Waiting for Brexit

The EU Council did what no one expected, which was to come up with a compromise on the UK’s request for a Brexit extension which was different than the UK’s proposal and any of the pre-meeting rumors about the EU’s position. Although we’ll likely learn more about how this was arrived at, superficially, it looks like it resulted from heated arguments between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, as well as allowing for the point of view of Donald Tusk (and whatever other national leaders who hold similar views) that the UK should have the opportunity to have a long extension if it can come up with a credible Brexit plan.

Specifically, as most readers likely know, the EU has agreed to extend the departure date to May 22 if Theresa May succeeds in getting her Brexit deal approved by Parliament next week, to enough time to pass necessary legislation if she succeeds. If she fails, the UK can still seek a long extension by April 12 if it presents a plausible plan for getting to a different type of Brexit:

Later reports explained that if the UK seeks a longer extension, it has to commit to participating in European Parliament elections (April 12 is the last day it can make that decision).

This solution may seem to be a well-balanced or even elegant compromise, but it does have the risk of being the prototypical horse designed by a committee winding up being a camel.1 For starters, the EU gave the UK more than it asked for, and some of the motives for doing so looked iffy. The press reported that Merkel argued that the EU should not go down in history as pushing the UK out. This was the Financial Times’ account:

The French president emerged as the head of a hardline group of EU leaders arguing that Brussels should rule out any extended delay of Britain’s exit date unless London fundamentally rethinks its Brexit policy.

But on Thursday he was challenged by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, who said the union had to do whatever it could to avoid a hard Brexit. The two leaders clashed at a private meeting, which “nearly” erupted into a row, according to one EU diplomat. Ms Merkel told her French counterpart they would be judged harshly by history if they allowed a chaotic fracture with Britain to occur.

Needless to say, that’s a peculiar construction when it’s the UK that decided to leave and then has been unable to manage deadlines it created by sending in an Article 50 notice.

Even though many UK businesses were in freakout mode upon getting the memo that Brexit really might happen next week, the flip side, as Macron and others have stressed, many have prepared for a March 29 event, and pushing the drop dead date to June 30 (May’s original request) would requires businesses to go through all that preparation a second time. Tweets during the day suggested Macron was pushing for May 7, not May 22, presumably to somewhat lessen business uncertainty.

As Clive said by e-mail:

Even my mother in law’s cat knows the Withdrawal Agreement ain’t gonna pass in the next week as-is. If the EU27 were serious, they’d be saying “a limited technical extension on condition the Meaningful Vote is passed and there will be no extension if it isn’t passed, no matter what, and it will then be a No Deal Brexit”. Anything else is a prelude to Hoping Something Turns Up.

However, the part that concerns me is giving the UK an opportunity to seek a long extension. It’s one thing if the EU were to stick to its resolve before this summit of requiring the UK to present a credible plan as to how it will purse a different sort of Brexit.

The problem is that when various EU officials started mentioning a possible extension, they offered justifications like “to hold a second referendum” or to have general elections. These measures don’t assure that a deeply divided Britain will reach a consensus on Brexit. For instance, how do you formulate meaningful referendum options? It’s almost certain a second referendum would not offer binary choices. What happens, if say, Remain won but by a plurality, not a majority? What kind of legitimacy would that have? And that approach also pushes the UK in the further direction of being a direct democracy as opposed to a Parliamentary democracy, when the experience of California suggests that running a large state with the regular use of referendums hasn’t been such a hot idea.

There are at least two big risks with the UK pursuing a long extension on nebulous grounds like “a second referendum” or a general election, which the EU would find difficult to reject given prior statements by its officials. And those would be risks not just for the EU but the UK.

Lack of leadership. It’s become fashionable to bash Theresa May, and let’s face it, she is terribly ill suited to her role.

However, she’s still standing because no one all that much better has shown up. Yes, anybody but May would annoy her EU counterparts less. But the entire UK leadership class has been unwilling to hear the EU saying in every way possible, “No means no” on the UK’s desire not to have to adhere to Single Market requirements yet still have all the bennies.

Who exactly could lead the UK to a better Brexit? I can’t come up with anyone in either major party. Phil Hammond might have been a contender but he may have tainted himself by being such a dogged May supporter. Corbyn has shown himself to have no grasp for the issues, and worse, no concern that he’s sputtered nonsense.

And between now and April 12, there is no getting rid of May without creating a leadership vacuum. As Clive has pointed out, even if May were to resign, unless the Tories had pre-aggeed on her replacement, a leadership contest would take a bare minimum of a fortnight. And if there were a ready alternative in the Conservatives for May, she would have been gone long ago.

Similarly, a vote of no confidence would also come close to assuring a no deal exit. Parliament has 14 calendar days in which it can reverse itself and vote the Government back in; otherwise, the election process starts and that takes 25 business days. A no-confidence vote is the Ultras best hope for jamming the controls and assuring a no deal….but how many would be willing to get themselves deselected to try, particularly since Labour might realize that they’ve laid a trap?

Lack of comprehension. Over 1000 days past the vote and UK pundits and pols are still clueless. Recall how in the last couple of months, both our posts and reader commentors have lamented how many unicorns are still alive and kicking. Just one of many: Corbyn and the press are depicting a “customs union” as a magic solution when it is not at all the same as being in the internal market and therefore does not end the need for hard borders or solve the Irish border problem. And don’t get me started on “Norway”.

Does the EU have the stomach for the possibility of years more of what it went through with May, with different personalities with new fantasies from which they need to be weaned? How long can the EU leadership take this much brain damage, consumption of resources, and uncertainty?

Now it is possible that a reconsideration of Brexit would eventually lead to the revocation of Article 50. And it is still remotely possible that could happen after May’s Meaningful Vote fails again (charitably assuming Speaker Bercow reverses himself and lets the House have at it). But that isn’t costless. The hard core Leave faction would feel betrayed and would be disruptive. And would the UK return to being a resentful and divisive member of the EU?

For what it’s worth, Richard North views the EU’s offer to the UK of presenting a “way forward” to cinch a long extension as a face-saving gesture. I’m not so sure, but I may also be over-estimating the odds of the UK making a last-ditch effort to kick Brexit into the long grass. The pink paper reports that trade union and business lobbyists are on the same page, jointly petitioning May to Do Something to prevent a “national emergency”. Where have they been for the last year?

Similarly, Tusk made the rounds in Europe to sell the idea before the summit, plus ideas that make their way into documents often assume a life of their own.

Presumably we’ll have answers in a few weeks. But we may simply be left with different questions.


1 This is a bit unfair to camels, since they are sturdier and less flighty than horses.

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  1. Clive

    I almost — almost — felt sorry for May last night. May had genuinely tried and threw everything at holding MPs’ feet to the fire. But for various reasons I can’t specify here as they are open to debate, the EU took away the barbecue.

    As I pulled the cover over my head and turned out the light and tried to find where Morpheus was hiding, I had fitful premonitions of the next weeks and — likely — months. Or even years. The most terrifying spectre was how the U.K. Parliament will now, like a really bad movie I saw as a kid, be able to reanimate all the currently-deceased unicorns which have been slain if for no other reason than they’d been thrown over a cliff-edge which has now been made to recede. There’s even the prospect of some new Frankenstein unicorns cobbled together out of bits of dismembered old unicorns and given a spark of life by the EU and the U.K. government. I’m sure I’ll read or hear “EEA/Efta” or “Common Market 2.0” before my train gets in.

    1. vlade

      “The night of the living unicorn (UK)”. To be followed by “The living unicorn comes to Sillicon Valley”.

    2. vlade

      More seriously, remember that Benn’s amenment failed by 2 votes. I would not rule out that this time it gets through. Not that I can see how it would solve much, because if the MPs _really_ wanted to take over, ejecting May’s government would have to be the first thing on order, and I just can’t see how they would be willing to put together a “national unity government” for anything more than a few weeks/months at best, followed by GE, which may or may not produce something more substantive.

    3. Sanxi

      ‘Frankenstein unicorns cobbled together out of bits of dismembered old unicorns’ – what does that mean?

