliorate it?

      In short, just because you can win doesn’t mean you should. How much will that victory cost you? It might end up being more than you realise.

      I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that next week will be one of the pivotal moments in European history this century. It’s going to be fascinating to watch. I feel like I should be writing a book on it or something.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I hate to sound contrary (as I told Richard Smith, I’ve been deeply upset about the Brexit developments of the last day even though they don’t affect me much) but how is the EU victimizing the UK? The UK pulled the Brexit trigger. The UK knew it had a deadline of March 29, It even hard coded it in legislation. The UK has been faffing about, is still chasing unicorns, refuses to listen to repeated unambiguous messages from the EU….

        I believe the EU’s intuition is correct. A long extension will not change anything. The UK has a rabid minority, the ERG and the like-minded members of the general public. They have and will continue to prevent any movement to a different position on Barnier’s ladder. Do you forget Jo Cox’s murder? Richard Smith anticipates that one of the effects of May’s speech yesterday will be death threats to MPs. Our NRA has a similar stranglehold on US politics when NRA members are only ~3% of the population.

        Dealing with the UK is like dealing with an addict. At a certain point, you have to cut them loose or they will take over your life.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          Oh, no, the UK deserves everything it’s got. The UK singularly failed to understand how the UK works. It’s only a victim of itself. The EU has, right up until yesterday, shown the UK far more consistent consideration that it has any right to expect. It will no doubt continue to do so.

          I was more trying to make the point that that just because the UK is so dumb it’s beyond any help doesn’t mean that suboptimal outcomes are beneficial to anyone. While the UK will have, let’s say for the sake of argument, 60 to 70 percent of the mess land on its door, that still leaves the reminder for the EU to sort through.

          If there is a No Deal, the question will be asked and will continue to reverberate round the whole of Europe for a good long while, was holding out over the Backstop really — in the final analysis — worth it? Especially given the kludges which will have to be put into place anyway in the event of No Deal.

          It’s hugely telling, for example, that nothing whatsoever has been published as to what — exactly, no fuzzy vagueness, we’re well past that — will the EU27 do on the NI/Republic border with a week to go. The only answer can be fudge. At least for the short to medium term.

          If fudge is inevitably on the menu in a worse-case scenario, it is a self-inflicted injury for the EU27 to say they’ll eat their helping of fudge, but only if they get to serve it up to themselves, they would not, though, be willing to be seen to have the UK being the one to put it on their table.

          History won’t be kind to that decision.

          Reply
          1. vlade

            On the backstop, yes, people will ask the question. But TBH, it’s the same question as people ask about hostage negotiations that go bad. Does it mean the demands should have been met immediately?

            The reality is, UK’s position was for the EU to dismantle single market, i.e. itself. It can’t, and won’t do so.

            EU at least tried to find a solution that was not a unicorn. The alternative was always known – hard(ish) border, which is going to be nasty in any number of ways.

            It may be that an economic catastrophy for NI will finally do what even GFA failed to, kill DUP (and Sinn Fein, but that would be for hoping too much) or at least put NI on the path to that.

            Reply
            1. Ignacio

              I also wonder that absent the backstop there would be another issue to take it’s role as an excuse to not to agree on anything.

              Reply
            2. Clive

              But where is that hard-ish border? It isn’t there now and it certainly won’t be there by this time next week.

              There’s self-evidently not going to be the means for the Republic to check goods entering the Single Market from NI next Friday — and the U.K. has said that its plan is to implement a lopsided tariff system and deem that recognition of EU Single Market standardisation as being acceptable for the U.K. market, so it won’t be doing any checking, either.

              And there’s self-evidently not going to be a legal framework in place to ensure that goods entering the Single Market via the Republic from the UK adhere to Single Market rules — that would only be done in a Deal and there may be No Deal.

              So if a definition of dismantling the Single Market is that goods can be placed on the market which aren’t either checked for compliance with the Single Market’s standards (and if necessary prevented from so being placed) nor are they from an EU Member State which is under a legal obligation to ensure such standards are met, then a week tomorrow the Single Market will be “dismantled”.

              Of course, the reality is more nuanced. A hostage is in one of two definitive and easily determinable states. She is either dead or alive. The state of integrity, or dismantling, of the Single Market is not so unarguable. It is in place if the EU deems it to be in place. It is absent if the EU deems it to be absent.

              As things stand, on Friday week the EU will have to make that call. Even without a declarative statement, it will still be making that call if only by omission (not coming out and saying the Single Market’s integrity has been breached is affirming that it hasn’t).

              If, as seems inevitable, the EU is willing to tolerate the state of affairs which will be in place on the 29th (assuming No Deal, no extension and no rescinding of Article 50 take place) it will be, if not exactly happy with, at least tolerating a situation which the U.K. government said it should tolerate but which the EU refused to countenance because it was the U.K. which was doing the asking. Yet, when it had to ask itself if it was willing to live with it, the EU decided that it could.

              There’s going to be no finessing that one away.

              Reply
              1. vlade

                There is a difference between accepting fudge because it’s physically impossible to do anything else at the moment, and accepting fudge as a permanent solution.

                Everyone knows that if there’s no-deal, even by June, it’s physically impossible to get even hardish border out there, even if both sides would play ball.

                At the same time, if whatever fudge is cooked short term is there for any lenght of time, Ireland and the EU will get its pants sued off.

                The moment one hormone-fed beef if found to be sourced from Ireland many (if not all) EU states will close their agri market to Ireland (and single market rules allow it). Same goes for an non-EU export market, as they can impose conditions on it given that any treaties they have are assuming EU standars to be met.

                The moment somoene will get non-EU certified goods via Ireland in any quantity, their competitors will sue Irish government and the EU.

                In a way, it’s out of the EU and Irish hands – they will be forced (assuming that Irish want to pro

                So yes, the EU will tolerate that – but because it has no choice _at the time_.

                But it will have to do something about it, unilateraly, and the only solution available if the EU wants to avoid being sued and Irish want to protect their agri industry is hardening the border.

                Saying that whatever short-term fudge is equivalent to the backstop in terms of medium/long-term feasibility is the same a saying that treating a bleeding wound with tourniquet is the correct long term solution.

                Reply
          2. Nameful

            I was more trying to make the point that that just because the UK is so dumb it’s beyond any help doesn’t mean that suboptimal outcomes are beneficial to anyone. While the UK will have, let’s say for the sake of argument, 60 to 70 percent of the mess land on its door, that still leaves the reminder for the EU to sort through.

            It all depends on what you call optimal, doesn’t it? In the current circumstances, hard constraints prevent any side (and that includes the EU) from avoiding having any mess land on its doorstep. Thus, while that might be a desired outcome, it’s not an optimal one given the boundaries imposed by reality. Therefore an optimal outcome will be one that minimizes the total unpleasantness of the mess landing on the doorstep. And because of this, to answer something from your earlier post, yes, sometimes you really should win if you can, for whatever definition of winning you have. Because, while it might not be pleasant, it can be (sometimes vastly) less unpleasant than the alternative. And, sadly, for the EU a future with the current UK in it is worse than one without the UK, as amply proven by the sad circus of the UK politics since the Brexit vote.

            Reply
          3. kolyn

            I don’t think it’ll be fudge. I think if it’s a no-deal the EU will insist that the UK honors it’s commitments in the Good Friday agreement that prevents a hard Irish border and therefore we will see a border in the Irish Sea (which is the most simple solution anyway). No deal doesn’t mean no deal because the UK will have to eventually start talking to the EU and coming to some arrangements and I reckon the 1st item on the EU agenda will be an Irish Sea border.

            Reply
            1. Clive

              Maybe in due course. But not going to be a happening event at the end of next week.

              And “border in the Irish Sea” is mis-selling. There are, stating the obvious, no ports in the Irish Sea. They are in Scotland. You can move the regulatory border around, but it no less uncomfortably sits in Scotland (or the port of Belfast) than it does at the foot of the six counties. It was a nice try at marketing, but it was never going to fool anyone.

              This was the sheer genius of the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement. I suspect it was Barnier’s brainchild. No one in the U.K. government could have dreamed that up. It made the whole problem go away and no one would really have had to do anything.

              The failing was political. No sunset clause seems to have doomed it to attracting the irreconcilable ire of unionists (and I don’t just mean the DUP). I suspect five or ten years time binding (with an option to renew, subject mutual agreement) would have been deemed acceptable to the U.K. and by the time that came round, everyone would have forgotten all the hoo-haa and realised it was perfectly liveable with. But, alas, we seem destined to never know.

              Reply
              1. BondsOfSteel

                It’s not just a customs check at the sea border. It’s how you adjudicate the problems that arise.

                NI will be a rouge ‘state’ for the single market unless the EU enforces the hard border or NI becomes under the authority of the EU.

                Yes, the irony of this is now GB becomes the lower pressure locale. Ireland/EU has more to lose with a non-enforced border than GB.

                Reply
                1. Clive

                  Correct. And it is especially valid to emphasise that it’s the adjudication which is the key component. Who has jurisdiction and how is the jurisprudence enforced. Any attempts to frame a resolution into a “here’s where the border is going to go” or “this is the tariff schedule which will apply” or “this is the standards book that will be used” is reductionist. It’s much more far-reaching than that: who has sovereignty over what? which is the superior court?

                  Reply
                  1. Ape

                    Yes. The key of the gfa was joint sovereignty even if only implicit through joint eu membership.

                    That’s what I think the border issue really means – that Ireland has partial soverignty over ni including goods and people.

                    Reply
        2. Redlife2017

          I agree about the possible death threats. Things are getting very weird here in the UK. It all feels like a collective nervous breakdown.

