Brexit: Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Fewer than 24 days till Brexit, and no one knows what will happen. And even more peculiar is that this remarkable degree of uncertainty seems to have become normalized.

Nevertheless, some of the latest developments:

It’s now official that the latest UK efforts to reopen the backstop are going nowhere. It was so clear that this effort was doomed to fail that the only plausible justification for sending in Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and acting as if something might happen was to give a thin veneer of legitimacy to May pushing the Meaningful Vote back to March 12. Bear in mind that the Ultras had nevertheless manned up, assembling a group of high-powered lawyers to review whatever Cox brought back to see if it met three tests they had set up.

The face-saver that Cox is now trying to secure is getting an enhanced “arbitration mechanism”. Nevertheless, the Government is still insisting that it’s trying to obtain “legally binding changes” despite the EU repeatedly saying “no” and Barnier reiterating that stance.

May’s deal is expected to go down in defeat again next week. 230 votes is a big hurdle to overcome. And there’s now no strong reason for anyone who doesn’t like the agreement to vote for it, since May has made clear she needs an extension even if the bill passes, so that March 29 drop dead isn’t seen as an event horizon. Yet is hasn’t been removed as one either.

As a reminder, Reuters recaps the order of battle:

On March 12, May is expected to try once more to get her deal approved, though much will rest on whether she can secure extra assurances from Brussels about the thorny issue of Northern Ireland’s border.

If that vote fails, May will ask parliament a day later whether it wants to leave the European Union without any kind of exit deal – a potentially disruptive divorce with damaging consequences for the world’s fifth largest economy.

If parliament rejects that outcome as well, lawmakers will then decide on March 14 if they want to try to delay Brexit, potentially opening the door to a wholesale renegotiation with the EU – or even a second referendum at home.

But the UK and EU don’t seem to see eye to eye on an extension. May has said she wants only a short extension, which translates into maybe a few weeks but more likely a few months. That timeframe happens to line up with the results of recent polls, which show that support for an extension drops off sharply if it were to be longer than three months. In addition, that would probably fall within the limits needed to keep the UK from having to participate in upcoming European Parliament elections. A report to the German parliament confirmed a widely-held view that if the UK’s extension extended to the seating of the new European Parliament on July 2, UK citizens could sue over having their rights violated and would have a near-certain win. Leave Means Leave has already announced it will sue to have the UK participate in European Parliament elections on May 23 in the event of a Brexit extension.

Many EU leaders have said they aren’t keen about a short extension, since they don’t see how it could solve anything on the UK side. That does not necessarily translate into “no” votes, but this position seems to be widely shared.

In keeping, the EU has been floating trial balloons since at least January about a nine month (and some have even said 12 month) extension. The proponents claim they have legal advice supporting their view that the UK MEPs could continue to sit.

But nine months, or even twelve, as some are calling for, doesn’t solve anything either. What might change things is a second referendum, and then only if the result is “remain”. Even though that seems like a given now, recall it also did on the eve of the vote. My finance mavens in the US were predicting Remain would win by 6 to 7 points. Twelve months is barely enough time for a referendum. What happens if the Leave camp succeed again in mounting effective emotional appeals? It’s inconceivable that the EU would offer the, say, two year extension plus extension needed to allow for the possibility that Leave might be reaffirmed and the UK and EU would be back at the negotiating table.

What is most troubling about this difference of views is that it does not appear that the UK and the EU are discussing what length of extension the UK might want and what it intends to do with it during their talks this week. To the extent they are negotiating, they appear to be doing so via the press.

In practical terms, that means that May won’t approach the EU till after getting instructions from the Parliament (which will presumably be the ones the Government supports) on March 14. The next EU Council meeting starts March 21, but the sherpas normally get their briefing materials at least two days before the session. So May is yet again at a minimum annoy the EU with her presumptuousness and lack of organization, and also risk bad outcomes due to not allowing for all key players to study the issues.

Even though investment manager Gina Miller (whose legal challenge led to Parliament being required to approve the Article 50 notice) is pushing the idea that the EU27 could give an extension without the UK’s consent, it’s hard to see why the EU would step on that landmine. It would undermine the critical role of treaties in making the EU function, plus would risk alienating moderates and recent Remain converts in the UK.

Even with an extension, it’s not clear that crash out risk has been eliminated but only deferred. One thing the EU leaders do appear to agree on is that the UK will get only one extension. They do not want to become hostage to its brinksmanship.

Reports that the Ultra are coming into the fold appear to be exaggerated. From the Telegraph, Theresa May warned she must whip MPs to stop them taking no-deal Brexit off the table:

Theresa May has been warned she must whip her MPs to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table in a vote next week as Geoffrey Cox travels to Brussels for make-or-break talks with EU negotiators. Senior Eurosceptics are convinced Mrs May will lose a vote on a revised Brexit deal on March 12 because they do not expect the Attorney General to win meaningful concessions on the Irish backstop.

Labour even more fractured. Corbyn has finally backed a second referendum, and has apparently also been cornered into whipping for it. But it appears that 60 to 70 Labour MPs from constituencies that voted Leave will defy the party.

Ireland is hotting up in a bad way. Three small bombs were sent from the Republic of Ireland to Heathrow Airport, City Airport and Waterloo railway station. Police are investigating whether Irish dissidents might be the perps. From the BBC:

Scotland Yard said: “The packages – all A4-sized white postal bags containing yellow Jiffy bags – have been assessed by specialist officers to be small improvised explosive devices.

“These devices, at this early stage of the investigation, appear capable of igniting an initially small fire when opened.”…

The motive is unclear. It could be anything from Irish republicanism to a grievance against transport companies. Other possibilities include someone with strong opinions about Brexit or someone with mental health problems.

The devices do not seem to be capable of causing serious injury, so they were probably intended to have a nuisance effect and to generate publicity, which they have successfully done.

Why there is no good answer to the “Irish border” problem save a sea border. Hoisting a section of an important article by Patrick Cockburn in Counterpunch that we’ve also included in Links. This story explains why the UK magic sparkle pony of a high tech solution will never work:

Focus is often placed on the sheer difficulty of policing the 310-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because there are at least 300 major and minor crossing points. But the real problem is not geographic or military but political and demographic because almost all the border runs through country where Catholics greatly outnumber Protestants. The Catholics will not accept, and are in a position to prevent, a hard border unless it is defended permanently by several thousand British troops in fortified positions.

The threat to peace is often seen as coming from dissident Republicans, a small and fragmented band with little support, who might shoot a policeman or a customs’ official. But this is not the greatest danger, or at least not yet, because it is much more likely that spontaneous but sustained protests would prevent any attempt to recreate an international frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic that wasn’t backed by overwhelming armed force.

It is unrealistic to the point of absurdity to imagine that technical means on the border could substitute for customs personnel because cameras and other devices would be immediately destroyed by local people. A new border would have to be manned by customs officials, but these would not go there unless they were protected by police and the police could not operate without British Army protection. Protesters would be killed or injured and we would spiral back into violence.

We are not looking at a worst-case scenario but an inevitability if a hard border returns as it will, if there is a full Brexit. The EU could never agree to a deal – and would be signing its own death warrant if it did – in which the customs union and the single market have a large unguarded hole in their tariff and regulatory walls.

I have no idea what happens if there were to be a crash out and the UK were to refuse to enforce the border or did a deliberately inadequate job. Readers?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. PlutoniumKun

    According to some financial news, sterling is actually going up, the markets are so confident a deal will be done. Either they know something we don’t, or there is some gigantic level of delusion going on among traders.