      1. Anders K

        Norway, but better, like Lichtenstein and Switzerland with a sprinkle of Canada plusplus deluxe… but inside the single market and outside the EUs control, likely using “quantum” as a verb somehow. If they manage to get blockchain in there somehow I shall be forced to retire early so I can laugh hysterically and not worry anyone.

        What it means is having unimplementable ideas rise from their uneasy rest in slightly different forms and shapes, ready to help fritter away the few remaining days until the Glorious Brexit comes for us all.
        It means not having to deal with reality while being able to claim that one is a visionary.

        It boils down to acting as if one is (or actually being) in a psychosis in order to not having to make a choice. As a tactic it will probably work; as strategy it is doomed to fail.

    4. Ignacio


      Clive, you have something personal against unicorns! And Yves against camels!

      Hahahahahahahahahaha! (sorry for laughing at my own joke, I know this is not good practice)

    5. Synoia

      Looks like many of the project plans I’ve seen, complete with the milestone “Then a Miracle Occurs.”

  2. Ataraxite

    I think there is method in the EU’s madness.

    Let’s ask ourselves, what is the EU’s ideal outcome? I think it would look something like the UK issuing an Article 50 revocation, at a time when the British public is utterly tired of Brexit, utterly tired of Brexiters, and unlikely to harbour large-scale anti-EU sentiment. The UKIPpers would be fringe players again.

    The “flextension” of yesterday moves in that direction. The important part is that MPs have this week only to vote on May’s deal. After that, it’s dead. And without the threat of an immanent “no deal”, the chances of it passing are zero.

    Then the UK must choose.

    It can choose “No Deal”. It won’t, but if it does, it will be an active choice of the UK.

    It can choose to revoke its Article 50 notification. This is unlikely, but more likely than it was a week ago. Like a fine wine, this option might well develop with time.

    Or it can choose to ask for a long extension. And here, the EU retains full control to impose any conditions it chooses.

    Basically, the longer the process runs, the more it moves to the EU’s advantage, and the more likely its desired outcome.

    1. Richard

      All eyes on the ERG and DUP then. They are not stupid and may draw the same conclusions so do they vote for the deal they hate or can they actually engineer a crash out now that we are so close to the Brexit date.

    2. Sanxi

      You have it exactly right, all outcomes by the U.K. (where I live) can be seen as to what percentage we are in E.U. Even given the broadest possible definition of ‘taking backing control’, is, seems to me we going to keeping trading with the E.U. no matter how uninformed we might have been about that might, the arrangement of it. And how uninformed we are boils down to both us folk and those we put in place to get informed: our elected MPs and our government elected and otherwise, who instead just (I’m not a psychologist so I don’t known about measuring peoples IQs, I’m not a criminal lawyer so I don’t know if people have committed crimes, and I’m not prone to making snarky comments on blogs to show how smart I am)Do Not, Caring, At, All. Well I’m pretty convinced PM May is now, at first no not so much. But, everyone not caring at all, other the the E.U. What could go wrong. Mistakes lots of mistakes. The media doesn’t/didn’t help. What I see is not what they report,

    3. Fazal Majid

      The ideal outcome for the EU is May’s deal: trade in goods (where the EU runs a surplus) is preserved, financial services and tax dodgers (where they run a defici) are not, the UK’s obstructionism ends and free movement stays.

      As for May’s abrasive personality, she is far less hated than one of the true brexiteers like Boris Johnson or Gove, and less contempt than the intellectual flyweights like Davis or Raab.

      1. Joe Well

        The ideal outcome for the EU is May’s deal: trade in goods (where the EU runs a surplus) is preserved, financial services and tax dodgers (where they run a defici) are not, the UK’s obstructionism ends and free movement stays.

        I agree. What some Brits aren’t seeing is that UK public opinion of the EU will be a very minor concern for the EU as long as the UK is safely outside the union. The UK will serve for the EU something like the purpose Cuba serves for the US: an example of what happens when you step out of line.

    4. shtove

      Yes, I agree with that, except:

      The UKIPpers would be fringe players again.

      What’s freaking the Tories out is that delay will end up with a new iceberg being calved from their glacier. A government minister was on TV earlier this week warning of dangerous forces being unleashed, when what he was really talking about was the break up of his sh**ty party. So the UKIP phenomenon will finally arrive in parliament, supported by people who favour nationalisation of railways, utilities, but whose MPs are Randian nutjobs. Dangerous indeed.

      1. Bob Hatchett

        Nope, I think no deal is still in play.

        Remember unless an SI is presented to the commons by Monday with a new date, the UK leaves the EU (in domestic law) on 29th March and the Act enabling it to participate in EU elections is repealed.

        So, if that SI is not presented….or if it does not pass the UK is domestically unable to hold the EU elections. But there is still no clarity over which date it should be ammended to, May has control over it, and May wants her deal to pass.

        So by Tuesday, if no SI is presented/passed the choice becomes No Deal vs May deal (with revoke in the background). All eyes are on the drama surrounding May’s deal, and no attention is paid to the fact that we have effectively ruled ourselves out of a longer extension…and we are out on our ear as of 12th April having spent two weeks as a rogue EU member state.

    5. Susan the other`

      I was thinking that too Ataraxite. That little private spat between Macron and Angela is instructive. He is frantic about the Yellow Vests. It’s almost an ego thing with him to keep his power and show the UK he means business. She’s pretty sanguine. Her focus is like a laser on keeping the EU together and making it a more perfect union. Angela is being very strategic. Gotta admire her. To offer a generous extension to the UK will strengthen the EU and it is a good way for Merkel to carefully approach a broader fiscal authority for the EU. It will give the rest of the EU members a certain confidence in the ability of the EU pols to govern (maybe not Greece) and could induce them to actually give up some of the sovereignty Merkel is asking them for. Anybody can see that it really wouldn’t hurt the EU to allow a little over-indulgence at this point because the UK is almost non compos mentis for now. I really think Angela is a clever girl.

      1. flora

        Merkel might be the only one of them with any realpolitik ability, compared to May or Corbyn (the UK civil service used to fill the realpolitik function) or Macron, imo.

        1. flora

          Adding, and not to be pedantic, from Clausewitz:

          “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” – Carl von Clausewitz

          Which could also be written, imo, as “politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

          Clausewitz about war:

          “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

          Adding, if I were in UK then I, too, would have voted leave on the assumption that UK govt well understood Clausewitz’s warnings, and were willing to engage the EU appropriately. I was clearly mistaken in my estimation of current UK govt competency, and even considering “current” as going back 10-20 years. I am more than grieved to write this, …not that a cross Atlantic opinion matters very much. Except that… if the mirror image we view to confirm our ideals of sane and reasonable and democratic govt suddenly shatters, then what?….

          1. Afrikaan

            Sadly, I don’t think there is anybody left in the UK government or civil service who can read and appreciate Clausewitz.

          2. Susan the other`

            My gut feeling is that then we have to acknowledge that maybe things have changed and we need to adjust. I’m worried the issues will be obfuscated by the politicians – just like the UK has now experienced first hand. I think your “continuation of war by other means” is absolutely correct and the low-hanging fruit is the first to be eaten. I fear that we, the people, are the fruit. I have become too distrustful of politics. But I want good policy. Don’t we all.

    6. Uwe Ohse

      Let’s ask ourselves, what is the EU’s ideal outcome? I think it would look something like the UK issuing an Article 50 revocation, at a time when the British public is utterly tired of Brexit, utterly tired of Brexiters, and unlikely to harbour large-scale anti-EU sentiment. The UKIPpers would be fringe players again.

      The British public might be utterly tired of the Brexiters already (i wouldn’t know), but that doesn’t matter until they are elected out out office.

      From my outside point of view Brexiters had promised heaven and delivered nothing. They are a bunch of losers, and they know it. But they will try to stay in power as long as possible, and hope for a wonder.

      The EU knows that. The EU leaders do, too, and they do not seriously hope for a wonder – and any ideal outcome would be a wonder now. So they gave the UK another chance, knowing well that the UK is likely to blow it.