          I’ll meditate on Dr. Thompson today:
          “Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other — that kept me going.” The Rum Diaries

          Reply
        3. David in Santa Cruz

          I don’t generally comment on Brexit, but I’m as unsettled as Yves is.

          I fear what will happen when a hard border falls across Ireland again. None of the pronouncements by the Brexit Ultras in Ulster appear to seriously account for what might happen when they lose seamless access to the Single Market — particularly to farmers. I don’t see this ending well…

          Reply
        4. rtah100

          Yves, Jo Cox was murdered by a standard fascist wingnut. Her murder was nothing to do with the Leave campaign and to imply it was is beneath you. It is also illogical, given the not insignificant leftwing “Lexit” vote.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Cox’s killer shouted “Britain First” before he stabbed and shot her. This came after a period of intense Brexit campaigning when Leave was behind. To say it didn’t have to do with the campaign is quite a stretch, particularly given that Leave and Remain suspended campaigning for three days in the wake of her murder.

            And MPs are already getting threats:

            https://twitter.com/SarahLudford/status/1108823069525708803

            https://twitter.com/lloyd_rm/status/1108786423379972097

            Reply
            1. rtah100

              Jo Cox was the first MP to be killed in office since 1980. Suggesting the opinion of 17m voters is responsible is guilt by association, like saying Catholicism is responsible for a climate of fear because of the murders of abortion clinic workers by fanatics. The association is not even true. The campaigns were suspended out of respect, not an admission of guilt by Leave – or Remain. As for what her killer shouted, it is consistent with his far right views (there is a fascist party of that name with minimal supporters). I know you do not like Leave but these distortions are Trump’s tactics, not yours. You are normally proud to win the argument on merit.

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              1. Basil Pesto

                She specifically used the words “rabid minority”, a far cry from her implying that the opinion of 17m people was responsible for Jo Cox’ murder. come off it.

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                1. rtah100

                  Actually, the words were “The UK has a rabid minority, the ERG and the like-minded members of the general public. They have and will continue to prevent any movement to a different position on Barnier’s ladder. Do you forget Jo Cox’s murder? Richard Smith anticipates that one of the effects of May’s speech yesterday will be death threats to MPs. Our NRA has a similar stranglehold on US politics when NRA members are only ~3% of the population.”

                  I don’t have a problem with the line of argument that the ERG represent a lunatic fringe (if you don’t share their enthusiasm) in the manner of the NRA and that said fringe may be able to exert the same influence in UK politics as the NRA in the US. But there is no justification for dropping a reference to an unrelated murder in the middle of developing an argument about political pressure groups. The insinuation is that they are related, when they are not.

                  The claim that Jo Cox was murdered by a Brexiteer is fake news (check the reports of her murderer’s trial). I am surprised Yves has propagated it and so gratuitously when the claim that the ERG are an NRA-in-waiting stands up on its own.

                  The reporting of Brexit is becoming very toxic but NC is usually a safe haven. I can live with the casual contempt for Britain as inept (the facts of negotiation speak for themselves at time) and even a rather unseemly rejoicing from some quarters at its imagined Goetterdammerung but I hope this blog will draw the line at false villification.

                  Reply
      2. David

        I was going to make the same point. Others have pointed out this week why a long extension would be unattractive for the EU, and why many leaders just want the UK to go. All this is true. But every other outcome is bad for the EU as well. There are no good outcomes here for the EU, just more and less bad ones. As I’ve suggested before, what happens on 29 March or a bit later is not the end of the process, it’s only the beginning of something much worse, and probably something very divisive among the 27. Politics is about going for the least bad option, and the options are, in order of least-badness, revocation, long extension, short extension and crash-out. The last-named is also the easiest, why is why some leaders are tempted to go for it. They’ll regret it later.

        Reply
        1. Marlin

          Politics is about going for the least bad option, and the options are, in order of least-badness, revocation, long extension, short extension and crash-out.

          If one of the extension options would kill off crash-out, this would be clearly true. But without attaching conditions, the short extension would likely still end with crash-out and the long extension might as well. Forcing a decision now, could as well end with the WA, revocation (OK, unlikely), or crash-out.
          I think a crash-out now is better for continental Europe than a crash-out in a few months. Many companies have prepared in the form of shop-holidays in April etc., which they can’t easily switch to June. A decision now would as well bring more clarity for investment decisions (e.g. in cases, where there are strong reasons to invest in the UK, if it stays in the EU, but other options are available). Maintaining preparedness for Brexit is as well costly in terms of administrative resources and political discourse space (proven by the fact, that NK regularly uses its forum for discussing Brexit).

          Reply
      3. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe Brexit is a colossal failure of government. From my relative ignorance of details and caring little for the blame or ‘justice’ in what is transpiring I agree with your conclusion:
        “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that next week will be one of the pivotal moments in European history this century.”
        What comes after in Great Britain and in the EU? I fear the future may be chaotic for both.

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    2. fajensen

      Getting divorced from a narcissistic partner is usually seen as a win for the other party. Sure, there is trouble and financial loss, but, all this will be far less than the accumulated misery involved in keeping ones wedding vows.

      The UK has been increasingly insistent on that any reform of the EU must only be in the direction given by the UK(!).

      The rest of the EU does not agree with that at all. They disagree over both the direction of the EU-policies that the UK demands and also with the very idea that the UK is demanding things, especially France and to some degree Germany. They are not very unhappy to see the UK leave, assuming the UK manage to pull it off.

      The absolute worst case now, IMO, is the divorce being cancelled. There is no love lost amongst the Tory’s, Labour and Theresa May. They all hate her guts by now and no doubt this is a mutual feeling. The same applies to the EU-side. The UK suddenly staying in, after all this faffing around, now with a large rabidly EU-hating part of the population incensed over their betrayal, and them having FOM and rights of representation in Brussels. *That* would really sabotage not only the reforms that France and to some degree Germany will carry out once the UK is not there to block them, but foundation of the EU itself.

      Which is why one should fear that Theresa May might cancel A.50 in order to spite those bad people who “have disrespected and humiliated her” as much as she possibly can. I think she is exactly the kind of person who just might pull a stunt like that.

      Reply
      1. False Solace

        Once the UK is gone the objectors will just switch to some other country or find some other excuse to bar reforms. The UK definitely was a malefactor but it’s not as if the nationalists or the neoliberal profit barons are going to quietly fold up and disappear. It will be wildly clarifying.

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        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you and well said.

          It suits many in the EU27 to pretend that the UK was the only malign force in favour of neo liberalism and neo conservatism in the EU.

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        2. Ape

          Correct – but it will reduce their proportion. It will have political consequences.

          It’s not all just a show.

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    3. PlutoniumKun

      I think that’s a good analogy, but I do think there is a substantial and developing line of thought in Europe that the EU is better off without the UK. We can’t forget that the UK has long been seen as something of a malign influence within the EU by both the left and right. The left have seen the UK as a primary driver of financial neoliberalism within the EU and a major obstacle for environmental policies in particular. The mainstream right has seen the UK as a ‘rogue’ state in the sense that the Tories never bothered co-operating with the centre right within the EU, often seeming to be more comfortable with fringe East European countries and parties than their ‘natural’ allies.

      So everyone recognises that the immediate aftermath of Brexit will be very damaging for economies all along the Atlantic fringes, but plenty in Europe are looking forward to chipping off the most valuable businesses from the UK (make no mistake about it, nearly every region and country in the EU has its eyes on the UK’s remaining crown jewels), and it making more progress on ‘Europeanising’ policy as opposed to always looking over its shoulder at the Anglo-American axis. This may be deluded, but its hard not so see a post Brexit EU being more united and focused for better or ill.

      Reply
      1. bellicissimus

        There already is a new poodle available for the hegemon to replace the old poodle: Poland.
        So the labels changed, but the policies stay the same. I doubt the other representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg don’t already know that. Maybe only a few journos who are still in the dark. Nothing new there.

        Reply
  3. Candy

    I fail to understand why cancelling Brexit is still being treated as a third rail issue

    The short answer is “The local council elections in May”.

    First, understand that most of the remain vote was massively piled up in urban areas (London, Oxford, Glasgow, Edinburgh). Leave is more geographically spread out. If the referendum was a general election with a Leave party and a Remain party, Leave would have won 70% of the constituencies.

    The Tory vote is heavily leave.

    Something changed last weekend after Parliament voted to extend. Conservative canvassers are reporting that voters have switched from saying “all politicians are idiots” to “conservative politicians are idiots”.

    The opinion polls are also showing this: there was a sudden collapse in the Tory vote in the polls last weekend of about 5%.

    If the Conservatives can pull off an orderly brexit with Theresa May’s Deal and a definite exit date of 30th June, they can regain support. And if they can pull off no deal with only about a month’s turmoil, they regain support.

    But if they cancel brexit they will get heavily clobbered in the elections, If they have a long extension they will get heavily clobbered. And if they no deal and it goes badly, they will get heavily clobbered.

    So you can see why Theresa May has taken the route she has to try to force her deal through.

    As to why the council elections are important: councillors are the bedrock of any party’s support. As soon as a party starts eroding councillors, the chances of them losing the constituency seat in the general election increases sharply. Part of what made the LibDem vote collapse between the 2010 general election and the 2015 general election, was that every year between those dates they were getting hammered in the council elections and their local operations were a shadow of themselves by 2015, in the end they didn’t have enough people on the ground to help fight the election.

