Brexit: Disintegration

It is likely of little comfort to those of you in the Uk who are dreading the outcome of this week’s European Council meetings. As we’ll discuss, the apparent best outcome the UK can hope for, in terms of the near-term impact on ordinary citizens, that of a one-year extension, is virtually certain to solve nothing. And you can fuggedaboud May’s proposal to Donald Tusk last week, of an extension to June 30.

As many have said, the way Brexit came about and has been prosecuted is a tragedy, not just for the UK but for Europe, and for the naive idea that economic integration would be a force for peace. Narrowly, it was: Europe has been free of war since the World War II conflagration. But as we are now seeing, tighter ties have led to the growth of international firms, and with their rise, inequality in advanced economies has also risen sharply. One can go through a long list of reasons, not all of which can be linked to more globalization, but many can. And perhaps more important, the rise of a global elite meant that not enough well placed people cared about curbing the rise in inequality; it’s obvious virtually all of them greatly enjoy it. Nevertheless, national economies can blunt inequality through taxing and spending policies (witness Japan, which still has the best social indicators in the world despite having an aging population and falling relative per capita income).

Since the EU will makes its big decision on April 10 and 11, it’s not clear how much benefit there is in tracking the details of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn trying to come to an understanding. As Richard North describes long form, the ideas under discussion are so confused as to not map on to the benefits they hope to achieve, most importantly, “frictionless trade”. This tweet gives a brief take:

Nevertheless, May attempted to put lipstick on the pig of her Brexit mess:

Chris Grey highlighted one important issue: that May proposed her non-starter of an extension to June 30 as a way to slip Parliament’s leash:

The Cooper Bill – proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has emerged as one of the parliamentary stars of Brexit – requires the Prime Minister, within a day of it passing, to seek MPs’ approval to apply to the EU for an extension to the Article 50 period. The length of extension proposed would be of the Prime Minister’s choosing, but could be amended by MPs. Although Theresa May had already said she would be applying for an extension, the difference is that under this legislation parliament would control the application and its period.

The Bill was passed by the Commons on third reading by, again, just one vote. The following day it went to the House of Lords where it was subject to extensive and shameless filibustering from Brexiter peers. It is ironic to recall that the wrecking tactics of the unelected House of Lords were cited by Theresa May as one reason for calling her ill-fated snap election in 2017.

It could only delay matters until Monday, but that delay mattered because in the meantime Theresa May has submitted her request for an extension – until 30 June. This seems to be an attempt to avoid being subject to the putative Cooper Act, perhaps simply for the symbolic reason of wanting it to seem to be the government rather parliament is driving events. That would be a fairly typical piece of May game-playing. I am not clear what, if anything, now happens when the Bill is passed (or, even, whether it will now be pulled). But on the substantive issue of extension and its length the decision rests with the EU in any case.

It is well over my pay grade to determine whether this maneuver was May being May, or whether it was done with the intent of putting her extension request outside Cooper’s bill, and thus at least avoiding the possibility that it could trigger an accidental crash out (by forcing May to come back to Parliament for approval of a change in the extension, which would have decent odds of not being able to be executed by the end of April 12).

But back to question of what the EU will propose, assuming that Leo Varadkar is correct when he says that the EU is unlikely to deny a delay to Brexit. Donald Tusk has been pushing for a one-year extension, and the press in the past reported that the EU was considering a nine-month extension. If so, the EU either badly misapprehends what is happening in the UK, or simply doesn’t know what to do, save it does not want to be able to be painted as kicking the UK out of the EU, even though the EU has already done more than it was obligated to do by granting any relief whatsoever.

One out would be if May fails to authorize participation in European Parliament elections (Clive has given the matter a look and it’s not at all clear whether the Government can approve them on its own or whether Parliament must bless them). This is a red line for the EU for legal reasons: the legitimacy of the entire incoming Parliament could be called into question, meaning the validity of any acts, if the UK were still in the EU but not represented). This would seem to be the only clean hands way for the EU to deny an extension (assuming that there are more nations than France so inclined but still reluctant to play the heavy).

It is hard to see how anything changes in the UK with respect to Brexit in a year. Perhaps the EU is hoping, as happened with other referendums, that the first result will be reversed. But even a year isn’t enough runway. While a referendum that ran like clockwork could be completed in 24 weeks, it’s inconceivable that one in the UK would go quickly, if nothing else due to scheming by Ultras.

But the bigger impediment is it is hard to think of how to organize a one-round referendum that would produce results that have legitimacy. The Ultras would howl at no-deal not being an option, and even now, roughly 25% of UK voters still favor no deal. If you have three options, no deal, May’s deal or an improved version of that, and Remain, the odds are decent that no option gets a majority. And that’s before you get to the fact that a second referendum was nixed by Parliament last week and the Government remains opposed to one.

Similarly, there’ no obvious path to a general election. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, it would take a vote of no confidence or a vote of 2/3 in the House. Right now, Labour is ahead in the polls, making it unlikely that the Tories and the DUP will be the turkeys that voted for Thanksgiving. From Politico’s morning European newsletter:

EXCLUSIVE POLL: As the U.K.’s Conservatives struggle to deliver Brexit and with a general election now looking within the realm of possibility, an exclusive poll for POLITICO suggests voters have lost trust in the party on core issues. In swing seats across the country, the Tories trail Labour on the central issues people most care about, a new POLITICO-Hanbury tracker poll found.

Generally unhappy: There is deep discontent with the two main parties, which are both seen as out of touch and incompetent. Yet it is the Tories who now trail overall on the core issues ranked as the most important by the public — Brexit, crime, housing and health.

Big but: Despite the negative view of the party and its handling of Brexit, Theresa May is still seen as the stronger leader compared to her opposition counterpart Jeremy Corbyn, who, the survey suggests, is the significant block to Labour pulling away in the polls.

And that’s before considering that Labour has no workable idea about what to do about Brexit, and the Tory party could splinter, to the advantage of UKIP. Recall how much influence UKIP had despite winning effectively no seats in Parliament. What would a resurgent UKIP, running on the theme of “betrayal” do to sorting out Brexit and UK politics generally?