    Call it fatigue, or delusion, but I do think that there is a near fatal lack of urgency. The EU seems to be entirely fed up with the entire game and increasingly there seems to be a sense of ‘lets get it all over with’ in the UK. I think this means that a no-deal by default is increasingly probable and there won’t even be the urgency to extend things by a couple of months.

    Cockburn is quite right about the British border in Ireland. The British have done absolutely nothing about it and the Irish government have been dilatory – quite deliberately as Varadkar seems to have been convinced that any attempt to make preparations would be perceived as too confrontational. They announced the recruitment of 400 new customs officers last week, but thats far too late to make a difference. The scale of operations needed to erect a border is enormous.

    But as Cockburn says, its all about local feeling and there will be a terror on both sides about provoking communities there. Its not about guns or bombs its about thousands of very angry people who will simply refuse to accept the erection of a border. The Irish government will try to fudge it by pushing responsibility on wholesalers and agricultural processors – in other words, enforce the key rules at the factory gate, not the border. This could mean milk and beef from the Republic going north, but not vice versa, as the Irish dairy industry will be terrified of a scandal interfering with its enormous trade with continental Europe and the rest of the world (Ireland being one of the major world producers of baby formula, including for the China market).

    So, quite simply, there will not be a functional border for many months. I suspect that they will erect major border posts on perhaps half a dozen main roads, and simply try to slow down flows on the other in order to minimise the level of smuggling and unauthorised trade. Britain will enforce this as they always do – by monitoring ferry movements (in other words, the Irish Sea border by default). This will ‘protect’ British markets as they never gave a damn about Northern Ireland. Ireland will face enormous legal pressure over trade to the rest of the EU to prevent smuggling via ferries from Ireland to France and Spain. This will prove a very difficult issue to overcome.

    My guess is that London will do absolutely nothing on the border in Ireland – they will want to blame the EU for any problems. The only thing they worry about is immigration, and thats controllable by the Irish Sea. The Irish government will do everything it can to mollify border communities. They may be tempted to push for a border poll.

    1. vlade

      Hah, my comment down below echoes what you say on the Irish border, in fewer words. I would not be surprised to see a push for the unification poll this year and a poll next year. DUP would go mad, but hey, when you play with fire..

      1. Synoia

        I believe Ireland unique in that wearing the wrong color (Orange or Green) or singling the wrong song (Danny Boy or The Sash my Father Wore) incites violence.

        I doubt attitudes have changed in the last 20 years.

        1. Darthbobber

          Matt McGinn did a rendition of Kevin Barry using the melody of the Sash. Hilarious.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Just to add to this – in one area of trade I suspect a gigantic blind eye will be turned – the construction industry. For example, most concrete used on the island of Ireland is made in the Republic, but most pre-casting is done in Northern Ireland. The construction industry in Ireland (currently in boom mode) would come to a screeching standstill if there was no trade, they simply wouldn’t be able to get their basic structural products. My guess is that it would be considered to be in everyone’s interest to simply ignore the rules on the basis that precast concrete drainage pipes are not exactly prime materials for smugglers.

      A major issue will however arise in contracts as there will be a huge lacunae in enforcement and regulatory requirements in a crash-out. Even British architects and engineers will no longer be recognised and so could not sign off building regulations.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      With regard to your question, is there a gigantic level of delusion going on among traders, it’s not just traders, but others in front and middle office, too. The general ASSumption, here, is that an 11th hour deal will be stitched, it always is. The general ASSumption at EU27 HQ is that the UK will come to its senses at the last minute when it looks at the precipice. None thinks of an accidental crash out.

      Outside the City, it’s a mixture of boredom, some fear and a shrug that Brexit is just another market correction. The MSM is doing its job, especially now that the BBC has replaced the Church of England as the national church and Tory party at prayer, i.e. lulling the public into a false sense of security and distracting it with trivia, ephemera and ritual smears.

      1. fajensen

        Amazing! I feel that the odds are: 50% crash-out on the 29’th, 20% crash-out after a delay, 15% on Mays deal, maybe 10% on no-Brexit, last 5% on infinite delay.???.

        Maybe time for some (more) bets!?

        1. Anonymous2

          The problem, I suspect, is that people assume that the UK is still basically the pragmatic sensible country it has long been considered to be. That may be a complete misreading of the situation. My own sense is that it has been seized by a psychotic episode -mass delusion if you like- so old assumptions are no longer reliable.

          1. animalogic

            40 odd years of neoliberal contempt for all things “Government” has had the predictable outcome that all things government have been hollowed out until they are mere paper mache representations of “Government”.

      2. Ape

        My impression among Germans outside the business class and from German comment sections of major papers is that a) apparently we were wrong, the british are nuts and b) there will be a crash out and good riddance.

        Just anecdata, but the a solution will be found crowd is probably working from intra-class assumptions rather than deep knowledge.

        British scientists are in a panic.

      1. Ape

        The abstract includes the line “Aber eine solche Strategie wäre für London kaum rational und technisch vielleicht
        gar nicht machbar. ”

        However, such a strategy would be hardly rational for London and perhaps technically undoable [referring to a strategy where the UK loses out badly].

        So like the markets, starting from delusional assumptions about the nature of themselves and their class comrades.

        1. flora

          adding by way of historical note: WWI was the first industrial war fought, where materiale was produced on a then modern industrial scale, while the generals and admirals and great and good still thought of war as fought on a pre-industrial basis. They thought that when the materiale runs out then the war is over. Except, in the age of industrialization, the material did not run out. Times had changed in ways the then ruling class could not discern.

          an aside: yes, it does make a difference, it does matter.

  2. Jabbawocky

    I have started to think that remain would win a landslide in a second referendum. I speak regularly to acquaintances and family who voted leave, mainly in the midlands and East Anglia. Most are fed up with Brexit, and are not ideological Brexiters. They were sold a vision that it would be easy, with financial benefits for the U.K. they now have a taste of where it leads. Most say that they are unlikely to back remain in a second vote, but that they would simply abstain. So getting out the vote is going to be a challenge for any new leave campaign. This is a shift I have noticed since Christmas. I think leave voters are not stupid, and realise that all this uncertainty is damaging. And they sense that the uncertainty does not ever go away if we continue with Brexit, it just re-appears for years in different guises.

    Every company I speak to in my sector (agriculture) is spending significant resources on Brexit preparation. Planning for no deal is now scuppered by talks of extension of article 50 because then all the planning is for the wrong date.

    1. vlade

      On your last sentence – yep, the extension, if anything, brings more uncertainty than before. Some of the large manufacturers brought forward their quiet period to April, to basically sit-out first few weeks of Brexit, and now it looke like it was no good..

  3. vlade

    Yep, it seems we’re all just sleepwalking, being a bit too tired to do anything reasonable.

    A few points:
    – on referendum. Referendum on May’s deal vs. remain could solve it, but would be likely attacked in court. So 9 months may not be sufficient (we have seen things being fast-tracked in the courts but..).
    – it seems that a small minority of the English nationalists is radicalising. There was a substantically increased number of death threats and the like to the MPs, and UKIP has radicalised a lot too.. While it still remains a small minority, we have seen that all it takes is a small minority to do violence for things to end up badly. Mind you, this is NOT an argument to just do as they want, but it’s something to be mindful of.
    – on the Irish borders. For any hard Brexit, ony three possible outcomes exist. Hard Irish border. Sea border. United Ireland. For DUP and the likes there’s no difference between two and three. Also, it’d be noted that the UK can just throw its hand in the air and say “we’re not going to enforce the border, up to you”. I don’t know enough about the international law as to what the EU could do then. If nothing (from the perspective of forcing the UK to do something), it might be stuck where the sea border would be in fact between the EU and Ireland. If it would come to that, I suspect the Irish government would prefer unification (which it dreads) to that outcome.