    This isn’t just about brexit, it’s about life after brexit. Which was supposed to start next month.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the clarification but I think you are missing what I mean by the “third rail” issue. You are acting as if public opinion exists in a bubble when it is very responsive to propaganda. There are plenty of cases where opinion has shifted massively as the result of concerted messaging campaigns.

      So the question is why no one has taken up discussing revoking Article 50, particularly after that became less of a stretch after the ECJ ruling. It’s been just about as verboten as talking about sex in Victorian England. I’ve barely seen it mentioned as second referendum outcome. It’s as if everyone gets that but still no one can say it.

      Reply
      1. Nameful

        I suspect that, since it’s such a political hot potato, no party would have wanted any connection with a revocation of A50. So it would have had to be some sort of grassroots movement, with an associated total MSM blackout. I suspect that even if something like this had happened, hearing about it outside the UK would have looked like some unsubstantiated rumors. Besides, I imagine that the disheartening daily news bombardment about the evils of the EU would make organizing an independent pro-EU campaign rather challenging.

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      2. fajensen

        So the question is why no one has taken up discussing revoking Article 50, particularly after that became less of a stretch after the ECJ ruling

        I think it is because the ideas behind Brexit, the myths about Great Britain, The British, British way of life, British way of dealing with adversity, all those are internalised by people and “makes them what they are”.

        Brexit has somehow congealed these self-defining stories and beliefs and reshaped them into some form of a shared religious experience. When “rational people” messes with peoples core beliefs, the myths about themselves and the ones that define their personality and gives meaning to their existence, their response is likely to be quite harsh.

        So, cancelling A.50 is opening up for admitting that things are not going great, we are in fact not going to be muddling through as we always do, we do indeed need “them” more than “they” needs us, there will never be a British Empire again, Germany won the peace, we are probably just average people after all, and a thousand other stresses, humiliations and perceived slights that comes from reality colliding with every myth and story that everyone born in the UK grew up with. It is just too much to bear, I think, even for people in parliament.

        Whoever suggests withdrawing A.50 will be instantly ripped to shreds by everyone, whatever their attackers actual position is on Brexit because “the deal” is now about core identity, not Brexit.

        Reply
        1. Tony Wright

          There seems to be a general consensus that the leave vote was predominantly older and more regional voters who felt hard done by because of neoliberal policies and EU overreach, as well as a dash of anti-immigrant xenophobia.
          Conversely , the remain vote was dominated by London, millennials with a more internationalist leaning ,and the Scots.
          Therefore some of the likely outcomes if Brexit goes ahead are, a brain drain of young , and especially professionals – particularly those whose employers have branches or offices outside the UK, and Scotland seceding from the UK in favour of rejoining ( or remaining by some EU rule change) the EU.
          This will leave Britain increasingly dominated by a population of ageing English to slowly realise to their horror that the Empire is not going to return, the services to which they feel grumpily entitled will fall apart(further), and the country is going to be eviscerated by the ERG type oligarchs who will make hay in the chaos.
          Article50 revocation would make more sense economically, at least in the medium term, although economically Europe will soon succumb to the twin burdens of overwhelming debt and the common currency( along with an overdue cyclical economic crash worldwide). However Article 50 revocation would probably result in violent and disruptive protests.

          Reply
          1. fajensen

            Therefore some of the likely outcomes if Brexit goes ahead are, a brain drain of young , and especially professionals

            Agree. I recently hired a couple of them. They left the UK over three things though: Brexit, the oil industry slowly going down the pan, and the now phenomenal costs of bringing up children in the UK.

            I don’t exactly like the story about “Europe Succumbing …” because the debt, the misconfiguration of the Euro (and many more of the DooM of Europe Tropes) are what I would call mere Political Problems, not Physics Problems.

            The difference is that Political Problems are solved by the parties involved making the decision to solve them, Physics Problems require Energy and maybe science we don’t have yet to bend the rules. Political Problems are intractable until suddenly they aren’t because people change their opinions, which then changes the game and the rules.

            The EU/ECB will just have to abandon some of the debt, investors will have to eat the loss. Like always BTW, it is only very recently that risk-free investments became the holy grail of “responsible economics”. From the 1800’s until the 1990’s there was about 2 sovereign defaults per year, then this stopped, and of course not because anyone got any better at running a country but because sovereign debts became sacred and unbreakable bonds. Putting the lid on defaults has just created a huge head of pressure, like economist didn’t like the hissing of the safety valve on their pressure cooker so they glued it shut and now everyone are watching the bulging pot with growing excitement :). But still, Politics did this and Politics must change!

            The EU (Germany) will also have to accept that, just as some people will never be useful to society and yet they very much exits and they have to be managed somehow, there are countries that will “always” be deadbeats and losers within the EU and this of course has to be managed somehow for the sake of everyone.

            In my opinion by resurrecting the Social Dimension to the EU and making the Euro into a proper federalised currency like the USD is, so it is possible to transfer wealth back to the deadbeats (in the hope that they will buy more Miele at least).

            I feel sorry for England and angry with them at the same time. My children are born there and we lived there happily for 10 good years, there is a lot to like about England and the English people. But, I cannot help getting personally annoyed with the sheer belligerent stupidity that Brexit has called forth, its like all the worst shit-heads from the dodgiest pups came out to the town centre the same time, fully tanked up on Red Bull & Vodka with Cider on the side, and they are somehow now representing the “Will of the People”.

            Maybe, when the dust clears in the coming years and the mess has to be cleaned up, then there will be some kind of peaceful realignment?

            Reply
        2. Ape

          UK lost the war. That’s the essential reality that the uk and the world misses. WWII was about who the UK was going to lose to. Churchill logically chose to lose to the US and less so to the ussr rather than the fascists.

          All other delusions are rooted in that. It’s rhe crucial myth of the post-war era.

          Reply
  4. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves, another valiant effort to make sense of the United Kingdom’s national insanity.

    Things are indeed becoming very dangerous – the UK, and Labour MPs in particular don’t seem to understand at all how little time is left, nor do they understand the risks of the EU deciding on a request for an extension at the very last minute.

    Imagine an extraordinary EU Council being held on March 28 or 29 – when all it takes would be one vote against extension for No Deal to be assured, and quite possibly without only a few hours of notice before 11pm CET on March 29.

    Even more worrying, was Tusk’s comment that he could use a “written procedure” to get consent for an extension without calling a full EU Council. When all 27 leaders are in the one room, there is at least a sense of solidarity between the member states, and it would take a bit of effort for France, for example, to vote against an extension while Leo Varadkar is in the room. But if these decisions can be taken one-by-one, in national capitals, the brake of solidarity might not be as effective.

    About the only thing that can be guaranteed is that Theresa May will manage to irritate the rest of the EU even further in the coming days. Hold on to your hats.

    Reply
  5. Biologist

    Many thanks for the continuing and exceptionally high quality coverage and discussion of this dreadful topic.

    A question regarding legal process: what happens if EU27 and May agree on an extension (let’s assume Parliament approves the deal sometime next week), BUT it is too late to do the necessary paper work in UK Parliament? I.e. EU council decides on extension as per article 50 but there are not enough days for amending the exit day in the UK withdrawal act or passing the necessary statutory instrument, or whichever way it needs to be done legally. Will we be in the EU according to the treaties, but outside the EU according to UK law?

    And what about the same case, but then without UK Parliament approving the deal but the EU nevertheless agreeing on an extension? (I know this is contrary to Tusk yesterday but perhaps to avoid getting blamed for crash or simply to prepare a bit more for a crash).
    It sounds like the worst of outcomes, a crash where we don’t even agree on whether we’ve crashed out…

    Reply
    1. Clive

      Parliament can, if minded, pass emergency legislation in a day. While it would all be a bit of a mess and a rush job with all the risks of poor drafting that entails, it’s not really a blocker.

      Ultimately laws are passed to be of benefit to courts who interpret them. Any UK court would look at what Parliament intended. It would be the clear will of Parliament to amend the Withdrawal Act’s Exit Date and any subsequent issues would be put before a court to rule on. Anyone trying to exploit a minor legal loophole or deficiency in the legislation where they didn’t have a clear unequivocal case that they could make out — with the most important test being they had to show up before a judge with “clean hands”, not trying to pull an opportunistic scam — would be sent away with a flea in their ear.

      Reply
      1. David

        I think this is right, though the ducks aren’t all in a row yet to permit it to happen. (I’m not saying it will, by the way, just that there is a possible route). May’s position would be that “they have all betrayed me”. Parliament had ruled out a crash-out, and (we’ll assume) voted the WA down. The EU has ruled out a long extension. A tearful May addresses the nation saying parliament has betrayed the people and the EU won’t be nice, so she has no option, even against her strongest instincts, but to revoke Art 50. It’s all somebody else’s fault. She then sends a letter to Tusk/Junker.
        At that point, it’s effectively over. An enabling Bill of some kind could be rushed through, as you suggest, and the Courts, and the EU are not stupid, and would not take too kindly to attempts to sabotage a solution. Knowing May she’ll do the exact opposite of this, but that’s the way it could work.

        Reply
        1. james

          I’ve been consoling myself with this interpretation of events for some months, its nearly the only logical explanation for all the nonsense, the other of course is no deal.

          I take Candy’s points about the forthcoming local elections but any form of Brexit would be owned by the Tories and could render them unelectable for a generation, Canada (1993) ++ indeed. They might be known as the stupid party but I’m pinning my hopes on them not being suicidal.

          Regarding Richard Murphy’s pop at Labour in the OP, I’ve just seen Corbyn giving an account of his meeting with Barnier in Brussels this morning, might be no more than window dressing at this stage, we’ll see.