The shorter version, from the EU’s vantage: the Brexit negotiations were an exercise in Groundhog Day, with the UK refusing to hear the word “no” and repeatedly coming back with at best mildly reformulated versions of the same demand. UK pols and the press are still as out to lunch about basic issues regarding possible future arrangements with the EU as they were three years ago. Correctly, as a condition of getting an extension, EU leaders had demanded the UK present a path by which it could arrive at a different answer than its current impasse. Giving the UK another year looks likely to produce another year of unproductive melodrama. And businesses on the whole seem to think that having crash out risk still very much in the picture is at least as costly as having it take place now by virtue of having to defer investments and other important decisions and spend resources more than once on contingency planning.

As Robert Peston says in a new column:

Pretty much everyone I meet says they want all the Brexit uncertainty to end, one way or another.

But that is now impossible: even agreement – which seems remote – on some version of the PM’s deal to take us out of the EU would only be a beginning of a sort, not an end, with so much left to decide on what kind of future relationship we need and deserve with the EU.

And if there is no backing from MPs for the Withdrawal Agreement that is the divorce from the EU, then we are into a series of choices whose consequences would be to lead to various forms of national and international fission.

Every option, from a no-deal Brexit to a referendum, or even revocation of the decision to leave, leads to some combination of UK nations (England versus Northern Ireland and Scotland) or social groups (to simplify, nationalist low-income Brexiters versus internationalist wealthier Remainers) shouting treachery and betrayal.

There is no Brexit peace to be had. For many years. Or at least none I can see.

And remember how Richard North had pointed out that May had said that the only way to Brexit was via her Withdrawal Agreement? That apparently was not posturing. Again from Peston:

The greatest fear of all for the Macrons of the EU is that a new UK prime minister – which there will certainly be within the coming year – would use the delay to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement, or the divorce settlement, which is seen within the EU as the single achievement of Brexit talks to date.

Tory leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have more-or-less pledged to do just that.

The EU27 and Tusk are agonising about how to pre-empt and prevent that. It won’t be easy.

So it would be dangerous and naive to assume the EU will roll over and offer the long extension which Tusk moots.

The Financial Times gives details in Macron heads calls to impose tough conditions on Brexit delay:

Mr Macron, increasingly frustrated by the deadlock in Britain, wants guarantees that the UK will not use its continuing presence as a departing member of the EU to disrupt the bloc’s business, including its multiyear budget….

As part of any extension of the exit process, European capitals are debating a “code of conduct” which would flesh out Mrs May’s pledge to abide by the principle of “sincere co-operation” to avoid undermining the bloc while the UK remains a member state. 

“We can’t treat a member state that’s leaving in the same way as one that is there forever,” said a senior French official. 

Paris is seeking legally binding assurances from the UK that it would not tip the balance in any sensitive EU decisions over coming months. 

In practice this would mean Britain abstaining in any vote on selecting a new European Commission president, on deciding the long-term EU budget, or in legislative negotiations where the UK could block progress

But one EU official said that setting genuinely binding constraints on the UK would be “extremely difficult”, since no such decision could curtail the UK’s treaty rights as a member state.

It’s hard to see how the EU could get adequate commitments from the UK in the short April 10 to April 12 time period, particularly when the UK demonstrated it was not agreement capable. May first reneging on the settled Withdrawal Agreement due to the backstop, and now the tug of war between an incompetent and divided Government and an incompetent and divided Parliament for control.

So even if the EU takes what would appear to be the easy path and gives the UK a long extension, the result will be more strife, in the UK and between the UK and the EU. Put it another way: protracting the process won’t make it any nicer.

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  1. OldLion

    If there is an extension you’ll run out of armageddon related words to caracterise Brexit.

    1. Anders K

      Ah, but then the obvious thing is to go “Brexit: Brexit” because nothing else truly encapsulates what it is. I do hope we will be getting Brexit as part of our vocabulary, similar to the -gate thing that the US is enamoured of (personally, I think it is watering down what Watergate represents, but YMMV).

      Bonus points for making May’s famous “Brexit means Brexit” actually mean something!

      1. DHG

        The current world power (Anglo-American) goes off into everlasting destruction whole and completely functional, Trump will never be dictator either as that would fundamentally alter the world power. I dont worry about most of these world events as they have all been foretold well in advance of their appearing.

  2. Anonymous2

    Excellent blog as always, Yves. Thank you.

    It really is the perfect storm, I fear.

  3. Pavel

    What. A. Frigging. Disaster.

    I no longer live in England (thank the gods) and don’t have too many dogs in this hunt — although I still do a fair amount of work in the UK — but I couldn’t bear another month or so of this madness let alone another year. Honestly at this point I’d take the no deal Brexit with all the likely chaos that will result and hope that everyone just gets to work sorting it out.

    I heard the new(ish) UKIP leader speak on YouTube earlier — he is preparing for possible EU elections and planning to run candidates across the nation. He and others quote the current UKIP polling at 8%. They could well play a spoiler roll in any future general election, leading to tens if not hundreds of Tory and Labour incumbents losing their seats.

    Was it Christopher Wren who, when asked what monument he would like, said something like “Look around you!”… Theresa May can invite the same glance — over a destroyed Conservative party, a Scotland further removed or even independent from the UK, perhaps a reunited Ireland, and a UK economic crisis. Well done, Theresa!

    [The above is not to forget David Cameron’s starring role in this disaster.]

    As a postscript, I also just watched a short Channel 4 Dispatches segment in which they interviewed an English fruit farmer who voted Leave but now finds out that all his immigrant workforce is disappearing and he may go out of business.

    1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      We don’t really talk much about what will come after this event horizon, since we are trying to game plan next steps in something you can’t game plan, but there are some interesting ideas/players to consider after the Brexit event horizon:

      (a) Nicola Sturgeon’s next moves

      (b) UKIP resurgence as a backlash/outcome of the Tory ineptitude

      (c) a proper breakup of the Tory and/or Labour parties

      (d) the coming EU elections

      (e) the coming French elections and implications for internal French politics

      (f) Merkel succession

      (g) BORIS! And his excellent hair. If you thought Theresa was bad…

      There are many future subplots to consider.