    May we live in interesting times, indeed.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      With regards to your point about the British refusing to enforce the border, I would guess that the obvious response the EU can take is retaliatory tariffs, or at least ‘go slows’ on trade on other borders. The French in particular were always masters at this type of subtle retaliation in trade talks.

    2. vidimi

      it’s something i said quite early on that in the event of a sea border, the UK could simply decide not to enforce it. In the event of a no-deal brexit, it is less clear what the options could be. the UK could decide not to enforce it but ireland might be forced to.

      1. liam

        But does that not imply that they have to enforce no border anywhere? Or are we just discussing immediate effects. I know they have some grand idea of Singapore-en-Thames, but really??? Colour me confused…

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The issue with the UK not enforcing a border of course is that under WTO rules, it then can’t apply tariffs or restrictions on any border. The entire UK would turn into a complete trade free for all – which is of course what some of the ‘Singapore in the Atlantic’ dreamers want.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            The reality would be that if only one side is administering the border, it will run things to suit itself. ‘Bus full of Afghans? Sure, you can go north, and here’s some hazardous waste to go with it’. ‘Precast concrete for us in Dublin? That’s fine, but the milk isn’t coming with it’. ‘Irish passport? Sure, come and go as you want’. ‘UK Passport? There’s a charge you know’.

            1. fajensen

              That’s what Denmark did with Sweden in 2017-2018. Now there are border controls going North!

        1. ChrisPacific

          The UK would no doubt claim they are enforcing it via invisible magic technology fairies. (As much as this sounds like a joke, in the event it happens I fully expect papers from the likes of the ERG asserting that black is white and the border is functioning efficiently). Someone will take them to court over it and there will probably a WTO injunction requiring enforcement, which the UK will ignore, and then there will be a suit over that… Lawyers at least shouldn’t lack for work in a No Deal scenario.

    3. David

      I don’t think there’s any general duty under international law to enforce borders, although obviously nations try to as far as they can. But there are almost certainly commitments in trade agreements to do so, and perhaps (someone may know) there are legal commitments under criminal or anti-terrorist treaties which don’t depend on membership of the EU. Politically, though, I don’t see how any UK government can say “we’re not going to enforce the border” because the same tabloids that have been screaming for a hard Brexit will then be screaming about illegal immigration, terrorism etc.

    4. Marshall Auerback

      I’ve long felt (even before the Good Friday Agreement) that the British should just give Ulster back to the Republic and be done with it. Then it will be Dublin dealing with the Loyalist ultras, and the IRA, not Great Britain.

      In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of people in Ulster will ultimately see the benefits of reunification with Dublin, given the sh*t show ahead for the province if it remains in the UK post “liberation”

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The Republic already has one third of Ulster! The historic province of Ulster has 9 counties, Northern Ireland 6. It was originally intended that Ulster would stay in the UK, then someone in London did a population count and realised it was majority catholic. So they quickly redrew the border to ensure a Unionist majority. This is one reason why the border is so long and geographically illogical.

        1. RBHoughton

          It sounds as though NI will become like Turkish Cyprus. I wonder how long it would take to let the Protestants see the benefits of reunification.

          1. Pinhead

            A large number see it already. The number will increase steaduky as living standards in NI fail to keep up with those in Eire. This process has actually been going on for decades despite considerable subsidies to NI. These are likely to be reduced substantially, especially if (when) a Labour governemt comes to power in London. Sectarianism is dying slowly in any event. Death will come even sooner if a border is resurected beween Eire and NI.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    One other border issue – its not just trade, its simply people driving. There seems to be total confusion over the UK’s proposed ‘green card’ to allow Irish drivers to drive in the UK. It could well be that people crossing the border to go to work (as thousands do every day) will be driving without insurance as soon as they cross the border.

    1. vlade

      I think the movement of people is really something that no-one had thought of much and we don’t really know what wil//won’t happen.

      1. Which is worse- bankers or terrorists

        If it’s a EU border they are going to check their green card at the border on the Irish I think. Many people would therefore need to get rental cars with green cards to travel if they don’t have one and they can’t be processed in time.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    One other factor worth noting – it has been largely overlooked now, but might have significance later – Leo Varadkar has appointed the ex leader of the nationalist SDLP (the ‘moderate’ nationalist/catholic party in the North) to stand in Dublin for his party in the European Elections – in effect asking Dublin voters to nominate a Northern Ireland nationalist to the European Parliament.

    To an extent this is the usual internal election maneuvering, but it is a clear signal that Dublin is trying to say very clearly it will not abandon northern nationalists following a no-deal. Its possible (I’ve no other evidence to suggest this), that Varadkar and Coveney may believe that in the chaos of an impending no-deal they might be able to persuade May to ditch the DUP and go for the Irish Sea border option as a last minute compromise. They may calculate that the Ultras would happily ditch their new DUP buddies in order to protect their precious Brexit.

    Related to this, the Irish political scandal mag The Phoenix (a bit like Private Eye) was reporting that London had specifically tried to target Varadkar as a ‘weak link’ (hence all the nasty articles in the pro-Brexit press on him). Its probably true to say that Coveney (a much more technically competent individual) has probably been doing some spine stiffening, but the political reality in Ireland is that his stance is extremely popular and it would be catastrophic for him politically to be seen to give too much away.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      Your final paragraph chimes with what Ivan Rogers told the Institute of Government a few days ago, i.e. HMG, or May, thought that it / she could bypass / ignore the EU and deal with the (leading) member states / heads of government directly.

      This is not new. Over the years, the HMG and the UK MSM court gossip hangers-on have been happy to target / heap personal abuse on Jacques Santer, Jean-Luc Dehaene, Herman van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker. May gets sensitive / plays offended when the service is returned.

      At a City conference about the UK’s membership of the EU in 2013, Lord Kerr, the guy who drafted A50, said that playing the man, rather than the ball, was fine as long as one did not get caught.

      From my time working in and with Brussels, I was amazed at the tittle tattle and court gossip UK hacks revelled in. It beats work, I suppose. It may also explain how awful MSM coverage of Brexit is. When I pointed out to these worthless hacks that Churchill liked a Pol Roger with his full English and enjoyed all day benders at Deauville, often in the company of Gabrielle Chanel, the reaction was if I had sworn in the presence of HM, blasphemy made worse by the fact that I am a johnny foreigner, darkie and francophone.

      1. Mirdif

        I’m always surprised at how many people are unaware Churchill was a drunk and not particularly respected among the political class (“half breed American”, “chancer” being two of the insults) and yet is considered as the saviour of England.

        Now can we think of a modern politician who held American citizenship until quite recently and is also known as a chancer?

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Mirdif.

          And Kemal is no more English than us two or HM.

          Kemal is envious of his Turkish cousins having a bridge across the Bosphorus. He wants a garden one across the Thames, one across to Northern Ireland and another across to Calais.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Oh, Churchill now is well reputed in the UK? I am out of date. Americans adore him but I had thought his reputation was mixed at home.