          Reply
          1. Susan the other`

            Corbin might have been playing this like a virtuoso. The Tories could be banished forever for this debacle.

            Reply
              1. Tony Wright

                I killed my spellcheck – it was a mercy killing for the benefit of what remains of my peace of mind.

                Reply
  6. Synoia

    So it is crash out, and muddle through.

    Which is the British way.

    Very similar to “Let the Markets Decide” approach to Governance.

    How does May loose from this? If one accepts the postulate that all May wants to be is PM, she is content.

    It rarely in Upper Class thinking to care about the “Lower Classes.”

    Reply
  7. Ignacio

    I wouldn’t even consider France, Belgium and Spain as a “hard trio”. A long extension is quite undesirable for the EU given that a reluctant UK would be not only in Parliament but also in the Comission with veto power and almost certainly result in an unsurmountable drag on EU policies. It is easy for me to understand Macron’s position which I think Sánchez shares.

    Reply
  8. Disturbed Voter

    GB should never have joined the Common Market. At least they didn’t give up the Pound. To preserve their freedom of maneuver in political-economics. They could have better supported and guided the EU from the outside. But what is done is done.

    Revoking Article 50 might be impossible, without inciting civil disturbance. So I hope, that if No-Deal is the result that the US can provide immediate and substantial assistance, until a new equilibrium can be achieved.

    Reply
    1. Phillip Allen

      The US has no more business involving itself in UK affairs than it does in Venezuelan affairs (or EU affairs). Our interests properly end at our territorial borders (and I question the legitimacy of US control over any of its colonies, satraps, outposts, etc. apart from whatever legitimacy is conveyed by force of arms).

      Reply
      1. Disturbed Voter

        PM Cameron should never have put either Scotland Devolution or Brexit to the vote in the first place. The intent had to be like in Greece … we will let the proles vote, and they will vote the way we want them too (no Brexit) and then that will silence the anti-EU people. But instead, it ended up like with the referendum in Greece, but the leadership there, simply nixed the popular vote.

        If PM Cameron had been like PM Tsipras, he could have simply said “oops” and ignored the unexpected outcome of the referendum. And fire a few cabinet dissenters. That is how things roll in the EU.

        I don’t have an opinion if GB should be in the EU or not, I am just seeing it as Establishment incompetence and venality, that didn’t have to happen. Because I don’t want GB to riot (like France).

        I will tell my representative (I am American) to never help Britain ever again (say with a week supplies of medication or some such humanitarian measure). It was a mistake to do so earlier. You can beg Macron for help.

        Reply
      2. Anarcissie

        ‘The US has no … business involving itself in UK affairs….’

        Well, then, it’s certain it will.

        Reply
    2. Andrew Thomas

      The US providing “immediate and substantial assistance.” Now, there is a thigh-slapper of a unicorn. Unless you want an invasion , or to suborn a coup somewhere. We like that kind of party.

      Reply
        1. EoH

          Airstrip One, runways filled to capacity with 737 Max8s loaded with GMO crops, frozen chlorinated chicken, and sky-high priced drugs the NHS can’t afford but will be made to take.

          Not much of a market, though, and reaching the rest of the EU from there may soon be impossible. Asset prices are likely to be on a roller coaster for years while things are sorted out. Roving capital is likely to move to Blighty for a good feast .

          The country is already forecasting that it will run out of water in 25 years, owing to climate change and to the privatized water industry’s reluctance to cut rent extraction in favor of fixing leaks that lose three billion liters of water a day. That will be a drop in the bucket as privatization and asset stripping take greater hold in post-Brexit Britain.

          The good news is that the security services will be more vital than ever, and that electromagnetic waves have no respect for political borders. So Gee See H and Cue and the many locations it has sublet to the Yanks will survive Brexit in style.

          Reply
      1. Synoia

        Another lend/lease program.

        Forgive Germany her debts after WWII.

        The UK? No so much.

        With allies like that who needs enemies?

        Reply
  9. David

    There’s a narrative building up (see some of the recent remarks by Ian Dunt and Richard North) in support of May’s contention that somehow this is all the fault of MPs. A no-deal exit, North argues today “will have been brought about by the inability of parliament to bring a majority to bear for the deal, even though the vast majority are opposed to a no-deal – the law of unintended consequences.” But this is unfair. It’s the responsibility of governments to propose and of parliaments to dispose. In the highly controlled UK system, it’s an incompetent government that can’t get its ideas through, and this, heaven knows, is an incompetent government. Insofar as the criticism is valid, it’s really a criticism of the Tory Party, which May has been unable to unite behind any option at all. It was her misjudgement to rush for a quick exit with a fractious and disunited party, and no certainty that she could find wider support in a deeply divided parliament. If ever there was a time and a place not to put such a divisive question to parliament, that was it. And making it worse by hard-coding the Brexit date into legislation simply ensured that parliament would be an unnecessarily greater obstacle.
    Of course, parliament hasn’t distinguished itself either (although it’s the most diverse in history, so one mustn’t criticise) but in the end parliament can’t do the government’s job for it, and can’t be blamed for not doing so.
    Which makes me wonder whether, indeed, May is capable of one more U-turn and one more betrayal. It’s clear that she is setting up parliament to be the villains. If they vote against the WA next week, is it conceivable that May could use this as a pretext to withdraw the Art 50 notification? (“They made me do it?”). She can’t be challenged as leader for a while, there’s no chance of Art 50 being invoked again for, oh, a hundred years, and she would win a vote of confidence. Losing next week could well be seen by May as an each-way bet. Horrible thought.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      How can Dunt be construed as blaming Parliament? He’s been lashing out at May in all of his recent stories and is vitriolic about her on Twitter. See this, for instance:

      With this political legitimacy behind her, she abused and ignored parliament. She tried to deny it a vote on triggering Article 50. She tried to rob it of any meaningful say on her deal. She stuffed the withdrawal bill full of statutory instruments allowing ministers to operate as mini-parliaments. She tried to block amendments to no-deal announcements. Instead of risking losing opposition day motions, she simply pretended they didn’t exist and refused to participate in them. She ruled-out publishing government legal advice on the backstop and then, when parliament demanded she do so, tried to ignore it. She was found in contempt of parliament – a historic humiliation which in any other period would have triggered a prime ministerial resignation. She set a date for a vote on her deal, wasted days of parliamentary time debating it, then cancelled it when she thought she would lose. After that, she held it, was defeated, held it again, and was defeated once more. And then she decided she would have another go this week.

      I’m not sure where you get him blaming Parliament, except maybe in failing to turf her out.

      Reply
      1. David

        I’m not suggesting that people like Dunt and North are agreeing with May in blaming parliament. As you say, Dunt in particular has been withering about May and her failings. But if you pay attention to the way the narrative is developing, you find things like Dunt saying today “MPs were unable to accept the practical consequences of a theoretical course of action they were intent on pursuing;” This shows in my view that the endless bad-mouthing of parliament may be having some effect, even on critics who are very well aware of the issues. For the reasons I give, and irrespective of where they come from, I think such opinions are mistaken, and it’s important to distinguish between (valid) criticism of the way MPs have carried out their role, and (invalid) criticism of them for not playing a different one.

        Reply
      2. Avidremainer

        Yves
        You describe Mr Dunt as ” vitriolic “. He is not. He is accurate and fairly restrained. Our unwritten constitution only works if everyone acts honourably. Mrs May’s actions have been a constitutional outrage for several months. She is not a person of honour.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          In his tweets on her speech yesterday, Dunt was melting down in real time. My take is no exaggeration. It looks as if he deleted some of his tweets from last night but kept two colorful threads up.

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    2. vlade

      I disagree it’s a criticisim of Tory party only.

      While it’s true that Labour holds little formal power, it could have spend last two years telling people how it is. And it would not have to be “project fear” – they could, for all it’s worth, get support of people like North (I know, hard on personality level, but research-wise), and do the PR saying what will Tory brexit bring, and what are the alternatives. Ideally, propose a real alternative, that maybe some centre Tories could support.

      But this would be hard work, and the UK political parties don’t do hard work anymore. They do clickbaits and mass-emotion PR (I’m not going to write cheap, as it’s not cheap).

      It’s not UK that are junkies. It’s politicans and political parties (especially ones in Anglo-Saxon winer-takes all systems, the proportional systems force at least a bit of cooperation on them, so they grow up with it).

      Reply
      1. David

        Well, we can disagree about this, but my point is really that it’s unfair to blame parliament as an institution for this shambles, because that is to demand it plays a role which it’s not intended to play. This is why I think May’s criticism is unfair. Blaming the political parties within parliament is a different issue, and here I would agree that, as institutions, the major ones both have things to answer for. But nonetheless, the basic problem is the inability of May to hold her party together. You could argue that Labour hasn’t been very united, but they aren’t the government. For a Prime Minister and leader of a great historical party to set out on the greatest constitutional change for at least half a century without a broadly united party behind her was not only suicidal it was deeply irresponsible.

        Reply
        1. vlade

          I agree that it’s unfair to crititise Parliament as an institution.

          On the Labour – you say ” set out on the greatest constitutional change”, and I agree with that. But for the opposition to be MIA for something as important as this is IMO dereliction of duty only slightly worse than for the party in the power. Especially so when the party in the power is handling it so incompetently.

          Even if nothing else, Labour MPs could have been asking every time they get a chance, in public and private of their Tory colleagues “Does your PM have a plan? Is she telling anyone? Do you know what she’d do if her plan fails?”. Because May failed to communicate any plan not just to the country, but also to her MPs, and even to her cabinet. Pointing it out again and again (as they do now, in public, but that’s waaay to late), for the last two years was the absolute minimun I’d expect from an opposition party. Not voting for A50, with its hard deadline, w/o a plan A, B and possibly C, was dereliction of duty of ANY party MP.