        1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

          As much as Rees Mogg being Prime Minister would keep Yves viable forever, and get this blog more page views than Google, I can’t really see him evolving further beyond what he is.

          Which is a shame, because he is quite entertaining. If you had Rees Mogg and BORIS working together, that would put the fun back in dysfunctional and even take some air time away from Trump’s antics.

  4. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    For whom the bell tolls.

    “For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere, hung on all time always to unknowing nowhere, this time and again for always to nowhere, now not to be borne once again always and to nowhere, now beyond all bearing up, up, up and into nowhere, suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.”


  5. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    At this point May reminds me of a dog with worms slithering along with its backside rubbing the carpet. Bass-ackwards, they’re going to back into a vote to repeal Article 50, you heard it here first.

    1. Samuel Conner

      I have been thinking for a while that May might do this unilaterally, as unlikely as that appears. She could spin it as “the will of Parliament” since “no deal” was rejected and revocation leaves open the possibility of a future better thought-out Brexit; A50 revocation is the only way to preserve the possibility of implementing Parliament’s indicated preferences of “no ‘no deal’ crashout” and “no ‘no Brexit’ “.

      But as it’s hard to see how UK could arrive at a consensus Brexit plan within any future time frame, this might be a permanent “remain” decision, so back where they started but with a weaker economy and highly annoyed “friends” within the EU.

      Revoke and then resign?

      Now that UK has fixed term parliaments, maybe they could take another step in the direction of US and lengthen the duration of election campaigns. Eventually, they could become effectively non-stop, as in US.

      1. Clive

        Would solve nothing. A Boris Johnson type of Conservative party leader (and he’s not even the worst in the running) could simply claim that May’s revocation was against party policy (it would be), in contradiction of the referendum result (it would be) and against the will of Parliament (it would be since all attempts to get a majority for a rescinding of Article 50 have come to naught) — and promptly invoke it again.

        The EU27 could have a good old spluttering about it not being “in good faith” but that’s unlikely to worry anyone in the Conservative party. They could ask the CJEU to allow them to reject the (re-) invocation of Article 50 but that’s politically fraught and legally dubious.

        No-one — not the U.K., not the EU27— has an easy get out. Currently being reported in the U.K. media is the Council’s apparent ruminations on how they can get the U.K. to “behave itself” during any extension. All of which neatly illustrates the EU27’s unenviable predicament. Evidently there’s something which is causing the EU27 to think long and hard about the implications of a No Deal Brexit. What, exactly, is the truth of that matter, we can only guess and have a very limited fact-set — it might be some of the well-worn guesses but it could just as likely be some obscure nuance that commentators are ignorant of. But obviously there is a reason.

        But if they don’t pull the trigger, then they are stuck with the U.K. — and likely to not get much sympathy, they’d have made their bed, they’ll have to lie in it, with the U.K. stealing the duvet and snoring loudly. Does the EU27 really, on an existential level, want the U.K. as a member? That’s going to depend on what the EU wants to be when it grows up. If it doesn’t know, it’ll never be able to decide what to do with its problem child.

        No way forward. No way back.

        1. Tom

          Evidently there’s something which is causing the EU27 to think long and hard about the implications of a No Deal Brexit.

          Isn’t Ireland sufficient reason?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Yes, I think that’s more than enough, both the damage to an EU member + the difficulty of keeping NI from becoming a back door for smuggling non-compliant goods into the EU.

            Plus despite the EU (Barnier in particular) taking the position that the EU is not responsible for the UK’s having pulled the Brexit trigger and then being totally unable to sort itself out, the EU leaders seem to have found themselves in a custodial role, like it or not. I’m not sure how conscious they are of that. But telling May what sort of extension she’d get, and not one of her devising, is an example of that. And that role in a weird way imposes higher obligations.

          2. Synoia

            The EU can and will wait. Why would anyone want to step int the midst of this period in UK politics.

            Why would any of the EU leaders want to receive any of the of the blame, when the UL Tory party is doing such a through job of continuing this chaos by itself?

            This seem appropriate:
            “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to… You would cry too if it happened to you!”

        2. Samuel Conner

          So Parliament can have any three of its four preferences, “no ‘this Brexit’ “, “no ‘no deal Brexit’ “, “no ‘no Brexit’ “, and “no ‘A50 revocation’ “.

          I think I have that right, but my head is hurting a little in contemplation of the combinations.

          Has anyone coined the term “May’s Quadrilemma”?

        3. PlutoniumKun

          I’ve been trying to work out where this consensus seems to have arisen that the UK should be given 12 months by the EU. I can only conclude its being pushed by Varadkar and Tusk and those desperate to avoid a no-deal as the only way to try to push the UK into coming up with something. Its very much within Merkels personality that she would back anything that would avoid bringing things to a head – her entire political career has been based on avoiding hard decisions if there was any way to avoid them. I suspect from Varadkars comments that he managed to persuade Merkel in their meeting last week to try to force this through and basically dare the French to use their veto.

          Its possible there is something deeper behind it, but given the individuals involved (basically, professional procrastinators and anglophiles), I suspect its really just a Hail Mary pass to see if they can possibly escape a no-deal scenario and somehow help out Remainers to see if they can pull a referendum out of the bag.

          I also think that May seems to have concluded that even losing half her cabinet and agreeing a 12 month delay is better than the alternative staring her in the face – failing to deliver ‘her’ Brexit. Although no doubt she will be put under extreme pressure over the next few days to opt for no-deal.

        4. mpr

          Clive, it isn’t a mystery what’s giving the EU27 pause. Economically a hard brexit would deliver a shock which the EU (especially the Eurozone) is ill equipped to handle, at a time when they’re already in or almost in recession. On the subject of the Irish border it would put them in the position of having to force ROI to violate the GFA.

          1. Mirdif

            Newsflash: The UK government is also going to put up a hard border in case of no deal. Spreadsheet Phil’s interview a few days ago let the cat out of the bag when he said there will be direct rule in Northern Ireland in no deal case and this will allow for control of the border.

            The real reason for the hesitation is the imminent European Parliament elections and trying to prevent the populists from having any ammunition where they might try to blame the EU for no deal. It’s why the EU27 want no deal to come from an affirmative UK government action.