          1. Savita

            I figured out what a Pol Roger was in the context of a ‘full english’ which is a hearty breakfast of a certain style – Pol Roger can only mean, ‘getting on the turps early’
            (turps- turpentine or a euphemism for methylated spirits in Australia)

      2. Savita

        made worse by the fact that I am a johnny foreigner, darkie and francophone.

        HAHAHAH hahah thank you Colonel Smithers this really made me laugh!!!!
        someone as erudite, informed and gentleman like as yourself in the face of those establishments hack, oh dear…hahahaha

  6. David

    Cockburn’s article is very interesting as one would expect. These paragraphs particularly caught my eye

    “Focus is often placed on the sheer difficulty of policing the 310-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because there are at least 300 major and minor crossing points. But the real problem is not geographic or military but political and demographic because almost all the border runs through country where Catholics greatly outnumber Protestants. The Catholics will not accept, and are in a position to prevent, a hard border unless it is defended permanently by several thousand British troops in fortified positions.

    The threat to peace is often seen as coming from dissident Republicans, a small and fragmented band with little support, who might shoot a policeman or a customs’ official. But this is not the greatest danger, or at least not yet, because it is much more likely that spontaneous but sustained protests would prevent any attempt to recreate an international frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic that wasn’t backed by overwhelming armed force.”

    If this analysis is correct, then the British have a real problem, because they no longer have the forces, and the forces no longer have the training anyway, to carry out crowd control duties on any scale. What Cockburn describes as “overwhelming” force simply isn’t available, from an Army of 81,000 with only thirty-odd infantry battalions. “Several thousand” troops, if they could be found, would mean that at any given time there would be perhaps 600 deployed (the equivalent of a battalion) along the whole frontier. Just moving them to and from their places of deployment would be a major task, often through areas where the British only moved by helicopter during the Troubles. And controlling hostile and potentially violent crowds is a completely different task from manning fortified positions. I’m not aware that any training of UK units has been done for these tasks (four months training was the norm in the 70s and 80s) even if it were clear what the tasks would be. And it’s worth adding that by the time you have factored in training, leave, deployment etc. even a force of a couple of thousand would be a major commitment for what is now a pocket-sized Army. The idea of sending military forces on an emergency deployment into such a situation without proper preparation makes the blood run cold. This is what happened in 1969.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      This is true, and its even worse if you go ‘on the ground’. Or just do some roving with googlemaps (or this site, it has better aerial photos and maps). Most of the border makes zero geographical sense (it was created to ensure a protestant majority in the north, not to create a logical administrative unit). It meanders across lakes and bogs and farmland and hills. It is almost impossible to seal, doubly so if the local population won’t co-operate. During the Troubles fully one third of the Irish Army and Police were patrolling it, as were many thousands of British soldiers. It was still very easy for subversives and smugglers to use it.

      1. David

        And at least in those days there was a fairly clear mission, both sides were (more or less) on the same page and the opposition was relatively small in numbers. But we really have no idea what the security consequences of an open border would be, because far too many different forces are involved. It’s not even clear that the security forces on the two sides would be working to the same agenda this time.

      2. liam

        They destroyed a lot of roads in lieu of having checkpoints. Just made them impassable for anything other than foot traffic.

        1. Joe Well

          Except nowadays you can smuggle a million euros worth of iPhones on foot a lot easier than you could have smuggled a million pounds of televisions back in the day. So even that wouldn’t work in the most basic sense.

    2. paul

      –it seems there is little that the army won’t be doing. So far its got food and medicine supplies on its plate,the irish border and its been suggested that it tackles the upsurge in knife crime.
      Heaven knows how they’ll cope with a russian invasion.

      Nice to see such faith in a nationalised enterprise though.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, David.

      My father and godfather served in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, although with the RAF.

      At that time, there were servicemen with experience of crowd control and retaking urban areas from the retreat from empire, including Mauritius in the late 1960s where Africans / Creoles opposed to independence fought Indians / Hindus in favour of independence.

      Operation Motorman was one such. It was devised by the Dukes of Westminster (Robert Grosvenor, a farmer and MP from NI and former colonel) and Norfolk, cousins, and later presented to their cousins, both generals, the next Duke of Norfolk (Miles) and his brother (Michael), was executed by Generals Frank Kitson and Harry Tuzo. That’s how it worked in the (good?) old days.

      With regard to force strength, most units are under strength. The average infantry battalion should comprise of 600 – 800 men. Many are barely able to muster 400 – 500 men, often immigrants from the former colonies. The units are often bolstered by secondments from others, similar to the cannibalisation of parts for tanks and planes. One manifestation of that under strength is the change in formations for Trooping the Colour over the past two decades.

      You are right to say that the idea of such an expedition makes your blood run cold. Try telling that to an idiot like Gavin Williamson and the rest of the Tories. My father and godfather came across the Williamson and his ministerial team last year, at events to commemorate the 100th birthday of the RAF and the 100th anniversary of the armistice. The former servicemen were staggered at and insulted by how hawkish these chicken hawks and blow hards are and irresponsible and, frankly, vulgar their use of language.

      God help the UK and have mercy on the UK if the likes of Williamson replace May.

      1. David

        The problem was that experience of crowd control was in places like Aden. There’s a story that on their first deployment in the Province one of the Parachute Regiment battalions attempted to calm a fractious crowd by unfurling a banner with writing in Arabic saying “go back to your homes.” I’ve seen pictures allegedly of this incident, but nobody I spoke to (including Para officers) seemed to know if it was true. By common consent, the Army had a pretty wretched few years at the beginning of the Troubles, and it took a long while understand how to train and lead the soldiers properly. Given that the only recent experience that your average squaddie will have will be of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have a feeling there would be a lot of learning to do again.
        You mention Motorman, which for the uninitiated was an operation designed to take back control of the “no go” areas controlled by Republicans in Belfast and (London)Derry. That one operation involved roughly as many British troops as would be available for all deployments at the moment. (Interestingly, there was a major row between the British PM, Heath, and the NI PM Faulkner. The latter persuaded Heath that no parallel measures needed to be taken against the Loyalist paramilitaries. This was a mistake, as quickly became clear.) Motorman, for all its size, is generally reckoned a failure, because the IRA, with plenty of warning, just melted away and regrouped elsewhere. It was only a success in the political objective of dismantling the no-go areas.
        Let us devoutly hope we don’t get into that kind of thing again.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its often forgotten that the first British troops were widely welcomed on the streets by catholics – they hoped they would protect them against Loyalist mobs. Subsequent incidents – not least Motorman – convinced nationalists that army was not neutral, it was intended solely to combat the IRA and control nationalist areas. The use of regiments like the Black Watch (largely made up of Scottish loyalists), whether by accident or design, proved catastrophic – the latter were particularly loathed even by the most moderate nationalists because, shall we say, of ‘incidents’ that would occur during house to house searches. The Paras were also specifically hated – and this before Bloody Sunday.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, PK.

            PK is too polite to say that the soldiers defecated in the houses of Catholics.

            Some officers despaired of such conduct and disliked having to mix with soldiers. NCOs act(ed) as go betweens in barracks and even at the front. This why British bases have different messes, officers, NCOs (which could be split between senior and junior NCOs) and men.

            Flights of troops from Belfast to the mainland or Germany were torture due to the bad bad behaviour aboard. They reinforced many class and ethnic prejudices.

            I was at school for those dark years of the 1970s and 1980s, but paid attention. One wonders what the Brexiteers were doing.