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            The Labor is the opposition party in Public. In private I’d expect them to go to same Pub as Tories, and the only fight there is a Game of darts, where the looser buys the next round.

            Especially the “New Labor” MPs.

            Reply
  10. Inert_Bert

    Thank you once again Yves, your consistently thorough analyses on Brexit has been invaluable. The current insistence of many analysts (even decent ones like Dunt) that a long extension is easily obtained is just one example of why so many are lost in the fog.

    This little tidbit in yesterday’s Washington Post article on the extension is a predictably disturbing illustration of May’s modus operandi:

    The European Commission believes a June 30 Brexit delay poses serious risks, and Juncker “formally warned” May in a phone call Wednesday that she should not seek an extension later than the May 23 European elections if Britain does not plan to participate in them, Margaritis Schinas, a commission spokesman, said Wednesday. May ignored the warning.

    Plenty of blame to go around on Brexit of course, and MPs’ protestations are particularly grating, but oh my good God she really is woeful.

    Reply
  11. Tom

    If Parliament doesn’t approve the WA, May is finished, and not just as PM, whether she cancels Brexit or not. At some point next week she’ll likely be facing that.

    Having continuously defined her job as delivering Brexit I doubt she’ll cancel.

    Reply
      1. c_heale

        I was thinking more of May and the cabinet than the UK parliament. Many politicians are good at negotiating, since they are completely unprincipled.

        Reply
  12. DJG

    Just to reinforce how far Continental perspective and opinion are diverging: I was in Italy last week, and Brexit news makes page 8 or 10 of Repubblica and La Stampa.

    The tone of the coverage was, Gli inglesi sono matti, ne.

    Of course, this may be Italian revenge for so many years of the English condescendingly acting as if the Italian government is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a calzone.

    In France and Italy, other issues are more pressing than Brexit. My strong impression was that the Italians think that England (mainly England) has gone daffy and that there is nothing that can be done about it.

    Reply
  13. DJG

    Given how much care Yves Smith and stalwart commenters like Clive, Plutonium Kun, Colonel Smithers, and vlade have devoted to Brexit, I was taken aback to read the Easy Chair column by Lionel Shriver in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine. It was a combination of silliness, condescension, and There Will Always Be an England.

    Shriver claimed to have lived in Belfast for a dozen or so years, yet he makes jokes about regulating the border.

    He claimed that May is a secret Remainer who sends other not-so-secret Remainers to negotate poorly with the mean EU bureaucrats.

    And he ends with the sunny view that there will be minimal economic consequences. He thinks that EU-backed laws and regulations will remain in effect in the U.K. because there is little will or need to change them.

    The whole column is a desperate attempt to avoid all of the issues raised here. Yet this is the same Harper’s Magazine that was recently played by Tanya Gold in a screed about Corbyn’s anti-Semitism that was later contradicted in the letters column by two of the people she claimed to have interviewed.

    As I have commented more than once, so forgive me if I am in the mode of Carthago Delenda Est, but the Anglo-American elites are deluded, self-absorbed, melodramatic, and studiously unaware of the consequences of actions. The U S of A and the U.K. can only live off the fat of the land for so long: Maybe till the end of the month.

    And as to the astute comments about bad negotiations, I’m wondering if the source is two failed empires (U.K. and U.S.A.) that still firmly believe that they can dictate terms to the colonials.

    Reply
    1. Avidremainer

      DJG
      Shriver is a she. She may as well have lived on the moon for all the insight she has on Britain and Ireland.

      Reply
      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, DJG and AR.

        You may not be aware that both Gold and Shriver write for the Guardian and Observer, and are rather typical of the hacks at King’s Place and, frankly, other media outlets. Please see the comments that Clive and I made on yesterday’s Brexit post.

        DJG says that Harper’s Magazine was “played” by Gold. Again, that is quite typical of the UK MSM. Sometimes, I wonder if it would be easier to make a living that way.

        David, Anonymous 2 and I lamented the decline of the UK civil service. One can say the same about the UK MSM.

        Unrelated to this and further to Gilets Jaunes posts and comments, but as I visit France regularly and have done so for 45 years, including studying and working there, I can see how France is on the same path.

        Reply
        1. vlade

          TBH, with your knowledge you could just run a society column (or a blog) :) while putting it all into a context.

          Reply
          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Vlade.

            The next job crosses my mind as colleagues begin to jump ship and retire, not just because of Brexit, but the feeling that the firm “is going home” and morale plummets further.

            Reply
      2. DJG

        Avidremainer:

        Thanks for correcting me. I checked her Wiki entry, and I now have a better sense of who she is. I have read other articles by her, as it turns out.

        And Wiki reveals this: “Shriver identifies as a libertarian.”

        Aha! One more clueless American. That’s the problem with equality. Cluelessness is cluelessness, goose or gander.

        Reply
    2. David

      No, this empire meme is distressingly common but it’s not true for the British.
      Much British diplomacy in modern times has been with more powerful players (the US all the time, China over Hong Kong and other things) or with major markets and trade players (the above plus the Gulf, Japan etc.) The UK has usually been in a minority or even isolated in Europe, but, perhaps sadly, has often achieved what it wanted. It did pretty well (from the point of view of the governments of the day) in 1991 and 2005, for example. The former Empire has always had very little attention by comparison.
      That’s not the problem. The problem is that from 2016 on, the government was completely incapable of articulating its objectives, and giving negotiators the guidance about what they wanted. The most brilliant team of negotiators in the world can’t do much in such circumstances except limit the damage. You will always lose, proportionately or absolutely, to an opposition which is better organised and has clear objectives. May’s tone-deafness and blindness to everything except the internal workings of the Tory Party were simply the last straw.

      Reply
    3. EoH

      The notion that Britain will leave EU-based rules intact is a fantasy sold at The Unicorn pub. The largely neoliberal leavers want out of what they call the straitjacket of EU rules. That includes consigning to the dustbin the idea that government can and should protect consumers and workers or restrict the way capital operates, including how it externalizes costs onto the economy and the environment.

      I believe it more likely that there will be a wholesale purge of such rules, with few “made in Britain” replacements. It is part of the treasure trove leavers expect to take possession of post-Brexit.

      Reply
      1. Gary Gray

        Well, duh. EU style neolberalism is too weak for them. The EU should support dismantling national heathcare!!!!!

        Reply
  14. Summer

    Unless the request for a long extension includes a credible plan to stop Brexit, the EU denies it. And ths EU is the judge of the credibility of the plan.
    That’s my take. There is no other reason for the EU to support a long extension.

    Reply
  15. Marc

    How about May states that there will be a vote on her deal. If it passes, things proceed (and, sorry, I simply don’t see the EU saying sorry but it is a couple days too late given the consequences). If it doesn’t pass, she also states that she will leave the decision to parliament, no red lines, all is up for discussion and whatever parliament comes up with will be the basis of a new deal. I suspect the combination of these to actions will concentrate minds and get her deal approved. Otherwise, there is apparently enough of a consensus on something like Norway plus which would probably preferable to the the EU. All this with a strict time limit. Is such a scenario completely implausabile?

    Reply
    1. c_heale

      If I were an MP, leaving the decision up to me and everything being up for discussion, would be a major incentive to vote against her bill.

      Reply
  16. Tom67

    FWIW: Today the German “Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag” which is broadly representative for German industry published a survey of its members. 70% said better for GB to leave as a continued membership would threaten the EU. Basically they confirmed what Yves had said all along.

    Reply
  17. Anonymous2

    I am wondering about Macron. Does he decide it will help him to have crash-out Brexit on 29th March? The reasoning could be that France uses its control of the Calais -Dover crossing to restrict severely the flow of traffic to and from the UK. He could justify this as enforcing EU legislation. Some think this could quickly do major damage to the UK economy and conceivably even food supplies in the UK. (pallets have been mentioned as possibly causing a major problem ). Might Macron decide chaos and food riots in the UK would distract the French from other matters and kill off the idea in the EU 27 that leaving the EU is a good idea? Might he find this attractive ahead of the European Parliamentary elections?

    Reply
    1. Susan the other`

      I was thinking about Macron too. But the whole EU is fed up. Their neoliberal experiment has caused a social inequality that cannot be fixed unless they undertake big structural changes. It is not the UK’s fault. It is the fault of of capitalism. We, the EU and the UK have all tried to force capitalism to work to run the world. We gave it a mandate that was impossible. It’s just that simple. But now we see it in all its critical mass. It’s a monster. Clive is right – this is absolutely historic. The post today about Deglobalization is instructive. It contends that both Brexit and MAGA are symptoms of the breakdown in globalization. And to decline it back we can see that globalization was a neoliberal fantasy which was misgoverned by a hyper-competitive free market rationale and it was bound to fail. The EU is on the ropes as well. Macron cannot cut the UK any slack and come down hard on the Yellow Vests. And Merkel who ignored the importance of sovereignty and fiscal decisions until it was too late finally made a plea for all EU members to “give up more sovereignty” so the EU could govern fiscally. So when the UK has finally had it and says it wants its sovereignty back it doesn’t sit well at all with the EU. They are all caught in this trap together (and so are we) and none of them know how to get out. Everything is begging the big question: what kind of governance is needed? Instead there’s procrastination, repeated failure, and lots of pompous denial.