        5. ahimsa

          What can May concretely offer up as a way forward on Wednesay to secure any extension? UK’s track record on meeting EU deadlines with detailed realistic plans is simply pititful. The extension she has requested has been previously rejected and nothing has changed since then. At the eleventh hour she is making a show of reaching out to the opposition and Corbyn, a man her party openly vilifies.

          Participation in EU elections? – Yes (but only to play for time)

          Sudden binding agreement with Labour over PD? – not likely

          Do or die WA meaningful vote passing by end of week? – incredible

          2nd Referendum (setting gnarly posing of the question to side)? – No

          General Election (only the opposition benches want this)? – No

          I think she will put the WA to parliament again on Thursday or Friday!
          Then only the nuclear option of revoking Article 50 remains… before Crash Out.

  6. fajensen

    That Theresa May video could become a Horror Classic! The mask is clearly slipping and there is something horrible hungry underneath, struggling to not reveal itself too soon, while the laws binding it are still in force.

    Come crash out Brexit and ‘The Civil Contingencies Act 2004’ – all those pesky bindings are off …

    1. Steve H.

      Two moments of microexpression worth hitting pause for:

      At 1:41, after “so we’ve been talking” is a look of dismay, mouth drawn down. Hard to tell about repulsion with those naso-labials, but note, no anger.

      At 1:51, the way her forehead drops before ‘sides’ in “compromise on both sides” and then a, triumphant(?), look in her eye.

      imo, she doesn’t need to be angry because she thinks she’s won, and the only reason to talk is to be there when her foes are crushed. If you think you’re in the fulcrum position, you don’t have a ‘side.’

  7. John k

    In the past I’ve heard that eu has resigned itself to loss of trade surplus with U.K.
    but we are getting close, and Germany is already slipping into recession. Loss of that trade might push the entire eu into recession.
    So a years delay might push that loss to a time when eu economy is growing… granted not likely given Tina austerity – but anyway pols always elect to delay bad things.
    IMO eu is not worried about looking the bad guy – to who? Eu citizens are impatient and already blame the brits. It’s all about their own economies and favored industries… and or the benjamins.
    Never fail to consider donor real interests to explain political decisions.

    1. Avidremainer

      Are you saying that the UK will buy elsewhere? There are no import substitutes to speak of so the EU trade surplus with the UK will continue.

        1. Avidremainer

          Agreed. It is just that I don’t see how we escape from dependence on the EU for manufactures.

  8. Ataraxite

    If you were so inclined to have a referendum, you could do it fairly with two separate questions:

    1) Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?
    2) If the decision of Question 1 is to leave the European Union, should the UK leave with the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, or without any agreement?

    I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if this is a wise course of action.

    1. ali

      In the worst case, the result could be that 25% of the voters prevail against 75% (half of half of the votes).

          1. Ataraxite

            Yes, but those who vote Remain in the first question also vote for the second question. They’re independent questions, not dependent as you’re assuming.

            1. Tom

              Well, the second question depends on the first but you can vote on the second independently of your vote on the first. For example:

              1. Shall we have a party: Yes or No?

              2. If we have the party, should it be Friday or Saturday?

              I’ve experience with this vote structure in committee work.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This utterly fails to deal with the problem that got the UK into the mess in the first place.

      There is one flavor of staying in the EU. There are many flavors of leaving. So many people will say “yes” to leave when their views of what leave should look like, when you get down to finer points, diverge and the UK cannot execute.

      In other words, I don’t see how your referendum questions do anything to resolve the fundamental problem of Brexit.

      1. Deschain

        Isn’t the view that there is only one flavor of staying part of the problem?

        Let’s consider an alternate scenario where a leader of Labour sits down with other left parties/governments in the EU that have their own grievances (Italy, Greece, etc.) You come up with a list of things that aren’t working (and there are definitely things that aren’t working) and you say, ‘Here’s some changes that we want to see made. The EU can’t continue to be the Greater German Co-Prosperity Sphere. We are willing to negotiate, but if we can’t come to an agreement within four years, we are all leaving.’ This gives you more leverage, and allows you time to come up with a reasonable exit strategy (which you start working on immediately) if that turns out to be the only alternative.

        I know it seems pie-in-the-sky, and probably not feasible at this late hour, but I think it’s the only strategy that could actually work for the people in the UK and the EU.

      2. DaveH

        It also fails to deal with the Realpolitik of what happens next. If the UK crashes out on Friday or beyond, the narrative of those advocating such a scenario goes “and then both parties will talk, sector-by-sector, agreeing what needs to be agreed until everything works to both sides’ mutual benefit”.

        Obviously this is nonsense. The reality is that the UK is told “the withdrawal agreement is still there to be signed whenever you’ve finished having your tantrum”. At which point, once we’ve left and the talk of revocation and second referendums is now in the past, the withdrawal agreement passes with ease.

        However, where the first strategy really fails is if it’s the consequence of a hypothetical referendum. In that scenario the UKG is being mandated to not enter arrangements with the EU. So no further discussions can take place until the UK has adequately dealt with the terms of withdrawal. But the UK cannot adequately deal with the terms of withdrawal as a referendum has just ordered them not to.

        The adequacy of the UK political system has long departed the building, but if a referendum ever appeared with that as an option it would proof that the whole thing might as well be sold for scrap.

  9. Monosynapsis

    As an outside observer to this C-movie I’ve come to the sad conclusion that whatever scenario plays out – be it a NoDeal, WA, revocation of Art 50, one ore more referendums or any variation of another WA in the future – the British pple will be at each other throats for a long time to come.

    Ressentiments are a given and I fear that this will be an(other) extreme catalyst for anti-democratic populism for at least a generation.

    From this perspective I’ve come to think that by now a NoDeal Brexit might at least give one side full satisfaction and won’t allow for the ‘undemocratic’ card to be drawn by them ad nauseam. As time goes by many of them will probably sober up (especially if the the Scots secede and apply to get back into the EU) and who knows, depending on the overall economic situation even would join the by then nuermous ‘rejoiners’.