      Because they had to.
      (a) A hard brexit is likely to have consequences nobody wants to be held responsible for. Something important will have been forgotten, someone somewhere will not have prepared good enough. Giving the UK another chance reduces the probability that the EU will be blamed for some not foreseen fatal consequences.

      (b) Some EU countries wanted to give the UK another chance. The other countries gave in, because avoiding further internal friction is worth suffering a few further weeks of UK ‘politics’.

      Giving the UK more than it realistically could have expected is part the of post-brexit politics.

      Now the UK still can have a hard brexit (likely), a soft brexit (unlikely. That would need a major wonder – May winning in parliament), or retract article 50 (highly unlikely. I think May would have to be ousted for that, and then someone new will have to lead the UK with the very same divided parliament. I think it’s just too late for that, but i hope i’m wrong).
      It’s over, i think.

      And i hope that nothing bad happens around the Irish border. The people in Ireland and northern Ireland should not have to pay the price for megalomania and pride (even if the voted for the DUP).

  3. Richard

    Clive, I had exactly the same thoughts and nightmares. It would be interesting to find out more about Corbyn’s discussions yesterday with Barnier and Selmayr.

  4. The Rev Kev

    It sounds like the EU has given the UK a bit of maneuvering room but I myself cannot see the Parliament finally agreeing to take May’s deal. Opposition to it has been the only thing that has managed to unify every part of the Parliament whenever it has come to a vote. Maybe the shock of coming within a week of a no-deal Brexit might splash some cold water on expectations. Maybe this will force the Parliament to change gears and to ramp up preparations in case it come down to a no-deal Brexit. Certainly the EU will never allow the UK to take part in EU elections if they are on the way out and I understand that those seats have already been re-allocated within the Union. But as Clive points out, there is still a belief in unicorns. Maybe they need to call on the services of this guy. At this stage of the game, it can’t hurt-


    1. Clive

      Unfortunately the U.K. participation in the European Parliament election is still possible. The 12 April deadline is the U.K. deadline (for a timetable specified by the Electoral Commission here). So the EU drop dead date might’ve been even later. In fact, it almost looks like a plan or baked-in sequence of events.

      Yes, we’ll have to endure another performance from May like the scolding schoolmistress (Donald Trump is right, that’s exactly what she is) we had on Wednesday evening admonishing us all like we’d misbehaved on a junior high field trip to the museum but rather than absorbing the cultural artefacts we were supposed to appreciate, we’d gone out and bought saucey seaside postcards (“I’m very disappointed in you all” said with a stern face at the following day’s assembly) but after which May will, reluctantly, have to inflict participation in the poll on us “for our own good”.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    Well, that just ruined my weekend away in the Pennines on the weekend of the 12th April. Good thing I hadn’t booked the flight.

    Clearly, the EU has entirely had enough of May and her gang and have tried to take full control of the process. Whether they have succeeded, or whether they have just extended the agony, only time will tell. May will almost certainly lose the vote in Parliament next week, so it will be down to April 12th… but its impossible to see her coming up with anything sensible in that time. And its too short a time for a coup to replace her with someone even marginally less incompetent.

    The reaction of the ERG will be key. They will immediately see Brexit in peril and will do everything they can to go for a quick crash out. Which means they will obstruct any attempt at a proposal to put in place a much longer postponement. This is especially so if they suspect May will opt to go for running Euro elections (this will surely be part of any agreement for a longer extension, and this would imply the extension running for several years).

    So I don’t see this as solving everything, apart from giving everyone 2 weeks more to prepare for no-deal. I suspect this is, if anything, even more damaging economically as it provides even more uncertainty.

    Brits Long for the Days when only half the World Hated them.

    1. el_tel

      Minimising the numbers who hate us – LOL and ties in with Yves’s point about the horrifically inconclusive potential results from a three-option referendum that I don’t think its supporters recognise at all. In just one minute I constructed an artificial example where May’s deal wins a plurality but not a majority; where AV (rejected for parliamentary reform here) would in Round 2 (after no-deal is rejected) gives May the tiniest majority but where most-least voting gives Remain victory due to high levels of hatred of a crash-out no-deal. You could play with the preference patterns to get any other disagreements between systems that you wanted – few such scenarios are “obviously stupid/unlikely”.

      OK I hesitated to even discuss voting as it brings yet more unicorns into things: the UK has never used most-least (and rejected AV for parliament) but the paper lists countries who have used it (Baltic states do in elements of their national/European Parliament voting systems and Nevada has used a version). But you don’t need to stray into less well-used systems to generate referendum results that produce yet more chaos, as Yves points out. The referendum supporters should be careful what they wish for.

    2. BlueinTX

      What about the UK’s Withdrawal Act? Isn’t March 29th hardcoded into UK law?
      Therefore, if this Act is not amended the UK would still crash out next Friday!
      Is this correct, or can May/EU unilaterally extend the negotiations?
      Thank you for your thoughts.

      1. Afrikaan

        You are correct. From what I understand it would be a simple vote to amend the date, and making the amendment would be part of the process of accepting the offer of an extention.

  6. skippy

    I just think the EU gave the U.K. the rope it was begging for … after that its just whistling past a grave yard. Hard to pin shite on the EU after throwing out the life preserver whilst drowning man syndrome has the U.K. polies thinking each other are unwanted kittens ….

    1. Joey

      Nice analogy. The life saver may merely mark the spot where it sunk. Parliament as is won’t pass any necessary adjustments barring miraculous epiphanies of a quantity not seen since Acts of the Apostles.

  7. vlade

    My feel is that the EU is sending signals to the UK along the lines of “who will get me rid of this troublesom vicar’s daughter?”.

    I don’t think that tecnically the PM has to be leader of the party, but I’m not sure they would be able to get a non-leader in, unless it was very temporary and (s)he renounced any leadership ambitions. In differnet systems, caretaker governments can be made of beaurocrats, but those are sort of -maintain status quo. If they were to implemnet a policy dictated by the Parliament, that would be a constitutional revolution.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’m sure they are tempted by that thought, but its impossible now to see Parliament voting for some sort of temporary Brexit PM, although no doubt Tony Blair would volunteer.

      I was wondering if there was some elder stateman in the Lords who could step in for 6 months or so but again, I can’t think of anyone who would remotely be acceptable to all sides, unless somehow Corbyn could be persuaded that voting with Remainers among the Tories for someone like Major could be a way of hastening the demise of the Tory Party.

      1. vlade

        Here’s a thought – but the question is whether moderate Tories would vote for that, unless more of them quit en-masse. Quite a few said that if Johnson or someone similar would become Tory leader they would quit, but we have no idea how many really would.

        The UK Parliament problem is that it can’t make the numbers whichever way.

        May’s deal – even if DUP voted for it, there will be >10 ERG/remainer types who will vote against it, so she needs more than those 6 Labour rebels.

        Anything else would need even bigger inter-party rebelion either for Labour or for Tories, which I just can’t see happening now (the hard-rebels quit already, and that rebellion would need to be more than just a handful MPs anyways).

        A new GE would help only in one way, purging some of the rebels from both parties, but even that only partially (say while Tories could well deselect Boles and Grieve, I don’t think Labour would be willing to deselect Flint and her likes).

        1. ahimsa

          One of the may absurdities of Brexit has just occured to me..

          It was hardcore Tories who wanted Brexit.
          And the Tories are entirely responsible for the Brexit referendum.

          While Labour was/is majority Remain.
          Labour aided and abetted in submitting Article 50.

          Tory & DUP redlines are responsible for the Withdrawal Agreement .
          DUP’s constituents will be among the worst hit by no-deal Brexit.

          Though Labour is mostly aghast at the idea of no-deal Brexit.
          Labour chose not to support WA and have dillydallied without supporting meaningful alternative approaches in good time.

          I am certainly aware that much of this is tied up in the Brexit issue not dividing cleanly along party lines. Anyway, now it looks like no-deal Brexit is fast approaching and it will be a pox on both their houses.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I mentioned John Major there as I thought he was in the House of Lords, but I just realised he isn’t, so that’s one option gone. I can’t think of any grandee in either House who might be acceptable to enough MP’s to be appointed head of some sort of temporary unity government. The Guardian is reporting that some Tory donors are arguing that this is the way forward, but its very hard to see it happen.