            With regard to the Black Watch, Brian Nelson served with them before joining an army death squad.

          2. Savita

            Whilst being old enough, as a non-UK or Irish person I admit to being confused by the various factions and sides, religions, groups, militaries divisions – and political parties rooting for this one or that one! Irish from Dungannon (part of the IRA triangle of Derry, Belfast and Dungannon) I have spoken with whom lived during the time told me the most horrific stories about day to day life. They said there are plenty of people in certain areas who still refused to catch a taxi because of memories of the random kidnappings and murders – totally random – that would take place. One man explained that, with a random stop and search, one would be relieved to hear the english accents as it meant a fair chance of professional behaviour – meaning, they weren’t scottish loyalists, with whom which anything could be possible

    4. Skip Intro

      While it is apparent that the crapified, bathtub-sized British army cannot maintain a fortified border in occupied hostile territory, you seem to be neglecting the operative neoliberal playbook. I have little doubt that if the need arose, Blackwater Xe could provide sufficient mercs troop strength with recent experience in the areas of military occupation and guerrilla warfare. They could even provide personnel that didn’t understand English or Gaelic, to avoid inconvenient entanglements or loyalty questions. I believe they have a lot of Columbians on the job. The concept of a government monopoly on the legal application of deadly force is quaint and obsolete. Market-based solutions can be cost effective for a nation with its own currency.

      1. John

        What could go wrong? The history of mercenaries used in country give one such a feeling of security. Care to give me odds on how long it will be before the Republic of Xe arises (i.e. modern day Mamluks)?

    5. Ape

      That’s another thing – eu countries have mini-armies because the leverage all of te eu.

      That’s not available after brexit for the uk. Doing your own trade deals means a whole lot more than just beefing up on diplomats, even if it’s not polite to say.

      It’s like no one in the uk has read anything but fairy tale histories.

  7. The Rev Kev

    In reading all these comments I was wondering – could it be that the UK is going to do nothing about the Irish borders after Brexit in the hope that the EU/Ireland will put together and pay for some sort of customs regime themselves? In effect, playing catch the baby? In addition, a problem I see is that there are no elections due in Ireland until April of 2021 and the UK itself – which includes Northern Ireland – until the following year so the governments in place now will be the ones that will have to deal with the fallout of Brexit with no chance of a reconfiguration of political forces in either of the Irelands or the UK itself until then. So, no change in levels of leadership here.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The UK is obliged under the WTO to maintain the same rules for everyone, which means that if it allows customs and tariff free movement over its border in Ireland, it must give the same to anyone. So, for example, if the Irish government were to allow a shipment of Chinese ‘recycling’ waste to cross the border and its not stopped, the Chinese could simply ship to Dover and insist on direct entry. Or think of a consignment of American chlorine soaked chicken. See where we are going with this?

      In any event, if only one side erects barriers, then nobody can complain if that side administers the barriers to suit itself. The good stuff goes one direct, the bad stuff in the opposite way.

      The British response could of course be to prevent ‘bad’ stuff from crossing the Irish Sea. That would no doubt be very popular with the people of Northern Ireland.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that answer PK and very much appreciated. I still cannot get over the fact that obvious facts like this that should have been worked out two years ago and preparations made for have instead been totally fobbed off and virtually nothing done. Two whole years down the toilet and now we are about three weeks out from when it all kicks in. Can you seriously ‘muddle through’ Brexit?

        1. David

          I think the short (and depressing) answer is that for May’s government Brexit consisted entirely of the following complex and demanding series of steps.
          1. Leave the EU as quickly as possible.
          2. Keep the Tory Party together.
          3. That’s it.
          You can’t make preparations if you don’t know what you want, don’t know what you will accept and don’t know what the likely outcomes are. But actually defining any of those things would have put point 2 above in danger.
          The sheer bloody amateurism of it made me weep, but I have exhausted my tears.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Maybe the steps planned go something like this instead-
            1. Leave the EU as quickly as possible.
            2. ?
            3. Become an economic powerhouse and a major player on the world stage once again.

        2. ChrisPacific

          I have wondered a lot about this as well. My conclusions:

          1. A lot of the necessary actions are dependent on key decisions to be made and details to be sorted out by Westminster, and agreed with the EU, and can’t proceed until that’s done
          2. The decisions in question are highly contentious and often involve multiple options, none of which enjoy majority support
          3. The stakes are high enough that everyone is prepared to vote down any decision if the outcome is one that they disagree with, so in combination with #2 this means nothing gets done
          4. There is not (yet) enough urgency around avoiding the default No Deal outcome to make reaching agreement of some kind more important than holding out for the preferred outcome of your choice.

          Take all of those together and it really didn’t matter whether it was 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years. Absent a major political realignment it was always going to come down to the wire.

          This is also why the EU is reluctant to grant an extension absent a majority position from the UK – they think (almost certainly correctly) that it will just remove enough of the urgency to allow the deadlock to continue, and we’ll end up in exactly the same spot down the road – and if they allow further extensions, they will play out the same way every time.

        3. Avidremainer

          Rev, the sad truth is we have never muddled through anything. We just wake up the next morning.We then form a narrative for the citizens of the UK. The story for the masses is that it all went to plan, God is in his heaven and being English is still the first prize under heaven.
          We have left a trail of destruction on the Earth because the recipients of our actions failed to recognise our innate superiority.
          Brits are never immigrants, they are ex-pats. Everyone should speak English and if they don’t an Englishman shouting in English will be readily understood. We still play the part of Athens to the Rome that is the USA because the cousins, poor dears, don’t really understand anything.
          Mrs May and her ilk still believe that all our history has been a march to our current perfection. Brexit will be a shambles, but it will be a magnificent shambles. Then the narrative will begin again.

  8. pretzelattack

    this chaos is like calpers on a much larger scale. everywhere i look, our elites and institutions seems to be failing us.

    1. Pablo from Paris

      That’s probably because these elites (the powers that be) are not us, and the institutions they control, therefore, don’t work for us. So in a way, all is going according to plan…

  9. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves for your usual excellent coverage. Great comments also. Just a few additional thoughts.

    The Head of the German Industrial Federation has , I believe, said that if the UK crashes out then they would prefer it happen at the end of March. German firms are now spending money to prepare for this and do not want a short extension of a few week or months if it means they only to have to do that again. A longer extension could presumably be viewed differently if it meant the possibility of a radical change in the UK stance.

    May Is going to have to decide whether she really wants crash-out. There appears to be plenty of evidence that the UK is not ready but if she throws herself on the mercy of the EU the answer may suddenly be ‘tough, this is what you asked for’. The later she leaves it the higher the chance this will be the response IMO.

    She may have to consider doing a deal with Corbyn as she could almost certainly command a majority for something she agreed with him. But what would be his terms: another referendum? A customs union with the EU? A general election?

    Crash out would of course maximise the likelihood of another referendum in Scotland which in the heat of the moment could decide to walk. Perhaps we are witnessing the disintegration of the UK?

    There does IMO now seem to be something of a campaign by businesses to say that they are not joking when making threats of closing car factories in the UK and therefore probably most of remaining UK manufacturing in the longer term. A bit late IMO. But panic could be setting in behind closed doors, though I agree there is little if any sign of this in public.