    As counterintuitive as this might seem a NoDeal appears to me to be the least destructive scenario to the UK as a democratic nation in the long term.

    1. Monosynapsis

      Oh, I forgot: my main concern is that any negative repercussion whatsoever on the UK in the future will probably be blamed on a ‘watered down’ ‘Brexitbetrayal’ by the Leavers if anything else than a NoDeal happens. EU Blaming not only made easier by an order of magnitude but so much more appealing that it will become reflexive: it now contaminates the open wound of hurt ‘pride’ (aka crude nationalism) and I fear that it will never heal. “An da guvmant is in on it!”

      Any Brits here able to reassure me ?

      1. DaveH

        No reassurance from here I’m afraid. And from both sides. Whatever happens from this point, anything that goes wrong with anything, it’ll be the fault of what didn’t happen with Brexit.

        Leave? Well we shouldn’t have left. If we hadn’t then this would all be fine.

        Don’t leave? Well we should have left. If we had then this would all be fine.

        1. Monosynapsis

          Indeed. Only a clean cut as NoDeal or a clean reset as a revocation of Art50 and subsequent referendums are the only options I see to get over this.

          If anything the Brexit debacle should serve as a lesson to all representative democracies as to why they are the least democratic system imaginable whilst still being formally a democracy.

          On the one hand Brexit will strengthen all authoritarians, on the other it might put on the table other more polis based forms of responsible citizenry where a direct participation in informed debate and consensus finding is required and mandatory

          This would mean long and boring meetings in the townhall/neighbourhood assembly at least once a month for all, logic and rethoric taught in primary school alongside reading and basic maths, etc. etc…

          It is the failure of representative democracy which should be emphasized from now on for all to see, now that such a dramatic showcase is at hand.

    2. fajensen

      The UK leaving the EU on the 12’th this week would be such a sight to behold with rabid Brexiteers eating their shorts in apoplectic rage over the busting of the last of their lies:

      “NO, the EU doesn’t wants us and needs us more than we need them”, “NO, The EU doesn’t only wants ‘our money'”!

      The “Scanners” moment will be: “You want trade deal, you sign Backstop!, Ok?”

  10. none

    What’s it take to trigger a general election in the UK, assuming May doesn’t want one? What if May wanted one, and what would the outcome be?

    What if there were an NI referendum, and how would that come out in the face of an oncoming Brexit?

    Just wondering. Thanks.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We answered your question in the post.

      To add a bit more: May cannot trigger a general election. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011). the PM can not longer ask the King/Queen to do so under the Royal prerogative.

      Now the only way early elections can occur is via:

      1. The loss of a vote of no confidence

      2. Approval of 2/3 of the House of Commons

      See, for instance:

      Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 a general election had not been due until May 2020, but a call by Prime Minister Theresa May for a snap election was ratified by the necessary two-thirds vote in a 522–13 vote in the House of Commons on 19 April 2017.

      On the “NI referendum,” I think you mean a referendum for the integration of Northern Ireland and the RoI, which IIRC is provided for in the Belfast Agreement. This is PlutoniumKun or Clive’s territory, but I would guess that at a minimum, it would require the consent of the NI government. Since that government hasn’t sat for over 2 years, I don’t see how that can happen:

      1. shtove

        Plus needs to be triggered by UK govt’s NI Secretary. A never-event under the Tories.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The calling of a Border Poll on a united Ireland is entirely within the powers of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There is a discussion on the legal niceties in an article in Slugger O’Toole here.

      There are a lot of misconceptions out there about a border poll. It is often assumed that if Sinn Fein (the main party calling for reunification) became the biggest party (which is very likely to happen soon, they are only a percent or so short of the DUP), then one must be called. But there is nothing within the Good Friday Agreement or British or International law to say this must take place. It is entirely at the discretion of the SoS for NI (and by extension, the London government, as the PM has absolute discretion in appointing the SoS). But there does seem to be an assumption that it would be very difficult for the government to say no to a poll if nationalist parties won a majority in any election and the Irish government requested one.

      The ‘great unsaid’ in all NI politics is that even if the British government can legally do what it wants, if it pushes things too far, guns and bombs will go off. This is the balance they always have to strike.

      1. Avidremainer

        British MEPs have just voted against visa free travel for Brits to the EU post Brexit. They did so because the EU are now referring to Gibraltar as a UK colony. How long before the EU start referring to the six counties as a colony?
        In the event of Nationalist parties becoming a majority in the Assembly and the N.Ireland Secretary not granting a border poll then the power of the UK v the EU comes into play. The Nationalist majority would of course be EU citizens.
        Sooner or later some EU politician will promulgate an EU doctrine equivalent to the Monroe Doctrine. Then where will the power of the UK government be?

        1. Mirdif

          The UN lists Gibraltar on the decolonization pages at its site. Furthermore, the government of Gibraltar made a submission in a (Gambling) case at the ECJ in 2017:

          the Government of Gibraltar claims that an interpretation such as that adopted in paragraph 43 above would undermine the status of that territory under international law and, in particular, is inconsistent with Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1972 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, according to which the territory of a colony should have a status separate and distinct from the status of the territory of the State administering it.

          In other words the government of Gibraltar called itself a colony less than 2 years ago.

          1. Avidremainer

            One of the great things about English is that it can mean what you want it to mean. This means you can be or not be what you want be depending on who you are talking to or not. We didn’t get to be where we are today by being straightforward.

      2. ChrisPacific

        Presumably Sinn Fein would prefer to be very sure of the result before committing to call one as well, since if you trigger it and it fails then you set your cause back years or decades. And Brexit makes for such an overly dynamic situation that it’s difficult for anybody to be sure of anything.

        While this is all grist for the mill (it surely can’t have escaped NI’s attention that the only reason the UK hasn’t betrayed them yet is because the EU has not been willing to offer 40 pieces of silver) I doubt anyone wants an emotionally loaded decision made in the heat of the moment to determine the country’s future for decades or centuries to come.

        1. Arakawa

          Decisions made in the heat of a moment that affect centuries and millions is one ingredient of what makes history. That there be no more history of that kind may seem to many a desirable ideal, as history is a terribly inconvenient thing. However, it is not a terribly realistic ideal.