        1. Anonymous2

          I am sure Major could be put in the Lords overnight if that was thought to be the way forward.

    2. Avidremainer

      When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 he was not the leader of the Conservative party. It is often forgotten that he walked into the chamber to cheers from the Labour benches and his followers in the Tory ranks. Most of the Conservative party sat on their hands, they did not like the re-ratter. Churchill became the leader of the conservative party shortly after the death of Chamberlain in 1941.
      The only criteria to be Prime Minister is to be the person who can command a majority in the commons.

      1. Avidremainer

        Further to my last contribution. There are several instances of UK governments collapsing in office in the past. 1905,1974 being the most pertinent to today’s quagmire.
        In 1905 the Conservative’s collapsed over Empire preference. Edward VII sent for Campbell-Bannerman, the leader of the Liberals, and asked him to form a minority government. In 1974 Edward Heath was unable to construct a majority government after an inconclusive general election. Queen Elizabeth II then asked Harold Wilson to form a minority administration.
        In both cases the Conservative party abstained in votes brought forward by the Liberal and Labour governments. This is how our unwritten constitution is supposed to work. If you can’t govern get out of the way and leave it to those who can.
        By all precedent Mrs May should have resigned months ago. She cannot get her business through. She has no business to still be in office.

        1. NoOneInParticular

          In such a situation, on what basis does the monarch make the selection of PM? Just curious about the process.

          1. Avidremainer

            The Queen will take advice from various quarters i.e Senior Civil Service, former Prime Ministers and eminent former politicians. Usually the choice lands on the desk of the leader of the next largest party.
            The 19th century is littered with examples of minority governments. Sometimes Queen Victoria asked other members of the former ruling party to form a government and these persons, who were not leaders of their party formed short term governments which fell in their turn.
            In the current situation, If May’s government collapses I can’t see any other Conservative emerging as Prime Minister-they hate each other too much. That would leave Corbyn holding the baby.

            1. Anonymous2

              The Queen’s Private Secretary would play an important role here. Usually he is someone with some brains whose loyalty is 100% to the Crown.

          2. Synoia

            I believe The Queen asks a member of parliament to form a Government, and they assemble a majority in the Commons to pass a vote of confidence. If that vote fails, The Queen can ask another member to form a government, theoretically ad infinitum.

            Somewhere in here is the historical role of the Lord Chancellor, the leader of the house of Lords. I do not know if the Lords can now form a Government.

            Much of the UK’s “constitution” in based on Custom, and not written, and my knowledge of this topic meager.

            1. Avidremainer

              The convention is that a fallen government abstains on the minority government’s business. The corollary is that the new minority government does not bring anything to the house that is too contentious.

  8. David

    The result was obviously unexpected in detail, but it’s the kind of thing the EU does, and some of our comments yesterday turned out to be fortuitously fairly well on target. I interpret the compromise as the EU genuinely wanting to avoid Brexit if that can be done, worried about the economic and trade effects on itself, not wanting to seem the guilty party, and doing what it can to get May replaced by somebody who at least has heard of the idea of a Plan B.
    But don’t listen to me, listen to Le Monde, which has a big story from Brussels, based obviously on briefings by the Commission and Macron’s people. I haven’t got time to translate it all, but if you put it through Google Translate you’ll get the sense. It is interesting that the subhead is about making the British responsible for their choices.
    Le Monde describes yesterdays discussions as being about how to reply to May with “falling into her trap” of making them responsible for a no-deal Brexit. The plan is described as being “as clever as it is complex.”
    The story specifically raises the possibility of a new PM by 12 April, since they “doubt that she can survive.” The date of 22 May was chosen specifically to safeguard the European elections: “Brexit must be settled by then” said one French source.
    A reply by 12 April would justify a “long delay”, if it can be justified by, for example, a new referendum or a general election. (Note this is the Elysée speaking, and reflects the harder line the French have been taking). This timetable is also intended to avoid another Council meeting next week. The Council was very clear that if all this goes horribly wrong, it must be the UK that is seen responsible.
    The Irish border issue obviously counted for a lot. According to French sources, a crash-out on 29 March would have required the EU “within an hour” to either establish a new frontier, or to cope somehow with “a Eurozone crisis.” This may have been why Macron originally held out for 7 May: 8 May is a bank holiday. Le Monde also suggests that a resolution of the crisis by then would have been politically helpful to Macron before the European elections. He’s in trouble anyway: the Benalla affair (don’t ask) took a new turn yesterday when the Senate asked for the investigation of some of his top people for perjury. He needs all the help he can get.
    May, says the story, was humiliated, waiting four hours in UK Delegation to be summoned. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for the poor Delegation, who must be having a collective nervous breakdown anyway.

    1. divadab


      Many thanks for your thoughtful commentary and very useful link. I’ve shared it liberally.

      Best for a better world, D

  9. Sanxi

    (Dyslexic issue here, I’m tried, and at some point I can not self edit, sorry about that) Camels and horses both have their uses. But not in Brexit. My skin in this game is 30 engineers (Medical Imagining) in Reading England and wife’s farm in the north. We both have dual U.K. and US citizenship. I know many of the people, in the news, personally, referenced here, on the topic on of Brexit, on this very fine Website, Blog, and repository of knowledge and often wisdom. Not since the Wasthington Post was bad mouthed on a daily basis for running with the Watergate story, until it wasn’t, has the perception of reality and actual reality been so at odds with one another. Some are amused I am not, nor am I am ashamed. I’ve seen see before, sometime things get worse before they get better. But they do get better.

    I do believe the simplest explanation is best. The simplest explanation is the E.U. does not want the U.K. to leave. And. The U.K. – must have for the foreseeable future an economic relationship with the E.U. And they both shall have, will have that relationship. They do have it and will continue to have it. How simple is that. Halfway-in or half-out is still halfway in. Or some percentage thereof. The rest really is inside baseball. Angels dancing on the heads on a pin. The releam of political-science, economic, business, and philosophy professors and any other suitable academics of your choice. The only thing any paper or blog needs is a pie chart with a picture of how the pie is sliced up on any day. One thing is, it will never less then two pieces of one pie.

    All ways of defining a logic decision tree are only about how one achieves what percentage of what degree an economic agreement between the E.U. & UK, AND by what means the E.U. and U.K. continue said relationship (and whatever else that they enfold) and by how much extraneous noise.

    E=mc² is simple too. A simple summary. Details. Indeed the E.U. – UK current and continuing relationship has many moving parts and a lot of detail, and who gets harmed matters a great deal. I could go through all the choice the U.K. has and all the options the EU may offer with the calculated probabilities. Two issues, this isn’t the forum. Second, the issue I really object too is much granularity in the wrong places. First, about the ‘arrangement’, (call what you want, all existing labels do is frame it wrong) people talking in detail about things they don’t understand, but should, because they make policy, ie, confusing custom controls v. common markets; Second TMI, The need to label someone with an IQ of 60 and insist such a human is a thousand shades of “stupid”, and to continue to repeat this vile. This harms and hurts us all. It does. This isn’t good.

    As to being stupid, committing treason, acts of crime, and really all things psychotic, psychology, criminal, and mundane like ISO 9001 whom among us are qualified to make these assertions backed by fact. Not politicians, not the main stream media, not second and third hand unverified commentary on blogs nope that won’t do. But these will, psychologists who have examined those they speak of, judges and jurors yes, verified sources on the record, actual principals involved in actual events, and for fun actual content experts who know the details of they speak, we know because we will drill down. You will walk the talk. Sigh. As people here what they want to hear and are in fact structured based on perspective to only hear what they can I fear this falls on 80% deals ears. No need to rebut, not here to preach, or teach, simple exercise in creating awareness that other ideas on this matter exist.