      Reply
        1. Gary Gray

          Let me also note I made from the other thread. Brexit is as much a neoliberal dispute among themselves, than anything else. As Smith has noted before, Brexit is a neoliberal project.
          Stop over thinking. Your as bad as MSM.

          Reply
          1. Susan the other`

            I totally agree with you that Brexit is a neoliberal dispute. And confusion about sovereignty was intentionally spread to get the votes. Sovereignty for whom, and etc.

            Reply
    2. Yassine

      I would not dare suggest that I know what Macron is thinking but making an example out of the UK to deter the people of other Member State from thinking about leaving has always been the underlying objective of the EU throughout the negotiations with the UK.

      On your other point, here are the results from the latest polls for the European elections : Macron’s party (LREM) at 23.5%, Le Pen’s party (RN) at 20.5%, Les Républicains at 13% and the others are below 10%, with the turnout projected at a very low 40%. So Macron is definetely feeling the heat from the Eurosceptic RN.

      Reply
    3. David

      A couple of things about Macron. He’s young, inexperienced and capable of making mistakes (see gilets jaunes passim). His grasp of foreign policy isn’t brilliant, and his Foreign Minister, Le Drian, is a refugee from the Socialists, whose political career is over unless he does what his boss wants. He’s also trying to push through an ambitious agenda for wider and deeper European integration, against stiff opposition from the Germans, amongst others. At best, Brexit is a massive distraction and time waster from his major foreign policy priorities.
      However, Macrons is also dazzled by everything Anglo-Saxon, especially in the economic area, thinks France has much to learn from the Uk and US, and lards his conversation with English words, not always well pronounced. There’s also the basic historical fact that France and the UK are condemned to cooperate, since both are members of the P5, both have nuclear weapons, both have commitments in Africa etc. The French have always had a love-hate relationship with the UK, as the ideal ally if only the UK would stop betraying them and siding with the US. So Macron will stop short (I hope anyway) of anything stupid or wantonly provocative.

      Reply
  18. rusti

    The EU is really, really over Brexit. For months, there has been a subtext in reports from EU-oriented news outlets that European leaders feel they have more pressing matters than the never-ending Brexit.

    Just as an anecdote, I’m at a conference today where one of the presenters is a program manager from our country’s (EU27) national Space Agency, and one of the issues he brought up is that Brexit has been a major headache for their development of the Galileo GNSS system. He said that the development contracts have already been moved from the UK, but that the uncertainty about the future of ground-based infrastructure is a big problem for them. The EU has said that anything that has some security classification can’t be located on non-EU member state territory, so they’ve started moving things already that are on UK territory. There’s been discussions about whether they can do things like plop a reference station on the roof of the French embassy in London but that’s sub-optimal for a lot of reasons. It’s similarly annoying that suddenly global ground-based infrastructure in places like the Falkland Islands can’t be used anymore.

    Reply
  19. Trick Shroade

    If there’s one upside to the whole Brexit mess it’s that perhaps having the entire government preoccupied with it non-stop for 2 years means that they couldn’t devote as much time to finding new and innovative ways to spend tax payer money.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      Have you heard of Chris Grayling? If not, please search online. He’s not the only one, but provides useful cover for others, others often being health secretaries. I live in Buckinghamshire and wonder about the (over)payments made to landowners on the path of what will be HS2.

      Please also refer to Yves’ apology to readers last week-end, referring to the plethora of UK posts as the UK nears end state neoliberalism.

      Reply
      1. larry

        Thanks, CS. Agree about Failing Grayling. A better incompetent’s incomptent I have yet to see.

        Trick Shroade, there is no such thing as taxpayers’ money in the UK. It is public money, but it doesn’t come from taxes. They could have done better things with their time, like dealing with schooling problems, the NHS, &c.

        Reply
  20. pictboy3

    Possible stupid question: If Parliament has explicitly ruled out a no-deal brexit, would that bill not be treated as some sort of conditional revocation of A.50? I know the ECJ said that revocation has to be clear and unequivocal, but if the UK government stepped up and backed such an interpretation, what grounds would the court have to disagree?

    Reply
    1. EoH

      A non-starter, both in the EU and in Parliament. The no no-deal Brexit vote is non-binding. In any case, Parliament is sovereign and can change its mind from one day to the next. That also means it could ignore the Brexit referendum vote and insist on either Brexit or remain and legislate accordingly.

      The question is political and it is the politics, the political alignments and the leadership that are in turmoil, with more-than-usually-hidden agendas and chaotic, uninspired leadership.

      The systematic lack of and false information in the press and the absence of realistic debate anywhere (except here and a handful of other sites) makes the process deceitful as well as depressing.

      Reply
  21. Wyoming

    My 1st comment I believe on this Brexit thing. I must admit that I have no where near enough time to read everything that passes on it even just on NC. So the issue I want to mention in my comment below may be well covered somewhere in the blizzard of comments. But I have not seen it addressed well if it has been. Like Yves mentioned above this situation between the UK & EU is not on my top 10 items of importance or at least very near the bottom of it. So I am in the popcorn mode in that it interests me more as a symptom of decline than anything else.

    However, it seems to be that almost all commentators/participants are fully wrapped up in the day to day tactical situation and the chaos of battle. Emotions and frustrations boil due to the daily issues and combine with a long history of animosity between many of the participants and serve to keep the focus on the tactical realm. Assuming that anyone is paying attention to the strategic level in this situation is maybe wrong. But it should not be discounted.

    It strikes me that if one considers exclusively what would be best for the EU in the long term that a hard Brexit is actually desirable and not something to be avoided. The UK has handed the EU an incredible opportunity to crush them. There are a number of reasons they should exercise that opportunity. But just this one for now. Would it not place the EU in a much more advantageous position in future economic/political issues with recalcitrant members if those members could look back in the recent past and see the disaster of what happened to the UK with Brexit? The UK is undoubtedly the most powerful impediment to a well functioning EU system and helping them turn themselves into a shadow of their former self will allow the EU to, if not prosper, at least to decline at a much slower rate than the UK will. This is a critical strategic goal. The EU is likely doomed as an institution and power structure in the long term, but staying as strong as possible as long as possible is something to work really hard at. Let the UK help you do that.

    Make no mistake the global ‘we’ are in a precarious situation in that we are facing the oncoming train of climate change and declining global carrying capacity. We are not going to avoid getting hit. Most of us will not make it out of the winnowing stage of this crisis. The more sacrificial lambs you have standing on the tracks in front of you to take the impact first the better chance of survival you have. Thus the UK being willing to throw itself face down on the tracks for the rest of us is, in strategic terms, an opportunity not to be missed. We are in less than a zero sum game at this point and we are all going to face significant declines in wealth and prosperity as this insurmountable situation we have created slowly strangles us. In the mad scramble coming it will be far more important to remain in the most dominant economic/military/political situation you can while actively pushing all the weaker (and/or less strategically minded) players down to the point where you can stand on their heads.

    Thus the EU ‘should’ stop messing around and just throw the UK under the wheels. The US will undoubtedly be doing the same to some entity (say hi Venezuela) every chance it gets going forward. As will every other powerful entity on the globe. This is not a world we are heading into sometime in the future…it is the world we are in today. It will get a lot worse not far down the tracks. Focusing on the daily chaos is fun but we get wrapped up in it too much at times and lose sight of the big picture. We don’t really have the luxury anymore of letting our concentration wander.

    Anyway I would be interested in some comments about Brexit on a strategic level if anyone is inclined.

    Reply
    1. Ataraxite

      Yes, but there is the problem of Northern Ireland – which brings problems not just the UK, but to Ireland, which remains a committed member of the EU, and a nation the rest of the EU will want to show solidarity with.

      The second problem is that the EU probably does not want an angry, poor, isolated and nuclear-armed nation sitting a few miles off its coast, much as the US didn’t like Soviet-backed Cuba.

      Reply
      1. Wyoming

        2nd point first. The EU should want to be as strong as possible. Keeping the UK inside it does not facilitate that. There are going to be a world of angry, poor, isolated and some nuclear-armed nations scattered all over the place. I hardly think that the EU is going to be worried about being subject to nuclear blackmail by what is left of the UK by the time that kind of thing becomes a reasonable possibility.

        Just how likely is it that the UK can remain the UK following Brexit? It is not just NI which is an issue there is also Scotland. The UK may not survive all that long as the UK. But it is certainly going to chaos there.

        1st point. Yes NI will be a big issue. But this is decline we are talking about and everyone is going down. The NI issue will impact the UK far more than it will the EU. Assuming that all sorts of troubles reignite and all sorts of problems related to trade issues become manifest and hinder UK economic issues who’s fault is that? And who pays the biggest price for them? Longstanding animosities between the English and the Irish are likely to blossom again. In the long run this situation is far more likely to resolve itself in a further weakened UK (or just England) than it is for the EU to end up holding the short straw. It may even resolve itself with a unified Ireland which is fully independent from England. The goal is not to avoid decline it is to decline slower than your main and nearby competitors so that you can take advantage of their weaknesses.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          Just how likely is it that the UK can remain the UK following Brexit? It is not just NI which is an issue there is also Scotland. The UK may not survive all that long as the UK.

          Well, yes, this- could happen, that- could happen, the other- could happen. A Border Poll in NI. Independence Referendum in Scotland. etc. etc. etc.

          But all of these miss the point. In the event of a No Deal, the NI/Republic border becomes a legal and political live problem at the very second of the No Deal Brexit. “Solutions” or changes such as a splitting of the UK are not going to happen for many, many, many months. Or years. If at all.