          People who understood that history happens at inconvenient times put more emphasis on personal character. It is better to cultivate men and women of character because you never know which of them will be put in the position to decide the fate of millions. So what future historians will puzzle over in the matter of Brexit is how all sides’ politics came to be dominated by characterless politicians unable to make decisions. More globally, the craven and uncommunicative bureaucrat-politician-corporate-drone will be the defining type used to illustrate our century’s woes, much as the debauched hedonist who fiddles while Rome burns and feeds people to lions in the Coliseum was used to illustrate the woes of the Roman Empire. Bureaucrats are all over everything, not just Brexit, doing Public Relations and Damage Control and evading responsibility because responsibility equals liability for the modern corporate body.

  11. larry

    Grammatical point. As Black has used it before in previous posts of his, it might not be completely inappropriate to point out that, in his usage of the term, ‘predate’, with the emphasis on the second syllable, is wrong. Unfortunately for Black, ‘predation’ and ‘predator’ are nouns that do not have a corresponding verb in ordinary English, however much it might look as though it should. So, there is no such form as ‘to predate’ in the predation sense. The infinitive form is ‘to prey’ and its associated noun is ‘prey’ with plural ‘preys’.

    There is a term, ‘predate’, which means to take place at an earlier time than something else, as in the phrase, the charleston predates the twist. And the two syllables of the term have almost equal emphasis.

    While this may seem trivial to some, linguistically, and conceptually, it isn’t.

    1. Backfor

      What precisely do you mean “do not have a corresponding verb in ordinary English”? Having been trained as an ecologist, where “predate” is indeed used as a verb, I thought perhaps it would be considered “technical” (and therefore not “ordinary”) English and encompass what you mean. However, searching several dictionaries reveals this “second sense” of “predate” as having existed since 1941, with no note in the dictionaries that it is “irregular” or “non-ordinary”; just that it is a back-formation, and the less-common sense of “predate”. But being a back-formation doesn’t make a word not a word, or not ordinary; otherwise, there are a lot of words we need to take out of circulation.

    2. Anders K

      Huh. Didn’t know that – thanks for making me learn something new today, larry!

      I’m guessing why there’s the “to prey upon X” construct instead. Fascinating – the more I learn of English, the more I learn that there is to learn!

      I do see why he’d go with predate, though, it is somewhat slicker and the meaning is rather obvious. As an aside, I have mostly seen predate written as pre-date, as in “Socrates pre-dates Plato” which makes its meaning a bit clearer, to my eyes at least.

      1. JEHR

        I looked up “predate” in an Internet dictionary and it has two meanings:

        1. v. to kill and eat another animal:
        Some species of bat predate small mammals.

        2. v. to have existed or happened before another thing:
        These cave paintings predate any others which are known.

        So there is no need to say that one usage is preferable over another. I have learned one good thing in my life and that is that the English language is a living thing and births many meanings (sometimes opposites of the same word, e.g., egregious) and also brings death to many other words. This makes it a wonderful lusty, flexible and delicious language to know and use. Anyway, every new word or expanded meaning brings ample new ideas to which we can never grow too accustomed.

        1. lambert strether

          The OED:

          predate [verb(2) intrans. & trans.]
          verb2 intrans. & trans. l20.
          [ORIGIN: Back-form. from predator, predation.]
          Act as a predator (of); catch and eat (prey).

    3. Synoia

      The English language “rules” are more guidelines and practice than hard and fast immutable rulles.

      Unlike French which has a riulng body.

      As advertisers and the US demonstrate .

      1. Anonymous2

        French does have a ruling body.

        But the French, being French, pay minimal attention in their everyday usage.

    1. Tony Wright

      Great post once again,Yves. However, despite the knowledgeable and thoughtful contributions of yourself and a myriad of other writers on NC Brexit blogs, there has been hardly any comment on the prospective durability of the EU itself.
      Many writers for the many financial and investment newsletters I trawl through as a self funded retiree are of the opinion that the EU will fall apart sooner rather than later. Various factors are cited to back these claims ; the common currency and interest policies are considered to be a fundamental flaw, given the disparate(and some desperate!) nature of the economies of different EU member countries ; levels of debt and unemployment in some EU member countries are almost unmanageable ; many European banks are financially unhealthy (to put it politely) ; populism is rising ; refugees in large numbers arriving from war torn countries in the Middle East and Africa add financial and social strains ; growth, that economic balm for all ills, is anaemic, absent or falling, despite low official interest rates within Europe and fairly well worldwide.
      And we are cyclically due , or overdue, a stock market “correction” and popping or deflating of the low interest-fuelled debt bubble, to be followed by either merely a substantial recession, or the mother of all depressions worldwide ( depending who’s opinion you read). According to Morgan Stanley ( I think?) the likelihood of a recession before the end of 2020 is estimated at 82%. Which probably explains why Trump is jawboning the US Fed to lower US interest rates, so as to delay the inevitable until after the next US Presidential election. This will obviously further aggravate financial and social tensions in Europe too.
      Point being, the UK(misnomer, I know) could be the rat blindly bumbling its way off of a sinking ship.

      1. Anders K

        Hrm. While possible, almost all political unions exceed their (postulated) shelf-life, if only due to political inertia. When the end happens, it generally does so to the surprise of most observers, with a few lone bear-ish voices crowing their vindication in the wilderness.

        Just as markets can be irrational for longer than any one participant can remain solvent, so can a political union (such as the EU, or the UK) remain together long after any rational reason to do so exists.

        Not that I think that the EU (nor, at this moment, the UK) is at that stage – I would expect at least three or four major crisis to happen before the EU cracks, of which one crisis would be, for instance major bank trouble in a bigger EU member (Italy/Spain/Germany). The first reaction will always be to try to pull together and overcome this (supposedly) singular event; just as the next event will be touted as singular (“one in a million” chance, so sad it happened close to the previous “one in a million” event…).

        Usually it takes overwhelming evidence that change is needed before action is taken at that level, most times with people not currently at the top doing what they can to pave the way for change.