    Two people come to mind to pay attention to. All of you here are smart people, you know your way around the net so listen up. Richard North a very nuisanced guy. Devil in the details. Writes day to day, a realistic, guy. Comments aren’t worth much but he is and you can email him. Beware hard science PhD. He does not suffer fools. Dominic Cummings, a genius, like him or not. Speaks when the spirit moves him, but always worth it. And he speaks for himself, but if anyone is in a position to examine government and point out serious errors in judgement say distinct from rookie mistakes it’s Dominic (go find out why) I suggest reading a paper he wrote regarding his advice to government with regard to invoking article 50. You will be amazed, if not you’re in another state of being and it doesn’t matter, caused you’re already amazed.

    Hope it got that right.

    1. vlade

      Well, if Cummings is a genius re A50 triggering (written in a blog in May 2018), then we all are, as a number of people in comments here (and Yves too) were saying that it was the dumbest thing possible, second only to Cameron calling the referendum in the first place (I’d argue it’s worst actually, as it was predictable, the referendum results were not, as that was too close to call ).

      And it was discussed here in detail in late 2016, when we were pointing out that Crobyn’s call to trigger A50 asap was exceedingly dumb. I remember my comment day after referendum (or definitely before he resigned), saying if Cameron really wanted to mess up and _really_ poison the chalice, he should trigger A50 before he left.

      If you want someone who really knows what he’s saying, and has no skin in the result of the game, try Ivan Rogers.

      1. Mirdif

        I honestly thought that the silence from May after she was elected meant she’d kick it in to the long grass or hold an inquiry on what is going to be affected and how badly and also what are the opportunities and then come up with an industrial and economic policy. Put that policy in to effect and then put in Article 50 with a proviso that please can we have a longer period than 2 years to sort this out.

        Instead we got the thick arts graduates that make up most of the SPADS telling her to go for it and she was stupid enough to go for it.

    2. disillusionized

      Two people come to mind to pay attention to. All of you here are smart people, you know your way around the net so listen up. Richard North a very nuisanced guy. Devil in the details. Writes day to day, a realistic, guy. Comments aren’t worth much but he is and you can email him. Beware hard science PhD. He does not suffer fools.

      I will leave Cummings for the other commentator, but you do know that North was linked in this very piece?
      As for North, he isn’t realistic – He begins from an assumption that the UK must leave the EU, and then constructs his reality from that. Flexcit is just as much a unicorn as everything else, it’s core conceit is trying to construct a reality where the EU (85% of greater Europes economy, 60% of it’s population) does not dominate the UK (10% -8% respectively or thereabouts) This is delusional.

      Let’s just look at his favorite hobby horse, UNECE – and then it’s power over the EU.
      And that’s true, the UNECE does, theoretically, have power over the EU, as EU law gives said power to the UNECE (ignoring now that the EU could change it’s laws) the bigger problem is that the UNECE has 56 members, and you need a 2/3 majority to make decisions, All EU members are members.
      Thus with 27 votes, the EU cannot be outvoted, so the UNECE, is not a vehicle to exert power over the EU, it’s a vehicle for the EU to exert its power.

      All we have seen of the EU since 2016 have done nothing but confirm this, theory predicted the EU would behave congruent with how a state would behave, I.E trying to maximize it’s own power and autonomy.
      Surprise surprise, they have done so.
      Ivan rogers, have actually pointed this out, that the EU has overplayed it’s hand in cutting the UK out of EU decision making structures and thus preserving autonomy (superpowers tend to prefer autonomy over power, since they by definition already are powerful) and ignoring the way this diminishes EU power.

      Now considering they did all this, do you really think the core idea of Flexcit – trying to take the power over the internal market and move it to the UNECE (Ignoring that the UNECE does not have, and cannot acquire the institutional capability to manage it without effectively becoming a clone of the EU anyway) would be possible? No – The EU would never go along with it.

      And you are right he does not suffer fools, but neither does he suffer people explaining these elementary facts of political science to him.

      1. Avidremainer

        I agree with everything you say. The fact remains that the only place you get a sensible discussion on Brexit is this one and Eureferendum.

  10. Mirdif

    1. It still hasn’t sunk in that what happened yesterday was the thing that happens to weaker countries whereby they supplicate and the powerful decide their fate. The hubris, arrogance and outright denial is in evidence with many in media, politics and ordinary people talking about no deal, powerful military, 5-eyes and nuclear weapons. Incredible.

    2. The offer came as it became clear in the previous 48 hours that May had begun to seriously contemplate a crash out. Vince Cable said he came away from the meeting on Wednesday with the impression that May was essentially saying the people voted for the pain of a crash out. This was likely not lost on the EU27.

    3. That May might have decided on a crash out would have been due to what has likely come out of whatever focus groups they’ve been running where the levels of unspeakable stupidity and poverty of and hostility to education was in most likely on display. Her entire policy of no FoM and no ECJ is absolutely guaranteed to have been based on what came out private polling and focus groups in the months between when she was elected Tory leader and the party conference in 2016.

    4. The EU27 and especially Macron, Merkel, Rutte (Netherlands) and Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg) were the main movers in drafting the instrument. They were particularly concerned that May’s tactics were a trap to make it appear that the crash out is the fault of the EU. That is the major reason for the way they drafted it. It now means that a crash out will be an active decision if MV3 (or MV4 or MV5) does not pass.

    5. We might get a new Prime Minister in the week or so but there is no guarantee anybody except the stupid or the unsuitable (I think I’ve just ruled in all MP’s) want the job. The very-very-soon-to-be-retired JDD claimed that Sleazebag Saj was a shoe-in but I think that ship has sailed. David Lidington has been mentioned but the danger is they go for one of the headbangers in a no-contest or they get somebody very unimpressive like Johnny Mercer who has been making noises over the past week. There are no good options and nothing fundamentally changes.

    6. Merkel repeatedly asked Varadkar while they were drafting whether he understood what a crash out meant for the border – a border definitely goes up. This way at least they can blame London.

    7. There are no good options – Pass the deal and a negative supply shock hits the country for a decade at least, a brain drain and a further reduction in FDI. Crash out and ruin the country. Revoke and get destroyed at the next election for not delivering what your base wants.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, Mirdif.

      Sleaze bag Saj? Didn’t your mum tell you that if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything? :-)

      Lidington? The carpet bagger from Wandsworth is my MP. Any creature with a blue rosette gets elected around here. Even the local Tories are getting fed up with him, mainly over HS2 and the neglect of local transport.

      What about Andrea Jenkins? History will be kind to her for unseating Ted Balls, Larry Summers’ vicar on earth and the brains behind Gordon Brown.

      1. Mirdif

        Haha! My mum continues to tell me off for my rather forthright and unsanitised opinions; actually so does the wife. Apparently, insulting adjectives demean the person using them.

        I tried to pump somebody for information about Saj’s family and he refused to say anything on the basis of if you can’t say anything good don’t say anything at all. He gave me enough pointers to confirm some of my suspicions though.

        Andrea Jenkyns, who is is very very stupid, allegedly gets instructions from Somerset Lloyd-James Jr (Mogg) including her resignation as PPS. He has her wrapped around his little finger – not a euphemism! He’s also alleged to have convinced Esther McVey that she was leadership material and she should resign her cabinet position. She was not happy with him for shafting her like that once she realised he was having her on. Not the first time she’s been shafted by a Tory MP in recent years. I’m sure your journo friends know that story.

        But I’m honestly annoyed at what passes for political opinion in this country and how it is repeatedly disconnected from reality. Now I don’t care either way when it comes to Brexit as I can’t see there being much of a reason for remain either, other than the UK gets to throw her weight around a bit more but I don’t care about that. But the leave mob are almost entirely disconnected from reality. It’s just nonsensical or mundane things people are interested in: the EU will collapse, the EU will be damaged by no deal, the bells of Big Ben will ring aloud when we get our freedom, blue passports and street parties. Maddening.

        Or maybe even after my family has been here since the 1930s I’m not patriotic enough and need to believe more and stop being a citizen of nowhere who thinks passports are only a necessary bureaucracy to move around the world.

          1. Mirdif

            Also a certain TV personality trying to launch a political career. Wonder how long the countdown is on that! ;-)

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      It seems (from far far away) like “Revoke” would be the only sane and honorable thing to do. Hence impossible.

    3. ahimsa

      @ Mirdif

      Is there a link I can follow for point 6 about Merkel discussing a border with Varadkar?