          There were always options available to both the EU and the UK to avoid the EU ending up with the contradiction (or cognitive dissonance, I’m not quite sure which it is) of giving one answer to the UK about what is acceptable for the border when the UK is doing the asking and another to itself when it, the EU (or Macron, or Varadkar, or Tusk, or whoever) is asking. But both the EU and the UK have declined to take these options.

          I have been aghast at how, for three years almost, this intellectual inconsistency in the EU’s stance has been variously ignored, shouted down, waffled away or simply not comprehended. If the EU answers a question in one way when the UK asks it but in a different way and gives a completely different answer when it and it alone is pondering the same question (“what will you do about the border?”), eventually this will be the deciding factor in how Brexit ends. In the event that the available resolutions to the NI/Republic border were taken off the table (by either the UK or the EU) — which they seem now to have been — it was always risking coming down to the EU’s cakeism over the border.

          And if the EU isn’t going to be both externally (to the UK) and internally (to itself) consistent, the possibility of failure — a failure which the EU can’t simply disown — is inevitable.

          Not, of course, that the UK is blameless. It could, unilaterally, have picked one of the many available fixes. But the UK can hardly be blamed soley if the EU, too, chose to not pick one of the many fixes available to it, either, when faced with the same problem to resolve, the problem of the border.

          Why does this matter? I’m certainly not — and you might well not be either — the brinkmanship type. I, if truth be told, have nerves of jelly. It just isn’t me. But this I can assure you doesn’t apply to the ERG. Or the DUP. Or their fellow travelers. The EU is in the intellectual argument equivalent position of having its skirt tucked into its pantyhose. If I can see it, the Ultras and their like sure as Hell can, too. They, unlike me, won’t hesitate to exploit this. Whether it gets them anywhere is a moot point. It is possible leverage and they will not pass up the potential to exploit it. If, as seems likely now, the EU27 is going to do a little more can kicking for a few months, this is the reason. My advice to the EU would be to stop trying to pretend that it’s negotiation stance on the border isn’t completely laughable.

          Reply
          1. Wyoming

            Clive

            Thank you for both your comments.

            I don’t want to appear to be argumentative, but we still have a disconnect I think. I am not quite as articulate as you but I will try and make myself a bit more clear.

            To me your responses still lie in the tactical realm of this situation vice the strategic. Your descriptions of the situation, as always, are well thought out and descriptive. But they do not seem to me to be addressing what I am talking about. It matters not how the EU/UK got into this mess and who is to blame for it. They are there and it is time to make decisions. Are those decisions going to be made based upon short term considerations driven by immediate pain or upon the very different drivers of strategic perspective. Where will the EU and the UK be in 20 years if the EU lets Brexit happen? I am saying that the EU will be far better off than if they kept the UK. So this is what they should do as the future will judge success not on what seems the least painful at the tactical level today, but on whether one’s political entity is maintaining some position of strength/dominance on the global stage in the distant tomorrow. Because by that time if you are not in that position you are deeply in trouble.

            It may just be my parochial viewpoint as an outsider, but it appears to me that the English (not so much the Irish or Scots) have proven themselves incapable of living and operating in harmony with the rest of the EU. Not all of them of course, but enough to make this union untenable. Bridges are burned at this point and keeping the UK inside the EU would be cancerous and over time do the EU more damage than getting rid of the UK. Yes there will be a host of issues which cause nasty and complicated problems. But those problems will be less than the problem of keeping the UK inside the EU. Those new problems created will be partially managed over time and the residual of them will be lived with. After all nothing is going to get better in the long run and that is fundamental to my main point. Prepare for the future don’t try and fix the past. The EU should walk away.

            Reply
          2. VietnamVet

            It is not only the Northern Ireland border; the cognitive dissonance about the future that is already here is highlighted by the influx of women and children on the US border or the 34,000 Africans who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. They all are symptoms of final stage neoliberal capitalism. If chaos is the financial plan of a faction of the ruling elite, chaos is what we’ll get.

            Reply
    2. Oregoncharles

      There are substantial interests in the EU27 that would lose by a “hard” Brexit. As Yves has mentioned several times, the UK has MORE to lose – but less isn’t none. And as Ataraxite pointed out, just the level of chaos right offshore would be a problem.

      Then there is Ireland. A crashout, especially, would mean a hard border at least on the Irish (EU) side. That would cause important economic losses to the Republic, harm people who cross the border daily, and quite possibly start a war. It would also be an unenforceable border that was a hive of smugglers before and would be again. That would probably require inspections – a border – between Ireland the rest of the EU. All that is precisely what Ireland has been trying to avoid, an attempt that is one of the main sticking points in the negotiations. An insoluble problem.

      Reply
      1. Wyoming

        I think most of what I would say to your post I said to Ataraxite above.

        But one item bears comment.

        An insoluble problem.

        It does not matter in a strategic sense to the EU if the UK cannot solve the NI problem. Having the UK wrapped around the axle with the NI issue is manageable for the EU in the short/medium term. And it will cause havoc inside the UK – this plays into the harsh politics of making someone else decline swifter than yourself. The damage it causes to the Republic can be mitigated and the end result may eventually favor them. But for the EU over all it is not a show stopper.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          No. No physical or legal barriers to ensure the integrity of the Single Market is the EU27’s problem. And its problem alone. The U.K. government’s intended fix isn’t great, it’s dismal, but if the U.K. decides it can live with it, live with it it will.

          The Single Market integrity problem begins one second after 11 o’clock GMT a week tomorrow (midnight Central). A stance which says at 10:59 “oh, that’s terrible, we can’t possibly accept a situation where the Single Market is compromised like that” but then at 11:01 says “oh, well, it’s not that bad, we’ll live with it for a while” isn’t credible. The ERG and the DUP will read that as bluffing. If they think it’s a bluff, they’re going to vote down the Withdrawal Agreement again and see just which way the EU27 really think the reality lies. Any subsequent can kick’ery by the EU27 after the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down will give the game away.

          Reply
      1. orange cats

        ‘UK PM May presented her views to EU27 leaders at #EUCO. I am told she was “evasive” and “tightlipped”. The prime minister was repeatedly asked by several leaders what she would do if MPs vote the deal down. May didn’t answer the question.

        Tweet from Alberto Nardelli.

        Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      The biggest barrier is that both N Ireland and Scotland aren’t self-supporting – they depend on subsidies from England. So on the one hand the Republic isn’t thrilled about taking on NI, and on the other the Scots would be poor. The North Sea oil is theirs, but declining. Wind would be their biggest resource. I think that’s what decided the referendum on independence.

      Reply
      1. EoH

        The Scots would beg to differ about being self-supporting.

        The Vote Leave campaign, like Trump’s, was apparently deeply affected by foreign influence and illegality, involving some of the same players as those involved with Trump’s campaign. The Guardian and a few European publications have pursued the illegality issues, but Parliament treats it like a third rail. I wonder why.

        Reply
      2. c_heale

        If the UK crashes out, England will be far from self-supporting itself. I think Scotland and N. Ireland on a purely economic basis (ignoring all other issues), would be well advised to split from the UK on Brexit day and rejoin/stay in the EU.

        Reply
  22. Oregoncharles

    An article that is interesting precisely because it’s a lucid statement of the opposite view from the prevailing one here: “No Exit,” by Lionel Shriver, in the current, April issue of Harper’s. That isn’t a link because Harper’s is paywalled if you don’t have a subscription; I think it’s 2 bucks or so, or you can find it at the library. Easy to forget the library, these days.

    His main point seems to be that the EU is anti-democratic; he also makes a case, from polling, that Leave voters probably knew there would be a financial cost. And he’s one of the few to remind us that May and most of the Tories supported Remain; thinks they still do.

    He also thinks failure to exit, which I still think is a strong possibility, would likely lead to Corbyn as PM – which he thinks would be a bad thing. So, very mixed, but entertaining and thought-provoking.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      Lionel Shriver is a “she”, an American living in the UK and a published novelist (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Her arguments are reliably neoliberal, which is consistent with her being a self-described libertarian. For such a well-educated (Barnard, Columbia) and well-traveled writer, she seems unaware of how much of the UK works, despite living there.

      I’m not convinced the Tories are in favor of much democracy. Nor do I believe its leadership is pro-remain. It is theatrically at odds with itself and at times in open warfare with May.

      The party includes those who favor Remain – once including Theresa May – and those who favor Leave, including its strongest, most vociferous backers, many of whom define the Old Boy Net. It is the latter who most threaten May and who are making it so hard for her to craft a reasonable exit strategy. The logical conclusion is that they see their interests as being better promoted by a hard, no-deal Brexit. They seem about to get what they want.

      I don’t believe that either party or the press has clearly laid out how to get there from here. The Tory Leavers dramatically understated the time, cost and complexity of their divorce from the EU, part of their propaganda effort to persuade voters to Vote Leave. They also wildly overstated the government’s leverage, as the party filing for divorce, over the EU.

      Labour seems as split over Leave as the Tories and has not filled the gap. That conundrum suggests Leave is not a party or a left-right issue, but an up-down one.

      That a Corbyn-led government is seen as an existential threat to Britain is a reliably Tory view. More objectively, he is far removed from the party of the 1970s, let alone its heyday under Bevin and Bevan. He has more in common with Blair than Callahan, Foote, or Benn.