    1. Jeff

      It is not May is going to decide whether she wants a crash-out. There are legally binding texts out there that mean such a crash-out, and the UK Parliament must agree and vote on a new text if they want to avoid a crash-out.
      If Theresa May goes to see the EU and says ‘Please sir, I want some more (days)’, people will just laugh – politely, probably, but laugh they will. If UK could not master a beginning of an exit strategy in two years, why would they be any better in three months? If UK Parliament cannot repeal a law they do not want to see applied, why wait to get the same result?
      Europe walked blindly into WW1, and UK is going to repeat this with its Brexit act.

      1. Skip Intro

        It does seem like the time for decisions has passed. Even discussing them seems to mostly be a form of denial or wishful thinking.

    2. Candy

      I don’t know where this idea comes from that Scotland loves the EU more than the UK.

      Here was the vote in the 2014 Scottish independence ref:

      No: 2,001,926 votes

      Yes: 1,617,989 votes

      Turnout 84.59%

      Scotland in the 2016 EU referendum:

      Remain: 1,661,191 votes

      Leave: 1,018,322 votes

      Turnout: 67.25%

      People didn’t care enough about the EU to turn out and vote.

      When Ms Sturgeon suggested in March 2017 that there should be another referendum on Scottish independence, Scottish voters reacted by hammering the SNP in the June 2017 general election. The SNP’s vote collapsed to 35% and they lost a lot of seats. Of the seats they held, for about ten, the margin was less than 500 votes.

      Brexit actually makes Scottish independence less likely because no-one in Scotland wants a hard border with England.

      1. Anders K

        The problem is that quite a few voters in Scotland did not like exiting the UK because it would mean leaving the EU. Now that that seems to happen anyway, leaving the UK is less damaging (still damaging as you point out).

        EU also worked as a brake on full-on Tory misrule all the time; SNP has been able to shield Scotland from some of the austerity madness plaguing the UK (far from all of it, and SNP bring their own bugbears to the table, but some). A lot of the safeguards present while the UK belongs to the EU fall off the same cliff as Brexit – particularly in a no-deal scenario.

        Admittedly, it would be a dark kind of homour if they’d redeploy the same emotional arguments that worked so well in Brexit for Scexit (I’m thinking of a bus with “WE’LL SAVE SO MUCH MONEY BY LEAVING” on one side and “SOVEREIGNITY!” on the other). I’m also fondly imagining the frothing of the Tories when someone argues (in bad faith) that WTO rules prevent the UK from “punishing” Scotland just because they’re leaving.

        1. vlade

          I think it’s entirely probable that in case of a no-deal Brexit (and even in some cases of hard Brexit), the UK will fall apart within a decade (Scotland and NI gone, Wales less likely). Much more likely than the EU will fall apart in the same timeframe TBH.

          1. Skip Intro

            That breakup would at least give the UK the chance to rename to Formerly United Kingdom!

        2. Candy

          The problem with the “Scotland needs independence to be protected from Tory misrule” thesis, is that the Tories are in power partly because in the 2017 general election they gained seats in Scotland (went from 1 seat to 12 seats).

          Some prominent Tory Brexiteers are Scots: Michael Gove and Liam Fox.

          That’s kind of why Scottish fishing features so prominently in Brexiteer priorities. The fishing counties in north-east Scotland went Tory, and Michael Gove’s adopted dad was an Aberdeen fisherman who shaped his attitudes to the EU.

          This is also the reason that in the backstop Theresa May fought and won the right to exclude EU fishing boats from UK waters – it was one of the key demands of the Scottish Tories. That’s another example of Scottish Tories having an outsize influence over the negotiations. .

          1. paul

            Gove’s father wasn’t some arran wearing, pipe smoking fisherman, he owned a fish processing business.
            Scottish fishing is dominated by 5 (sunday times rich list) family owned firms, who would happily frack the fishing stocks under no deal brexit.
            If scottish tories have such outsized influence, why are they so unhappy with the vagueness of May’s withdrawal bill on fishing?

          2. Anders K

            Yes, and if it is a start of long term trend I’ll (not so happily) eat crow, but I’m reading it as a backlash against “the man” and SNP has now been there for so long that they are “the man.” I may certainly be wrong in this, though, and it all depends on how much egg on their faces the Tories end up with after Brexit – and thus, naturally, when the next general election is held.

            By the way, please don’t misunderstand me – any Scexit is unlikely to happen before the next general election (barring a nuclear Brexit fallout) as SNP is determined to have a sure thing before they call for it.

            Any non-miniscule EU-UK trade deal will sacrifice fisheries; especially since services has yet to be tackled, and the connections (and money) of the City will weigh heavier than the fishermen (fishers? is there a gender neutral version that doesn’t sound silly such as piscator or wrong, as angler?).

            Fishing does feature heavily in the marketing of Brexiteer “sovereignity! dignity! take back control!”, on that I concede, and I hope that when they sell it out it does cost the involved politicians and parties support.

            1. Candy

              North-east Scotland is really interesting politically.

              In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was solidly Tory.

              Then Ted Heath sold them out when joining the EEC and giving up the fishing grounds, and they switched to SNP, reasoning that independence would give them back their fishing industry. It then became an SNP stronghold.

              After the independence movement lost in the 2014 referendum, the EU referendum gave them another chance to get their fishing back. They voted leave.

              When the SNP signalled that they wanted to rejoin the EU, north-east Scotland switched to Conservative.

              The Tories are trying to hold onto that vote by delivering on Brexit and the fishing. If they can do that, they have a story to tell Scotland (which is, vote for us and we deliver, a vote for the SNP is wasted as they can never form a government, especially as Labour won’t go into coalition with them).

              There is also a tax situation brewing in Scotland. Sturgeon has moved left compared to Salmond and has been refusing to raise the threshold at which 40% tax applies. But England and Wales raise this threshold every year. As a result a gap is opening up. In Scotland you pay 40% tax on earnings above £43,000. In England and Wales, 40% only kicks in on earnings above £50,000. It’s not a big enough gap for people to relocate across the border to Carlisle and commute to Edinburgh. But it’s big enough for an “ouch” and a desire to vote Tory in the next Scottish Parliament elections, so that Scotland’s tax is aligned with England’s again.Conservatives sense they’re on the verge of a breakthrough.

              As for the borders region of Scotland – it’s notable that constituencies on both sides of the border vote Tory, so there seems to be a common cross-border culture building up there which is Conservative.

      2. paul

        Rather than getting ‘hammered’, they were receding from a ridiculous high point in 2015 of 56 out 59 westminster mps (they had 6 in 2010).
        Plus you has labour’s leader telling their supporters to vote, not against the party of austerity, but the one most likely to defeat the SNP.
        Still the largest party by seats,percentage and membership in scotland and the third largest in the UK parliament and by membership.
        So the referendum message didn’t put that many off.

        1. Darthbobber

          Yes. They gained a huge number of seats in 2015 because all the yes voters of Indyref punished the lib- dems and labor for throwing in with Cameron on the unionist campaign. (Tories lost less, of course, because they had little to lose.)

          SNP was never going to sustain that peak.

  10. Candy

    In the event of a No Deal Brexit, Britain would keep the border open, applying for the WTO exception regarding security. The govt won’t care about smuggling, they already turn a blind eye to VAT-related smuggling around that border.

    Ireland then has to decide whether to also keep the border open and have a sea border in the channel with the rest of the EU, or whether to apply a hard border in NI. It might be that in the event of No Deal, they simply revert to the plans Enda Kenny was making to have a series of bilateral side-deals with the UK to deal with the GFA.

    As for Theresa May, her first priority is keeping Conservative voters on board. They’ll accept either her deal or no deal. They won’t accept an extension or a second referendum.