      1. Mirdif

        Mehreen Khan of the FT tweeted the following:

        Diplomatic notes show Merkel interventions were limited but when she did make them, it as a truth bomb to remind Ireland about the realities of a no deal for the border #Brexit #euco

        and attached a picture of the following excerpt from an FT story:

        Mrs Merkel followed up to note the serious risks of a no-deal outcome, and the difficulties this would pose for maintaining an open border with Northern Ireland.

        She called on Mr Barnier to explore a fallback plan to uphold the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, according to diplomatic notes. One EU official said: “tonight was the first time leaders tried to crystallise what a ‘no deal’ means.

        1. ahimsa


          The UK is not the only one who’s been leaving facing harsh realities ’til the last moment.

  11. Rees

    Thanks for all the great coverage and analysis on Brexit! Won’t find a better comment section in English anywhere on the Net. Regarding Merkel’s aversion to a hard Brexit, according to a recent article from Bayerische Rundfunk (Bavarian State Broadcaster) there are fears that Germany stands to lose around 100,000 jobs in the event of a hard Brexit. Most of the jobs would bleed from the automotive industry. Obviously, that concerns Bavaria where most the auto manufacturer are situated. The UK is also Germany’s fifth biggest trading partner so they expect be hit pretty hard by the fallout. The CDU are pretty embattled here in Germany so I can imagine that they would be pretty concerned about such a big hit to middle class jobs, if those numbers are predictive of what is to come. I wonder, too, if anyone here thinks that some forward thinking EU leaders worry that the UK’s exit is just one more nail in the coffin of the European Project. I guess that Michael Hudson doesn’t call Europe a dead zone for nothing.

      1. Mirdif

        German trade surplus with just the United States last year was nearly 49 Billion Euros. I suggest you concentrate on what the costs to the British economy are rather than proving yet again that so many people in Britain and especially leave-types are incapable of basic maths.

        1. Rees

          I’m not British. I’m a Canadian living in Germany. This is simply what German news is saying about Brexit. And all I’m suggesting is that it may have some bearing on Merkel’s stance on Brexit. Nothing more. The job loses maybe small on the whole but that’s still one hundred thousand middle class voters. Politicians here do care about numbers like that.

          1. disillusionized

            However, Merkel is not up for re-election in any case, and the CDU is not up for re election untïl 2022(?) could be 21 but in any case, years from now, same with Bavaria.
            So, not enough voters, and not close enough to an election to matter.

            1. Mark

              European Parliament elections are in May and more important for the CDU than the next German elections right now. Furthermore jobs linked to exports are spread all over the country and across all industries. It is not credible that none of this influences decision making.
              This does not mean the ‘German carmakers are going to…’ fallacy. There is a difference between looking to avoid harm to one’s own interest and bending over backwards for some special interest group. The common market is obviously way more important.

              1. Rees

                Plus there are 16 states in Germany. So state elections are held here all the time. Our local Bavarian elections take place next year as well. So, elections all over the place.

                  1. Rees

                    No, those were the Bavarian state elections. And the CSU got hammered. It was a historical loss. They’ve never had to govern in a coalition in the post war period. By local I mean, of course, the municipal elections. They’ll happen in 2020.

          2. Mirdif

            It has no bearing on Merkel’s stance as evidenced by what happened last night where she was one of the four leaders who had the most input in to the council draft.

            Furthermore, Germany is not going to be hit the most. The worst hit after the UK will be borne by Ireland.

              1. Rees

                That’s absolutely true, of course. But the relative economic and human costs to Ireland aren’t likely driving German decision making. The costs to Germany are what drive it’s policy decisions. Obviously, the costs in relative and overall terms are going to be brutal in the UK and Ireland. I’m just trying to understand the German position. As far as the average German on the street is concerned the typical response to Brexit is head shake, eye roll, shoulder shrug and amble along. Only the elites here, business and political, are concerned about Brexit.

                1. Rees

                  I shouldn’t say only elites. The people who stand to lose their jobs here in Bavaria are rightly afraid.

            1. Rees

              Well, Merkel is absolutely against a disorderly exit. So, if it’s not the economic cost influencing her stance, then what is is it? As I wondered in my first comment, do some European leaders fear that the long term damage of Brexit, particularly a hard one, to Europe would be a threat to the survival of the European Union? I think it’s worth considering, at least. Anything that might threaten Germany’s hegemonic position within the EU is of great concern to the ruling elites here.

      2. Detlef

        That article was based on a study by the Bertelmann Foundation. The Bertelmann Foundation is business friendly with some “neo-liberal” leanings.

        Similar articles about “the costs to the Germany” appeared yesterday in almost all German online media. Which seems to indicate that they all got a press release from the Foundation and put it up as an article with only slight modifications.

        I´m a bit wary of them because they did the same back in the TTIP days. And released a press release that only mentioned the most positive outcome of their model. including 80,000 new jobs and 0.5% higher growth without mentioning that these numbers were the numbers over a period of 10 years.
        0.05% per year apparently didn´t sound as impressive, almost like statistical noise.
        Their more “moderate” outcomes in the study showed lower growth and even job losses. But you heard about that only if you read bloggers who´ve actually read the study. The public only saw the initial articles.

        I did read about the study on “Zeit Online”, a weekly German newspaper.
        And I thought them confused about GDP, sales and personal income. The €10 billion are supposed losses of personal income.
        They also did jump about with absolute numbers like the € 10 billion for Germany and then switched over to € 762 per person and year when it came to Ireland. Using the more impressive number in each case I guess.
        The per year and person number for Germany came to € 115. Less than € 10 per month. A Netflix subscription in other words.

        There is also the question about what model they used. What were the assumptions they used as starting points?
        (Remember that Minford ´s model can see 7-8% growth in the UK while killing of UK manufacturing and agriculture.)

        They only say they looked at trade flows between the UK and Germany, looked at the influence of possible tariffs and investigated higher costs for the consumer because of less competition with the UK out of the EU.
        (Less competition = higher prices).

        Germany exported goods worth almost € 1300 billions in 2018.
        German exports to the UK were around € 80 billions, imports around € 40 billion.
        How did they get from there to personal income losses of € 10 billion?

        Now I´m not denying that Germany will be hit by a hard Brexit. That´s obvious.
        I´m just a bit wary of Bertelsmann studies. One commenter yesterday on “Zeit Online” wrote that the article sounded like a first argument for business leaders to call for stagnating wages in the next round of wage negotiations.

    1. Mirdif

      There are 45 Millions Jobs in Germany. 100,000 jobs losses is 0.002%. Just replace all those words with “They need us more than we need them” and “The German carmakers will tell Merkel to give us a deal” for all the difference it would make.

  12. FFA

    Would I be right in thinking that a crash-out on the 29th is still the default? And that the government has to pass legislation through both houses of Parliament so as to crash out in April instead (or even to agree to a deal or a course of action or anything)?

    Has there been any discussion as to whether the Lords might throw a spanner in the works?

      1. notabanker

        So the UK Government and the EU can extend the date of A50 without a vote by Parliament?

        1. larry

          In principle, yes. However, May has consistently said that she will not consider it and has rejected outright the petition calling for it.

      2. disillusionized

        No, until the statutory instrument that changes the exit day has been laid before the UK parliament, the hard-coded date remains the 29th.

        1. vlade

          That is “an inconvenience date” as it turns out, as it technically repeals a law – but does not exit the EU. Would be really messy, but technically I don’t believe it would be EU exit.

      3. ahimsa


        Orderly exit is 22 May subject to WA approval by Mar 29

        Crash out is 12 April if the Parliament can’t agree to EU elections and an alternative approach.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      So far as I know, there is still a crash-out unless Parliament approves the necessary instruments to extend the time period. So yes, its still the default. Given the incompetence of the British government, its not beyond possibilities that they could get this wrong. But from Clives comments previously I think its possible that they could pass the necessary changes on literally the last day (I doubt Labour would vote against this).

      1. FFA

        What I’m wondering is: how many members, in either or both of the Commons or the Lords, are needed to cause a delay? Might some ultras get to spring a surprise next Friday afternoon, against a government with the agility and tactical sophistication of a newborn sloth?