      Corbyn’s wishy-washiness over Brexit suggests he might be overwhelmed and indecisive, traits that would not help him govern in lieu of May, nor help him pick up the pieces May will leave strewn from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

      Reply
      1. Avidremainer

        EoH
        I thought about letting this go but I couldn’t. The idea that Corbyn has anything in common with Blair is frankly juvenile. Corbyn is an old fashioned Democratic socialist who believes in the mixed economy. This puts him solidly in the Foot-Benn-Atlee tradition. CallaGhan was never a Tribune MP. He was a Gaitskellite.
        What you have to understand about the UK is that the class system has never gone away. The current government, the media, the upper reaches of the civil service, the armed forces, the judiciary, and business all went to the same type of schools. Eton, Harrow, Winchester et al do not provide a particularly good education but they do provide the contacts and entry to a gilded circle that have run the UK for over 150 years. Corbyn is the first real threat to them this century. When 93% of the powerful denigrate him on a daily basis it is easy to see how, if you don’t pay attention, he can be called wishy-washy.
        The Labour party only comes to power when the Conservatives crash and burn. I was born in 1952. In that time there has been only 24 years of Labour government. Think about that. Once again we have the Conservative party reducing the UK to a laughing stock
        Corbyn is not a threat to Britain. He is a threat to the people who have mis-ruled this country for so long.

        Reply
        1. EoH

          I agree that Corbyn has nothing in common with Blair, which was the point of my hyperbole. But we’ll have to disagree about how closely his democratic socialism mirrors that of Attlee, Benn or Foote. I don’t think he’s on the same pitch or playing the same game.

          I agree that even the gently washed version of democratic socialism Corbyn advocates is a threat to both the Blairites and to the Old Boy Net. I think that’s behind what I see as a concerted campaign to denigrate him, including the overwrought charges of anti-Semitism. That the latter may exist among Labourites I do not contest. But it is nothing compared to its long, ugly history among the Tories.

          Whether or not the Clarendon Commission schools provide a good education, they certainly provide social training and filtering, and promotion to Oxbridge. That background, as you say, remains the preferred one for leaders in government, the professions, and the largest corporations.

          Corbyn, with his faults, would be a refreshing change from May’s chaos and Tory boys running things. I agree that he is no threat to Britain. He would be a threat to the Old Boy Net, which dislikes the existence of a Loyal Opposition, let alone it coming to power. It might upset their apple carts or require them to be licensed and roadworthy.

          I think the Tories are moving heaven and earth to villify Corbyn now more than ever. Were he to come to power, he might delay or derail many of the neoliberals’ pet projects, including Brexit-based asset stripping, business deregulation, and continued environmental degradation. Heavens, he might renationalize water, transport and the PO, which have been such stellar successes (Not).

          Reply
          1. vidremainer

            EoH
            Foot, no “e” on the end.
            We’ll have to disagree as to Corbyn’s place in the Labour pantheon.
            I agree on the rest of your points. I get touchy when people seem to reflect the MSM and establishment view of the current Labour party-sorry about that.
            Churchill during the 1945 general election accused his then deputy Clement Attlee of wanting to unleash the Gestapo on the British. Sometimes you think that the Tories cannot stoop any lower, then it dawns on you that they have been gargling in the sewer for their whole existence.

            Reply
            1. EoH

              Thanks for the spelling correction. I used to admire WSC’s mythology, but have since come to my senses. His colonial policies were as bloody as anyone’s, Kenya and Malaysia in particular. His attitudes toward India were extreme.

              He was destructively tone deaf in the 1945 election. He accused Attlee, who had literally kept the home fires burning so that WSC could focus on war and alliance building, of horrible acts as an election stunt, then wondered why anyone took offense. When he did return to Downing Street, he held on too long, delaying coming to grips with decolonization.

              Reply
    2. c_heale

      Both the EU and the current UK political setup are undemocratic, especially from an economic point of view.

      Reply
    3. Auskalo

      I read the whole article using Outline, and it seems to me a frivolous rant by a foreign right-hand pretentious pseudo-writer.

      Reply
    4. Robert Dudek

      April 12th will now be the new March 29th.

      Looks to me like EU will try everything possible short of cakism to avoid a crash out.

      Otherwise, why give them these extra 15 days? If anything it takes a bit of the pressure off MPs who would reject the deal a third time.

      Can anyone tell me if a crash out automatically results in a hard border in Ireland? If not, how can this be avoided in the case of a crash out?

      Reply
    1. Chuck T.

      I wanted so much to like Corbyn in 2015, but the man is an utter fool, there is no chance of his alternate plan (which doesn’t exist yet so far as I can tell) getting traction in UK parliament. I imagine he got some sympathic pats on the shoulder when meeting with EU officials. “Poor old man, good like with that!”

      3 Months ago I’d have pegged odds of no-deal at no better than 20%. 1 month ago 50%. Today, 80% and climbing. They fully deserve it.

      Reply
  23. Andrew Thomas

    Has Corbyn been convinced by the haze of disinformation in the U.K. that anyone has any authority to speak for the U.K. government other than Mrs. May? Aside from trying to convince everyone in the EU that he is as incompetent as May, which is not a likely goal, what on earth could be going through his mind? I think Yves said it best at our meetup in Florida. Corbyn is a backbencher. He is good on subjects that interest him. Brexit never did, and still doesn’t. Unfortunately, a leader can’t pick and choose on the basis of interest. He has to lead. And he lost his chance.

    Reply
    1. David

      The problem is that in politics the right to speak can’t just be assumed, and it’s hard to argue that May has the right to speak for anyone very much, just now. The EU, like major governments, naturally talks to opposition politicians, and Corbyn is doing something he should have done before, which is to stress to Brussels that there are a lot of British politicians who are not raving nutcases, and who can talk sensibly to the EU. The effect of this should be to lower the temperature, and avoid giving the impression that May represents, in any but the most trivial of senses, the British political system. It doesn’t matter whether Corbyn’s ideas make sense, and I don’t suppose he cares. If he’s going to Brussels he’s got to find something to talk about, and it’s too early to talk about revoking Art 50, though I see he hasn’t ruled it out.

      Reply
      1. Andrew Thomas

        David, the way things ended today, it seems that Corbyn did no harm. If his presence helped, it’s a shame that it took so long for him to be more assertive. As much as I like him in other respects, I would be happy to be proved wrong.

        Reply
    2. Big River Bandido

      what on earth could be going through his mind? … a leader can’t pick and choose on the basis of interest. He has to lead. And he lost his chance.

      My guess is that Corbyn is thinking first and foremost about building a party; the first rule of party-building is never say or do anything that divides your own membership. From a purely cynical, political point of view, there’s never been an upside to Corbyn showing any interest in a pet project of the Conservatives. Further, any attempt by Labour as a party to assert leadership would allow the Conservatives to deflect blame for their own failures. To Labour’s great fortune, Brexit has also fractured the Conservatives — and they’re the party in leadership, the party that forced the referendum in the first place.

      Yes, this forces a passivity on Corbyn and Labour that does not look good in the short run. But the moment Brexit becomes reality, the “Leave/Remain” argument will be moot and the politics will shift to nuts-and-bolts; if a crash-out causes a deep recession (or worse), the Tories will simply not be an option. If Corbyn and Labour can simply avoid being saddled with blame for the overall policy of Brexit, they will probably recover once it’s a fait accompli and the politics turn to issues that play to their advantage.

      Reply
  24. ChrisPacific

    I was reading the article yesterday on Operation Yellowhammer and county level preparations for No Deal Brexit. It was terrifying. I can only imagine what it’s like for those in the thick of it right now.

    Reply
  25. ljones

    Not much news so far but apparently may gets an extension until April but without conditions.

    Ok, I don’t understand that. Why would they do such a thing?

    ljones

    Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      Because the EU, and especially Ireland, does not want a crashout. Some of us predicted this.

      We’re about to find out just how far they’ll go to avoid it.

      Reply
  26. ptb

    And… another stay of execution, per Tusk, via Reuters.

    until Apr 12, “The UK government will still have a choice between a deal, no deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50”.

    Don’t know how much significance to give it, but he adds ‘long extension’ to the choices. I assume this means he considers the risk of no-deal high (i.e. continued rejection of WA and continued refusal by UK govt to do anything other than keep trying).

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      Is this a stay of execution? It’s little more than a week.

      Is he ruling out a “short” extension through May? That’s what it sounds like.

      Reply
  27. EoH

    German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung puts a number on a deal vs. no-deal Brexit:

    For Britain, a deal would result in annual losses of 32 billion Euros.

    A no-deal Brexit would result in annual losses of 57 billion Euros.

    Each of Britain’s EU trading partners would also lose out. For the Netherlands, the numbers are 1.75 billion and 3.61 billion per year. For Germany, the number is between 5 and 10 billion per year.

    [https://nltimes.nl/2019/03/21/deal-brexit-will-cost-netherlands-eu3-billion-per-year-german-think-tank]

    Reply
  28. ChrisPacific

    “…If the withdrawal agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council.”

    There is no need for them to wait until 12 April for that – I can tell them what May’s choice will be right now. Withdrawal agreement vote number 4!

    Reply
  29. Olivier

    There is at least one unicorn that lives on both sides. Everybody talks as if a hard NI border is an option but as Patrick Cockburn reminded us in a recent piece (in The Independent, I think) it’s not: the border runs through solidly nationalist and catholic counties and the same causes as in the times of The Troubles will produce the same effects, i.e., a hard border there will be unenforceable. That does not seem to have registered with anybody.

    In a different line of thought (or maybe not so different, depending on the answer) I have a question: what happens to the UK contributions to the EU budget in the event of a no-deal crash out?

    Reply
  30. RBHoughton

    Brexit betting odds today – Leave EU with no Brexit 3:1; Yes – Leave by 30th March 0:1; Yes – Art 30 revoked 5:2; Yes – 2nd referendum 5:2

    Reply

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