    Keep an eye on the following dashboard for brexit statutory instruments:

    As of 1st March, 218 of 466 had gone through. If she can get most of them through by the time of the vote, then she might risk No Deal, and then after Brexit Day simply make a series of small treaties with the EU in areas where both sides have an interest, in the manner of Switzerland, whose relationship with the EU is governed by hundreds of such small treaties..

    1. Anonymous2

      The WTO security exception is quite narrowly worded so unless the UK can persuade others that the situation is an emergency I suspect leaving the border open would leave leave the UK open to legal action by other WTO members.

    2. Mirdif

      The government is lying about keeping the border open. WTO MFN rules oblige applying the same rules to everybody so if you do not have border controls for goods entering from the EU you are not allowed border controls for goods entering from anywhere.

      Also, Enda Kenny’s policy was no different to Varadkar’s. I don’t know where this nonsense about the “reasonable” Enda Kenny comes from.

      There will be no treaties or deals with the EU in the case of no deal. Barnier has stated as such to the DExEU committee in early September and it shocked Hilary Benn. Barnier said both sides in such a case would act unilaterally and you can see the unilateral proposals from the EU where they have already started publishing what they will do and for how long such measures will last.

    3. vlade

      I’m not even going to go into the WTO, as it’s something that would be profitable fun for lawyers for years.

      On the Swiss though – their relationship is ruled by ten major treaties (grouped under Bilateral I and Bilateral II) . I assume the “hundreds of small treaties” you refer to are the 200+ trade treaties, which mostly depend on the above.

      A few points on this:
      – the major treaties have an effective “guillotine clause”. One goes, all go. This was an issue with the swiss immigration referendum, where a “compromise” was reached (well, not really, EU gave the Swiss a face-saving way out, otherwise the treaties would go, as the implementation conditions weren’t that much different from what the EU states can apply now, if they wish).

      – please google up “Swis EU framework accord”. The EU wants to do away with the bilateral system, and put in EEA (lite, basically EEA for the five fields covered, which amongst others include freedom of movement). Amongs the other things, it puts ECJ as “final and binding arbiter on disputes in these fields [covered by the framework]”. The only reason the EU is willing to even consider this is that it’s already pretty much covered by the current bilateral agreements, but from the EU’s perspective would streamline it.

      – most importantly, the EU said that the Swiss model is NOT available to anyone anymore (related to the point immediately above). No matter what the UK wants, if the EU says “nein/non”, then no it is.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, Vlade.

        I am just back from Zurich and chatted about that with various people.

        The Swiss political class has just started wrestling about that. The Socialists are particularly split.

        With regard to my comment above about Lord Kerr, at that same conference in 2013, the UK was told that the Swiss model was a creature of its time and no longer on offer. It was the same with the Norway solution. These were short-term measures for states of little consequence to the EU and in expectation that the two countries would join the EU sooner rather than later. The arrangements have endured much longer than both sides and other observers expected.

  11. jk

    There should be a referendum in Northern Ireland only asking people if they want a hard border or a customs union with Ireland i.e. EU.

    I suspect they will go with a customs union.

    By 2030-40 time frame there will be more Catholics in northern Ireland than protestants because of demographics. Then a referendum to unite with Ireland would succeed and North Ireland can then join the EU as part of a united Ireland.

  12. Mirdif

    Regarding the European Parliament elections and for completeness purposes, Piet Eeckhout (Dean of UCL’s Law Faculty) said that non-participation by the UK can be justified but needs an EU act “possibly on the basis of Art 50 (as part of the European Council’s extension decision?).” I have no idea how easy/difficult this is from a legal perspective.

    I don’t think such a thing will happen but if rumours are to be believed, there is lobbying by business in Brussels for a longer extension so it is likely being or has been considered. IIRC, one of the German business bodies has said recently a short extension followed by crash out is much the worst option.

    1. vlade

      ” short extension followed by crash out is much the worst option” – that is the opinion of quite a few businesses, as those that did try to prepare for a no-deal crash out prepared for it happening in April. If it happens in July, a lot of their timing (which is expensive to change) will be wasted.

      1. Joe Well

        This is such an obvious issue, why hasn’t much more been said about it in the media? Or is that just another example of the decline of the media everywhere…

    1. Joe Well

      A mental game I’ve been playing:

      The Republic of Ireland is the UK’s _____.

      A. Canada
      B. Mexico
      C. Puerto Rico

      My best answer is that NI is C and the Republic is B but now the Republic = EU and so the tables have been turned and it’s eating the Tories up inside. It’s as if Washington wanted to exit the OAS but Mexico City had an effective veto. If the human cost weren’t so high, the Shadenfreude would be delicious.

  13. flora

    One thing I do not understand about May’s action: why has she not stayed in UK to persuade the public for her deal, and try to find some common ground among MPs and parties to get it passed? Why has she been trotting off to Brussels instead? Is the food better there? Or, does she privately want a no-deal?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Most articles I’ve seen discussing this assume the whole point of her shuttle diplomacy is intended to create the impression in the UK that she is working on amending the deal (as opposed to admitting that the deal is the deal, its already agreed). Its also the case (as David mentions above), that the British have the delusional idea that they can negotiate separately with individual leaders and divide and conquer (this is delusional because as Sir Ivan Rogers has been trying to explain, this just isn’t how the EU works).

      Given the poor level of reporting in the UK, its unsurprising that many people seem to think there are genuine negotiations ongoing. No doubt the EU leaders dread the visits.

      1. ChrisPacific

        I hope she is at least spending the time productively on her trips. For example, it would be enough time for her to build up a pretty decent Pokemon Go collection, especially if she gets the EU leaders to trade with her.

    2. Clive

      May has been engaging in so much theatrics, I’m surprised they haven’t given her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Parliament keeps passing motions calling for her to “do something” (change the Withdrawal Agreement, change the Backstop, change the Exit Date, change the participation in the European Parliament). May, who’s main — only — modus operendi is running down the clock then has to be seen to be “doing something” so clocking up the frequent flyer points to Brussels gives the impression that something is, indeed, being done.

      I amazed how long it’s been possible for May to keep up the game of charades, or perhaps it’s show and tell.

      There’s no point in her trying to win round MPs. I don’t think there’s anyone in the entire country who didn’t make up their minds at the referendum and it’s the sort of question where you’re either a Big Endian or a Little Endian and not amenable to being persuaded one way or the other. The economics arguments are unassailable but don’t matter a jot in chipping away at the sovereignty justification. The sovereignty justification for Brexit is clear cut and Macron set out this week that there’s going to be more of the same so probably only going to harden Leave minds, but can’t lay a finger on the economic case for Remain.

      1. Pinhead

        Relatively few UK voters have changed their minds about Brexit. However polls show a perceptible trend toward Remain. Moreover, even without such a trend, mortality alone would suffice to change the outcome in a second referendum.

        Parliament just may opt for it. The Labour MPs who oppose it may be outnumbered by the Conservatives who want to Remain. Mrs May’s deal is almost certain to be rejected again. Leaving the EU on March 29 with no deal seems unlikely to pass. What options will remain?

    3. fajensen

      I think that Theresa May is that kind of leader who believes that to get things done, she only need to talk to other leaders, *definitely* not any of her peers (because these will only use the insights gained to stab her in the back more effectively) nor “the techies” that all the other leaders tasked with Brexit (because talking to “the chattel” is not a done thing for someone with the unwarranted feeling of enormous importance that Theresa May clearly has; especially when “the chattel” has the upper hand).