        I am not saying that the current status is maintainable, but I think that they’ll try to squeeze some more blood from the labour part of the economy in order to keep the vampiric stocks at their current levels. For how long they’ll succeed is another thing.

  12. Anders K

    Yves, a minor error (I think): “EU pols and the press” should probably be “UK pols and the press”.

    As an aside, one could argue for “UK pols and their press” if one wishes to be a bit on the nose – not that the EU press seems that much better informed, but at least it is not speculating as wildly as the UK press (and FT, for some reason) is wont to do.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks, will correct,. But if anything, for the first year and a half after the Brexit vote, the UK press was virtually united in braying that the UK was on its way to a glorious Brexit, the EU would be cowed by the prospect of no-deal, etc. Fleet Street was driving the discourse (as we would say in the US, I’m not wild about that turn of phrase but it works here) and the pols were hostage. Anyone who questioned that story line would be cut down.

      A second reason for outsized UK press influence is the decrepit state of the UK civil service, particularly its Foreign Office. Readers who have direct knowledge report that highly capable people haven’t been seeking those roles for decades, between brain drain to the City and demonization of government service. There are a few people from the old era left, but I infer very few. On top of that, the Foreign Office staffing is roughly 40% of what it was a few decades ago…and the current crop has virtually no knowledge of trade deals since those negotiations take place at the EU. So the civil servants no longer have the chops and accordingly are not much sought out or listened to by ministers.

      1. Anders K

        I don’t disagree, hence why I suggested the change to “their press” (maybe it should have been “the UK press” but I dislike repetion so close to the referenced entity).

        The crapification (and simultaneous demonization) of civil service seems to be another feature of our glorious poltical system, though I have to say that the UK did at least have the reputation of a working civil service. Perhaps the last remnants of the PR from the Empire just lasted this long… or maybe it is just that they just kept silent and hence were considered wise.

        1. Fazal Majid

          The UK press is dominated by Murdoch and should really be called the “Australo-American Neocon press”.

      2. saileshr

        Apologies to all. But just a quick question if I may, how many of the EU negotiators are from the UK? I am assuming it is not a small number, so if push comes to shove, can they not be recruited by the UK Gov?
        What I am asking is, it the situation really that dire, in terms of the civil service bench-strength?
        Perhaps as it was not needed till now and so a lot of the folks with the skills, experience and talent from the UK found a home in the EU.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          That is water under the dam. A top civil servant, Sir Ivan Rogers, resigned basically because the government was unwilling to hear the truth:

          Sir Ivan endured an uncomfortable time at the last EU summit in December after his confidential advice to the government about Brexit potentially taking 10 years was leaked to the BBC. No ambassador relishes “becoming the story” in that way.

          There’s a sense in Brussels that he may have been seen as a pessimist by cabinet Brexiteers because it fell to him to convey the hostility and scepticism with which other governments view Brexit.

          In general. current bureaucrats do not want to work for the UK because they support the EU and are not comfortable with Brexit.

          And the Government has also been dilatory about hiring advisers. One reader (he provided his background, he was superbly qualified) tried getting hired by the UK as a consultant. No interest. IIRC he was snapped up by the Irish government when he inquired.

  13. Ignacio

    Reading this summary of the state of brexit, it reinforces my opinion that a long extension is just a prolongation of the mess. I fail to foresee any better outcome and in fact it could be even worse if current positions simply fester.

    Another problem is the negotiation of future relationships between the EU and the UK. I believe that the UK and the EU would both need some time, not only to elect a new government, but to have an idea of what kind of relationship they want. For instance see that no consensus exists in the EU side on this rigth now.

    1. urblintz

      Doesn’t an extension keep May, and so the Tories, in the driver’s seat and isn’t that, ultimately, the goal of any politician/political party… to stay in power, regardless of doing nothing to either help, or which represents the will of, the constituents? Seems to me that the Fixed Term Parliament Act might get rid of a few seated MP’s but it makes it very difficult to upend the PM herself. And it doesn’t look likely that May will lose a no confidence vote no matter how much her conservative colleagues despise her. I am out of my depth here so feel free to correct any confusion on my part.

      1. Jim A.

        It is the illusion that anybody in the UK is in the driver’s seat that is the fundamental problem. May’s “driver’s seat” is rather like the one that Maggie sits in during the opening credits of “The Simpsons.” There’s a steering wheel and a horn, but they aren’t connected to anyting.

        1. urblintz

          Indeed. It looks like the wheels have come off the global bus of neocon/neolib dissembling. Thanks for reminding that The Simpsons got so much right and with so much prescience!

  14. The Rev Kev

    There must be a lot of disquiet in the European Parliament. If Brexit somehow gets cancelled (unlikely), then the British will probably elect members to it that will be hostile to the EU out of resentment of the UK staying in. If there is a long enough delay in Brexit so that the UK gets to take part in the European Parliamentary elections, again the British might just elect 70-odd Nigel Farage clones out of frustration of not leaving to wreck the EU. Jacob Rees-Mogg has promised as much the past coupla days and suggested sabotaging the European Union’s budget. For the EU, they might decide that under no circumstances should the UK be able to take part in the upcoming elections. And there are now less than four days to go to the next Brexit date.

    1. Anders K

      Certainly. The one thing that would give the UK more time is as Yves mentions the moral responsibility of not hurting someone that is obviously so much less powerful than you (or just mentally ill enough not to be able to exercise their power in their own interest).

      Another question is how many times May can come back and tell them that Parliament ate her homework, but in a just a few more weeks/months she’ll have it done, this time for sure, pinky swear! The EU must realize that every extension given to the UK makes the next extension request more expected as well as more probable (due to being expected).

      I just don’t see the benefits of being seen as even-handed and not pushing the UK out being worth it. Maybe the Irish border is really that bad a problem that UK participation in the MEP elections are worth it. I am quite curious to read the tell-all books in a few years why the EU kept giving the UK more rope instead of pulling tight.

      1. shtove

        Such a difficult issue, but at least on this there is rich precedent – about once every hundred years Europe has an Ireland crisis, and Ireland gets stuffed!