  13. BrianM

    I think the plurality issue in any potential referendum is something that can be easily avoided, so is something of a red herring (as the issue of a referendum may be, but that’s not my point here). It is solved by two having two questions. For example
    – Is the May deal acceptable?
    – If the May deal is not acceptable, then no-deal or remain?
    There is precedent, as this was used for the Scottish parliament. That had a question on whether to have one and, if yes, then whether it should have tax varying powers. I amused myself by trying to persuade people that voting no for the parliament, but yes to tax varying was a real option.
    I think the order above can also be portrayed as respecting the result of the first referendum, which may be useful even if the chances of it being accepted are pretty small.

    1. el_tel

      As you yourself imply, the trouble is it’ll be gamed. Suppose I think the May deal is “barely acceptable” but highly undesirable and would strongly prefer to remain. If I believe that voting “unacceptable” will let in “no-deal” then I have an incentive to vote acceptable as a maximin strategy. If, in fact, remain would have won in the follow-up question, then we BREXIT under a stupid deal which didn’t in fact have support.

      As my old professor used to say of all stated preference studies: these are so well designed in terms of statistical and common sense properties. The problems arise when those darned humans get involved.

      1. JBird4049

        As my old professor used to say of all stated preference studies: these are so well designed in terms of statistical and common sense properties. The problems arise when those darned humans get involved.

        Sounds like modern mainstream economics. It all makes sense. On paper.

  14. disillusionized

    “Does the EU have the stomach for the possibility of years more of what it went through with May, with different personalities with new fantasies from which they need to be weaned? How long can the EU leadership take this much brain damage, consumption of resources, and uncertainty?”

    That’s not the scary scenario, the scary scenario is that there is a long extension, and a true believer takes control – A madman armed with a Veto to try to force the EU to comply with his delusions.
    Plenty of things require unanimity (the budget comes to mind).
    That’s even worse if there is a rethink and brexit is scrapped, because the Tory party has been radicalized into euroskepticism to a scary degree.
    I fear that the EU’s instinct for self preservation lost out to the EU’s dream of it’s manifest destiny, that’s the only thing strong enough to unite the EUCO into doing what they did – And while revocation is a possibility, nothing but no deal, or 20-30 years (death) will cure the conservative party of it’s delusions.

  15. Tom

    Yesterday showed

    1. Disunity in the EU members’ ideas of what they wanted.

    2. They are ready to abandon the WA.

    3. Those that are ready to allow indefinite British faffing about prevailed over those that are impatient.

      1. Tom

        EUCO’s conditions for the extension leave initially 3 possibilities: WA, no-deal, something else that the UK has to describe by April 12.

        Under the conditions, WA goes away next week. Hence my 2.

        The something else option is mostly unspecified by the EUCO but explicitly can include a long extension. That provides room for a lot more faffing about. Hence my 3.

        Idk for sure but those that want to provide room for UK to change its mind and choose a softer Brexit or none at all prevailed over those that wanted to end the uncertainty. In the past the EU has shown uncommon unity wrt Brexit. Yesterday, otoh, EUCO members had to argue and eventually compromise. Hence my 1. But I wasn’t in the room (even if I were I would probably have been confused most of the time) so 1 is the part I’m lease sure of.

  16. witters

    “They seek him here, they seek him there
    Those Frenchies seek him everywhere
    Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
    That demned elusive Pimpernel”

  17. oaf

    Isn’t there an appropriate Monty Python skit for this exact sort of thing? Like, the guardian at the bridge?
    …*just answer the question???*, etc?

    1. Winston Smith

      let’s see…what about the Bridge of death scene in the Holy Grail:
      He who would cross the Bridge of Death
      Must answer me
      These questions three
      Ere the other side he see.

      Or the Stolen News Reader where John Cleese drones on and on with a stream of boring 6 oclock news (presumably substitute Brexit topics). A group of men erupt into the news room and wheel him out desk and all to a flatbed truck and drive off at speed all the while he keeps droning on until they reach a pier and Cleese (desk and all-droning) is lowered to the ground. Whereupon the initial group of men (Macron among them?)take a big runner and push him (desk and all-droning) off the edge of the pier and into the drink. End of droning

  18. notabanker

    I think the EU message was rather clear, was the absolute most they could have conceded and created a third political option for the UK. May 22 is the real cliff edge. April 12th is the deadline to decide to elect MEP’s, which will then buy a long extension. I suspect if the UK “decides”, and not choosing in this case is a choice, to forego MEP elections, then a crash out is scheduled.

    The WA is dead. May is determined to dig up the corpse for the second time, just to make sure it’s still not breathing. A pure revocation of A50 was a political impossibility, a capitulation to the EU against the electorates will. The real political issue will be MEP elections in the UK. No elections = Brexit before May 23rd. Elect MEP’s and a GE will determine the new government.

    Under the circumstances, it’s a quite sensible approach from the EU, and a solution that politically, May was unable to proffer. Frankenstein unicorns are inevitable from the Labour fantasyland. The real question is if they can muster up a majority to get MEP’s elected and get a vote on it. Politically, that is their only option for avoiding a crash out. The only thing this Parliament has had a majority agree on was not crashing out. Here’s their opportunity.

    I thought it was interesting the betting odds a couple of days ago expected a no strings attached extension past March 29th. Those odds now favor a crash out before Jun ; 2.28 for 1, with an extension past 2022 coming in as the second most favorable scenario at 3.85 for 1. Every other time frame is long odds.

    Interestingly, they also say May will be gone before a Brexit 1.5 for 1 vs 3 for 1, and that the UK will Brexit before a GE by a fairly slim margin: 1.7 for 1 vs 2 for 1. My interpretation of this is the Gov’t obstructs a vote on MEP elections and it’s the final straw for May. The UK not only crashes out, but does so without a Government in place. YMMV.

  19. David

    It’s clear that many, if not most of the EU27 leaders have no confidence in May and do not believe that she will win with MV3. They don’t think the WA will survive either. The European media is full of derisive commentary about her. However, the EU does want to avoid a crash-out if possible, and yesterday’s discussion seems to have brought home the seriousness of the Irish problem to those who hadn’t considered it before. They are doing everything possible to encourage more rational political forces to take control, with the carrot of a longer (but unspecified) delay in the Art 50 process. What they need is some kind of assurances, beyond May’s deluded mutterings, that London has a plan of some kind. You can negotiate with somebody who has plans that conflict with yours, but you can’t negotiate with someone who doesn’t have a plan at all. More or less any interim PM who turned up in Brussels saying “OK, we know what a familyblogging shambles this is, but we’re going to sort it out and try to come to an agreed solution, even if it takes a bit of time” would be embraced with open arms.
    Everything really hinges on May being either neutered or removed, after which sensible options could be considered. There would be a majority in Parliament to hold EU elections, not out of enthusiasm for the elections as such, but to keep the process going. That would open the way to a longer delay in Art 50.
    A referendum would be feasible without a “no deal” option, because it’s not an option: it’s simply the absence of an agreement, and no government is ever going to deliberately avoid coming to an agreement if one is available. I can see the following scenarios:
    – WA is agreed by Parliament with the rider that it has to be accepted by referendum before it becomes effective. Said referendum wield have as options (1) Approve WA or (2) Continue UK discussions on possible options to be put to the EU. (This would almost, but not quite, be tantamount to revocation of Art50, and would satisfy remainers).
    – WA is not agreed, but cross-party consensus decides for referendum anyway, along the same lines.
    The EU would support either option, not least because they both involve getting rid of May (or putting her in check) as a first move. Although we’ve all said over the years that the length of time for a second referendum is a problem, which is right, it’s also true that it could be an advantage once the EU makes a longer-term commitment to agree to delay the UK’s exit. The longer the process takes, ultimately, the more room there is for change and a reshuffling of the cards.

    1. Clive

      … yesterday’s discussion seems to have brought home the seriousness of the Irish problem to those who hadn’t considered it before.

      Yes, I agree. On which I can only add “finally, about flippin’ time, too”.