      The subjects are Resources, exactly as the HR-slide decks says, one doesn’t talk to coal or iron ore, does one?

    4. David

      I’ve long believed that May is intellectually and personally out of her depth, and as such people often do, she has therefore kept dumbly and doggedly repeating the only tricks she has (including going to Brussels) because she is incapable of anything else. I’ve always been frightened about the lack of understanding of the EU that British politicians have: I was depressed, but not entirely surprised, to read Ivan Rogers’s saying how little May understood of Brussels. You would have thought that in 25 years of the EU, British politicians would have learned something. And it’s not as though the Home Office never had anything to do with the EU. The default response of somebody who can’t or won’t try to master the complexities is to try to deal with national leaders as though they can simply overrule things. There is a time for that, but it’s not all the time. Ironically, if the UK had not supported and encouraged the massive enlargement of the EU, to prevent it becoming “deeper”, the country wouldn’t be in such a mess now.

  14. Eclair

    Greetings from the Land of the Chlorinated Chicken:

    Thank you, all who have discussed knowledgeably the Brexit disaster. I wish I could smirk and take joy in the fact that the aristocratic leaders of the Oppressors of my People (the Irish: my maternal line left Ireland during The Hunger, my grandmother’s (US born) admonition to me when I left food on my plate, that, “if you were there the day the dog died in the ditch from The Hunger, you would eat that,” still echoes in my ears, along with my grandfather’s frequent grumblings about ‘the bloody English,’ ) seem to have ascended to dizzyingly heights of incompetency and are about to bring disaster on two nations.

    However, being a citizen of a nation viewed primarily as the world’s major suppliers of chlorinated chicken and heavily patented GMO seeds, often at the point of an economic (or real) gun, I do not feel entitled to taunt, ‘nyah, nyah, nyah!’

    The Brexit disaster-in-waiting is like a small-scale version of the summer of 1914. The lights are going out … all over the remains of the British Empire.

    Or, on a more personal scale, like that moment which all mothers experience, when the contractions and pain kick in and you think, I wanna roll it all back nine months, but you know that you’re just going to have to scream, push hard and prepare for the next 18 years (at least) of major life disruption.

  15. El Viejito

    Good comment by Eclair. So this is what happens in countries when there is no viable Left – “Great Britain” and, until recently, the U.S. (where I live). I fervently hope that the U.S. Left can grow quickly enough to roll back corporate metastasis and looming climate disaster. I’m beginning to consider “Great Britain” as a tragic example of rule by corrupt and entitled mediocrity, much like the current U.S. Hopefully we can learn from it.

  16. VietnamVet

    It’s amazing how close to a civil war the USA is or how the British government is blundering backwards. The reasons are hidden but hinted at in the rare honest articles outside corporate media like “Stupid, Stupid, Stupid English”. First, the truth is ignored by fake reporting. As promised by the Reagan/Thatcher counter revolt, government has been flushed down the drain. The remnants left still circling are incompetent. Money making schemes to promote the connected are approved, no matter the consequences. Finally, there is the total contempt of the ruling elite for anyone outside of their small circle. For the Leave ideologues, a hard Brexit gets rid of EU regulations. Nothing else matters. There’s money to be made smuggling. There has been absolutely no comprehension of the destructive forces that have been unleashed. For good reason, this seems like the eras just before WWI and WWII. This time, humans will be lucky to survive.


    The English deserve the worst and more. Stupider than the Trumpers. Leave — Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales. Leave. Leave. Leave.

  18. flora

    Thanks for these comments shedding light on what is or is not happening with Brexit.
    Some of the comments leave me wondering if the UK pols have their own version of what is sometimes called in the US ‘giving the voters the washing machine treatment’. It’s an old political tactic often used by one or both parties when the voters vote in a way that politicians don’t like, particularly in a way that shows the voters have sharply changed direction from the politicians’ desires and expectations.

    The basic outline of the washing machine treatment is this: keep voters so agitated and disoriented that they either fall into line with the politicians wishes, or, voters become so discouraged they give up and say “I don’t care anymore”. Either outcome is a win for the politicians (they think). In the US this is seen by 2 -3 years of relentless MSM and #Resistance screaming rooskie rooskie rooskie, etc.

    There is a danger for the pols who use this tactic, however. Their own parties may fracture; they themselves may become disoriented by the swirl and lose the plot. Divide and conquer is relatively straight forward; disorient and conquer is much less certain. If disorient and conquer does not work then what; if voters even after the machine washing do not change their opinions or give up, then what? Bernays was much less certain about reliability of this tactic. My 2 cents.

    1. flora

      adding: the danger to pols, in addition to party fracture and pol disorientation, is the pols losing credibility with a large portion of the voters.
      ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity. ‘

      A particular set of pols losing credibility doesn’t mean politics doesn’t work and doesn’t mean democracy doesn’t work. Means just the opposite, imo; means people expect their reps and MPs will represent the voters wishes, at least roughly, and when the pols don’t it’s the pols that have failed, not democracy or democratic politics. Democracy is a work in progress and never perfect and never finished. Guess I’ve said this before. Sorry to bore.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think that Brexit may well have originated as washing machine treatment – for decades both Tories and Labour used the EU as a whipping dog for unpopular politics. But if that was the original idea, its clearly gone chaotically out of control (the ‘dog that caught the car’ look on some Brexiteers faces when they won the referendum confirmed this).

        Having said that, I have absolutely no doubt that there is a core of disaster capitalists backing Brexit who see the coming chaos as a glorious opportunity to cash in.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, PK.

          I am glad that this thread is still “alive” and you have chimed in further.

          In recent weeks, I keep recalling a conversation with a British neo con / neo imperialist around the turn of the decade and his American led neo con organisation’s aims. Although Russia was the main target, the EU was no less a target and what became Brexit was not just an attempt to wean the UK away from the EU into an American led Anglo-Saxon alliance of sorts, the EU was to be destabilised, so that it could not balance east and west and would be forced to follow the Anglo-Saxon sphere.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I think that’s entirely credible. We can see from the dregs Trump has found to run his administration there is a strong anti-EU ideology among some neocons – maybe most of them. I know it was a ‘Yes Minister’ joke, but I do think that some within the Anglo-US alliance has always seen the role of the UK as a spoiler to keep the continent divided, and so dependent on the US. This is one reason I’m not quite as anti the EU army as others are – you can certainly make the argument that it would reduce Europe’s dependence on NATO and all that involves.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, PK.

              The neo con was the BF of a colleague and was about to finish his doctorate at LSE. She asked if a colleague and me, separately, could meet her BF and offer some suggestions for work. The neo con wanted a semblance of work and to make money quickly, so that he could apply to be a Tory MP. I have not heard from him since and have no wish to.

              The plan was to weaken and split Russia into smaller units. The European units would associate with the EU, thus weakening both. At the same time, the UK would join NAFTA, shorn of Mexico (which would be pushed to consolidate with Mercosur et al), and extend to ANZ. The Anglo-Saxon sphere would be the leader.

              At work, we called his organisation the Wacko Jackos.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                Have you ever read Graham Greenes ‘The Quiet American’? Its a brilliant dissection of that sort of mindset. People who see the world as a sort of chessboard, set out for their undergrad level games.

                When I read Greenes book I had to keep checking to confirm that it had actually been written in the 1950’s. His prediction of the trajectory of Vietnam under US ‘guidance’ was amazingly accurate.

Comments are closed.