        Differences in this episode? Lots of Irish influence within the UK through diaspora. Skilful Irish diplomats and civil servants in European institutions. Fingers crossed.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t think that’s too big a worry for the EU unless the elections throw up some freak balance of power dynamics. UK MEP’s are almost entirely powerless in Parliament because they don’t have one single member of the dominant grouping*, the centre right European Peoples Party. The Tories are in the fringe ECR group, a collection of odds and sods from the far right wing who couldn’t settle anywhere else. The right wing Eurosceptics are marginalised and divided between the racists and the ‘we’re not racist buts’. Labour belongs to the wibbly ineffectual centre left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and democrats.

      So even if the UK elected all UKIPers and the more crazypants fringe of the Tories, there is little they could do, they’d be constantly outvoted and marginalised by the ‘big three’ party groups.

      *although I think there are 2 Tory Remainer ‘rebels’ who have attached themselves.

  15. Bob Richard

    Yves writes, “If you have three options, no deal, May’s deal or an improved version of that, and Remain, the odds are decent that no option gets a majority.” Has she heard of the alternative vote (as it’s called in the U.K.), instant runoff voting or ranked choice voting (as it’s called in the U.S.)?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There are very rigid rules for referendums, so I doubt this would be permitted. The Ultras would challenge any deviation in court.

      1. Bob Richard

        Are these rules set out in the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act? If not, where are they described? Thanks!

      2. Bob Richard

        Here is what U.K. law says about the form of referendum questions:

        Nothing here prevents Parliament from specifying the use of the alternative vote. That said, there’s no question that SOMEBODY, possible the Ultras, would challenge this in court I don’t know anything about appellate courts in the U.K., but in the U.S., the alternative vote has been upheld every time it has been challenged.

  16. Vichy

    As Private Eye issue No. 1492 points out:
    68 to 32% proportion by which Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected by MPs in January, prompting her to bring it back 2 months later in case they changed their minds.

    62 to 38% proportion by which it was rejected the 2nd time, leading to her bringing it back for a 3rd vote.

    53 to 47% proportion by which it was rejected the 3rd time, meaning she’ll bring it back for a 4th vote.

    52 to 48% proportion by which the public voted for Brexit in the 1st place, which May insists must rule out any 2nd vote because it would ‘undermine faith in our democracy’.

  17. Olivier

    “Europe has been free of war since the World War II conflagration”. Really??? What about Yugoslavia? True, Yugoslavia was not in the EU but it was definitely in Europe.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yugoslavia is not part of the EU and in context, the point of the EU was to prevent war among members. Variation is preferred in writing in English, as opposed to repetition (see a stylistic comment above along the same lines).

    2. Oregoncharles

      The wars in Europe since WWII have been “civil” wars, like the ones in the former Yugoslavia, or the Troubles in NI. Not wars between nations, though NATO did intervene in Yugoslavia.

      A historian on a PBS program (probably British) claimed that Europe and Europeans were able to essentially conquer the world because they had practiced so much on each other. “Free of war” might be an exaggeration, but compared to their history, very true.

      Of course, the EU was not the only factor; so was Mutual Assured Destruction between the rival empires, with Europe as the possible battlefield.

  18. PlutoniumKun

    One for conspiracy theorists here – an embarrassing accident has shown that ‘something is up’ between the Irish police (Gardai) and Northern Ireland Police (PSNI). Basically, over the weekend the Garda Commissioner was in a minor car accident at the gates of the Gardai HQ. The embarrassing thing is that it seems he was (illegally) accompanied by armed members of the PSNI. Explanation here:

    Explainer: Why has a minor accident involving the Garda Commissioner attracted controversy?

    To provide background – Following a series of scandals the Irish government last year decided the new Garda Commissioner should be a reformer with ‘clean hands’. They appointed a well known and respected senior PSNI officer – Drew Harris. He was a controversial pick because he was known to be the PSNI liaison officer with MI5 (British intelligence). Garda intelligence officers openly objected to having their work open to a known MI5 operative.

    Also, as an ex PSNI member, he is a target for dissident republicans, which means he needs personal armed security – something previously unknown for a Garda commissioner. Now it seems that on his visits to Belfast he has been protected by Northern Ireland officers – while in the Republic. This is illegal.

    The question is – why now? What was he doing that was so secret they didn’t bother telling security at Garda HQ? (the accident occurred because the gate officer raised a bollard as the car wasn’t on his authorised list)). Why was he accompanied by armed PSNI officers while in Dublin?

    The obvious assumption is that he was discussing border security in the event of a no-deal Brexit with PSNI and British security sources. But it will have upset Garda members to think that their Commissioner is seemingly more comfortable with being protected by his former officers, even if that means breaking the law. And it seems he may not have informed his own Minister he was doing this.

    Notably, the most ‘mainstream’ Irish media sources and the BBC are doing their level best to pretend this didn’t happen, which usually means they’ve been instructed to play it down. But its been widely reported elsewhere (the linked article is to a reputable news source, just not one that plays the official line).

    Anyway, it all goes to show all sorts of things are going on under the surface about the border, but what exactly they are, only time will tell.

    1. flora

      Fractal iteration in the mathematical, geometric world is often very beautiful and mesmerizing. Fractal iteration in the political world is not necessarily so beautiful. It depends on the starting state. imo. (Not that that’s what is happening here. Your description simply reminded me of fractal iteration.)

  19. Greg

    Brexit will reinvigorate the Armageddon synonym industry by freeing it from the constraints of Brussels red tape. Britain will once again be the leading disaster economy in the world!

  20. Matthew Kopka

    From the Guardian’s Brexit blog:

    “Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said the UK’s EU membership had turned the country from a Michelin-starred restaurant to one reliant on microwave meals.

    He said: “We used to create these fantastic dishes from scratch and over the years this has been corrupted and we have been deskilled.

    “Now we accept our laws pre-packed from Brussels, ready to go in the microwave. We’ve become a chicken ding Parliament with chicken ding politicians.”

    I read this and it suddenly struck me–my God this man is talking about British food!

    And lest this sound too snotty, I speak with some awareness when I say that British food has become quite good the last twenty years BECAUSE British people woke up to other food, including from their immigrants. Would that we could consign these Tory Brexiters to beans and toast forever.

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