      If Brexit is to be resolved — and for I one (maybe I’m the only one, but here I am saying it) think that some permutation of Leave is the only resolution; Remain too, in anything like how things were before the referendum is simply yet another unicorn — then that will only happen with an agreement which takes into account the border problem in a way which is arrived at through mutual (EU27/U.K.) consensus.

      We’ve tried the U.K. blustering its way through which was essentially asking everyone to fudge it. We’ve tried the EU27 attempting to strong-arm the U.K. into accepting an imposed solution (albeit from a position of strength and albeit the solution having much to commend it, but events have changed the original variables and will no doubt change them again which has demonstrated the limits of that approach because a No Deal Brexit is a possibility and No Deal is No Solution to the border).

      So, maybe this time around we’ll get somewhere. I’m not holding my breath, however.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Assuming meaningful vote 3 falls flat, isn’t the time frame (basically 3 weeks) to get rid of May and arrive at any sort of consensus other than, “HELP!,” a bit of a stretch? May may be delusional, mean, (and the rest), but the whole crowd seems to be subject to too many unicorns to suddenly act rationally, quickly, and cohesively by April12. I’m having a deuce of a time understanding anything at all re. Brexit so excuses excuses in advance on dumb questions.

        But it seems (given the time frame) like the European Union has decided a crash out is inevitable – or else they are dealing with their own unicorns? – with the only proviso being that they don’t want to take the blame.

        1. David

          I think the EU will regard the defenestration of May as a game-changer, because it’s obvious that nothing can happen while she’s in charge. If she is replaced or forced to accept dictation from others, then I think all that’s needed is a few agreed policy initiatives, relayed in a non-confrontational fashion, to get things moving. One way to look at it is that the crash-out enthusiasts are a very small minority in parliament as a whole, so almost all (let’s say 90%) of the MPs would support a generic solution which would avoid that. The skill then will be to find a majority among that majority which would support a solution that was specific enough to persuade the EU that we are out of crisis mode, but sufficiently general to command a lot of support. This is probably one of those cases where you have to go in a series of steps, getting agreement to one thing at a time. Of course it isn’t easy and, as you say, time is short. It’s like an attempt to touch fingers across a gap: the maximum the UK system can produce in time will have to meet the minimum the EU can accept.

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Thanks David. That helps quite a bit to give it more depth, though it still looks iffy, even if more sincere a gesture on the part of the EU (a crash out is to no one’s advantage) and somewhat more feasible in the UK. It’s head spinning stuff.

  20. Ignacio

    On the confrontation between Macron (who plans to stay in politics) and Merkel, (who surely plans to retire soon), one is looking more the practical terms and the other is thinking on legacy. In this discussion I would be 100% with Macron. Somebody should have convinced Merkel that doing policy thinking on legacy is illusory. She has absolutely no control on her legacy. This is too frequently a politician disease. Remember Clive’s nigthmare with resurrecting unicorns…

    On the point of direct democracy and a possible (not probable) second referendum on brexit Pedro Sánchez (current prime minister in Spain) concurs with Yves Smith. Not desirable.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Mind you, I’m not opposed to direct democracy in specific cases where clear “yes’/no” questions can be formulated and the two options are not hard to understand. But there aren’t many situations like that, and Brexit most assuredly is not one of them.

      1. Ignacio

        Yep, both you an pedro concur in this specific case I was referring. He has specifically stated that brexit referendum was a mistake, I don’t know his/your positions in other examples. Simple questions can be subjected to direct democracy more easily.

    1. EoH

      No, Brexit is a freight train, the driver is asleep, and the crew are fighting over who won the poker game.

  21. IsabelPS

    My bet is getting more an more complicated. We reached the point where we say: if this happens you pay the diner but I will pay the dessert.

  22. Epistrophy

    Specifically, as most readers likely know, the EU has agreed to extend the departure date to May 22 if Theresa May succeeds in getting her Brexit deal approved by Parliament next week, to enough time to pass necessary legislation if she succeeds. If she fails, the UK can still seek a long extension by April 12 if it presents a plausible plan for getting to a different type of Brexit.

    Why is this new? I thought that Parliament had already voted during March 12 to 14 on options essentially as stated above: short extension for May’s deal or unspecified length otherwise (after ruling out a no deal).

    May’s deal has already been soundly rejected twice, with Bercow belatedly blocking the second vote by citing it against Parliamentary precedent. Will he now reverse that decision to allow a yet another vote?

    The crux of this matter is that much of Britain’s Parliament has, for so many years now, become subservient to Europe’s interests and it no longer has the capacity to represent the interests of the British people. The Brexit result placed accountability squarely on the shoulders of each Parliamentarian and many of them do not appear to be up to the challenge. This, in my view, is the true beating heart of the Brexit Referendum of more than 1000 days past that will lead to political earthquakes here in the coming years.

    1. Gary Gray

      The “British” people are part of a market. You don’t get that. What is in their interest materially, is the markets interest. European subsidy is high there.

      There is no “British” people. When the market goes, so does the UK.

    2. Anders Kronquist

      … because just because the UK has voted for something doesn’t mean the EU will follow it? For all we know, getting the current extension required some back-room deals (particularly as there are countries – such as Hungary – not so happy with the EU atm).

      It’s quite obvious that Ireland, in particular but all EU countries in general need more time to handle no-deal. Honestly, even having until the 30th of June (as May asked for) will not avoid all of it, but it might be that the additional two weeks are just enough to tip the scales from avoiding total chaos.

      1. Uwe Ohse

        particularly as there are countries – such as Hungary – not so happy with the EU atm

        And vice versa. If there wasn’t that incredible display of incompetence called brexit, then hungary would have gotten the attention it government deserves. But…

        but it might be that the additional two weeks are just enough to tip the scales from avoiding total chaos.

        90 or 95% of the preparations are done already. Prolonging these 90 or 95% for three months might cost more than the 5 or 10% of chaos.

        Things age (food, chemicals, drugs, …), and will not get any better if you store them longer. Summer comes, and storage rooms good enough for the early spring aren’t necessarily good enough for a summer. Someone has to pay for the storage. And you have criminals and corruption away (criminals certainly see long-time storage as an opportunity).

        A hard brexit in two weeks might be preferable to one in three months. And don’t forget the political costs of prolonging the agony.

  23. PlutoniumKun

    Tony Connolly’s latest here (for those who don’t know, he is RTE’s, very well connected Brussels correspondent, he has very good inside sources):

    The Long and Short of a No Deal Cliff Edge.

    The senior EU official says: “Beyond that date there can’t be elections, until then all options are open. The default option remains no-deal. If nothing happens it means no-deal at the end of 12 April.”

    The overall objective is that the EU be seen to offer Mrs May (and the House of Commons) as much leeway as is legally and politically possible, while leaving the finger of blame pointing at London if no-deal comes to pass.

    It is a risky strategy, as it presupposes the House of Commons is prone to the leverage of elections or no-deal.

    1. ahimsa


      UK parliament still needs to ammend the hardwired date of Mar 29 in its Withdrawal Act to avoid stumbling out of the EU next weekend. The Hansard society has suggested this process needs to start next Mon, cf: https://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blog/changing-eu-exit-day-by-statutory-instrument
      Clive, David and others have debated whether how this could be done even in one day. Which day – Friday 29??

      The extended exit dates May 22 or Apr 12 are contingent upon the UK respectively either approving the Withdrawal Agreement (note: not the Political Declaration) or not by Mar 29. Whether they have approved by Mar 29 or not will, self evidently, not be clear until Mar 29!

      If the UK parliament waits until Friday Mar 29. Is this a recipe for disaster??

  24. Mattski

    This Cockburn piece on Brexit and the continuing decline of the port of Dover is sobering, and offers an explanation about why Labour hasn’t entertained the idea of a second referendum. (That the party has shown zero protagonism throughout the debacle seems for the most part undeniable.)

    I still think that there is a way to frame a second referendum in somewhat democratic terms, and that is as part of a two-step process: The people voted to leave. Now here are the actual terms of the deal–do we still embrace it?

    Not going to happen, but this is the one fair way to a second plebiscite that I can imagine.


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